Wednesday, April 17, 2013

My Proposed- but very likely half baked- Way To Fix Game Journalism/Criticism

This fantastic article about the rough financial state of internet journalism (and game internet journalism specifically) from the always great Ben Kuchera got me thinking:

Let's vote on the top 10 game journalists that we feel genuinely offer us great reporting and- more importantly- great game criticism.

There are more than this for sure, but off the top of my head I'll throw the following names in the ring: Ben Kuchera, Garnett Lee, Adam Sessler, Jim Sterling, and Brian Crecente. Are there more, fuck yeah. But it's just a start.

Hell, let's throw in Leigh Alexander as well. I can't stand the woman but to show that this should not be a popularity contest and that we should do our best to pick the reporters who genuinely seem to care for the medium of interactivity. Much as I don't care for Leigh, I do think she cares about the medium and offers a valuable voice to some gamers.

Oh and I gotta throw in that guy who does the fantastic podcast A LIFE WELL WASTED- that thing is amazing!

Ok so anyway- we get a bunch of names of people doing great work in game journalism and then we- as a game community- vote and whittle it to 5 names.

Then we do a yearly Kickstarter to raise 175K.

125 K goes to pay 1 of the 5 reporters (pulled randomly from a hat or voted on by the folks who contributed to the Kstart) a yearly salarty. The remaining 50K goes to pay for expenses (games, travel).

The reporter posts whatever they want on a blog. There is no editor, no advertising/sales group to worry about, and they can update when they want and write about whatever they want. The only harm for doing a bad job (and I define a bad job as simply filing way too few stories) is looking terrible in the public eye that funded them and wiping out their chances of being included in next year's list.

Every time we raise another 175K, we pull another name from the hat/vote on the next reporter.  Ideally every year we can raise enough that all 5 reporters get to work.

I think good reporting is important. And good criticism is crucial to move this medium forward.

And given that I've offered over and over to pay a subscription to great gaming sites, they never seem to want to offer subscriptions/paywalls, this seems like a possible good solve.

Or am I fucking high?

Seriously, I'm in for 500 bucks if the rest of y'all are.

Thanks for reading-


ps. I have zero idea if game reporters make well over 125K and if they do, they may scoff at this. I don't mean them any disrespect- 125k seems like a good salary to me is all :).


Unknown said...

Out of curiosity what's the career turnaround rate for game journalism? Is there anyone who worked on magazines in the 90's who are still in the business today? I looked through some old GamePro and tips and tricks magazines and couldn't find any names I recognized. Just food for thought...

Unknown said...

What would be the motivator for game companies to offer the usual assistance they do to games journo people to this chosen one? There's no ad revenue to be had from them. The person essentially becomes a notable blogger without the benefit of some commercial body behind him with ad revenue to suck in.

Actually no "assistance" (free games, travel, exclusive contnent) probably makes the idea better.

Unknown said...

Giant Bomb is essentially like this, they have a $50/year subscription model and are able to give good quality criticism because we know their personalities through all the video/podcast/text content on the site. Jeff Gerstmann, the guy who was fired from gamespot about four years ago for giving a game they were advertising a bad review, is Editor in Chief and they are keen to get through the kind of bullshit you are talking about in the industry.

David Jaffe said...

Daniel- I see this being more for criticism and analysis and less about going to game junkets and doing previews for games- there's plenty of the latter, way too little of the former (done well).

Steve Haske said...

125k would pay three or four journalists a year. Comfortably. Realistically it would pay five or six.

Jon Cole said...

@Steve Haske

It would realistically pay five or six if they lived in the middle of nowhere. $25k/21k is not even close to enough to live in SF or a similar area.

Steve Haske said...

To clarify, it would realistically pay five or six in terms of expectations, not what's actually needed. In terms of what one journalist actually makes, $125k would cover the wages of probably close to eight or 10.

Martin Healy said...

Hey Jaffe, where's Patrick Klepek at?

Dartastic said...

Dave... game journalists make nowhere near that. I have freelance friends who write quality articles for good publications that literally can barely pay their rent at a 600 dollar apartment month to month.

...the fact that nobody pays them on time doesn't help things either.

coffeewithgames said...

"rough state of internet journalism"

I fixed that for you. When games "journalist" like some you mentioned can't find the time to respond to emails, but have time to tweet random things, why would anybody pay a dime toward this?

When I see articles like the one this post is about, from those very same people that ignore emails/won't reply to emails, and go out of their way to block "customers" (see: readers) on Twitter, because they can't/won't answer for their actions, why would I put a dime toward it?

James said...

Game Journalists make significantly less than $125k. Fark, those on a salary make less than $50k in most cases.

The sheer majority of paid journos are contractors who earn around $100-$150/feature.

Tylerr Rietze said...

