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Objective: Impossible?

An objective approach to games journalism is a noble goal, but black-and-white reporting still has a lot of gray area

Let's talk about objectivity and game journalism, since it's kind of my thing. I was a big advocate of straight-forward reporting in journalism school, and carried that approach into my first newspaper job, covering the police and fire beat for a suburban Chicago newspaper. I kept that approach when I joined the GameSpot news team in 2005, and then in 2012 when I moved to GamesIndustry.biz, even as the industry around me seemed to be turning sharply toward more opinionated and personality-driven news coverage.

When I write news (as opposed to opinion pieces like this one), I do my best to be as even-handed as possible, such that the average reader would have difficulty determining exactly what my personal opinions on the subject are given only the article at hand. I second-guess myself every time I'm about to include something subjective in a story, like calling a franchise "successful" or a developer "renowned."

Let me give you a painful example of this. The following is a box quote from the North American PSP release of Platypus, taken from an article I wrote on GameSpot. To my knowledge, it is the only time my writing has been quoted on a game's packaging:

1

The graphics are made entirely out of clay.

"Platypus is squarely in the traditionally hardcore genre of side-scrolling 2D shooters. Platypus has its own unique visual style in that the graphics are made entirely out of clay."

That quote makes me cringe for a few reasons. For one, it's poorly written, but I can live with that. (If you write news for any amount of time, you're going to have plenty of clunkers.) And it's not that the box quote was actually called out for mockery in a Joystiq review for stating the facts more than touting the game's qualities. The big reason that quote still nags at me is that the reference to a "unique visual style" is too subjective for my liking.

Is the visual style unique? Technically, yes. No other game has exactly those colored pixels in exactly that configuration. But you could say that about any game. Does Platypus really deserve the word in a world that had previously seen The Neverhood, Skullmonkeys, and Clayfighters (and likely others I just can't remember offhand)? Maybe still. But it's a judgment call, and one I wish I had left up to the reader.

So I'm a fan of aiming for objectivity in news reporting. It serves a noble purpose in attempting to inform readers about the happenings of the day without prejudicing them to one conclusion or another. It also acknowledges that writers are human and flawed, that they don't know everything, that they often aren't working with all the facts, and that they might not have a perfect understanding of every situation. I can't tell you how many times striving for objectivity as a best practice has kept me from jumping to the wrong conclusion and reporting something factually inaccurate, whether it be because I had misread a legislative proposal or because a publisher was choosing its words with a deliberate eye toward deception.

"I can't tell you how many times striving for objectivity as a best practice has kept me from jumping to the wrong conclusion and reporting something factually inaccurate."

But there are limits to what can be done on this front. One of the key roles any media outlet plays is filtering all the news out there and deciding what things are relevant for its specific audience. So right there, we're already making subjective assessments as to what news is worth covering. And once we've decided to cover a story, the subjective decisions start to multiply. What's the lead of the story, the most important piece of information? Is it the record revenues the company just posted, or the widespread layoffs? Do we mention the CFO resigning in the lead, or save that for further down where fewer people will ever read it? Do we mention that the recent acquisition of a rival that helped pad out the quarterly revenues? Or that this is the fourth round of layoffs in the last two years? Is it worth noting that the company's long-delayed AAA effort launched last month and dominated the competition? Do we focus on the good news or the bad news in the headline and strap? Do we throw all of this into one story or split it into multiple standalone pieces?

There isn't really one right answer to those questions. It's all subjective, and different people will make different decisions all the way down the line. In the end, the coverage between two writers--even if they both espouse an objective approach to news reporting--could vary wildly.

And that's just in reporting the news. True objectivity in other aspects of journalism is even less attainable. How is one person supposed to be objective in an interview, where they are making subjective decisions on what questions to ask? When I interview developers, I try to ask them about what I think are the primary issues facing them in the industry today. That may sound fine, but my assessment of the primary issues and everybody else's can vary pretty wildly. I try to ask a mix of directed and open-ended questions to balance the subjects' interests with my desire to bring readers something interesting and insightful, but it doesn't change the fact that I am usually setting the agenda of topics based on my own assessments.

And then after the fact, I can have half an hour of discussion that I need to whittle down into maybe 1,000 words or so for the site, and the news selection assessments begin again. What's the most newsworthy stuff that was said? Which topics can be included? If there's an interesting tidbit that doesn't seem to fit in the article, do I shoehorn it in anyways or leave it on the cutting room floor? Again, a series of decisions no two people will make the same way. There is no objectivity to be found here.

All these situations are made that much more complicated by the messiness of human interactions. Recent events have had some gamers up in arms over the revelation that some writers and developers have personal relationships. First off, I agree that writers should avoid covering developers with whom they have a close relationship. And in cases where that isn't possible, disclosure may be appropriate.

"Ideally, journalists would strive to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, and writers with a potential conflict on a story would have other people handle coverage."

Sometimes it's not hard to figure out who fits that "close relationship" definition. I've known Double Fine designer JP LeBreton since we were 13. He was the best man at my wedding. I don't trust myself to cover his work impartially. I try to leave it to other staff members to make newsworthiness judgments about him and his games. That said, I've included quotes from him in developer opinion round-ups, and I've covered other Double Fine products while he's been at the studio, but always with the editor-in-chief's knowledge of the situation and permission. You may disagree, but I felt that was an appropriate way to handle a close relationship.

Sometimes it's trickier. I've known Nick Suttner, one of Sony's indie liaisons, for a bit more than a decade. Nick was not my best man, but he was at my wedding. Before I got the job at GameSpot, when I was Arts & Entertainment editor for a newspaper in Oklahoma, Nick wrote a weekly column for me. If Nick were creating a game himself, I would treat it the same way I do JP's. But he doesn't develop games. Still, he has his name somewhere in the credits of all kinds of indie work on Sony platforms. I don't know every project Nick is attached to, and I don't have any right to that information even if I felt like asking. So should I avoid any indie game on Sony platforms because there's a chance Nick would be attached to it? Or should I just include a disclosure notice about knowing Nick on any story about Sony indie games? Or Sony exclusives? Or perhaps exclusives on rival platforms? Should my friend's decision to work for a platform holder hamper my own ability to continue covering the industry?

Then there's my connection to Greg Kasavin, former GameSpot editor-in-chief turned Supergiant Games developer. I worked with Greg for a little more than a year before he left the site. I have the utmost respect for him and everything he's accomplished, but we never hung out outside of work. Of these people I've mentioned, he is the one I'm most confident in my ability to cover impartially. At the same time, he's the one other people would be most likely to identify as a conflict of interest, because my connection to him is the easiest to discover. So should my coverage of any Supergiant Games titles include a disclosure that I once worked for the same company as Greg? Should I avoid ever writing about his games again? Should I do the same with League of Legends, World of Warcraft, Rock Band, Forza Motorsport, Madden, or countless other franchises my former coworkers have worked on?

"You can say 'Don't be biased' all you want, but you'll never get everyone to agree on what constitutes bias."

