The Hype Cycle is Destroying Gaming Journalism and Media

As you probably know, gaming journalism isn’t in a good place at the moment. It’s full of nepotism and collusion, with writers’ friends getting better deals than strangers. The quality of the content is low, with poorly written articles being rushed out to reach a ridiculous deadline.

And despite the whole ‘journalism’ element in the name, there really isn’t much real journalism so to speak of. No one verifies sources, no one does their research properly and no one cares about anything other than clicks. It’s tabloid crap of the highest order.

But these problems are not independent, and they’re not down to a complex situation with tons of factors behind the scenes. Oh no, the reason they happen (and the reason gaming journalism is struggling so much) can be summed up in two words:

Hype cycle.

What do I mean by this?

Well, look at it this way. Games (and other media) do not tend to sell nonstop for months on end. Like Hollywood movies, they launch with a bang, keep an audience for a few months or so and then usually get phased out for the next big thing. It’s not the same across all games (since popular titles keep a certain level of hype months later whereas lesser ones just drop off the radar altogether), but it happens to everything none the less.

And this is what’s behind most of gaming journalism’s problems. This is what is completely destroying the quality of not only written journalism, but video coverage on sites like YouTube as well.

So why is this? Why is the hype cycle such a dangerous thing here?

Put simply, imagine you’re a journalist. You work for a large gaming site (or channel) that desperately wants clicks on its articles or videos. What do you think draws the most of them?

The answer is pretty obvious. Stuff relating to whatever game is ‘hot’ this month. The big triple A title that’s just been released a day or so ago and which has tens of millions of people online searching for information on it.

As a result of this, you post a review of the game. Or a walkthrough. Perhaps even a few million top ten lists about the items, characters, weapons, levels and even glitches in the game.

Problem is, you don’t have the time to do this properly. Really, if you go out and deeply research all these things, you’ll miss the rush. You’ll post an article about the once hot new game six months after its release and watch the piece get maybe three visitors a day.

So, like many other people, you say ‘screw quality’ and try and get as much hype cantered material out as possible. Why bother to do research when people will click anything with a popular name attached? Why care about the specifics when you can just copy other people online and take their research for your own gain?

The cycle doesn’t encourage quality work. It encourages cheap, lazy cash ins. The internet and its obsession with hype doesn’t want quality work, it wants BuzzFeed type clickbait themed around the trend of the moment.

And that’s why gaming journalism (and perhaps all online journalism as a whole) is so bad nowadays. Because the writers and reporters do not have time to care.

Admittedly, it wasn’t always like this. In the olden days media always had a certain production time, meaning that due to technical limitations it wasn’t really possible to go for speed at the expense of quality. Magazines were monthly, so you got a decent amount of time to do your research. Newspapers were obviously daily, but a mix of non-corporate ownership and a tiny bit more research time meant clickbait wasn’t quite as common as it was now.

Same for TV or books. Tons of time to do the research or genuinely look into a subject, albeit with the finished product being aired or released months after the original story died down. Say what you like about better journalistic ethics, but production times did force quality a little.

The internet has removed that, and made news a massive race to be ‘first’ at the expense of everything else.

But despite its fall in quality, it’s not general news that’s been worse affected here.

Oh no, it’s niche, more technical content.

Why? Because with the rise of YouTube, streaming and social media, there’s now an incentive to get that out of the door as quickly as possible too.

And that brings about quite a few problems.

Most notably, how a lot of more ‘technical’ subjects take time to research. Think about it, when do most glitches get found in video games?

Months or years after they’ve been released. Hell, look at the old Mew glitch in Pokémon’s generation 1. That was found in 2003, a whopping 7 years after the games came out!

Yet it’s only one example of this. The barrier skip glitch in The Legend of Zelda The Wind Waker was a massive boost to the speedrunning community, yet only got discovered in the remake in 2016! So not only did it get found 3 years after its game got released, but a massive 14 years after the need for it came up in the original game.

