Could 2015 be the year of the MMO Journalist?

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I recently finished one of Malcolm Gladwell’s pop studies, titled, Outliers, which explores some of the biggest successes in sports, business, music and more.

One of the discoveries that Gladwell makes is that, “Outliers” – people who appeared to be miles ahead in their field, had much more than simple talent driving them forward. One of the most significant contributors to the successes of big hitters in their field spur from the fact that they’re very experienced in an unpopular field at the exact moment that society flipped and decided that it was needed.

This is not such a time, not exactly; society isn’t crying out for MMO journalists. Infact, MMO gaming isn’t really crying out for MMO journalists – gaming journalism is crying out for journalists like MMO journalists and, frankly, there’s nobody else that can fit the bill.

So what’s changing in gaming journalism that MMO journalists can fix? The bottom line, which has even been expressed by some of the industry’s top players, is that gaming news is, on the whole, boring right now and the format of how games are reported on needs to change.

Back in the days of traditional gaming media, with magazines like Games Master and Arcade, this wasn’t such an issue. Gaming in the 80’s and 90’s was new and exciting with new technology, new experiences and seemingly endless potential. Here, in 2014, this simply isn’t the case. New consoles, for example, are now treated in the same way now that upgrading a PC has been seen since the mid 90’s. Hype boils down to stats, launch titles and exclusives and it’s all pretty clear-cut how capable a console is going to be. Furthermore, the role that gaming press has changed from being purely consumer advice and insider information into virtually a PR service for manufacturers and game developers.

The tail, in a way, is now wagging the dog and the majority of gaming journalism is done behind closed doors, in early access tests and interviews before a game has been released. Post-release feedback is handled, for the most part, by the player and by social media bloggers and vloggers and is only really placed back in the hands of the professional journalists in the run up to an expansion or a DLC launch.

It almost seems like gaming journalists no longer do any of the actual gaming. Gamers want the reviews before launch. Due to pressure from developers to begin making money before a game launches, through the means of pre-orders, paid-for beta access and founder’s packs, gamers need to know how good a game potentially is months, even years, before release.

So, what does this mean for journalists? It means a lot of fast, potentially pivotal decisions on a game, from as early as possible so that when a game begins to approach the radar, reviews are ready, gamers are informed and the cashflow has already began for the game, so that the publishers and investors stay off the developers’ backs during crucial development phases.

That’s a lot of responsibility for writers and it’s a bit of a touchy subject for many, since it’s not a role they signed up for and it’s dramatically shifted the expectations of journalists in the industry. As mentioned before, it also makes professional gaming news boring. Journalists are merely sharing PR information, reviewing developers and generating an abstract opinion on an unreleased version of a game.

The hard work of exploring the game is placed on the player and the senior editors and journalists are beginning to see a very bleak endgame for journalism, if gaming continues down this path. As a result, some of them have began to take some of that power back.

In a recent interview with TotalBiscuit (aka Cynical Brit), Kotaku’s Editor In-Chief, Stephen Totilo expressed his own opinion on the current stance of gaming media, with him and Mr Biscuit both agreeing that “boring” is an overruling sentiment. According to Totilo, Kotaku have been restructuring their own websites standpoint over the past few months, swaying their writing to focus more on post-launch articles explaining that the most interesting news of this year has came from titles like Borderlands The Pre-Sequel, Driveclub and Destiny as their communities strive to find exploits, improve their experiences and, in short, play their games.

At this point, a couple of things had piqued my interest. Firstly, Borderlands, Destiny and Driveclub. These games are all forerunners in the new generation of MMO gaming. Many question the definition of what makes a MMO game these days, including Destiny’s developer, Bungie, who were intent on separating themselves from the genre prior to launch. However, in the eyes of the gamer, the Destiny and Borderlands franchises rest under the MMOFPS umbrella and Driveclub revs alongside World of Speed and The Crew in the Racing MMO genre. MMO games, according to one of the World’s most recognized gaming editors, make interesting news. As a MMO gaming journalist myself, I can whole heartedly agree. These games create continuous content; in some cases, for as much as a decade and, on top of that, their communities create their own entertainment too. This provides a wealth of post-launch news, far more than any other genre and continually playing and talking about a game keeps the game relevant, keeps the medium of gaming relevant and, of course, keeps gaming journalism relevant.