Ideally, journalists would strive to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, and writers with a potential conflict on a story would have other people handle coverage. If that isn't practical because media outlets have finite staff and finite resources, a disclosure is a good way to at least inform readers of the potential conflict so they can take it into account. But again, it's a subjective call as to how granular that disclosure should be, and whose relationships should be disclosed. Should we disclose when we're covering a product whose company is advertising on our site? What if we're covering a game that isn't the one being advertised? What if the company was advertising with us, but isn't any longer? If we need to mention that, for how long after the end of an advertising relationship should it be mentioned? Should we disclose when we cover a game that is a direct competitor to one of our advertisers? At a certain point, does all this disclosure actually undermine faith in our reporters rather than bolster it? Does it prejudice people to believe the worst of games journalism, depriving us of the benefit of the doubt objective journalism tries to give its subjects?

Just as with news judgments, these are subjective issues, and different people will have different answers to these questions. From what I understand, this is where the problem lies for those calling for objectivity. They want game journalism free of bias or personal agendas, but that's impossible. The decisions journalists make at every step of the way, from which stories are worth covering to word choice and sentence structure, are all affected by their particular set of values, priorities, and thought processes. You can call that impartiality, bias, a personal agenda, or a lack of journalistic integrity, but those assessments are likewise subjective. You can tell journalists "Don't be biased" all you want, but you'll never get everyone to agree on what constitutes bias.

I don't have all the answers about the right way to do this job, and even with the ones I think I have, I know they are likely to change in time. For example, if I wrote this story again today, you can bet I'd have had Bobby Kotick's "skepticism, pessimism, and fear" quote somewhere in the lead, if not in the headline itself. But even knowing that my views will evolve as I grow older and (hopefully) wiser, there's still one thing I'm comfortable stating as objective fact: There is no such thing as objective journalism.

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Latest comments (35)

Shehzaan Abdulla Translator/QA 3 years ago
I think there's another solution to the whole issue of writer integrity. One that no writer is willing to pipe up and admit because it devalues their work (which already brings in a pitifully small amount). And that solution is to leave "journalistic" integrity in the gutter and admit to simply being a humble writer no different from a regular forum poster or random blogger (which is actually closer to truth than many realise).

In the short-term this means a loss of readers, but I think it is the best thing to do as, as this article points out, objectivity (if we can even nail down what it is) is an impossible ideal.

At the moment writers are trying to do this high wire act where they on the one hand play down how journalistic standards relate to them and on the other hand attempt to cash in cachet in how professional (journalistic) they are. You can't do the former without being held to the standards of the latter.

The real value of a writer is in their opinions and writing. The market decides the rate for that and the market has decided it is worth less and less. Videogame writing isn't a profession, it's barely even a job. And whatever function it fulfills is increasingly worth less: Ask publications who now rely on skilled volunteers or how about the readers themselves who quite frankly don't find writer's scribblings worth the time of day anymore (they come for the comments sections. Sorry writers, but they don't care about what you write. Many don't even read it).

This brings the entire job of videogame writing into question. What's the point of it? What value does it bring to the table? Are those values aligned with those of its audience? Or is getting the click enough?

Increasingly I don't see a future for videogame writers because they don't have answers to those questions.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Shehzaan Abdulla on 19th September 2014 4:31pm

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James Brightman Editor, North America, GamesIndustry.biz3 years ago
While I partially see what you're getting at Shehzaan, the average blogger or forum poster doesn't actually write for a living. Moreover, he or she doesn't regularly attend events like GDC, E3, DICE, etc and speak directly with the developers, producers, executives and so on. As people who cover the industry for a living, we get insights and perspectives that average bloggers do not, and because we often meet face to face with people in the business, we can ask questions (or try to!) that others couldn't.
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Shehzaan Abdulla Translator/QA 3 years ago
While I partially see what you're getting at Shehzaan, the average blogger or forum poster doesn't actually write for a living. Moreover, he or she doesn't regularly attend events like GDC, E3, DICE, etc and speak directly with the developers, producers, executives and so on. As people who cover the industry for a living, we get insights and perspectives that average bloggers do not, and because we often meet face to face with people in the business, we can ask questions (or try to!) that others couldn't.
I'm not entirely sure what you are getting at here.

None of those things define or seperate a "writer/blogger" from a "journalist" - that's something the person writing (or their publication) decide.

You can have access to all those things and still not identify as a journalist or claim to have some kind of integrity based on being a "journalist". What does being a "journalist" even mean when non-journalists can easily get press passes, secure interviews with AAA-class celebrity developers and get their hands on review/preview builds of games?

It doesn't mean anything. It brings no value to the table for readers.

You still haven't answered the fundamental question. What makes so-called journalists different from writers who do the exact same job to the letter without every playing up that they are "journalists" (which was a fad I thought the writing industry had gotten over)?

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Shehzaan Abdulla on 19th September 2014 5:13pm

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Show all comments (35)
Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 3 years ago
What makes so-called journalists different from writers who do the exact same job to the letter without every playing up that they are "journalists"
I think the implicit differences are integrity, honesty, and respect. The first two earning the third in the eyes of the reader (and fellow professionals). But there's also power and influence. Not in the naive conspiracy way, but in the way that your name (or employer's name) can open doors and get you places.

As an example, how about David Sheff? He interviewed John Lennon and Yoko Ono for Playboy, and had work published in various magazines. Don't you think the Lennon/Ono interviews alone helped open doors when he was writing Game Over? Would a non-journalist blogger be able to get that amount of information, from so many company sources? Maybe, but damn unlikely. Though it depends upon the company being written about - the more corporate the company, the more professional the writer (regardless of who they're working for, or if they're self-employed).

The blogging and amateur spheres are great for promotion, but what happens when you don't want promotion? When you want the guts of a story? It's at that point where "journalist" or "reporter" becomes important, because it's at that point where PR stops helping you, and becomes a barrier to what you seek.
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James Berg Games User Researcher, EA Canada3 years ago
What does being a "journalist" even mean when non-journalists can easily get press passes, secure interviews with AAA-class celebrity developers and get their hands on review/preview builds of games
How does a regular person "easily get" interviews with celebrity developers and all these other points of access? Can you provide examples of the people that are actually doing this?

What's the difference between someone that plays in rec league hockey and the NHL? The rec league guy might be just as good, play more games, etc. One is a professional, the other is an amateur. Not many bloggers get paid, very few get widespread coverage, and the average quality of bloggers vs dedicated writers/journalists is going to be lower.
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Shehzaan Abdulla Translator/QA 3 years ago
How does a regular person "easily get" interviews with celebrity developers and all these other points of access?
The exact same way a journalist does. Using the same tools, conferences, trade contacts. After all they are exactly the same in everything but name. I never said a regular person, I said a non-journalist, you seem to have trouble with this difference and have failed to understand why I bought the difference up.
Not many bloggers get paid, very few get widespread coverage
Whether the writers get paid or get wide coverage or doesn't offer value to the reader. Again, why should I care?
and the average quality of bloggers vs dedicated writers/journalists is going to be lower.
I actually conceded this. That the value of a writer is in their writing and their opinion. But again, this is independant of their status as a journalist.
What's the difference between someone that plays in rec league hockey and the NHL? The rec league guy might be just as good, play more games, etc. One is a professional, the other is an amateur.
Oh dear. It's abundantly clear you have no idea what my point was. My point is that both are professional, both get paid, both do the SAME IDENTICAL JOB. But one idenifies with being a journalist and gets flack for it and the other does not.

