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.