This would be a great idea. As someone who writes for a small site for free, I know I wouldn't be up for this, but I definitely would do my best to push videogame journalism into realms of legitimacy and quality not seen before just to get my name into the hat for this Kickstarter. Hell, if I knew I could make that much if I focused on being a journalist instead of getting review copies of games and hits, I'd be the best.

Holly said...

Props to you Jaffe for only being able to name a single female journalist, and taking an entire paragraph to insult her.

And they wonder why we don't feel welcome...

David Jaffe said...

Holly, are you a journalist? Clearly not a good one if you are choosing to- instead of doing any research at all- go off on me for going off on Leigh without taking into account I do not like her because she tweeted mean things about the team I worked with to make Twisted Metal. I have zero issues that she may not dig our game- but to attack the people personally who made it? Yeah, I don't like her. From your comment, I don't think I like you much either.

And I have zero idea why anyone would wonder why people like you don't feel welcome. Assuming 'people like you' means jerks. Cause yeah, I don't know anyone who really digs jerks.


Unknown said...

The one year I lived entirely off games journalism, I made $22k.

Holly said...

I consider myself a reporter Jaffe and nonetheless I do not consider it part of my job to be on the up and up about Twitter spats. While Leigh may have been rude and started a disagreement, the details I'm not familiar with, you seem to be interested in keeping that drama alive in perpetuity.

I think the last thing anyone would describe as is a jerk. However, I think it's all our responsibility to act like adults and set positive examples, and continuing this nasty back and forth is not it. I apologize that you do not appreciate my approach, but perhaps you should consider how your comments will be perceived by those unfamiliar with that situation, which is the majority if your audience.

Holly said...

(I should add that I do find it inappropriate to attack people on Twitter for almost any reason, so I'm with ya on that! I too have a fierce loyalty to my own employees and team and become protective when I see them attacked.)

David Jaffe said...

Holly, while it's not your job to be up on every twitter 'spat', would you say that it then IS your job to not jump to conclusions and insult someone with implications that you have zero evidence to support? You came at me, friend and for what? Because I openly admitted to disliking Leigh while still saying she should be included in the mix because I get she does provide a voice that folks out there do like?

You painted the whole thing with a sexist angle without bothering to get facts or talk to me at all. Why are you accusing ME of being the one not acting like an adult? Please.

It's a good thing I chose to not mention how another reason Leigh grates on me is her talking about how sexy she finds men dressed as Nazis (yeah, she did this too). I'm assuming if I did you would find a way to say I was a sexist because I was insulting how she chooses to express her sexuality (versus the way she chooses to express her- oh I dunno- love for men dressed as FUCKING NAZIS)...So crazy.


Holly said...
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Holly said...

(sorry,typo in the last)

Hm, well, to be honest I think there's a big difference between leaving a blog comment and "doing my job": I'm not about to write a news post about this or anything, that wasn't my intent. I'm still allowed to have opinions, to react to things, and to express myself. When someone in your position mentions only one female journalist and it's a woman he truly dislikes, in the current climate of the tech industry, it's hard to not view that with a raised eyebrow. But of course you're of course allowed to dislike her personally and I take you at your word.

I can understand where you're coming from too. I apologize if I've assumed the worst of you. Please just consider how it looks from the outside looking in. Your words carry a lot of weight.

David Jaffe said...

Holly, I appreciate you not jumping to conclusions- thank you :).

I can see how it may look a certain way looking in but I like to think most folks are willing to look a little deeper to find the truth. Or at least engage in a chat to try to find the truth. Glad you took the time to do that with me- thank you! :)


Scully1888 said...

Hi David

As a write for a popular website I was surprised to see how much you think we're getting paid to do our jobs. I understand that, like you confess, you don't actually know what our average salary is but I can assure you that (at least in the UK) we just about make enough money to break even.

If any of us were doing this job for the money, almost all of us would be looking for different jobs. As clichéd as it sounds, we're literally all in this for the love of the game(s). It's our love and passion for video games (including yours - I lost hundreds of hours playing my brother at Twisted Metal 2: World Tour) that keeps us in this career, even though many of those in our line of work get paid less than 15% of what you estimated (not an exaggeration).

I'm not the sort to throw insults around, so all I'll say is that your Kickstarter idea is a little flawed in my opinion (and that's all it is) because it could potentially create an elitist situation in which a select few journalists are held up on an even higher pedestal while others are all but ignored.

I feel that getting people to vote on their favourite journalists to decide who gets to put food on the table is a horrible way to do things, because it shouldn't be a popularity contest. Most of the best games writing I've seen in recent times has come from writers that most people probably wouldn't even know, let alone be part of a list they could call off the top of their heads, because they haven't been fortunate enough to make it yet to a high-profile website (something that's incredibly difficult to do with so few around).