In reality these guys don't have anything over their non-professional counterparts either. Having access? Is that somehow releated to a skill they have? Nope. That's the name of their publication they are flaunting not something awesome that only they could do. Not them creating value. Being able to go to trade shows? Is that a skill? Nope. Anyone can hop on a plane. That's not creating value. That's simply exclusively locking value down.

Edited 4 times. Last edit by Shehzaan Abdulla on 19th September 2014 6:14pm

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Shehzaan Abdulla Translator/QA 3 years ago
As an example, how about David Sheff? He interviewed John Lennon and Yoko Ono for Playboy, and had work published in various magazines. Don't you think the Lennon/Ono interviews alone helped open doors when he was writing Game Over? Would a non-journalist blogger be able to get that amount of information, from so many company sources? Maybe, but damn unlikely.
What matters there is that he got the information. Not that he was a journalist. Him being a journalist and playing that angle up means nothing to readers. So there's no point trying to flaunt it, especially when it's the source of so much misunderstanding/being held to unreasonable standards.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 3 years ago
What matters there is that he got the information. Not that he was a journalist.
That's my point, though - the two are interconnected. He got the information because he was a journalist
Him being a journalist and playing that angle up means nothing to readers
It does if he got information that he wouldn't have got if he wasn't a journalist. Granted, he doesn't need to mention it, but he's making himself valuable if he does so (he's a writer - his commodity is himself and his writing, so it makes sense).

Note: I'm using Sheff as an example for my point. I have no idea if he himself would agree with what I'm saying. :)
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Shehzaan Abdulla Translator/QA 3 years ago
It does if he got information that he wouldn't have got if he wasn't a journalist
Being a writer for a publication is effectively the same thing opening the exact same doors as being a journalist, but with none of the weird baggage. In all honesty Sheff probably didn't get his interviews because he was a journalist, but because of the publications he had worked on making him visible/giving him credibility.

Again it might seem like I'm splitting hairs over definitions here. But this split in definitions is precisely at the heart of many misunderstandings.

I make a concerted effort to never call myself a "journalist" even when I have what is essentially "journalistic" access (press passes, review copies, preview code etc) because to me the distinction is extremely clear.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Shehzaan Abdulla on 19th September 2014 6:24pm

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Alex Lemco Writer 3 years ago
To me, the Journalist label is one of integrity. I am here and I write/film content to act as a buffer between the Producer and the Consumer. I consider it my duty to inform and advise. I hold myself to a high standard in the work I create. I network with Producers and demonstrate an ability to 'spread the word' in order to gain access to more information. It must be said that this is a symbiosis common in just about every other sphere of journalism.

So, to Shehzaan's question: How does this make me different from thousands of bloggers, vloggers, free writers and other 'enthusiast media'? In terms of the content we're creating it might be hard to spot the difference. In terms of my awareness of the rules governing my content output, there is a clear distinction. I do not get paid by Producers to promote their games or products to my audience. Any and all potential biases are disclosed in full. Adverts are adverts and they are made so obvious as such that they can never be mistaken for my honest content.

This might not seem all that important to readers/viewers, but I wonder what it would be like in a world without people willing to be called journalists, where the only access to coverage of games and products was from major channels like PewDiePie and Yogscast. Not calling oneself a journalist means, as far as I can tell, that the individual does not hold themselves to the same code of ethics that I hold myself to, which means they can pretty much get away with any form of bribery, bias and intrigue that they damn well please. The wriggle room for these things is so wide one could shoot a tank through it unhindered.

Here's the key difference, Shehzaan: I have standards. And it will only mean anything to Consumers once they wake up in a world full of bloggers, free writers and YouTubers, and realise that standards no longer exist. I hope that never happens. Calling myself a journalist and continuing to operate as such in the games industry is a key factor in opposing that outcome.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 3 years ago
If you write 100% objective and then turn in the article, you relinquish control of which picture is constructed from your words. This whole objective news approach has led to some rather subliminal manipulation via selection of topics. One of the reasons why the perceived amount of violence in society is up, while the real rate is down. Just be objective, select the right topics in the right frequency and trust in the consumer to paint in the picture you wanted him to have in the first place. It is a perversion of writing.

Even at large industry events, there is no press access. There are several layers of staged play (i.e gamescom consumer area, business area) wherein persons are essentially skinner boxed in accordance with the ID card around their neck. The press does not get to ask questions, they get pre-selected answers. The only exception to this rule is when one ape wants to throw his feces at another ape. Then some emails get forwarded.

Traditionally, magazines tried to create all their value before a customer went out and bought a game. Maybe a guide a month later, but then move on, next game, next customer about to buy a game in need of the gaming magazine product. Today, Twitch and Youtube are all the rage and personality driven channels are in everybody's mouth, but the real difference is that those channels (unless publishers buy their way in) are not targeted at customers seeking to buy a game. They target people who already have that game, or are just looking for some content relevant to the culture of gaming. Most publications have yet to learn how to merge this audience into their existing one. Take a look at GiantBomb. Their premium content is not news related gaming exclusives and developer interviews. It all relates to the culture of gamers, not the drudgery of the news-cycle.
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Shehzaan Abdulla Translator/QA 3 years ago
In terms of the content we're creating it might be hard to spot the difference. In terms of my awareness of the rules governing my content output, there is a clear distinction.
This gets back to the point I was making. If you go with the term journalist you have a higher standard that you are held to not only by yourself, but by others. And as this articles suggests from the writer's own hypothetical situations, those standards may be impossible to actually reach.
I have standards
And complete control over them too. Including total control over policing whether you are guilty of failing to hold up those standards. How can you claim to have integrity when you can't be put to the test by a third party? Standards don't mean anything if they are self-governing because you can always give your own work a gold star.

It's not your standards that matter. It's the readers standards and their ability to hold the writers accountable to them. At the moment there is no way to do this. If you really want to be called a journalist it strikes me as sensible to let it be something others call you, not something to call yourself. After all, isn't it everyone else who decides the quality of your standards?
This might not seem all that important to readers/viewers, but I wonder what it would be like in a world without people willing to be called journalists,
And we aren't talking about a world where there are no people willing to be called journalists, but one where videogame writers don't use the term to describe what they are doing. It's safe to say with many journalists in other fields that they have had a certain degree of training so the quality of their work and their understanding of industry standards is unified to an extent. In those fields it is safe to say that the term "journalist" is synonymous with quality work and high standards.

This is a completely different scenario from videogame writing where many writers don't have any classical journalistic training. Making them closer to bloggers than trained journalists. Here the term "journalist" is a kind of professional short-cut. It's cheating by essentially evoking authority using a position that doesn't apply to them. The fact that you (and some other commenters) don't understand how readers interpret these terms suggests a disconnect with your audience.