In the realm of MMO games, journalism isn’t all about PR and reviews, it’s about what the players are doing now and it’s about what the developers are doing next, rather than simply interviewing the devs pre-launch and throwing out exactly the information that they want the consumers to see. This means, for the journalist, that continuous engagement with their games is required along with a fair amount of contact with the developers and the communities that they create for. Granted there’s still a huge amount of talking about pre-orders, micropurchases and beta tests – that’s simply the nature of the free-to-play-dominated beast the MMO gaming has become, but the important thing is that MMO journalists are already aware that there’s life after launch.

The other thing from Totilo’s statement that got me thinking, was that writing more post-launch articles had been their agenda since at-least the summer. Going back through the archives, he wasn’t wrong. I even noticed articles I’d found at time of press and hadn’t realized the significance, at the time. This style of writing is already knitting its way into their culture. So, which other non-MMO sites are at it? Joystiq, with strong influence from satellite-site, Massively were a no-brainer, but the same behavior can be observed in other sites. Eurogamer are continually exploring games, post-launch, with head-to-head tests, Sticktwiddlers are heavily integrating themselves with the Youtube, “Let’s Play” culture, Destructoid are posting multi-episode, reviews and Siliconera are covering discount sales and reviews after launch and, lastly, several sites, including GameTrailers, are posting ever-popular videogame retrospectives.

A demand for continual game coverage has been identified, media outlets are straining to provide content and MMO games have been recognized as a tappable resource. So, what happens now? Do sites turn towards MMO games for this continuous coverage? Maybe a little, but the fact is, readers want all of their favorite games to undergo this treatment. They want to see newfound secrets, easter eggs, glitches and they want their games to stay in discussion for longer than an E3 weekend. The level of hype in the build up to a game, compared to the deflation that follows launch day is jarringly noticeable. In addition, it fuels the fire of the more negative gamers; happy gamers post the occasional “OMG Aw3som3! #BestGameEver” tweet when they get their hands on the game, but it’s no secret that disappointed gamers are the more vocal party and an overall good game can be dragged down, due to a minority of unhappy gamers acting as the only long-term source of feedback. The shift in press could remove this.

I think this drive for post-launch coverage will pull MMO games back towards the mainstream, but I also think that non-MMO journalists need to see this as an opportunity to look at the likes of Massively, MMO Champion and Ten Ton Hammer as examples of how they need to push their own journalism forward. These guys have been doing it for years, they know how to talk about a 10 year old game like it’s brand new, they know how to make the fans feel valued and like their investment in a game was worthwhile and it means they always come back, week after week to talk about videogames that they’ve already bought. Do publishers care? Short term, probably not, they’ve made their money at this point and are onto the next game. However, this is exactly why journalists need to push for it. Publishers can’t keep dictating the games – that should be the gamer’s job and by encouraging gamers to keep enjoying their games and keep talking about their games after launch-week, you’re encouraging the culture as a whole.

Unlike the rest of gaming journalism MMO gaming journalism doesn’t have to take this power back – they never let go of it in the first place. Now it’s time for everyone else to play catch-up.

Assassin’s Tweed

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There’s a bunch of April Fool’s jokes hopping around the Twitterverse today, but one of them has got me thinking…

Geek-Chic company, Insert Coin posted a teaser of their Assassin’s Creed “Formal Range” today, which instantly sparked the idea of a Sherlock Holmes-themed AC sequel.

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I’ll set the scene:

It’s the late 1800’s, and you’re Animus’d into the life of detective, drug addict and bare-knuckled boxer, Sherlock Holmes, who has found, through one of his investigations, the hints of Templar tomfoolery. You climb and fight your way through the smoggy, cobbled alleyways of Old London Town, collecting clues, fighting crime, and encountering some of the key characters of 19th century Britain, from Jack the Ripper, Charles DIckens, and of course, Professor James Moriarty.