Other examples (for games as varied as Super Mario 64, Super Metroid and Luigi’s Mansion) took decades to discover. Whole speedrunning scenes have to be built up before many of the major bugs and skips are discovered, and that just takes lots of time and effort.

But with the hype cycle, waiting isn’t good business. So, when channels or websites exist to report on glitches, they often try and get their videos or content out as quickly as possible regardless of that.

Which in turn brings lots of problems I mean, take A Start Show for example. Don’t get me wrong, I love their content. Their Son of a Glitch series is great fun to watch, and does show off some interesting things in the games it covers.

Yet at the same time, you can clearly see where the creators are trying to cash in while the hype cycle is still ongoing. They’re not waiting for glitches to be discovered in games, they’re trying to race the videos out while the game is still hot on everyone’s mind.

This in turn means they end up missing about 90% of what they should really be covering in every video. For instance, they made a great video about Mario & Luigi Paper Jam glitches in February 2016, which ran for an impressive 21 minutes in length.

That seems good on the surface, and it is. But Paper Jam was then torn apart even further during and after the video’s production. As a result, the Son of a Glitch video ended up missing such interesting things as blasting across the screen by holding the wrong direction, flipping up the world upside down and clipping through the wall in almost every single room of the game. By being quick, they shot their own video in the foot.

Still, that’s nothing compared to another game a lot of video creators covered. Aka the Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild.

As expected, quite a few channels created videos showcasing bugs in the game. These included A Start Show, Space Chicken, Master of Hyrule and Rough Panda among many others. And the videos were decent enough for the time period.

Problem is, it turned out we hadn’t even scratched the surface of Breath of the Wild glitches in March or April 2017. Why?

Because in the months afterwards, we found bugs that let players:

  • Permanently lose clothing items, like the Champion’s Shirt and Thunder Helm
  • Reset the world for infinite Korok seeds, armour pieces, rupees and ancient parts
  • Clip through the ground anywhere they like with bombs
  • Go inside of Hyrule Castle’s walls via enemy respawning by the Blood Moon
  • Nearly crash the game by sticking metal boxes where Kilton’s shop appears.
  • Bring damage, lava and healing effects across save files
  • Transfer Compendium pictures between Normal and Master Mode
  • Avoid getting the Sheikah Slate at all, freezing time in the process
  • And get as many free pictures from Symin in the Hateno Tech Lab as you could ever want.

In other words, we broke the game wide open. To the point hundreds of news outlets wrote stories specifically about some of these glitches and their neat effects.

Yet by blowing their load early and chasing YouTube views, those glitch channels ended up sacrificing their videos in the long run. By chasing hundreds of thousands of views early they potentially lost millions later on.

Still, I won’t be too harsh here. Because while these videos are obvious examples of wasted potential, these channels have covered glitches in old games really well because of that time gap. For instance, A Start Show’s Luigi’s Mansion video is great, because by the time he made it all the interesting bugs had been found in the game:

Similarly, while Aurum has chased the hype cycle a few times, his videos on games like Donkey Kong Country 2 and Mario & Luigi Dream Team are great for a similar reason. He made them after the major bugs were found.

So being quick can be a negative here, while taking your time can greatly improve your article or video. This goes for everything. It goes for reviews, which are poorly thought out because you can’t experience enough of the game to make a fair judgement of it. It goes for rumour articles, since verifying information makes you ‘irrelevant’. And it goes for plain old news, since actually doing a good job takes much longer than a lot of journalists and media creators can afford.

All the industry’s problems come down to this hype cycle rush.

But what’s the solution you may ask?

Well, that’s actually a good question. To be 100% honest, I don’t think there really is a solution here. You can try and support good journalism by waiting a few weeks for the interesting stuff to come out. You can help as a writer or video creator by leaving glitches, metagame information and other detailed specifics on the backburner until you have more information. Or by not covering every rumour Twitter or Reddit brings in without question.

But at the end of the day… I don’t think there is a solution. News and content just cannot be as good on the internet. The economy of the age doesn’t allow it.

Without changing human nature, there is no fix here.

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