As for what the world would be like? It would be similar to how it is now because the term journalist/writer don't inherently mean a standard is in place or not. It simply means that an (baseless) appeal of integrity is being made by the writer based, not on the quality of their work, but a label they've applied to themselves.

Here's what would be different: Writers would have to build cachet on the quality of their work and nothing else rather than on a label that doesn't even accurately describe what they do. They would still be standards, there would still be expectations, but the expectations would be the natural result of readers basing their future trust of the writer on the basis of their past output, not a random title which has connotations which may or may not apply to the writer in question.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Shehzaan Abdulla on 19th September 2014 10:43pm

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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development3 years ago
A journalist used to mean a person who writes a journal, and the gist of the job description is still accurate even though the language has moved on a bit.

If you're not putting personal subjectivity into your piece then you are a reporter. To call yourself a journalist *requires* personal opinion/bias/editorial flavour - that's what makes it a journal and you a journalist.

The integrity question is one for the writer (of whatever stripe) and his/her audience. It's not limited to just journalists. Are you selling out or do you really believe what you're writing? If the latter then fine. If you're just a schill, people will soon spot that too so make it a good payday.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Johnson on 19th September 2014 11:10pm

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Shehzaan Abdulla Translator/QA 3 years ago
Paul: I think a re-examination of what the term means to people (the writer's audience) in 2014 is in order. As I said earlier, the term and what the expectations it brings with it seem to differ between those using the label and readers. I think it is best if writers just hung the term up and relied on the quality of their work to do the talking. Yes, it mean taking a blow to the ego in the short-term, but a healthy relationship with readers in the long.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Shehzaan Abdulla on 20th September 2014 12:03am

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Alex Lemco Writer 3 years ago
I think a re-examination of what the term means to people (the writer's audience) in 2014 is in order. As I said earlier, the term and what the expectations it brings with it seem to differ between those using the label and readers. I think it is best if writers just hung the term up and relied on the quality of their work to do the talking.
If my audience doesn't understand what I do and how I go about doing it, then it's up to me to educate them with articles like this rather than throw in the towel and just declare myself part of a collective, amorphous blob of underpaid content creators. If you believe abandoning the term 'journalist' is going to do anything to assuage audiences' suspicions, paranoia and outright distrust of our work ethics, that's completely delusional. These are the people who were more or less willing to jump on a bandwagon of misogyny (whether they believed the rhetoric wholeheartedly or not) rather than put their faith in the Press in recent weeks.

Here's my compromise: I'll give up the term 'journalist' once my audience give up the term 'gamer'. Both, after all, can be argued as redundant as not everyone who plays games refers to themselves as a 'gamer', and not everyone who creates journalistic content calls themselves a 'journalist'. Until then, I let my work reflect my standards, and yes, I will hold myself accountable for them just like every other practitioner does (or ought to). If I break those standards I deserve to be caught out by my audience and lose the shine on my reputation.

[EDIT: I have not met, corresponded or otherwise been in contact with Shehzaan Abdulla, prior to this discussion.]

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Alex Lemco on 20th September 2014 10:30am

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Shehzaan Abdulla Translator/QA 3 years ago
If you believe abandoning the term 'journalist' is going to do anything to assuage audiences' suspicions, paranoia and outright distrust of our work ethics, that's completely delusional.
The point is that those suspicions of not matching up to journalistic stanards don't matter if you are making it clear you don't hold yourself to them to begin with. Who cares if the audience believs you or not? it's the consistency that matters. Are you actually a journalist practicing journalism? If you are like most videogame writers the answer is no. And you shouldn't pretend otherwise.
If our audience doesn't understand what we do and how we go about doing it, then it's up to us to educate them with articles like this rather than throw in the towel and just declare ourselves a collective, amorphous blob of underpaid content creators
Here's my compromise: I'll give up the term 'journalist' once my audience give up the term 'gamer
Why? What's the point of those terms? What does that achieve? It's not the audience that we are holding to a standard here/that we are debating which standard they should be held to.

The audience is the customer. You don't make demands of them. You do however take responsibility for your own image. You can start either by actually being admitting you aren't a journalist (unless you are one of the rare writers out there who actually is. In which case, carry on).

It's not about "throwing in the towel". It's about putting your ego on the shelf and just admitting what it is you do. If that is the humble job of writing on videogames then so be it. There's nothing wrong with that.

But here is the most worrying part of your post:
These are the people who were more or less willing to jump on a bandwagon of misogyny (whether they believed the rhetoric wholeheartedly or not) rather than put their faith in the Press in recent weeks.
Strange term this, "the people"? Who are "the people?" Aren't you, a videogame writer, supposed be one of "the people"? How come it sounds like they are a different group seperate from you here? I'm not goint to even touch this. But it adds to yet more growing evidence that many writers, especially yourself, don't respect their readers, viewing them contemptously.
If I break those standards I deserve to be caught out by my audience and lose the shine on my reputation.
Shouldn't it be the other way? That you have to polish your craft to get that shine rather than it being a default part of your position? After all, it's not like most writers do any kind of training or certification to get their positions so assuming shine seems strange. In any case your previous quote shows, like many so called "journalists" you haven't checked the facts and don't understand the situation as well as you think. So consider that shine gone.

Edited 6 times. Last edit by Shehzaan Abdulla on 22nd September 2014 1:53am

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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 3 years ago
I propose a simple test:

Was it you who defined the function, the service you chose to provide to a media publisher, who then bought it?
Or did they come to you, hiring you, knowing, you are able to provide the function they so desire?

Only one of these two persons can adhere to lofty textbook standards. The other is bound to be dragged down into the mud, a minefield of a million conflicting interests between developers and their (potential) customers.
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Roland Austinat roland austinat media productions|consulting, IDG, Computec, Spiegel Online3 years ago
I've been writing professionally, i.e. got paid for what I write about the computer and video game industry since 1993. Bear with me for my personal assessment of the topic. ;)

Back then I was lucky that I learned the ropes at PC Player - a magazine that had a reputation of being non-conforming to publishers' and developers' wishes and thoughts. The ad department and the newsroom were strictly divided. Sometimes an ad guy might come by and ask us to be nice to a certain advertiser's products. That's because he was paid by commission. But we didn't really hold back when a game was bad. And we used the full spectrum of 100 percent - 50 percent were average. Our readers trusted us.

In the last decade or so, magazines keep selling fewer and fewer copies. Too much staff rotation, too many free websites bringing you the same information. Information that back in the 1980s and 1990s was tricky to get for the average reader and game fan. And magazine publishers hired more and more interns who basically did and do the same job an editor would have done back in the days. Only now they are stretched so thin that they can't be trained properly. This shows in their writing. At one point, a superior told me that he would rather hire someone who knows games than someone who can write well. Also, experienced writers who ask for a bit more than an intern would ask after they have been in the industry for 10+ years are simply not hired anymore - the interns do it too, and cheaper, right? They might even enjoy the free games they get.