I would never in a million years put myself alongside the ranks of other great writers, but I would wager that since I spent six years at the UK Official Nintendo Magazine and since the vast majority of the online audience are American (and many think Nintendo is a dirty word!) I'd wager that despite my seven years of hard, honest work in this industry and the fact that I can proudly say I've never been involved in any shady score-changing or ad pressure, I wouldn't even be in a longlist for this Kickstarter, let alone a shortlist.

There are many others like me - many of whom are better writers than me - who also wouldn't feature in such a vote, simply because a lot of gamers haven't heard of them because they aren't 'personalities'. As a result, that's why I feel narrowing them down to a mere five writers and expecting them to cover the entire games industry - reviews, previews, Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, Apple, Android, PC indie, financials, analysis, hands-on, gameplay videos, features, etc. - while the others are disregarded for having ads on their site is clearly a bad move in my opinion.

I think the problem here is a lack of communication across the board. You've made your views on games journalism clear in the past and while I strongly disagree with many of them, in no way would I try to stop you from continuing to make those views. However, in my opinion this blog today shows a lack of understanding of how our business works, much like some developers tend to claim that we have no idea how their business works. Maybe if both sides were a bit more transparent with each other then we'd be able to understand each other a little more.

Sorry if that sounded snarky or sarcastic, I really didn't mean it to! I'll probably stop there because I've probably taken up enough of your time as it is. In short, I respectfully disagree with your idea, we get paid much, much less than you think we do, and Twisted Metal 2 was the tits.

Thanks for your time, David.

Chris Scullion
Games Editor

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Anonymous said...

I don't think Leigh does care about video games. She has stated againa dn again how she thinks systemization is the enemy and that videogames should be whollely passive media that tells you a story instead of involving any play. She sounds like a college girl who played some jrpg as a kid and decided that since she isn't smart enough to be taken seriously in literary criticism she'll remake herself as an avante-garde game critic.

She's an interloper with no interest in the development of video-games as gamers understand them.

Thomas said...

I get Holly's point about how you only mentioned one female journalist and that's kind of weird, but honestly, my problem is that nobody ever throws out names themselves in these situations. They just criticize without offering suggestions.

Like people got so upset with Sony about the PS4 reveal because there were no women, right? But who were they missing? Patricia Hernandez at Kotaku wrote two articles about it and never mentioned a single name. Personally, I would've liked to see Amy Hennig of Naughty Dog up there, but she had nothing to announce, so oh well. It's not like they excluded her on purpose because SEXISM.

So can I think of other prominent female game journalists I would include on that list? Not off the top of my head. All my favorite female game journalists like Jenn Frank are off doing other things now, and I certainly wouldn't throw out Patricia Hernandez's name. Tina Amini, also at Kotaku, is decent, but I wouldn't put her on equal footing as the names David mentioned.

Kirk Hamilton is a name I would put up there though. Another man, I know. I guess I'm a sexist. Oh well.

Anonymous said...

"it could potentially create an elitist situation in which a select few journalists are held up on an even higher pedestal while others are all but ignored"

That's cute that you think that's not how things are now.

No one gives a toss about (the worst hamster dance era website name imagineable) or Holly's Gameranx.

Games journalism as a commercial enterprise is hopelessly corrupt. If you honestly have a passion for game then do something other than just write critiques (especially ones that are indistinguishable from the average Amazon review). Make videos, make skits, create communities. You can still whore for money with Ben Kuchera's sainted upskirt images but instead of providing hot air and disappointment you would actually be producing something gamers want. And instead of simply lecturing gamers on what horrible people they are you would be engaging gamers as if you were one of them (shocking I know).

Or just get a real job and put your opinions where they belong, on livejournal.

Evercaptor said...

You can find Will Smith, Norm Chan and Gary Whitta, (old PC Gamer heads) at, the guys at Giant Bomb have all had a bit of experience of that too. Off the top of my head.

Evercaptor said...

But they become known immediately as a blogger with enough influence as to be WORTH $175k. For a plane ticket a room and a meal, a game publisher can invite $175k worth on interest. It's probably a better idea than you're giving it credit.

KirbyKid said...


I'd like to add a few things to the discussion. Recently, I've also been thinking about ways to improve/elevate the level of games criticism. I've interviewed many non-gamers, gamers, games writers, games PhD candidates, and industry professionals about this topic to try and get a sense of what can be done and why we should do it.

Money seems to be a key problem here. Time is money, and writing quality critiques requires lots of time. But beyond the time commitment there's the issue of what people value in games and how to increase this value. I believe that understanding games more deeply and talking about them more clearly helps all of us appreciate games more. The trick is, assuming that's true, convincing people to care about criticism/discussion/the discourse.

I'll say that I've been blogging for the past 5 years, talking about games and game design on a level I've seen few others attempt. ( Some games writers are currently great, but there are many we commonly think of as being good who either don't talk about game design or they don't make strong/persuasive arguments.

I've been searching for a way to use an exacting language for game design through a range of multimedia outlets (articles, podcasts, videos, and beyond)

We should talk.

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