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The Changing Tides of Games Journalism
by Alex Nichiporchik on 05/14/14 01:29:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


It was 10 years ago that I started writing about video games. By pure accident I discovered a talent that would eventually get me into the video games industry. The game was called Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, and after beating it on release day, I really wanted to share my experiences with the world. That resulted in a game news website giving me a job. 

As journalists we would set the trend to what’s hot in the community. In hindsight, it’s a terrifying amount of power. You get 5 different gaming headphones and decide which is best - and that one would sell in the region. Which game do I review this week? What news do I post about? Which console wins this generation? Why? All these questions kept me awake at nights, and super motivated to break into the “other side” — actual product development. I say “product” because at the time I was also super interested in the hardware part of things. 

Flash forward 10 years. PewDiePie has 26 million subscribers. Whatever he makes a video about, that gets instantly picked up by hundreds of other Youtubers. Reddit’s homepage automagically gets you coverage on major game press sites. Even if you make a picture of a cat cosplaying “The Definition Of Insanity” and it makes it to the front page - bam, coverage on KotakuEscapist, etc. 

It’s a weird world we live in now. Online communities as we know them have become mainstream. 10 years ago viral things would spread via early social networks and for the most part via IRC chatrooms. Now everyone can discover and share content online, which I believe is the core of this journalism revolution, where users dictate what’s hot - and not the other way around. 

An added factor is how easily you can become a journalist right now, or claim to be one. Platforms like wordpress are super easy to install, most home PCs/laptops are powerful enough to edit videos, so you can get onto Youtube. Youtube and Google’s AdExchange provide you means of monetization. It’s all automated, all available. 10 years ago I had no idea where to start. I had no clue how to create a website, where to host it, how to pay for hosting even. I had to wait for hours for videos to render. 

As a journalist, now I would rather look at what the super engaged community of reddit is talking about, and post about it in an easy to digest way to my own following. Should I go through a stack of 50 press releases (per hour), or checkout what’s trending on twitter? A weird world we live in. 

Alongside journalism, I also did marketing. In that world, you tend to send out very corporate press releases, trying to hit as many “Unique Selling Points” (USPs… *shrugs*) as possible. You try to get buzzwords in, so your b2b (business to business… read: press) partners get excited. 

This worked couple of years ago in gaming. Large publishers and platforms still have a similar approach with press events. Renting out a hotel and having journalists checkout a line up of games. On a large scale it can still work. But…. Goat Simulator. That game is my favorite example of what I’m talking about. A joke that went too far and turned into an actual game. Something that started off as a Youtube video, which the whole Internet picked up on. Which website hasn’t covered it? At PAX East, the whole Unreal Booth was plastered with goats. You got to love how it went completely out of control and how everyone played along. 

So the question is - does press coverage make your game noticed, and everything else follows? Or is it now the other way around? 

I believe the tides have shifted. Now you have to market your games towards end-users, and have the press “in mind”. Because as a journalist, I would love to post what my users would love to read about - and comment, share, discuss. The easiest way to ensure that happens is to post about things that are getting traction within the community. 

We used to have a “Consumer” and a “Press” list in our mailing service. For 3 months now that’s no longer the case, and I’m seeing much better results. We used to separate press-centric announcements and consumer-centric announcements. Now it’s all the same, with little notes towards press that they can get keys. 

With the way Steam is moving towards an open platform, and consoles are gearing towards influxes of indie games, it will become increasingly more valuable to have an audience loyal to your brand, and interested in what you’re doing. If that same audience helps share whatever you are creating — the press will pick it up. 

Of course it never hurts to have direct contacts, and reach out directly to specific journalists. I’m not saying to not work with press, what I’m saying is to treat your fans equally and with respect — they will decide if your company succeeds or not, and will make press coverage so much easier. 

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Maria Jayne
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I've been buying and playing games now for about 25 years, in that time I've shifted from randomly picking up games in stores based on box art and price, to checking magazine reviews and cover tape/disc demos, to investigating game review websites and opinions of gamers via forums and places like youtube or twitch.

It's interesting to see how my judgement and assimilation of other peoples opinions has evolved in this time. I am naturally quite cynical of what other people think and tend to dismiss all marketing as something only to be entertained by rather than believed.

I'm now at the point where I haven't regretted buying a game for over a decade. Partly this could be argued as buyers bias....I bought it therefore I'm predetermined to like it. However while I definitely have bought some games I have enjoyed less and even been disappointed by in their current unpatched state.....I've not bought anything which I honestly thought was just a "bad game".

I wonder how much of this is down to my experience at gaming or my distrust of marketing, and how much of it is down to the fact games are now actually regularly patched after release...things that are broken can be fixed, frustrations can be smoothed out.

I generally don't look at one source or all sources...I carefully balance the opinions of others with my own opinion by searching for information on a game I'm interested in. I've never bought a game based on one review and I've never dismissed a game based on one review. There are simply too many variables between me and a reviewer.

Perhaps I am not that average though, I don't have that much expendable income so I am more careful about where I spend it and that makes financial sense to me to take the time to research it, rather than just impulse buy.

Richard Black
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I think part of what you're looking for is a shift in where people look for game reviews. I mean my first experience with games journalism was reading Nintendo Power as a kid. A Nintendo sponsored games magazine that would give bad Nintendo games bad reviews. Would that happen now? Hell they had Seanbaby reviewing Disney games which I still get a chuckle remembering more than a decade later. I dissapeared for a few years to wander around the world and when I finally settled back into gaming I ended up with a few crap games that still had high reviews on all the major game sites. My favorite was Fallout 3 which was severely flawed on all gaming platforms to the point where a lot of console gamers couldn't get out of character creation without systems freezing or crashing. Consoles. It was like Bethesda had decided so many people were so forgiving of MMOs releasing with bugs they'd introduce that wonderful design philosophy to the console market as well. I'd never seen anything like it before or on such a scale, but I have since once the ice was broken. Yet I think it was around three months after release that any paid reviewer dared to mention the occasional hiccup in gameplay. I paid attention at the time just to see, and for awhile it was like they were even trying to talk in code. After getting burned a few times I think most people started shifting to other sources of media to find something they could trust before shelling out fifty or sixty dollars for crap product that still got must buy reviews. It's not all that much different from the wealth of alternative news sites that have exploded which cover news that the major news outlets avoid that might conflict with their corporate interests.

Jennis Kartens
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Issue here is, real journalism shouldn't be a mere catalogue of skewed ratings for what to buy next.

Journalism is not just about getting your game seen. It should be about information, yeah. But it should be a lot more about critical thinking and valuable informations. Which sadly is still missing from most major sites and print magazines. All in all, the games press is very close modeled to rainbow press and not so much to true journalism.

Even with the direct marketing today, not much has changed really. Stuff has shifted, but especially operations of larger companies hasn't changed within the past 20 years.

As a developer you can help. In fact, that is something positive indiependent movement has brought, since they aren't forced to speak through PR.