David Jaffe's thoughts on game journalism

As ever, I apologise if this topic is hiding in a corner of QT3 that I overlooked. The search function didn’t appear to pick this one up either.

David Jaffe, has a plea to game journalists which appears to have ruffled a few feathers. He followed this up with an update to respond to the inevitable wave of flames his comments received.

As an ex game producer and someone who now does a thimbleful of writing (nothing that could be compared to Jaffe’s or most of QT3’s regular contributor’s efforts) I can sympathise with both points of view to a degree.

Needless to say, I can’t imagine a better place for a civil discussion on this little outburst than at QT3.

Any takers?

Interesting read.

Oh, but I will say this to ALL the fucking print mags: LESS FUCKING PREVIEWS AND MORE FEATURES!!! I can get my previews on the web a shit load faster than I get them from you. I wanna read some STORIES and MEATY INTERVIEWS in the print mags…and I wanna spend more than 5 minutes reading your magazine that I’ve paid 5 bucks for. I really should be READING your magazine, not just FLIPPING FUCKING THRU IT!!! More content please!!!

The problem seems to be that he’s in a minority. Magazine readers still want previews instead of “MEATY INTERVIEWS”.

I see comments like his a lot, and what gets me is the wilful ignorance of them. Does he really think that the magazines aren’t interested in what their readers want? They are keenly interested. His problem is that he thinks what he wants to read is representative of gamers in general.

Let me put it this way - he cites the current Rolling Stone cover story about a Bono interview as being what he wants in game journalism. Fine. But what’s going to draw more readers? A Sid Meier interview or a WoW expansion preview with some new, exclusive content?

Awesome.

Awesome.[/quote]

Actually, I believe that was Jaffe quoting Stuart Campbell. Credit where credit’s due.

A few months back CGM did an MMO issue where they covered different aspects of MMOs outside of offering previews and reviews of the latest titles. I found it to be far more engrossing than your usual set of previews and reviews. The real question would be did that issue sell well and generate positive response, or were people up in arms because they didn’t get their monthly glut of previews?

PC Gamer’s December issue featured a two page article on the PVP happenings of one Star Wars Galaxies server, a piece that proved to be more engrossing than the rest of the magazine for me. I’d love to see that kind of coverage get more than two pages in each issue. However, as Bauman pointed out in one of his editor’s notes, the magazines rarely get feedback from the people who think they’re doing it right, they only hear from the angry loudmouths who’ve had their feathers ruffled.

Lastly, I’m not certain anyone cares to know the political views or personal feelings of Miyamoto (as Jaffe suggests journalists should ask in his last paragraph), or any other game designer for that matter. Perhaps the reason meaty interviews with game gods aren’t run that often is because said game gods don’t prove to be all that compelling over a five page interview feature, no matter how many hard hitting questions you ask them.

Also, it’s Jaffe, so take it with a grain of salt.

Lastly, I’m not certain anyone cares to know the political views or personal feelings of Miyamoto (as Jaffe suggests journalists should ask in his last paragraph), or any other game designer for that matter. Perhaps the reason meaty interviews with game gods aren’t run that often is because said game gods don’t prove to be all that compelling over a five page interview feature, no matter how many hard hitting questions you ask them.

Their thoughts on game design, process, influences, etc., are worth recording however. Not only for today’s readership but for posterity. After all, we today are in the privileged position of having most of the major pioneers of a new – well, “art form” maybe, or whatever it is – still alive and interviewable.

You can have both, though something else has to go.

Celebrities are coached to be more interesting, or are by default. Bono probably isn’t talking about U2, or a new CD; that interview would be pretty boring. There’s a very specific reason they do a long interview with Bono; he’s interesting, and is doing stuff outside of music. I doubt there’d be “Britney: The 10-page Interview.”

Sid Meier talking about design theory would be interesting to me, and presumably others, but for the most part I’ve found a lot of developers pretty boring, with very narrow fields of interest. I suppose if you’re interested in what anime they’re watching, why they want to make a Serenity game, or which sci-fi or fantasy book series they’re reading they’d be interesting.

One other common thread–and this pops up all the time–is that “you can get reviews and previews everywhere.” This assumes that every reader reads every single publication. Using that logic, should Newsweek skip covering the Plame story because Time is doing it?

I’ve posted in the thread, since I think it’s always a discussion worth having. But I do hate that everyone holds magazines to a considerably higher standard for this stuff. We charge money and have limited space, two things which unfortunately are slightly at odds with total “out of the box” thinking.

Any website could cram in the world’s most creative and innovative game journalism between their ninth preview of Black & White 2.

Next Gen used to be be pretty good at providing actual content back in the day. Whatever happened to the online version revival, that still out there, any good?

I think NextGen is a cautionary tale of going too far, and too insider, with this stuff. It moved from interesting interviews to hyping whatever it was Dave Perry and Shiny was working on to talking to the head of marketing from Acclaim. Then it became a regular game magazine and died.

And the fact that a person interested in that kind of content hasn’t even seen their new website maybe says a lot about how interested you really are.

I for one don’t give a shit about previews. For the most part they tell me nothing. “X looks like it’s turning out great!” Yeah, thanks. That’s why I don’t buy game magazines.

Edit: That, and the fact that they cost money. And the experience of purchasing one is a bit humiliating. And they’re full of ads. You know, anybody in the mag business should just disregard my post, 'cause I’m never gonna buy their magazines.

