The Future of Video Game Journalism
As many people know, gaming journalism is an industry that’s going through a bit of crisis at the moment. With AdBlock doing a huge amount of damage to revenue (up to 50% of gamers use Ad Blockers when browsing websites), competition getting fiercer by the day and events like GamerGate doing serious damage to its future sustainability, there are very real worries the field might disappear within the next few years or so.
So what’s the future of this somewhat turbulent industry? What’s going to replace the Kotakus and Polygons and IGNs of the world in the few years? What will change going forward? Well, quite a few things, and that’s what this article is about.
Either way, let’s start with the obvious prediction:
Videos and Let’s Plays Will Replace Traditional Gaming Media
It’s already started (what with popular gaming channels racking up millions of subscribers on Youtube and live streams on Twitch becoming near global phenomenons), but it will only get more and more obvious as time goes on. Text articles are on the way out, video coverage is in.
So why is this happening? Well, ignoring the obvious (the move towards user generated content and its many positives, as discussed later in this article), it’s because videos are simply better for showing how games work than other mediums.
Need a good example of what we mean? Well, go to GameFAQs or some other walkthrough site, and download a text guide for a game you’re playing. Now, go on Youtube and find a Let’s Play of the same title.
Above: This is easier to follow than the GameFAQs equivalent.
Which one is easier to follow?
It’s probably the video. Because in the video, you can see for yourself just how the game works, how someone gets through the levels and how things like the enemy AI and special attacks and game mechanics work. In a text walkthrough, you just to have to try and read between the lines and figure out what to do based on a vague description.
And reviews are better for similar reasons. When a text review says the graphics are good, you just get a few screenshots as proof. And for anything else, you have to take their word for it, since things like music, game mechanics and game difficulty levels are not well illustrated in a text and screenshot review on a web page.
Video reviews let you judge everything for yourself. Oh sure, the video commentator says the graphics or music are good, but do you agree with him? He or she says the game’s engine works well and the levels are well designed, but you can be your own judge of that too. Need an example? Well, which of these reviews makes it more clear how bad the game is?
Above: Superman 64 Reviews by Gamespot and the Angry Video Game Nerd.
But now that the obvious is out of the way, how about non video content? What’s the future for written articles and news in the industry?
Well, it’s hard to say. But…
User Generated Content Is the Way Forward
Which again, is already pretty clear if you’ve a hardcore gamer. You’re probably getting more of your news from gaming forums, Reddit and social media anyway. But in the near future, it’s pretty much going to become the norm for everyone; all gaming news and articles will be written and posted by unpaid fans and amateurs rather than ‘professional’ journalists.
And there are legions of different reasons why this is the case. For one thing, it’s a lot more sustainable for the websites in the long run. Oh sure, you could pay journalists to write news for your site on a dedicated basis, but why bother? People rarely ever judge gaming sites for the quality of the writing, and they’re usually packed to the rafters with people willing to find and post news for free simply for the ‘glory’ of having their name attached to it. Add how poorly ads pay now, and it seems like a bit of a no brainer.
Above: Sites like Reddit, Hacker News and Inbound provide more (and often better curated) news than the ‘professionals’. Picture is of Reddit Gaming.
But other reasons do exist. One of course is that a large horde of unpaid amateurs is unlikely to try and cause a GamerGate style civil war. Why did GamerGate start? Because gaming journalists for many of the larger sites were ‘friends’ (outside of work), shared mostly the same political and social beliefs, had the same sort of upbringings and backgrounds and considered themselves ‘above’ the average Joe.
That can’t happen with a large enough userbase and user generated content. Changing opinions of a small, tightly knit group of friends is easy, changing it for the equivalent of the UK population or more is insanely hard (on a herding cats sort of level).
User contributed media means people willing to question the ‘narrative’. It means people from diverse backgrounds posting their thoughts and opinions instead of the conversation being dominated by predominantly white, upper middle class private school kids. Media consensus will literally be a thing of the past, and the gaming world will be so much better for it.
Still, even those aren’t the only reasons user contributed content is going to get more common in the world of video game media (and media in general).
No, another reason is called expertise. Specialised areas of expertise to be precise.
You see, the problem with the media in general, is that it’s built on providing a wide range of articles about a wide range of topics, on the cheap and as quickly as possible. It covers a lot of things, but it doesn’t really cover any of them well.
