In the next eight hours, another thousand will pop through. Some of them I’ll have written, contributing to this deluge.
How can I possibly argue that the world needs more videogame websites?
How can I seriously believe there is a single gap unexplored or demand unfulfilled?
I argue it because it’s not about gaps and niches. It’s about people and voices.
Videogame mags have traditionally been brands, like custard powders.
They came in different flavors with varying levels of quality. Every now and again, you’d buy one. Maybe you’d buy one every month, without fail. Some people really like custard. But the world can only sustain so many types of custard powder.
Videogame publications are no longer like custard powder. They are no longer created in factories, sustaining hordes of fuckwits with clip-boards and pie-charts.
They are, increasingly, just people and voices. They don’t cost anything. they don’t vie for your loyalty. They rarely stoop to proclaim themselves best-selling or best-quality or cheapest or best-free-gift. They don’t advertise on the telly. There are no distributors. There is no physical product at all. There is just some person talking to you, via a website or podcast or whatever. And you get to talk back.
It’s true that a few of the games websites you read do behave like brands, for historical reasons or for reasons of convenience, but they are not consumed in this way. They are consumed as people connecting with other people.
Someone says something that interests you and you listen. Maybe you have found it on Google, or in your In-box, or while idly browsing, or via RSS. And you click on the link. You don’t so much ‘go’ to that person, as you allow them into your life, even for a few moments. This is the beginning and the end of your interaction with the ‘brand’ that employs the person you are reading.
I read Matt Casamassina because he’s funny and he really gets his specialist subject, Nintendo. I don’t really care about IGN. I don’t have any feelings about it one way or the other.
I read Pat Garratt because he’s fast and spiky. I don’t really think about VG247 as somehow separate from Pat.
I read Kotaku, not because I identify with the brand, but because I occasionally identify with that part of its readership which enjoys looking at dogs dressed as Street Fighter characters.
Paying to read games publications is finished, for sure. Even the mag publishers have stopped squawking about the allegedly ‘special character’ of magazines.
The interruptive advertising model that sustains big games website is also under threat, and will take up a smaller percentage of marketing budgets in the next few years. Enormous change in the financial models underpinning professional journalism absolutely mean changes in games journalism.
For years, working in magazines, I’d have to write puff copy about whatever publication I was on. We were encouraged to use words like ‘essential’ and ‘authoritative’ and ‘respected’. But nobody in real life – apart from politicians and other wankers – describes themselves in this absurd way. In real life, we all just put ourselves out there. Most of the world ignores us; some of the world takes a mild and fleeting interest; some of the world actually likes us and wants to listen to us regularly.
And anyway, those old descriptors of magazines are meaningless. Who even wants ‘authoritative’? Haven’t we finally had enough of this patrician shit, constantly telling us what’s best, what’s cool, what’s ‘essential’, what I absolutely have to consume, or else?
Increasingly, I grow weary of people who are paid a salary to talk about entertainment. What interests me are people who are just genuinely passionate and original and honest. I’m not against folks making a buck; but the days when almost everything you read was produced by someone getting paid to write, are over.
Among my RSS feeds are many, many people who have something to say and aren’t getting paid by a large media organization to say it. Perhaps they are self-serving, talking about whatever project they are working on right now. Perhaps they are egomaniacs, desperately seeking attention. Maybe they are getting paid via Adwords. Perhaps they are genuinely passionate about their subject. It doesn’t matter, so long as they are interesting.
What I’m looking for is not ‘brand’ but ‘voice’. And not some voice that has been dreamed up in a ghastly editorial conference room, petrified in some horrible, horrible ‘brand bible’, but a genuine person’s voice.
No-one would say ‘too many people talk these days’. There is no saturation point for conversation.
At the moment, some of the people writing those stories in my RSS feed are paid to write. And that’s fine. I get paid too. But the distinction between ‘games journalist’ and ‘games enthusiasts who can write’ is blurring.
There are people – always ‘journalists’ – who think this is a bad thing. For me, journalism is about telling stories about people. So if the people can tell their own stories – in ways that are compelling and honest and emotionally relevant – what’s the point of the journalist?
I mean, we still need journalists to explain complex events, or to seek out balance among confusion. We always will. The world needs the brave reporter in Kandahar, shells bursting around her. We need the guy who spends six months rooting through the paper-trail of corruption at leading banks. We need the TV snoop pointing a mike at dodgy roof-repair cowboys. We need the person who checks the traffic every morning. Very few people are going to serve these functions for nothing.
We also require the guy who gets up at 6. am. to write a digest of the game’s industry news. We love the clever, sparkly writer with innumerable development contacts; or the person who can make games sing through their copy. Pay these people. They deserve it.
But I am not so sure we really need to pay hundreds of people to tell us if such-and-such a game is worth playing, or how development is going on project X or the ten best games featuring gardening implements. People can, and do offer up this service for free, and often, with every bit as much ability as the professionals.
The number of journalists being paid by large media organizations to write about games is going to drop significantly in the next few years, while the number of people writing about games – for free or under new revenue models – is going to explode. As the game industry press corps diminishes, I would like to see more people writing about games, especially those who really understand the subject.
It’s true that the blogs of, say, Peter Moore or Larry Hyrb or any number of developers serve a sales function and are not impartial. We all understand that. But they offer more insight into the art and business of games than so many professional journalists who are supposedly impartial. (This impartiality is an idea, precious among games journalists, that, regrettably, many consumers don’t buy for a second.)
The writers who are getting the most attention these days are not the ones who get paid to write, but the ones writing about the thing they get paid for.
Let’s see more game-makers carve out some time every day to talk about their life and their work; more game-players jumping in to have their say; more games journalists leaving the orbit of dying media suns to create new audiences based on new new revenue models.