So when people read those magazines, magazines that they pay good money for, and find out that they are written worse than websites and aren't as current, well, surprise: they cancel their subscriptions. I've done that with a US magazine that had awesome layout but the copy text was written so fanboyish and the ratings were so off that I couldn't justify the purchase any more.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, we had fun writing about games. We added short video clips on our monthly cover-mount CD/DVD. Readers loved it. Today, these videos are freely available in the form of YouTube gaming channels - pick any well-known YouTube star. Readers today feel that these guys are their buddies, the ones who get games, who have fun playing them and goofing off. Game magazines on the other hand appear dry and stale. The formula is the same, but it's not really refreshing. News, previews, reviews, solutions. Next game. Sometimes one can exchange the opinion boxes of two reviews and not even really notice the difference.

My point is this: readers care much less about objectivity than we all think. They want to enjoy what they read, they want to know that the writer is "one of them", that she "gets him" and that they are entertained and informed while reading. For many, YouTube gaming channels fill that void. Personally, I don't have the time to watch all those, I rather read a summary than a 15 minute video. But it's getting harder and harder to find such a summary.

My five cents, your mileage may vary.

Oh, and @Christian: Boris never was in PR for LucasArts. Back in the days, journalists would check their facts before writing things like these. He translated games for them.
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Alex Lemco Writer 3 years ago
I don't consider you someone doing the same job and I'd appreciate it if you did the same. It's not "our" job to inform the audience because there is no "our" here.
Fair point; conceded. I wasn't specifically referring to you or anyone else, just attempting to suggest a common objective for writers/journalists/whatever-we're-to-be-called-now to engage with their audience rather than cower before their misconceptions. As far as everything else goes we're going to have to agree to disagree, but I'll keep what you've said in mind.
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Shehzaan Abdulla Translator/QA 3 years ago
Yea you can ask those questions but if the answer is off the record then what's the point? If the answer is just PR but not reported as such then what's the point?
I have to agree with this. It's been my experience that writers rarely have anything to say that is more insightful than a well-informed forum commenter. They don't actually "get answers", they are fed them through PR or given no answer at all, but ultimately whether they get answers isn't up to them and their skill in teasing out an answer, it's up to the PR person and how developed a marketing campaign for a particular game is (is it time to talk about x now?).

Who asks the question and their position is ultimately irrelevant. In fact with publishers now interviewing themselves publications standing in the cold have no choice but to simply repost self-interviews, reducing their role (increasingly) to convenience, that is gathering information in one place rather than actually acquiring it. That's still a useful role, but it's hardly what I'd call journalism.

The reason the gap between Journalists and non-Journalists (and increasingly professionals and non-professionals) is getting smaller is simple: Those commenters often double as writers, part of the videogame industry itself or otherwise tangetially involved giving them the same industry access as journalists... heck they might actually BE journalists themselves.

Stick around on any consumer forum and you'll normally find one or two of them who happen to be doing writer's work to writer's standards. Only without the pressure of deadlines and NDAs. It's not surprising that many big news leaks are simply being reposted by major sites who are at the sway of their far more nimble, non-professionally bound tipsters. And it's not even as if the publications reposting leaks do the leg work to check the integrity of the leak themselves - they just repost them if it's getting enough attention based on the integrity of the tipster. Integrity built not on a badge or position, but on having a reputation for being consistently correct.

Here's an experiment for videogame writers who are so sure they are the ones offering up value with their writing: Turn off comments. I think they'll find the majority of clicks (which are reclicks) they get are from people checking up on the comments sections. In fact it's not uncommon for people to scroll right past the article they presented and simply using it as a sounding board. I know all too well that many people won't read an article (they wouldn't be asking the questions they doif they had because the article addresses them).

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Shehzaan Abdulla on 20th September 2014 11:54am

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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 3 years ago
However this problem although related to integrity has also come into focus because games journalists are using their position to further political agendas.
This is an oft-repeated point in the hashtag-that-shalt-not-be-named. But it's not as cut-and-dried as all that.

For one thing, it's a short-step from neutrality/objectivity to social/political agenda. Something like "This game has no options for colour-blind or hard-of-hearing individuals, and is impossible to play if you are missing digits." Simple, objective sentence. Entirely about gameplay options. Yet it's a simple step from there to asking "Why does this game - and indeed many games generally - limit the options for even colour-blind individuals?" From a writer's point of view (though, granted, maybe not a reviewer's point of view) it's an entirely legitimate question to ask of the industry. Yet it's also a social agenda - implicit in it is the writer asking for more games that cater to such individuals. And it's not like these individuals are being courted by the industry, so their voice is (mostly) unheard - the writer here acts as the voice of the dispossessed/ignored. Rightly or wrongly, a simple gameplay observation can easily turn into an agenda, and that agenda can just as easily be positive for the industry.

A second reason why it may not be as simple is the "call to arms" effect - women (as an example) promoting the industry to other women. Just like you have leading women within the STEM industries advancing STEM as a career path for the younger generation, so, too, you have it in the writing quarters of the games industry. Again, whilst it's a social/political cause, it's obvious to all concerned that it benefits the industry to promote the presence of women (and minorities) in writing.

In both cases, writers use their position of trust and power within the industry to move it forward. Yes, they are "SJW" agendas, but let's not forget that even the ignoring of a social or political cause is an agenda itself. Look at Fox news and its ignoring climate change, for example.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 21st September 2014 5:38pm

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Shehzaan Abdulla Translator/QA 3 years ago
Look at Fox news and its ignoring climate change, for example.
Or heck, look at any newspaper whose political affiliation is immediately obvious from the front page. But those publications are understood to be biased by the readership in general as well as the writers. This is a little different from videogame writing where similar biases are apparent but writers vehemently refuse to just come out and admit it even when directly confronted which only makes their relationship with their readers worse. Until writers are willing to take a punch to their pride (and potential readership) they will continue to be hounded for not living up the (impossibly high) standards that they themselves promise.
Rightly or wrongly, a simple gameplay observation can easily turn into an agenda
But this isn't what's happening in the videogames writing industry where the same writers persistently bring up the same arguments from the same angle. I've written articles on topics close to my heart too... once. And then I'd said everything of value and moved on.

It's apparent to me that almost the entire videogame writership out there has a pro-feminist agenda, even moving away from talking about games to turning the microscope on select groups of their audience. Writers and commenters will defend that saying the writers are simply adding to or widening the debate. But when that debate is widened to include a critical look at progressive movements and writers themselves (who are also part of the equation even if they only feel they are observers) suddenly everyone acts like some kind of line has been crossed. Apparently everyone is fair game but not progressives and writers. And wouldn't you know it that hardly any publication out there is jumping to tackle or even address that that bias exists? Double-standards indeed.

Are the publications in question scared to openly voice criticism against other publications and progressive movements? Or are they biased? To me it doesn't matter. The end result is persistent lop-sided coverage. And when that lop-sided coverage runs across an entire industry it creates a false narrative of events.

