There’s been an interesting discussion kicking around about whether bloggers are just as good and useful as games media, whether they can provide the same services, or whether the press is better in some regard (see: Herding Cats, Clean Casuals, The Cynic Dialogues, and Party Business). This is particularly timely as the Massively crew is working to get Massively Overpowered up and running through crowdfunding and a lot of personal labor. I mean, if bloggers can fill the void that Massively left and/or do it better, why should we bother?
As someone who’s existed on both sides of this fence for a half-decade now with Bio Break and Massively, I feel that I’m in a good position to comment on this. So let me put this up front and center: Bloggers and games media both have very useful roles that overlap in some areas but can never supplant each other. In fact, we need each other for the good of the industry, the discussion, and the community.
I started out as an indie game blogger and even after getting hired at Massively continued to cultivate Bio Break because I have such a heart for blogging. Bloggers are *awesome*. They can shoot from the hip, write about any ol’ thing they please, interact with each other on the spur of the moment, and collectively come up with terrific ideas and conversations. And what’s more, the player community needs bloggers to be doing these things.
Bloggers help players discover other MMOs than ones they’ve played, get tips and tricks for their games, and feel connected to others who might be celebrating or struggling over the same issues. By not being beholden to any master other than themselves, bloggers have unilateral freedom and (at least initial) credibility to comment on sensitive topics with unique voices. Each blogger builds a reputation for him or herself, and the best hopefully get recognized. This blend of independant journaling, fearless commentary, and agile reactions makes for a vibrant group.
And no matter how you felt about Massively, we on staff really appreciated bloggers (particularly since half of us had our own blogs as well). We would source them when they brought news stories to our attention, and I championed the creation of the popular Global Chat column to highlight six exceptional blog posts every other week. Our EIC, in our very last article, made a point to thank and link to the bloggers individually because we not only appreciated their sympathy, but respected them as well.
If we’re being honest, there are downsides to bloggers too. Grammar, spelling, logical arguments, and sometimes common sense is optional, not mandatory (after all, who’s going to put their foot down?). Some bloggers flame for pure attention. And, perhaps most germane to this discussion, with no editorial oversight there’s often little consistency. If I was to turn only to bloggers for news, I would be missing out on a lot of stories and games, as we only write about what’s in our field of vision at the moment.
Then you have the press — games journalism, enthusiast journalism, however you like to call it. Press has two jobs: to deliver factual, objective stories (news) and to deliver subjective commentary on news and issues (opinion). Opinion writing is often where the Venn diagram with bloggers overlap, although a press editor will ensure that there’s hopefully a higher level of quality and consistency.
What we did and will continue to do with the news on Massively was far more than (as if often cited) regurgitate press releases. Actually, I had a vendetta against PR statements for how they’d assume sites would post them verbatim out of laziness, and I worked hard to strip out the important facts that readers needed to know from the flowery, distracting, and sometimes misleading PR language (whether or not you see this as a service is your call, but I hope it helped). Gaming news comes from a wide swath of sources — forums, tipsters, bloggers, official websites, other news sites, Twitter, reddit — and requires reporters to constantly be sifting through piles of stories seeking the ones that belong on the site, have credible sources (or ARE a credible source), and are of interest to readers. Every publication has a different readership and tailors content for those readers (after all, Time doesn’t report on MMO news and Massively didn’t do a lot of geopolitical commentary).
So I see press as being more focused on delivering news and opinion content and being as inclusive as possible with the genre, while also having a higher standard of quality and editorial oversight. However, there is one even greater reason why press is important, which is that it aids in giving the MMO industry/games industry legitimacy.
I’ll pause while you snort derisively and/or insert your “ethics in journalism” jokes.
If we don’t want to be part of a hobby that is constantly derided and demeaned, then we need quality media outlets to cover them and present these games as something other than a joke or a kid’s toy. Fair or not, the crowd listens to press in a way that it mostly doesn’t with individual blogs. If MMOs are to grow in popularity and make inroads with the mainstream, then there needs to be a press that delivers clear, insightful, and useful coverage.
Press isn’t the only thing that bestows legitimacy, of course, but it is crucial to that effort. The conversations and investigations and coverage that press provides — because it has made its mission to do that — informs the ignorant, challenges the studios, and provides a useful intermediary between developers and community. Bloggers, as great as they are, cannot fill this role on a regular and widespread basis. If nothing else, the “big name” of a media outlet opens doors in and attaches respect to the industry the way that very few individuals can.
And since I listed a few downsides of bloggers, I’ll be fair in admitting that the press ain’t perfect (us or “the other guys”). There ARE ethical lines crossed with relationships and coverage and transparency that need to be guarded constantly. The hive mind of a press outlet lets less personality shine than an individual blogger. Personal bias sometimes does leak into objective reporting. One reviled story could turn a reader off to everything else the publication has or will continue to do.
Listen, I get it. I know that it’s cool to buck against the media when you’re a blogger, and I understand that people do appreciate the unguarded voices that come across in blogs. But I have always seen blogs and press as two aspects of MMO coverage that simply take different approaches but appreciate the same things. Competition is good, and both parties should be urging each other to do a better job.
What we all do, collectively, is to raise the profile of MMOs and benefit the industry entire with our work. It doesn’t have to be an either-or scenario or an us-vs.-them setup. Just like with MMOs, you can like more than one and appreciate what each brings to the table.
