As a previews editor, I naturally tried to focus more on the positives of an upcoming game rather than the negatives. Writing previews isn’t easy – You’re trying to garner an idea of the finished product off of a build that might be still in alpha, or barely past conception. You don’t want to diss a game before it’s even released – not only is this highly unprofessional, it just makes you look like a troll and a huge dick. Furthermore, a publisher isn’t going to be calling you back when they have a new IP or revival of a franchise that’s actually really well done and redeems the company in the future – which does happen – so tact is simply a built-in necessity.
I both loved and hated doing previews. I loved preview events that were basically me meeting up with either a couple of developers, or a couple of developers and their PR people, and chilling in their cool, laid back office (or hotel room, or around a table near the rooftop pool, etc) while chatting about the game I was previewing. This was always the most honest setting, and I opened up a lot more as a writer and editor in these settings because I could let the developers actually speak for themselves and I would insert the difficult questions when necessary. This was when I felt like I was doing something I had always dreamed of doing – interfacing with developers and imagining if I had taken that route in my life when I was younger and into the idea of creating video games.
I usually disliked the much larger preview party events. They were always put on by some huge publisher, and always filled with so much pomp and circumstance. They also required schmoozing with other journalists – something I was not good at and at times, downright avoided. When I met a journalist I greatly admired, I generally made myself look small - like some frightened monkey in the presence of a majestic lion. Often though, I ran into journalists from sites with names like GamerzandCoolGamez.com or LookAtUsGameAU.com – basically, sheep in wolves’ clothing who sort of annoyed me for no real good reason other than that I knew they probably created their website the week before. That’s the nature of the industry, just as there are new small game companies popping up every day or week, there are also new small gaming-related sites appearing in like numbers.
However, the worst aspect of the larger preview events is that you usually don’t really get a good idea of how the developers feel about their project. Everything is done for the camera, and when you don’t bring a camera to the proceedings, it’s not like you’re going to get some really strong insight in a loud venue where a whole bunch of journalists are engaged in playing whatever game. You end up having a conversation with one of the bigger heads of the company that usually has a lot of “We can’t answer that right now” or “We will comment on that feature on a later date.” You tend to get nowhere unless you’re one of those really aggressive sensationalist journalists who doesn’t mind crossing boundaries of ethics and civility to milk out just a little more information from a developer that you later exaggerate to incredible proportions.
That said - The irony is that my biggest crime ended up being that I let way too many excellent indie games by the wayside and a few potentially really good stories left unpublished because of other real life obligations that gave me money or a tangible chance to earn money, such as my job as a part-time restaurant server (which pays pretty well in the city,) or my continuing stint as a full time student.
However, when I could, I loved covering indie games. I also loved covering new IP’s that were awesome, and franchises that have successfully stuck around for a long time and that brought back cherished childhood memories.
But I have to tell you – there were days where I was standing face to face with a PR person or a Publisher Head V.P. of Bullshit Sequel Racer/Shooter for X Franchise, holding my awesomely technological Radioshack recorder out and trying to think of polite questions that weren’t summarily, “So, do you think gamers the world over are going to be really f*cking g-damned pissed at you for releasing such a shameless and soulless cash-in?”
I had to be polite and I had to try to be positive.
After all, if I were completely honest all of the time, I might hurt the site, and I definitely could sever relationship ties with big Publisher of X franchise. Even though I certainly never got any pay-offs, there is an implicit agreement between yourself as a journalist and a publisher showing off an early copy of the game that you’ll both be professional -- you in your coverage, and they in their various amenities such as the free open bar, live wild animal sitting in a cage three feet away from you, and weird hors d'oeuvres that taste like grass and seaweed.
Yet, despite all of that, I did soldier on the best I could. I feel like I’ve been generally pretty honest in the previews I’ve done – at least in terms of indicating real concerns I have at the time of preview.
If I have ever missed important information, it's usually the result of being at one of the larger events, not a one-one with the devs. When I've been able to speak directly to the developers, I've always been very thorough in my line of questioning. At larger events, I've often been met with resistance regarding specific details, and have figured it would be covered by another Dtoid editor at a later event.
Of course, the few reviews I've done have always been an entirely different story
Which is why I always tell people to "wait for the review" - I myself generally don't buy a game based on previews and only put five bucks down on a pre-order unless I absolutely know that I'll love the game even despite potential faults. I check all the big sites at review time, and get a general sense of what the internet at large is saying. I think it's more important to be a knowledgeable consumer than it is to slag a preview of a game simply because it's in an early stage and hasn't worked out all the kinks yet (which has happened - off of the top of my head, Sleeping Dogs
is a game I previewed that had earlier previews from around the web looking down their nose at the game...)
So please, please - take previews for what they are, not for how they do or don't confirm your hate or love of a company. There's simply no way to know the final product until it's actually in the hands of reviewers.
Tomorrow: Part IV: Facing My Failures...