Video Game Journalism isn’t Getting Better Any Time Soon

Out of all the different branches of journalism, video game journalists arguably have the worst reputation. An article published earlier this year by New Media and Society found that “traditional” journalists perceive video game journalism as a “lower form of journalism”, and that it lacks any form of professionalism. The cap it off, the consensus within the community is that gaming journalism is considered a joke. But why is this? What will it take for gaming journalism to improve?

There’s this significant disconnect between gaming journalists and their audience. The entire point of journalists writing these reviews and articles is to inform players on whether they’ll enjoy upcoming games and titles. It seems that journalists either fail at this thoroughly or can’t be trusted on their word when they do discuss a game. There are two main reasons for this: the reviews are awful, and their ethics are questionable.

It’s rare to find a helpful video game review these days. It’s an uncommon occurrence for a game to-rated somewhere outside of the usual 7-9 score, regardless of what the reviewer says about the game, for better or worse. There’s also the fact that gaming journalists aren’t required to have experience in the genre of game they’re reviewing. How is VentureBeat’s audience supposed to be able to trust their Cuphead review if the person reviewing it can’t get past the tutorial? If somebody is considering buying a game, it’s smarter to watch a lets-play than try to be the judge of whether IGN’s criticism is valid or not.

The other major issue with gaming journalism is their disregard of basic journalistic ethics. According to the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) code of ethics, journalists must:

  • “Disclose conflicts of interest that affect, or could be seen to affect, the accuracy, fairness or independence of your journalism. Do not improperly use a journalistic position for personal gain.
  • Do not allow advertising or other commercial considerations to undermine accuracy, fairness or independence.
  • Do your utmost to ensure disclosure of any direct or indirect payment made for interviews, pictures, information or stories.”

Unfortunately, many gaming publications fail to follow these standards. In an attempt to get the jump on their competition, publishers utilise new access codes, free products, access to press events and tours provided by gaming companies such as Sony Entertainment. Gaming journalism magazines run advertisements on their websites about the games they are reviewing and supposed to be unbiased towards, and in doing so, give the power of the review over to the gaming companies.

Most publications depend upon the early access and ad revenue, and to lose them would be devastating for them. They aren’t challenging to lose, either. All it would take is one negative review about the next “Fifa” title, and suddenly IGN has to buy EA titles on the day of release instead, days after their competition has already reviewed the game.

Polygon advertising video games above their articles in April 2020

This has been a part of the industry for so long now that it was considered business as usual when Sony pressured GameSpot into firing one of their journalists for writing a negative review about “Kane & Lynch”.

The power that gaming companies hold over publications is not only gaming journalism’s most serious flaw but is also the reason why nothing is going to change any time soon. Publications are seemingly locked into this “deal” with gaming companies which is continuously destroying their credibility because of the alternative, while the ethical choice, has the potential to ruin entire gaming magazines.

The fear of losing business is enough to keep gaming publications seemingly in check. And to make up for the lack of critiques and reviews, journalists are forced to write click-baiting and biased articles to pull in the clicks routinely.

With no better alternatives, this is the way the industry is planning to stay for many years to come.

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