One of the biggest problems with games journalism might actually be a little worse than you realize
I started this website seven-ish years ago as a means to promote freelance writing I was doing for other outlets and publish pieces of my own that, for whatever reason, didn’t go somewhere else. If you regularly read my writing it will come as no surprise that I gradually got fed up and decided forget it, I’ll write for myself, but it was really intended as part of my own proper journalistic efforts elsewhere around the web from the earliest days.
Since then I’ve been fortunate to bring in the occasional paycheck to cover very cool stuff. My first paid feature was a long profile about leaders from modern homebrew and modding communities (which now lives here on CodeWritePlay). I’ve reviewed games and interviewed countless developers. I’ve reported from the conference floor at GDC and written up local gatherings of devs from my own area in St. Louis. For a lot of the last decade, I’ve been observing and discussing the highs and lows of this industry.
Of all the drama, controversy, and heartache around games, one brief exchange with the editor-in-chief of a website I hoped to write for illustrated the biggest problem I see in the field.
I was friendly with the editor on Twitter, so when he put out a call for freelance pitches via email, I thought I had a decent chance of maybe snagging an assignment. It’s a smaller but highly visible outlet and would have been a welcome byline.
His call was pretty wide open, so I pitched all of the following:
- An interview with a senior gameplay engineer on Star Citizen with whom I was already friendly
- An interview with a NYT bestselling author of Halo and Star Wars extended universe content
- An interview with one or more executives from EA Maxis, Capcom, and EA Sports about their new studio
- An inside look at an upcoming NFL project under the supervision of Peter Moore
Thanks to the podcasting and website work, I had contacts more than ready to jump on any of these stories. I was proud of the list I was able to put together as a result of being talkative and helpful with the PR contacts that helped make them possible.
The editor’s reply was quick and definitive. Basically: “right pitches, wrong games.”
Take a moment with that. Talking about Halo, Star Wars, and the NFL were not close enough to the top of the heap at the time for this major outlet to cover. The majority of triple-A and pop culture was nowhere near this site’s radar. Imagine how much further a good indie was from getting covered.
When we hear about developers lamenting online that journalists don’t want to talk about their projects, they’re absolutely right. Many editors out there aren’t going to sign off on articles about games that cost a fortune to make. That’s how far they are from listening to a soloist talk about investing their time. It’s not fair, but it’s also not going to change. These days it’s likely to get worse.
I was a player before I was a developer, and this really bums me out because I know I’m missing great games and content out there because they’re not cracking the top five spots. We also know the top five spots are rarely going to the top five games. They’re going to the loudest, largest companies. Think of how often those games disappoint the hell out of us.
My suggestion for just about everyone is not to rely on bloggers and journalists (including me. Especially me.) to be your all-seeing eye over the industry. You will miss a LOT. We talk a lot about how some developers fall into the trap of getting too involved with the development community online instead of pursuing players. I’d argue this actually solves a lot of this problem, and everyone should be doing it. Check out those GameDev tags around the web and see what people are putting together. The best projects tend to rise to the top, and they’ll be a lot less likely to slip by you undetected.
Furthermore, when you find bloggers and even social accounts talking about indie games (bonus points if they’re not charging those developers money to mention them), SUPPORT THEM.
Please, don’t hesitate to shout out your favorite indie and offbeat game coverage below.
Todd Mitchell is a US Midwest-based comedy writer and game developer with bylines at Weekly Humorist, Fanbyte, Slackjaw, End of the Bench Sports, and more. He’s the author of Inside Video Game Creation, the founder of CodeWritePlay, and host of the GameDev Breakdown podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Mechatodzilla.