13 thoughts on “Bloggers and media”
Thanks for adding your thoughts to this discussion! I’m totally with you on this.
Good MMO journalists (like I feel the folks at Massively are) have my respect because I have a feel for the massive amount (no pun intended) of information you have to filter through to get to the heart of a story. It’s also a challenge to bring your own voice to the factual news and ensure it balances that line of professional, honesty and informative.
I admit I didn’t even think about the legitimacy thing. That’s a VERY good point.
I’ve been a big fan of specialist journalism all my life. As a music-obsessed adolescent I grew up reading The New Musical Express and Sounds when they had a seemingly bottomless pool of great writers Mick Farren, Jane Suck, Giovani Dadomo, Nick Kent, Charles Shaar Murray and all the rest. In the 1980s I read the David Hepworth/Mark Ellen era Smash Hits on pop and popular culture, CRASH! on gaming and Empire on cinema.
All of the above combined the accuracy and discipline of professional print journalism with the energy, idiosyncrasy and freewheeling spirit of the committed enthusiast. And a ton of humor. Massively, I felt, operated in that same hinterland. It felt like a collective of enthusiasts just barely reigned in by an editorial authority.
That’s the tightrope I’d like my news outlets to walk, a fine balancing act between accurate information and irreverent reportage.
To go into detail on one minor item in your post… because, blogger here… I am actually something of a fan of what Game Informer does on the whole press release front. They print what the company wants them to print, verbatim… then they put in a little divider and give a small editorial message that contains their first pass, gut assessment of the whole thing.
I think there is a place for running with press releases. Hearing what the company has to say is important. But deciphering, explaining, or putting context around press releases is where the value add lies.
I originally came to Massively to read about MMO news and participate in the MMO metaverse.
Then unexpectedly, I’ve found opinions similar to mine articulated much more professionally than I ever could, which did give them an aura of legitimacy. Sometimes even found that I adopted opinions I didn’t have before, due to the presented arguments.
Ultimately, it was these things that attracted me to Massively: 1) single point of access, 2) reader participation, 3) adherence to a self defined code of conduct and degree of professionalism (of which I only found Jef skirting on occasions when engaging commenters in a slugging match in the comments section! 🙂 ).
News gives breadth, blogs give depth. At least that’s my interpretation.
Ethics and values really only apply to the news as there’s more than one voice. Bloggers are a wild west bunch and you can just ignore them without large loss.
Legitimacy is a strong point too. I don’t dismiss what Massively (and others) tried to do. It was the MMO go-to aggregator. When you’re the site people think of, that brings along not only power/prestige but also responsibility.
I broadly agree with a lot of the sentiments that you have expressed in your post, but I balk at the following statement:
” Opinion writing is often where the Venn diagram with bloggers overlap, although a press editor will ensure that there’s hopefully a higher level of quality and consistency”.
I have not always found this to be the case. I have encountered opinion pieces written both on Massively and other gaming sites that have been lacking in intellectual rigour and critical thinking. Simply being a pro-gaming journalist does not endow you with these skills.
It can also be argued that an editor of a commercial site has far more restrictions placed directly and indirectly upon them and is therefore is going to be far more risk averse. Too often have I read articles that pussyfoot around issues for fear of rubbing someone up the wrong way. Such an approach hardly lends itself to “a higher level of quality”.
A good blogger can police themselves, self edit and maintain ethical standards within their writing. They are not the exclusive province media. Nor is an editor infallible.
To reiterate, I believe you are right about the complimentary nature of bloggers and the gaming press and what they bring to the community. However I do not think that the distinctions you’ve highlighted are as commonplace as you imply. They strike me being as primarily notional and the reality of the situation is quite far removed.
Roger, I think that’s fair, and it’s why I added “hopefully.” I’ve certainly seen some incredibly pieces on blogs that were far above what I would consider my best work.
I think a primary difference is one of “work” ethic. Someone who considers themselves to be media or press is more likely to follow an editorial schedule, post on topics other than those they might personally choose, etc. I’d far rather be just a blogger doing what I do for my own reasons and interests. Sure, I like to help people out by posting interesting or helpful information rather than just rambling fluff. That doesn’t mean I want to make it something I do on a set schedule. I like blogging as the mood strikes me. I think that “as the mood strikes” is an important part of being a blogger. We each have our unique voice and personality, but media and press are (really should be!!!) kept to a higher standard, and that is a good thing. It helps teach us dabblers how to be better writers.
Truth to be told, for me the difference between blogs and Massively also were not that massive. There is a plethora of blogs out there which i do not care for, but the same filtering i did at Massively. I read some colums and skipped the rest. (After all, time is not an unlimited ressource and unfortunately a part of Massively always “felt” like a PR outlet. ) It is true that there are many blogs out there which, next to not meeting my interests, also have quality issues, as every John Doe and his dog can do a random blog, so a self-controling site can fix that and make sure that certain quality standards are being met. (That indeed was true for Massively, as long as you kept your eyes from the comments section. When reading comments, you were well advised to wash your eyes afterwards, though. )
So for me, i probably will just do the same with the restart: taking a look, cherry-picking those columns and parts which interest me, and unfortunatly again disregard what is of no interest to me.
I still wish you all the best and hope that the quality approach pays off, but i think the bigger advantage you can perhaps make use of is mentioned at the pingback of “Waiting for Rez”: You can provide a “common watering hole for diverse players and playstyles” (partial quote from the pingback) and thus unite the community, what all the small seperate blogs can not do.