Public relations. Diplomacy. Fighting fires. But when do I get to play some gaaaaames?
The real life of the games journalist is all about liaising with the opposition and becoming their friend. Proving to them that you have a publication worthy of an exclusive and that you have a big enough circulation to warrant a drip-feed of jaw-dropping screenshots.
And why shouldn’t they demand that? They have a job to do, after all. Game publishing houses are sales driven, it’s their job to maximise product sales and outsell the competition.
But proper journalism gets lost amongst that, especially against scandalous rumours of embargo-busting early positive review scores. But that’s partly the fault of publications – especially amateur ones – who bow to the pressure and contribute to such a massive Catch 22.
It’s the most vicious of vicious circles, though. How can a magazine on the shelves hope to corner a slice of the market and shift copies if they don’t have an exclusive on the cover that shits all over everything else on the stands?
It’s endemic across publishing houses worldwide, and the only real victim is the content itself. Well, the consumer too if the case of Gran Turismo 5 is to be rolled out. An embargo until the day it hit the shelves? That doesn’t benefit anybody bar the pockets of the assholes who demanded it.
The goalposts can’t be changed will-nilly, and there surely has to be a defining break somewhere along the line (hopefully the best thing that can come from the recession). But for all the schmoozing and friendliness of it all when it’s all going right, the cold shoulder when review code falls short of expectations is horrible, and shows why games journos need lessons and guidance in tact and caution as well as in how to make a judgement about a game.
It’s not a case of a game landing on your desk, reviewing it and telling the world how good or bad it is. Jobs and lives are at stake. That may sound dramatic, but if a young developer is working for somebody and the reception for a game is negative, they’ll more than likely get the chop and move on. Er, unless you work on Dynasty Warriors and have license to churn them out every other week…
It leads to a situation that feels almost openly incestuous. Everybody knows it happens, but what can you do? Games journalism is one of those dream jobs. If some daft bastard is going out of their way to pay you for doing it, you get to be a Peter Pan of sorts, immersed in a perpetual childhood until you have your mid-life crisis.
The most fun I’ve had personally in games journalism is doing interviews. You meet a lot of lovely people and write about projects they’re really passionate about. The only real interaction you have with PR is to chase it up after the initial request – that’s the kind of games journalism I love.
I hope that kind of games journalism is the future.