The BBC has congratulated the games industry on waking the mainstream media up to the sector’s ‘extraordinary’ success story.
But one of the organisation's leading journalists has said that there is still work to be done when it comes to games firms courting the press, especially in terms of promoting developers.
Talking as keynote speaker at NESTA’s event today unveiling its half-million fund for games studios, the firm’s lead technology journalist Rory Cellan-Jones ran through the ups and downs the games industry has had with the media.
The writer and broadcaster said both industry and media were to blame for previous ‘scare stories’, but also offered advice on how the games industry can now better represent itself now that the media is on side.
“Games are one of the most extraordinary industries with a great track record – but an industry whose story has been ignored by the mainstream media, people like me, until very recently,” he said. “But now we’re all growing up.”
“One of the problems you’ve had until recently is getting the mainstream press to understand what you’re all about. Your problem has been the mainstream – and that’s because the mainstream journalists had until recently had little connection with games.”
Cellan-Jones pointed out that, unlike the way industries such as banking, brewing, or film are treated non-games journalists find it hard to relate to games when covering them.
“Games have been seen as kids’ stuff, nerdy games played by badly dressed people, exclusively played by boys or rather young men with personal hygiene problems who should know better,” he offered light-heartedly, but added that the immature perceptions worked both ways.
“You’ve not helped yourselves – you’ve been bad at communicating, slow to wake up to the genuine worries of politicians and parents. Until recently there has been an attitude of ‘this is none of our business’, and that whatever happened on a games console was between you and your country men.”
Likewise, the traditional media as “failed to cover with any texture” the ‘huge upheavals’ relating to global pressures that face the UK games industry.
Things for both changed with the unveiling of the Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii in 2005, he said. “We have woken up to the fact games weren’t something kids just played –they were starting to rival film. We started to look at things like a business story rather than a worrying social issue like teenage pregnancy or knife crime.”
Specifically, GTA IV’s treatment by the press proved that “coverage has come of age” as it was covered as a business and creativity story, a “cultural and economic event”, so shortly after two ‘old fashioned’ stories about games – namely the “long-running row of the classification of Manhunt 2” and the Byron Review.
“Games have received far less coverage from film, theatre and the arts – but probably has a bigger audience than those,” but now commissioning editors were, he added, starting to make it policy that such stories are about an industry that is “quite important to our readers.
“So we will start treating it as such. The rest of the mainstream media is following the same thinking,” he said.
But, Cellan-Jones said that “as a journalist, there is still a struggle” when it comes to representing the games industry.
Developers are still ‘too shy’ to discuss the process of making games, so worried they are that they could upset their publisher.
The industry also still lacks decent, recent statistics to prove its worth, size and workforce, he said.
“What I wanted were facts; how many people are employed by foreign companies, how do the numbers compare with 10 years ago.? I rang one trade body the other day – it wasn’t Tiga, by the way – and was left none the wiser about the UK games industry.”
That the most recent figures available about the games industry were from 2005 was both “strange” and frustrating, he said, saying the industry must do better to have timely statistics ready to show the media how successful it is.
Cellan-Jones also said the industry should capitalise on development ‘star power’ to show how talented its workforce is.
“You need some stars, some star quality. The Daniel Craigs and Richard Bransons of games need to come out and bang the drum for you,” he said, pointing out that Elite creators David Braben and Ian Bell, although “not quite Thomas Edison or Henry Ford, surely deserve to be better known?”
The same was true of the likes of Dave Jones, Charles Cecil, Toby Gard he said.
“In any other industry these people would be stars and would be promoted as such,” he said.