If these publications want to have an agenda, fine. Their sites are their vehicle to drive where they wish and if I don't like where they are going I can get out and walk. But to tell people they have no agenda, or worse, to go on the attack against people who point it out, is simply not on.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 3 years ago
Video game magazines do not have the same sense of mission that weekly political magazines have. There is usually no foundation myth with an aggressive consumer bias. Pragmatic realism trumps over idealism almost every time. Money is made working with the industry, not trying to be an instrument of public oversight. Not just the video gaming press knows this phenomenon, one can observe this across the board, e.g. Fox News. Preach the gospel, earn the exclusive with loyalty, use the exclusive to grow your brand. Repeat ad infinitum.

Imo, there are no double standards, there is simply nobody correcting the readers' false beliefs.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 3 years ago
The end result is persistent lop-sided coverage. And when that lop-sided coverage runs across an entire industry it creates a false narrative of events.
But to tell people they have no agenda, or worse, to go on the attack against people who point it out, is simply not on.
How many newspapers or TV channels openly admit to having an agenda? The Daily Mail is hate-filled and factually incorrect, but does the editor or publisher say that they're right-wing loons? They might imply it, sometimes, but generally they just publish pieces which feed into the bias of themselves and their readers. Does Fox News openly state they have a bias? Or do they dismiss as wishy-washy Democrats those who say they are biased?

Interestingly, it's the liberal media which are more-often-than-not open about bias. The Guardian is pro-freedom-from-surveillance, and make no apologies for it. The New Statesman publishes very left-leaning think-pieces. And, in gaming, RPS has (more than once) stood its ground and said "We are for so-and-so... This may be biased, but we don't give a damn."

All of which is to say that what's happened in gaming media isn't unusual. Not to defend it, but it's not unusual. What is unusual is a couple of things:

1) Readers are suddenly up-in-arms about bias and SJW'ing. Seriously, go out, read a paper. Every magazine, every broadsheet, every TV channel has a bias. Relatedly...

2) Gaming media appears to be almost entirely liberal/left-wing, either overtly (like RPS), or covertly (inasmuch as they don't want to come out and say it). I think, if gaming media had a wider spread of social and political thought, that this wouldn't actually be an issue. No-one complains that The Guardian is left-wing, because they read The Times or The Telegraph. But in gaming? I can't think of any politically right-of-centre sites (feel free to correct me :) ). Thus, right-of-centre/right-wing gamers have no media, and see a conspiracy of left-wing creatives and journalists telling them what to think/feel.

These two points together feed back into what I quoted at the start. If the only media you have is left-wing, then obviously things will feel lop-sided. What's unfortunate is that this stupid hashtag hasn't opened-up political and social thought, but rather shut it down.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 21st September 2014 10:28pm

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Shehzaan Abdulla Translator/QA 3 years ago
Yeah. I really have to agree with the broad strokes of what you're saying and I think they raise some interesting points. Just glad someone else is actually seeing what is happening because the lack of recognition was making me feel like I was going crazy (or surrounded by crazies).

Though I wouldn't say a right-wing site is what I'm looking for so much as an apolitical site that focuses on the games the way magazines used to (minus the console wars nonesense). I don't believe it is impossible. I can show people examples of copy and invite them to guess a political stance and I'm sure they'd end up stumped.
How many newspapers or TV channels openly admit to having an agenda?
They might not admit to having an agenda, but they will admit to the existence of them within the media as a whole. Ask the Guardian about the Daily Mail's agenda. They won't tell you there isn't one (which is what is happening in videogame writing today as there is only one voice speaking)!

And I don't think newspapers have to admit to having agendas either as everyone knows they do. Heck, schoolchildren are even taught this as part of their compulsory education. As a result there really is no scepticism over the existence of political bias. Videogame writing however is in a very violent phase of transition from apolitical to politicised writing. I guess it was inevitable that "console wars" bias would give way to another kind of outlook (political position) as the medium and those reading about it matured.

But in the case of videogame writing the change has happened surprisingly quickly, blindsiding and angering many readers who were taken by surprise by the change in position on publications they've frequented for years. Publications which they wouldn't have read if they had been this way for the last decade, and publications which are still ambivalent about where their biases fall in their increasingly politicised sites. I'm sure many of those playing down the changes would be complaining likewise if the swing had been to the right instead. But regardless of which way it is happening I think it is important to acknowledge that it is indeed happening.

You're right in that many videogame writing publications are now politicised. And I think going forward everyone needs to be far more aware that this is happening so that videogame writing publications get the same healthy dose of scepticism that newspapers do. At the moment there's only one narrative in videogame writing and it's being propagated by people who use the term "journalist" (which is not what they are nor an accurate job description) to give their words more credibility, even if the substance of them remains the same.
But in gaming? I can't think of any politically right-of-centre sites (feel free to correct me :) ). Thus, right-of-centre/right-wing gamers have no media, and see a conspiracy of left-wing creatives and journalists telling them what to think/feel.
Agreed.

People are angry that despite seeing this change in videogame writing that no one is acknowledging that it is happening, making those making the observations feel singled out for being crazy, even though they know full well it is happening. If you don't like one newspaper you can always buy another. But what about websites where there is no alternative?

But it's about more than left/right-wing. It's also about political/apolitical. After all, many people today grew up reading apolitical publications (console wars notwithstanding) that simply talked about the games. After all, it's pretty hard to bring political issues of race and gender into things when you are playing as spaceships and dolphins. At the moment sites like that do exist. but they don't exist that way out of principle meaning readers don't know when and if the values of those sites will change (as has been the case for many other publications).
Video game magazines do not have the same sense of mission that weekly political magazines have. There is usually no foundation myth with an aggressive consumer bias.
I just quoted this because I really like the term "foundation myth". I doubt I'll have the occassion to use it because I'm not interested in aggressively pursuing this much further. Morville's comments have assured me that eventually the shift towards politicised writing will become acknowledged as a matter of fact rather than mad rambling meaning I have little reason to do that.

As I've said above, I think overt political stance is where many publications are going. Sadly at the moment there really isn't much in the way of an alternative. After all, many sites that were not strongly political are the very ones now that suddenly have political angles. You'd think with all this stuff happening someone would have had the bright idea of advertising their site a non-political. We could argue about whether such a thing could even exist (or even about the meaning of political), but it's odd that no one has at least tried to cash in on the idea.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Shehzaan Abdulla on 22nd September 2014 1:39am

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I know of at least one site that devotes most of its output to entirely objective game reviews, perhaps that's what you're looking for? It's still quite small and seems to have been rather quiet for a few months, but the water of more interest can only help these kind of sites grow.
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Justin Biddle Software Developer 2 years ago
Having read some of the reviews (and I have no opinion on the scores themselves) their coyness about saying how the scores are assigned mean you have no way of evaluating if they are objective or not. The word content is certainly objective. But then it's not really a review. It's a long description. Maybe that's the the point but it certainly doesn't offer any opinion on quality (which is probably down to it being impossible to offer a subjective opinion). But then you have the score with no indication as to how it is reached. I don't buy their faq response to this that revealing how would somehow jeopardize their objective review. Why? How does showing the mechanical non-subjective method undermine the objectivity? For all we know they could be using a magic eight ball.
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Do you actually think it's possible to 100% objectively assign a single numerical value to a game that represents its objective worth in every way?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jessica Hyland on 22nd September 2014 11:24am

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Justin Biddle Software Developer 2 years ago
I honestly don't know. But without them saying how they have done it I have a) no way of knowing if they can or not and b) no way of learning how to do it. Having worked in scientific research in the past if I was to make a scientific claim and then said I can't tell you how I reached that conclusion because it would undermine the conclusion I would be dismissed out of hand.
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Shehzaan Abdulla Translator/QA 2 years ago
Jessica: People don't actually want "objective" reviews from professionals. The term is used but what people are really mean is "impartial". That is, influenced as much as possible by the game itself and nothing else (including publishers, political stance, long-held grudges against a developer for that time they stepped on their toe at a trade show etc).

