What defines a games journalist these days?
If it is a person that reports on the industry, that reviews games, that gets press passes to consumer shows and carries business cards, the term can encompass thousands of teens and students that have their own website, podcast or YouTube channel. Joe literally blogs.
And that’s by no means a bad thing, since from amongst these masses that the games media legends of the future occasionally emerge. There are blossoming sites out there, as each year’s GMA nominations consistently prove.
But what does this mean for the professional websites?
Established online giants such as IGN, CVG, GameSpot and Eurogamer have long since become the leading medium for games coverage, but how can they fend off the plethora of ‘by gamers, for gamers’ press?
CVG editor Andy Robinson says: “The consumer blog space has completely changed the game as far as commercial sites go.
“At a time when absolutely anyone can broadcast their opinion to the world, it’s more important than ever that our writers make the best of their industry access and pretty much provide a service for our readership, whether that’s in 24/7 news, respected reviews or a barrage of game footage.
“The age of ‘enthusiast press’ asks lots of questions of the established industry and that only goes to improve our coverage.”
Eurogamer MD Rupert Loman adds that publishers being a lot more liberal with their materials, sending the latest screenshots and trailers to sites of all sizes, has changed the stakes.
“There’s a democratisation of gaming media happening at the moment because you can’t rely on publisher assets to drive traffic any more,” he says. “For example, a lot of the video traffic has moved to YouTube.
“So quite a lot of the traditional big players are falling away, while some of the others who are offering something new and different are growing. There’s a lot of choice now for advertisers and gamers. So there’s a challenge for us – staying unique and credible, producing great content and continually innovating.”
Then there’s the plethora of platforms consumers now use to access media content. Adapting your website for different browsers is the least of your worries now – coverage needs to be suitable for mobile, smartphones, tablets and maybe even available via consoles.
“We’ve strived to make our voice more accessible no matter what platform you prefer,” says Ian Chambers, IGN’s international VP and MD.
“This ranges from our Xbox Live app and the UK’s only daily radio games news bulletin on Bauer’s Kerrang!, to YouTube, with our subscriber-base growing 48 per cent year-on-year.
“We’ve also launched START, an original YouTube channel in partnership with Google, which is gaining traction – with growing subscriptions and increasing views.”
UPPING THE ANTE
Fortunately, the increased competition online has driven the big four to improve their content, raising the bar to put more distance between them and bedroom newshounds.
“Online games writing is generally of a much higher quality now than it was five years ago, and we’ve been lucky to have gifted longform writers such as Andy Kelly, Michael Gapper, Christian Donlan and Rob Crossley write for us in the past year,” says Robinson.
Video has also come a long way, with TV-like levels of production going into shows like Start/Select and IGN Daily Fix – a far cry from the webcam and capture card reviews that currently flood YouTube. This is partly fuelled by a growing appetite amongst consumers for more than just written articles.
“The gaming audience is fragmenting and we’ve looked to expand and broaden our offering to respond to this,” says Ben Howard, publishing director for games and entertainment at GameSpot UK parent CBS Interactive.
“In particular we’ve highlighted the live video phenomenon and e-sports as two areas we see massive audience growth – our partnerships with Twitch TV, Own3d TV and MLG will grow our presence in those areas.
“Video is becoming the primary method of entertaining and informing audiences around video games and for us it’s the primary area where we see significant audience growth. It’s been a focus for us for a number of years and the growth around live video services in the last 18 months only demonstrates that this isn’t going to slow down.”
But it’s important not to neglect traditional editorial, as countless sites and blogs prove every day.
“There’s definitely room for both,” says Loman. “RockPaperShotgun, for example, is almost entirely written editorial and has achieved phenomenal growth, because the audience they are catering for responds to their type of content.
“But if you look at the likes of Machinima you can see how video is changing things as well. The gaming audience is so broad now that different sites will cater for different audiences – so the days of a ‘one size fits all’ website are probably over.”
Chambers agrees, adding that a healthy mix is essential: “The key is engaging with our audience in the most effective way possible. Different content works better on different platforms – people don’t necessarily want to read a long opinion piece on their mobile but they’ll happily watch a short video on the same topic.”
As for that pesky ‘enthusiast press’, the market leaders of the online world refuse to see them as the enemy. Far from it – they think it better to encourage and develop this future talent.
Eurogamer, for example, works closely with hundreds of fansites and blogs on coverage around its own ventures, such as the Eurogamer Expo, while IGN runs a sturdy affiliate programme to help up and coming media stars spread their content further.
“We’re working with many different partners, providing them a platform to increase their voice,” Chambers explains.
“The aim of IGN’s affiliate programme is to work with the very best games content creators wherever they are, on YouTube or fan sites – amplifying their fantastic work to a bigger audience. This isn’t a numbers game; we carefully select our partners, because their voice complements IGN’s and vice-versa.”
Going forward, the internet will continue to be the main source of gaming news and analysis – even more so as print continues to decline.
Expect competition to increase as journalists, both professional and enthusiast, find new ways to cover video games, further improving the quality of the media content consumers have access to.
Competition between amateurs and professional will also heat up. But rather than creating bitter rivalries, this will instead forge a new world of online games coverage, where established giants and up-and-coming talent all have something unique to offer readers.