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Thursday August 17, 2006 5:31 pm

No “Free Press” In Game Industry

Posted by Rob Stevens Categories: Editorial, Features, Video Games

Hey Dave…still want to know why there’s no real journalism in the video game industry?  It’s because of stories like this, and like this, and like this.

How on earth are you supposed to have a “free press” in the game industry when the companies that admittedly support its existence are constantly trying to keep all of the news under wraps?  I suspect that in at least one of these recent cases of IGN pulling content, a deal was brokered for an exclusive in exchange for pulling the content, but when are these companies going to learn that you can’t put the genie back in the bottle?

The games industry is one where companies have seen rampant “idea theft”, concepts shown early to generate buzz which proceed to get ripped off eight ways from Sunday by less talented development houses able to rush a competing product to market.  Nintendo was such a victim of this particular tactic (specifically after showing off Super Mario 64 for the first time), that they have become the most secretive company in all of the game industry.  So I get it, I understand why these companies want to keep their secrets under wraps ... it’s a matter of securing their revenue stream, and I can respect that.

But if we’re ever really going to grow beyond our niche, we need to stop having gaming websites used as nothing more than an extension of a publisher’s PR firm.  The level of transparency that you’re starting to see with the blogosphere and tech companies is probably never going to happen for gaming, but there is a happy medium to be had.

Where is that medium?  Well it starts by not trying to strong arm the media into pulling stories that they discover, or stories that you give them and then decide that you weren’t ready to release.  I can’t count the number of times that Edelman (Microsoft’s PR firm for Xbox) has issued a press release and then retracted the release and asked outlets not to print it, frequently because they didn’t get internal clearance first.  THQ: When you invite journalists to see your products running on development kits, you should probably expect that pictures are going to be taken.  If you don’t want pictures taken, make people sign NDAs, and then HOLD people to their NDAs.  I know first-hand that big players in the media (IGN, GameSpot, etc.) break NDAs all the time, but there is never any repercussion because the industry NEEDS sites like IGN (and the sites know it).  Yet smaller sites are constantly threatened with lower levels of access to early code if they don’t keep secrets from the public.

So what’s the solution?  Well first, I’d say that we need to get rid of the NDA for press.  It’s the only way to ensure a level playing field.  Likewise, PR companies need to learn to do nothing except stew quietly when we discover a story on our own.  Handle the problem internally, find out who leaked the info, and deal with it.  Stop putting the strong arm on the press.  Besides, “breaking into jail” (as Scoble calls it) is simply the quickest way to make sure that the information you’re trying to cover up gets a wide audience fast (marketers, take note).  It would also behoove you to realize that the time of the “paid exclusive” is done ... once information is out on the internet, it’s out.  What’s the point of trying to keep it exclusive to one site when the reality is that it will be all over the internet in one form or another in mere minutes?

Further, we need more strong journalists willing to stand behind a story and not cater to publishers and PR companies willing to cut them off.  After all, they can’t do it to everyone, because they need us as much as we need them.  Hell, I could argue that we need more journalists in this industry in general, since what we have right now are writers.  (I have written so few journalistic pieces in my day that I could probably count them without taking my shoes off.)  The more we learn what it really means to be a journalist, the further the entire industry is going to go.

I know I’ve made a rant like this before, but nearly a year has passed and nothing has changed.  Hey Dave…that offer still stands.  If you want to see real journalism in the game industry, you’ve got to start by opening up and not trying to stifle aspiring journalists when they manage to get a story that you didn’t think they could get.

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