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A similarly themed adventure was plotted out in the classic, Mike Mignola (creator of Hellboy) interpretation of a 19th century Batman, Gotham by Gaslight, where Bruce Wayne tracks down Jack the Ripper in one of the DC “ElseWorld” style universes. The fact that rooftop-dweller, Batman can animate such a setting proves that it’s more than fitting for an Assassin, and the cityscapes would be simply staggering.

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I must admit; I’m not too bothered (yet) about the French Revolution themed sequel in the works. Personally, like many, I was hoping for a traditional, Japanese samurai variant, but if I can’t get that, Olde London Town will do.

 

“11 things your gym trainer never tells you” and other social media fallacies

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Log in to Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr, Youtube…and all the rest. It won’t take you long to find somebody sharing a link with the immortal comment strapped to it “ha ha, this is so true” or “OMG! have to read this!!”.

The idea of sharing links, at a glance, is quite nice. Find some information; a piece of mind-expanding knowledge and share it with your peers. Everyone will be smarter for it. It’s a win-win.

The problem, however, lies in the intent of the sharer.

“11 things your gym trainer never tells you”, as mentioned in the title is a strong example, and can be paired with others, such as, “5 things surfers secretly love”, “reason vegans hate you” or absolutely any link that sends you to a Buzzfeed article…like, ever.

The people that share these links are saying one thing, think they’re meaning another thing, and are in-fact, admitting a third thing altogether.

To post “19 ways to upset you Jiu Jitsu instructor” with a comment of “lololol” at first implies one simple thing; that the person is sharing it because they want others to see it and agree with them, spouting some hilarious and educated comments about the world of Jiu Jitsu…right?

Well, half right; they want it to be seen. They even wouldn’t mind a couple of people commenting on it, but only certain people, and, even then, not too many of them. Whether or not the poster knows the intent themselves is irrelevant, but what they are hoping, by posting that link, is to get a single message out to their Facebook familiars: “I like/do Jiu Jitsu”.

All of these links have a sole aspect of them that makes them, in some way, exclusive, and by extension, rises the people who are interested in clicking on it, or the people who understand it into a place of social media superiority. Whether the person posts a link regarding horse-riding, cosplaying, travelling or simply being a student in North Yorkshire, they all have the intent of saying one thing to the person observing the link; “I’m the kind of person that does that stuff, and I totally get this link more than all of you people who don’t do that stuff.”

It’s like, in many ways, when a person says that they’d love to try skydiving, or rebuild a classic car, or become a professional diving instructor. A lot of people say these things when talking about life-lists and aspirations, but they don’t mean the things they say. They’d hate learning mechanics and rebuilding a rusty, dirty, dinged up car. It’s hard work, and a project they’d probably never finish. They’d despise a life as a professional diving instructor, day after day, telling overweight, ungrateful tourists, time and again, that they can only go diving if they hadn’t been out drinking the night before, only to find 30 minutes later, that all of the adults just want to sit in the boat and drink water in the shade, as they’ve all suddenly remembered how drunk they were last night, despite what they signed on the disclaimer. So, why do they say it?

They say they want to do those things for a single reason, and it’s the same reason that people post those links: they want to be associated with the kind of people who actually are into those things. It’s one thing to do Bikram Yoga for 2 months and then advertise that it’s your entire life, and the thing you should be known amongst your peers for, all at the cost of simply posting a link to a “Top 5 things only Yoga people totally get” article. It’s another altogether to actually study yoga, understand it on a non-gym level and stick with it, even after it’s gone out of fashion and social media has turned towards the next big fad (Underwater Pilates? Just calling it before it happens…)

The interest, sadly, is selfish. The fact of the matter is that only around 10 people will ever comment or like the link, most of them have already seen it, and most of them do the thing with the original poster; if they had meant to share the link with those people, they’d have dumped it in their Whatsapp group. What they do instead, is make it social;forming a digital “clique” if you will, in the hope of presenting themselves as the cool and interesting person that they wish they were, but lack the enthusiasm to actually sculpt out of themselves.