Yes, there might be some bias, but the criticisms against impartiality gloss over the fact that striving for impartiality is still worthwhile in writing a high quality review. Reviewers these days are increasingly throwing up their hands and not even trying. And at the same time we have this laughable situation where writers are trying to tell everyone how valuable their role is as a career and professional position but failing to even pursue impartiality which was the one thing that gave them cachet in the first place.

Is being 100% impartial impossible? Probably. But you don't give up just because you can't 100% it (no virtue is 100% attainable but we still try and demand them of ourselves and others!) as many reviewers have. And you certainly don't play up the value of your role whilst not trying.

Think of it this way: Say you have a Sirloin Steak for lunch and it makes you sick. You then review the newest Cooking Mama game and a Sirloin Steak recipe appears on screen making you nauesous. A reviewer who is biased to a fault will and not striving to be as impartial as possible will rate the game down for how "the game made them feel nausous". Even though the experience leading to that criticism is so personal it isn't so much a reflection of the game but the writer's non-game experience. We are seeing this kind of criticism creep into so-called "professional" reviewing (replace Sirloin Steak with any political bias you please).

We should not be in any rush to laud this behaviour as professional or celebrate it as some kind of success for the videogame writing industry, it's not. At best it's amateurish. How can writers make a case for their value when they aren't doing anything with their writing to put themselves beyond the average commenter? A reviewer can't have it both ways: Either their opinion is simply a collection of feelings and as such no different or valuable than a random blog post (the argument writers make when their work is criticsed), or if they feel otherwise, they have standards they have to strive to meet (the argument they make when their profession is criticised).

Attaining the standards people want is not impossible because gaming publications have done this for years (and again, even if it were, the reviewers should still try) - the demand for such writing didn't appear overnight from thin air, it was something people were used to and wanted back.

Simply put, if I can guess who you are voting for from your review of a Pokemon game then you've not done your job to a professional standard, but worse, you probably haven't even attempted to. I'm not going to sit by and applaud this. I'm going to call it as it is: unprofessional, amateur and sloppy.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Shehzaan Abdulla on 22nd September 2014 2:44pm

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Shehzaan Abdulla Translator/QA 2 years ago
Christian: TBH the definition of left-wing varies from country and culture meaning trying to discern whether videogame writing is left-wing or not is not really worth the effort (I'm guessing from Morville's comments on British newspapers that he is using British politics as a reference point where you are using American).

Besides, nailing that down isn't critical to the point that Morville is making, that the industry is showing a bias towards one outlook regardless of what term we use for that outlook.

Though having said that I don't recall any of the things you're saying actually happening. Here and there perhaps, but as a general cultural movement or trend?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Shehzaan Abdulla on 22nd September 2014 12:25pm

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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 2 years ago
Games media aren't left wing, otherwise games media would be much more critical about the games they are hailing.
Hmmm, good point...

There is variation in the media, just as there is in the development, but it does seem to follow Hollywood morals to a large extent. Violence is fine. Sexual equality and gender balance is also good, and here the games media is more overt/progressive than Hollywood media - games like Gone Home and Dragon Age 2 are lauded for their sex and gender attitudes, even if the gameplay is less acclaimed. Yet the position on sex and sexual attractiveness is quite conservative (in the American political sense). Other than Cara Ellison's S.Exe column, there's not a whole lot of talk about sex in the mainstream games media.

I suppose I defaulted to saying "left wing" because of the media's stance on feminism and sexual equality. And it's interesting that that seems to be a focus of the hashtag, too - more hate spewed at Anita Sarkeesian's Kickstarter than Neal Stephenson's. More people complaining about perceived misandry and LGBT options in games than the violence.

(Also, yes, doesn't help that terms like "left" and "liberal" vary by country).

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 22nd September 2014 12:50pm

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Matt Jeffries Senior Producer, Telstra2 years ago
Here in Germany nobody even raised an eyebrow, when one of the founding fathers of german Games Journalism left the field to start PR work for LucasArts and later for Microsoft's XBox division
Small point in a bigger discussion, if you are an authentic games journalist then you should be aware "Xbox" is never spelt with a capital "B". Never has been, but some amateur bloggers spell it "XBox". Goes to credibility. Fact checkin' an all that, y'know. This used to be the difference between unpaid writers and journalists.

Good luck with your chosen career.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Matt Jeffries on 23rd September 2014 6:29am

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Yvonne Neuland Studying Game Development, Full Sail University2 years ago
Objective feedback by the media is important, not just to consumers, but to the companies producing games as well. The sources for feedback on video games and video game industry trends are limited to channels that are not conducive to collecting accurate information about what the actual population at large thinks about the products.

The vast majority of video games are distributed through 3rd party retailers, which means that the people creating the products are not able to observe the consumer reaction to their products at the Point of Sale. They can, of course, observe the raw numbers on how many units were sold, and probably are provided with some type of data on who purchased the sold units.

While that type of data is useful, it does not reveal anything about the people who did not purchase the product, or the reasons they did not purchase it. In order to expand a customer base, information on why products were not purchased is essential. You cannot fix a problem you do not know exists. There are always reasons for the customer decision not to purchase a product, but those reasons rarely coincide with assumptions made about what those reasons might be, and often have to do with factors unrelated to the product itself. Ascertaining what differences would have altered the customers decision and lead to a purchase is not possible without this information.

Online retailers are increasingly predominant for the distribution of video games, and those retailers are plagued with the same problem of lacking the ability to observe consumer reaction to products at the Point of Sale. They can track what people look at, what they purchase and what they do not, and analyze various correlations between those actions using statistical tools such as SPSS, but they cannot definitively determine what factor was the determining factor, or even what all of the factors might have been. They cannot observe the mood of the customer or ask the customer if they found everything they were looking for. They cannot ask if there is something they can help you find, or offer suggestions on alternatives that meet the exact criteria a particular customer specifies. They cannot offer solutions to problems that would enable the customer to reach the decision that a purchase they had decided against was actually a purchase they wanted to make. Predictive analytics cannot make up for this kind of customer interaction, no matter how well they are used.