On the other hand, an expert at a certain game, series or genre knows a lot about that subject, to an almost encyclopaedic level. But that’s the only thing they have a lot of knowledge about, and they can’t write as quickly as the mainstream journalists.
Above: Unseen64’s fantastic Project HAMMER video is a good example of this.
Sites like forums and social media bring these different experts together. And the result of their combined knowledge is simply better than anything the mass media can ever put out. Remember, some people may have played Super Smash Bros Melee at a competitive level for ten years for example, and be willing to tell everyone about how the game works. A normal journalist cannot possibly compete. They can’t play any one game long enough to get good at it, not when there’s a near endless stream of output expected and they’re meant to hop from game to game every ten minutes.
The old media model is an artefact of newspapers and times before the internet. It’s a symbol of a time where people had at best a surface level understanding of things, but would have to trawl through a library for weeks to become an expert.
The old ‘let’s try and cover everything by ourselves and then put a narrative spin on it’ model is dying, and user generated content will be its replacement.
But even if some people do want brainless news 24/7, the future for that looks different too. Because…
Automation Will Take Journalism by Storm
And by automation, we mean exactly you think. Gaming journalists (along with most other journalists) will simply be replaced by machines and computer programs, like the factory workers and other manual labourers before them.
It’s pretty obvious why this will happen, and that’s because at its heart, gaming journalism comes down to two things:
A: Long, opinion driven features and technical guides to games (which will likely be taken over by amateurs on the internet)
B: Short, mindless, PR posts that boil down to ‘news about game X was just released’ and get posted by the thousands.
The second type, is just perfect for machines. So perfect in fact that it’s already begun in any fields, with reports on hurricanes and sports matches now often being written by computer software rather than human writers:
This should terrify the hell out of anyone working for the gaming media. With half their job replaced by ‘amateurs’ (via social media, forums, videos, etc) and the other half being easily automated (you could replace most of Kotaku with a half intelligent RSS feed poster at this point), the human journalist doesn’t really have much of a purpose any more.
So it seems like automation will have a large role to play in the gaming media’s future as well, with the current crop of gaming journalists likely being the last.
Ads are on the way out
Yeah, it’s been said a million times now. AdBlockers are destroying the world of internet advertising, and their usage is growing so quickly that quite a few sites are going to go out of business.
But we’ll say it again. Gaming sites that rely on the ad supported, clickbait model, are not going to last. The values of clicks and impressions will just head down and down, and anyone trying to run a site like this simply won’t be able to pay the bills.
This will leave a few different possibilities:
For some sites, they’ll just go entirely user contributed content. If you’re struggling to keep the lights on, then the journalists wages could well be the first thing out the door, especially if the quality of your userbase is such that paying someone makes no sense any more.
Others will probably try a subscription model, likely in the form of a paywall. This is one of the methods we intend to use on Gaming Reinvented in the foreseeable future, since we think it can be tied together with the forum account system and other stuff.
Microtransactions could be a thing too, like in ‘free to play’ games on smartphones. You pay money on a per article basis, or perhaps after a certain number of views.
And patronage as well. The writers get money directly, and maybe a small cut of that can go towards keeping the sites they work with in business.
But will any of these work? We’re not sure to perfectly honest with you. Paywalls and membership systems tend to hated on the internet, Microtransactions have a bad enough rep in the actual video games and Patreon type systems don’t really seem like they’re scale that well. But ads are on the way out, and the industry will need a replacement fast.
Companies will go into Journalism Themselves
It’s already happening as we speak, with some companies posting official announcements on Youtube and other social sites. And Nintendo is already taking a lot of the gaming journalism market away by hosting its own Nintendo Directs, like the one below:
As well as game specific vids like:
Above: A far more exciting way to give people Smash Bros information than your typical IGN article.
But we think it’ll become more common in the industry as a whole. Why rely on third parties to post press releases and trailers when you can post themselves yourselves and make all the money from the millions of views you get as a result? And when it comes to big games, the companies can definitely hype them up a lot more by not going through a middleman.
So the line between journalism and advertising will get rather blurred too, with the companies themselves replacing much of the old school gaming journalists.
And that’s what we think the future of Gaming Journalism has in store. It’s a controversial one, and it’ll be a miserable one for anyone trying to make money by writing clickbait pieces for the tabloid media, but that’s the way of the world. Things change, and video game journalism is not an exception to that rule.
But what do you think? Do you like the article? Think the points are reasonably well done? Post your opinion on Gaming Reinvented’s forums and social media today!