Re: Next Generation.

It’s always worth remembering that as far as Next Gen went, it was never stepped as determinedly in that direction as the UK’s Edge (NextGen was, basically, Edge US). From design to content, Edge has always been considerably more radical than Next Gen was. And while Next Gen failed, Edge has managed to keep its (small, admitedly) readership and stay solvent (EDIT: Actually, very proftable) for over ten years.

So I’m a little suspicious of people drawing lessons from Next Gen’s US failure, when it’s a model that’s worked in other territories. Especially because it was a failure a fair while back now.

Little Computer People bombed in the 80s, after all. Didn’t make the game idea uncommercial forever…

KG

The economics of running magazines in the US and elsewhere are totally different, so it’s absolutely relevant for people trying to make a go over on this side of the pond. Just ask the nice German people that started up those Incite US magazines how different–and considerably more challenging–conquering the US really is.

We’re not a newsstand culture. We don’t use public transportation as much. We have cheap postal rates. We have completely fucked up distribution, where you go through all sorts of middlemen to get to a store (and still have little control where your magazine ends up, unless you’re willing to spend zillions of dollars).

So instead of selling 10-25,000 copies on a newsstand and making a nice profit, everyone is forced to push for 200,000 subscribers just to get enough of an advertising base to break even. You get little profit from newsstand (a lot of people lose money there) because you have to print so many copies (sell through is routinely in the 30% range). It gets harder and harder to ask people to pony up $20/year, so you end up discounting subscriptions to the point where they’re losing you money too.

Re: Steve. Oh, God, yeah. It’s a very different place to tiny old Blighty. I know how the US market works - but it’s a little American-centric to assume that’s the only market.

Though, if you take the difference in population into mind… well, Edge sells 30K copies in the UK. The US has a population six times that of the UK. If you assume the same demographics, that’s 180,000 people in the US who’d read Edge. That’s close to the 200,000 you were throwing around… and Edge certainly has ways to make it a little more populist…

Yeah, some fairly spurious arguments, but I’m always a little wary of accepted wisdom. It’s got a habit of sticking around long after it ceases to be true.

KG

This particular discussion was mostly directed at American magazines, I think.

Yeah, some fairly spurious arguments, but I’m always a little wary of accepted wisdom. It’s got a habit of sticking around long after it ceases to be true.

So am I. But the (fortunate/unfortunate?) reality is that the more successful game magazines in the US are youth-oriented, regardless of their actual demographics. I’m guessing Future/Imagine knows this, which is presumably why it made changes to NextGen in the hopes of saving it and why they have no real “serious” publications in their game portfolio.

The main criticisms I see of a more thoughtful approach is that it’s not as “fun” as others. Readers consistently say they want more humor. They want more entertainment. They want an upbeat magazine, not one that’s always negative. It’s easy to forget these are games, after all. We’re not covering world politics.

The only response to a big MMO feature we did, one that covered issues instead of games, was “You should have done some tips pieces on how to create a character…”

I find this to be an unconvincing argument. I am not a magazine reader (hence not included in whatever polls of their readership the magazines do), exactly because the magazines don’t print things that I want to read. If they were to do so, I would become a magazine reader.

Some new exclusive content that will be scanned and posted on the web within hours of publication.

Regardless of whether you like previews or not, I don’t see how this kind of time sensetive content can sell magazines in the internet age. A preview is irrelevant a few months after is it written, its a press release with pretty pictures.

As for magazines with more content not working, the Border’s and Barnes and Noble in my area have started carrying Edge magazine. Depsite the 2-3 higher cover price, the magazine usually is sold out before the next issue arrives, while stacks of EGM, CGM, OPM, OMFG, etc languish on the shevles.

Waving a dismissive hand and saying previews and pretty pictures are all people want in a magazine is a fucking cop out. Just because the magazine publishers haven’t figured out how to make it work yet, doesn’t mean it isn’t possible.

I would have to say maybe you would, at best. Probably you would just continue to not read.

That’s the thing. It’s like Steve pointed out with the guy who was wondering what happened to Next Generation’s website re-launch, when it’s not like you have to hack the Pentagon to just find out for yourself: most people say they’re interested in something, but really aren’t.

It’s not just magazines either; back when Sam and Max 2 got cancelled I was surprised by how many people were so “into” Sam and Max when it was obvious to me that the game would never have been a hit anyway even if it had been good enough to not cancel.

People are “interested” in a lot of things, and it’s no different here.

I agree. The fact that magazine scans have never been posted of anything that isn’t an exclusive preview/review is what means it’s not possible.

“December Three Finger Salute leaked!!!” <- Never seen as the subject of a message board thread.

Videogames are big business, just like movies, music, and television. There’s a ton of money being made in what you’d expect to be niche markets with magazines like Fangoria, Jazz Now, Star Trek Magazine, Punk Planet, CCM Magazine, Soap Opera Digest, and so on. What percentage of movie watchers actually pay for something like Fangoria? And yet they stay in business year after year.

Problem is that every computer game magazine wants to appeal to the broadest audience possible. They all want to be Entertainment Weekly or Rolling Stone instead of Filmfare or, well, Creem.

Gaming magazines haven’t leared the lesson that pornographers learned many years ago. Aim for the niche. Hairy pregnant latino hermaphrodite creampies, that’s where the money’s at. Better to be a big fish in a small pond.