All you Scuba Divers, Equestrians, Yoga Gurus and Kickboxers will sadly have to endure their shameless, social media, “hobby tourism” for the time being. Just hold on hope that someday, Underwater Pilates will draw their attention elsewhere.

An Idea for Blogging Couples

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An Idea for Blogging Couples

Today, an old map and some pirate stickers arrived in the mail. Me and my girlfriend, over at her blog, Tough Cookies, are running a fun competition to see who’s blog can cover the globe first. As we get views from different countries, we’re going to add a pirate to the map; boy pirates for the BTW blog and girl pirates for Tough Cookies, slowly dominating the seven seas. No idea what the prize will be yet, but marauding the digital waves is a prize in its own anyway 🙂

Coin Operated

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Growing up, every other window on my sea front was an arcade. Not the pretty kind with boutique shops and indoor gardens and a violinist for a busker…the other kind.

Going back some decades, when the average Brit could only afford a couple of holidays in a lifetime, (and even then, only within mainland United Kingdom), they chose to spend their downtime in the likes of Whitley Bay; a seaside paradise, known for family beach holidays, and blushing honeymooners. A few of these resorts have survived thanks to the heritage and reputation of their Victorian glory days, such as Brighton, Newport and Blackpool, and up until the late 1990’s Whitley Bay was one of them. People would still flock to the seaside Bed and Breakfast Inns, in search of classical, British grandeur, English cream teas, gold-leafed Wedgewood china and the still-standing tradition of fish and chips on the beach.

For this reason, the entire North East coastline, from South Shields, through my hometown of Cullercoats and up into Whitley Bay, was still illuminated with the lights of arcade galleries and Bingo halls, and the rattle of loose change, jackpots, and one-armed bandits in full swing.

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The arcade was very much a babysitter for the working-class child, and me and my friends would spend a couple of hours there every day, from school ending at 3.30 to our parents returning home from work at 6.30, it was a solid anchor on our attention and safety, and the recipient of our squandered lunch money.

Some kids gambled, others watched, but for me, it was always the coin-op videogame cabinets. Street Fighter, Outrun, Mortal Kombat and Puzzle Bobble devoured my time and captured my thoughts for every moment; whether i was playing them, or in school, cruelly kept away from them.

At the time, consoles like the Sega Mega Drive, Neo Geo and SNES (pronounced ‘snezz’ in the North East) were widely considered luxury items, and held only by the wealthy and addicted. For the average kid, it was actually cheaper to play at the arcades; a concept lost in modern gaming.

A couple of arcades still stand, hollow and unattended, with most of the games replaced with more profitable gambling machines. Of the two arcades I regularly garrisoned at, one is now a block of flats, and the other a gourmet, gastro-pub, selling chicken goujons and tapas from the same geographical spot that I would collect my change, and exchange my tickets.
I still crave the noise, the lights and, unbelievably, the smell of these bastions of JAMMA, MAME and retro gaming.

My hope is to someday put arcade gaming back into my local community, but until then, I’m here, attending conventions, blogging and taking part in any fragment of eSports journalism I can find, as it’s the closest ancestor of the nomadic culture of venue-based, head to head, competitive gaming. Hopefully one day, I’ll be able to Insert coin(s) and continue.

Zero to Hero

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I’ve been on here actively for about a month now, and hadn’t noticed the Zero to Hero campaign until yesterday…the day it was ending.

Zero to Hero, for anyone else that missed it, gives you one task per day for a month, in order to improve your blog. It’ll be back up soon, but just incase, I copied and pasted all the tasks, and will be going through them throughout March; hopefully 1 per day.

Today, for task 1, I wrote a quick about me page. Let me know if I should expand on it, or include anything else!

If you’d like to take part in Zero to Hero, check out the forums here. Even though it’s over, there’s still loads of people taking part, so don’t be afraid to give it a go!