MCV catches up with Games Media Legend and IGN’s US head of news and features, Colin Campbell.
What did winning the Games Media Legend award at the Games Media Awards mean to you?
I live in California. When I got back from London my 7-year-old said, "You went all that way to pick up a piece of glass?" But it’s more than that. It meant the world to me. I think a lot of us do this thing because we crave approval, most especially from the people we admire. I was in a post-mortem recently and my colleagues clapped about an editorial I’d written. I was almost blubbing. Pathetic, really.
What have been your biggest influences down the year?
When I started as a teenager, my bosses were Stuart Dinsey, Simon Harvey and Greg Ingham, and my next boss after that was Chris Anderson. With those kinds of leaders and mentors even I managed to learn something useful.
Do games journalists get paid enough?
I get paid a lot more than my brother-in-law. He’s a fireman. But I get paid a lot less than my mate. He’s a bookie. The world is a fucked up place.
Do you think there should there be more proper investigative journalism in games?
It would be great to see more searing reporting exposing corruption, venality. But as often as not, gaming’s best stories are about what is produced, rather than the sordid details of production. The most shocking stories in games are short term thinking, creative ennui, corporate stupidity, the results of which are all in plain view. Mostly, the biggest stories are the games themselves, which are covered in minute detail. The biggest scoops are about new products that fascinate the public. In this business, it’s hard to beat a headline like ‘Secret New Console Revealed’. Make of that what you will.
Is there enough accountability in games journalism?
If half the PRs in this business stopped talking to me tomorrow, it’s an inconvenience. If I lose half my ad revenue, it’s a problem. But if half my readers disappear, it’s armageddon. The publishers, the retailers, the bosses, everyone, we live and die according to the wishes of the consumer. I’ve screwed up before and lost huge numbers of readers, overnight. It’s brutal, but no-one can say we’re not accountable.
Games journalists work so closely with the publishers. Is this right?
You think the sports journalists aren’t close to the football clubs? You reckon the political pundits aren’t partying with the lobbyists and the pols? It’s business. Does it mean we lose our own voice, our independence, our will? Only in the minds of people who don’t understand how the world works. Here’s the games media’s reality – most of our traffic is generated by content produced by games publishers, directly through assets or indirectly with our own additional commentary. That’s what the readers want. We need access to the games. Publishers need access to our readers. But there is a big difference between working with publishers in a sensible, balanced, respectful way, and the simplistic fiction of the games media behaving like games publishing’s minions. They have power and leverage. So do we. Mostly, it works out.
What do you think of this recent obsession of critiquing critiques?
Sure. Why not? Everyone’s work is out there and ought to be open to analysis. That said, nothing in the world rolls my eyes so much as THAT standard editorial rattling on about the poor state of games journalism. It’s so transparently self-serving. I’m more interested in people who just get on with writing well about games. There’s plenty of talent out there just doing their thing. I can name 50 very good games journalists. How many do we need in order to be validated as a creative profession?
Will there ever be a games journalist as respected as Carl Bernstein or Nick Davies?
Ultimately, what we do is advise people on whether to buy this game, or that game. Do we merit the sort of respect you are talking about? I don’t think so. Games are important but they are not life-or-death important. Isn’t it enough to deliver the service we are paid to deliver, to give people sound advice, sparkling copy, interesting ideas, a slice of great entertainment? Must it all be dressed up as if we were dodging shrapnel in Kandahar? Sure, we’re all journalists but so are people who write about sports or shopping or celebrities, none of which matter, but all of which make our lives more fun. I get paid to write about made-up worlds, fantasies. It’s a bloody good way to make a living. But it’s not going to change the world.
So what’s better – games journalism in the UK or games journalism in the US?
Well, I’d be a great bloody fool to answer that one, wouldn’t I? Nice try.
What would you say is your greatest achievement and proudest moments during your career?
I take a lot of pride in some of the people I’ve hired and trained and who have gone onto carve great careers out for themselves, guys like Pat Garratt, Kris Graft, Gavin Ogden, Rob Crossley, and now I am working with a bunch of really talented young people at IGN. Also, I’m pleased that I can choose who I work with. I don’t want to settle for the penny pinchers and the wafflers. Even after 25 years, I’m excited about what I do and I want to work with people who feel the same way. I truly believe in IGN and what we are aiming to achieve. Games media has so far to go before we can match other specialist media, like sports.
What sort of magazines/websites/podcasts do you read/listen to?
I have loads of games media outlets on my RSS feed and I read them all, usually on my commute. They all have their own personality, and some I enjoy a great deal. Others, not so much.