Data on consumer opinion and reaction to the product can be collected through support channels or through dedicated feedback channels such as online forums or in game feedback message systems, but again, these channels fall prey to the same deficits that using 3rd party retailers have. People who do not purchase a product are not likely to go to an online forum and explain why. So all feedback data will be limited to people who did, in fact, purchase the product, which prevents companies creating the products from ascertaining the reasons causing the decision not to purchase. What bothers a person who purchased the product is not indicative of the things bothering the people who did not purchase the product.

Additionally, the effectiveness of these types of channels for collecting consumer opinion on the product is limited by the fact that the data is skewed to only include the portion of consumers who frequent them. The data will only represent the opinions of customers who either have problems with the games, have opinions strong enough to provoke them into seeking out a platform for expressing those opinions, or who enjoy expressing their opinions enough to go to the effort of expressing opinions on things they do not really care about. That particular portion of consumers cannot be expected to be representative of the entire consumer base, and should not be used to determine all product design decisions as if it were.

With all of these limitations on consumer feedback, it becomes vital that an objective source of feedback exist in order to accurately assess the factors that are effecting sales. The companies can always perform market research, but if they do not know what avenues of research to pursue, the research will be of limited value. Picking potential sources of market impact at random and hoping they turn out to be relevant is unlikely to lead to market discovery or revenue increase. In order to do effective market research on undiscovered market potential or potential sources of revenue increase, the reasons behind the decisions not to purchase a product must be known.

In my opinion, this is where the media becomes relevant, and where they fall short. The vast majority of video game industry media is dedicated to either individual game reviews or industry specific information. The topics covered are narrowly focused to appeal to avid consumers who are already active customers and a known quantity when it comes to assessing their desires and dislikes about the products. There is little to no coverage of what the human population at large thinks of the industry, what they want, what they do and do not like, or what factors lead to those opinions. There is absolutely no coverage of any kind that would assist in assessing the market at large for new consumer bases, or determine what barriers to entry are preventing certain types of consumers from being reached. There is also little to no coverage of topics that would help to assess the average casual consumer (although there is plenty of criticism of the casualness of those players, derision for the casualness of casual games, and derogatory opinions regarding the nature of the word "casual" when used in conjunction with the word "games" ).

This is where the real problem with the lack of objectivity lies, in my opinion. The industry is seemingly stuck in an infinite feedback loop that is skipping over any and every topic, event, or source of information that does not directly relate to the industry itself, the products the industry has produced in the past or are currently producing, and the opinions held by only the most avid of consumers of those products. Most of the coverage on these topics is heavily opinion based, and the people expressing these opinions are members of the avid consumer population themselves.
There is nothing wrong with expressing these opinions, and nothing wrong with covering those topics. It is the fact that those are the ONLY topics being covered that is problematic.

Without any kind of feedback that allows the industry to judge what non-avid consumers think, desire, dislike, enjoy, need, do not understand or what barriers to entry are preventing them from becoming consumers when they otherwise would already be consumers, the industry cannot judge whether or not the criteria they are basing their decisions on are the ones that are actually effective for making those decisions. Identifying what a reasonable viewpoint is without any viewpoint but the one held by the industry and its most avid consumers is not possible. To judge what the reasonable position on any given industry topic is, it is necessary to know what the position is that is taken by people other than those who comprise the industry and its most dedicated consumer base. The opinions and viewpoints of those groups are important, but they are not the only ones that exist, and they are not the only ones of any importance or value. If the only viewpoint you ever consider is your own, it is impossible to recognize that your viewpoint is unreasonable, or even worse, completely wrong. If you never consider ideas other than the ones you already have, you lose the ability to progress and grow.

You also lose the ability to accurately predict what will cause a PR disaster in the markets that you are not assessing. Several times in recent years, announcements that were thought to be innocuous by the people and companies making them, ended up outraging large numbers of people who normally go completely under the industry and media radar, and led to correspondingly disastrous impacts on the profitability of subsequent product releases.

The current market is a large and lucrative market.

All markets have limitations on the amount of profit that can be derived from them, however, due to the limitations on income the customers in those markets are restrained by. Once you have captured the total potential of a market, there are only 2 possible outcomes: 1. the market stagnates, 2. new markets are identified and captured. Therefore, in order for the industry to continue to grow, it must find a way to obtain objective feedback which allows them to accurately assess new market potential.

In order for the video games media to be effective and remain relevant it must also find a way to obtain objective feedback which allows it to accurately assess new markets other than the ones it is currently serving. That feedback cannot be found within the avid-game consumer or industry professional populations.

The question of objectivity in video games journalism is much easier to assess when the scope of opinions includes the opinions of more than one group. I would agree that it is not possible to accurately decide whether or not an article or topic is covered objectively when it is covered using an ethnographic approach that is limited to the viewpoints held by industry professionals and avid gamers. Both groups are prone to have strong opinions that predispose them to discount factors that opponents of their position assert are relevant. This is unavoidable due to the high level of the investment these groups have in the industry and its products. Many of the issues that are heatedly debated do not actually have a right or wrong answer.

I believe that objectivity could be improved by utilizing principles found in theories of cultural anthropology, such as cultural relativism and holism. Cultural anthropology addressed the problem of maintaining objectivity when performing cultural research by answering two questions: first, how to escape the unconscious bonds of one's own culture, which inevitably bias our perceptions of and reactions to the world, and second, how to make sense of an unfamiliar culture.

Essentially, I am saying that if you view gamer culture as your native culture, then apply the principles of cultural relativism and holism to studying non-gamer cultures, you could use the same techniques cultural anthropologists do to make your articles more objective by covering multiple points of view on the topics at hand. Some of those points of view would be held by people who were not avidly-dedicated to gaming, and therefore would have opinions that were more likely to be less colored by strong opinion based on personal desires and vendettas.

The writings of Frank Boas and Ruth Benedict both address this topic extensively, and provide many examples that could be used to extrapolate an approach to games journalism that allows for more objective analysis of the video games industry.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Yvonne Neuland on 23rd September 2014 9:39am

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Shehzaan Abdulla Translator/QA 2 years ago
"Do we focus on the good news or the bad news in the headline and strap? Do we throw all of this into one story or split it into multiple standalone pieces?"
This makes it clear that avoiding some kind of bias is impossible. The problem is when publications, claiming they have a fair, authoritative (read: multi-faceted) oversight (implied or otherwise) simply use the inevitablility of bias as an excuse to not attempt to even bother being impartial in the future. That's the point where they go from being a trustworthy authority on their subject to the same level as every other voice out there.

Publications would be better served by spending less time defending their biases and more time writing from multiple viewpoints to cater to a wider audience. If that means hiring writers and editors with diverse views then so be it.

Edit: On an aside, what's up with the way this comments system allows people to upvote their own posts? Sometimes my posts are self-upvoted automatically and other times they are not, making unclicking my own votes for myself a bit of a pain.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Shehzaan Abdulla on 23rd September 2014 2:03pm

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