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Dennis C Scimeca avatar 12:15 PM on 06.13.2010
Who is the gaming press speaking to?



In late April, I wrote a piece criticizing the insular nature of the video game media. I look back on it now as an expression of my learning curve in terms of how this industry works, and the economic realities of trying to make a living writing about video games.

The most important thing to come out of that piece, however, was a comment from a gaming buddy of mine. "I donít think that Gamers actually care about Game Media Ė and never talk about it!" I took issue with that sentiment at the time, but this weekend has seen the release of a Neilsen Games study that speaks to my friend's argument.

This study is not a definitive proof of anything, but it suggests that the majority of video gamers really don't care about the video game press. I'd define "caring" in this context as "seeing the major headlines on a daily basis, even if the reader didn't delve into the stories." What other reasonable explanation exists for the ridiculously low numbers of 39% and 42% of active gamers aware of the upcoming motion-control systems for their favorite console?

Most of us with graduate degrees had to take a research methods course, and quickly learned how easy it is to make a survey say what you want it to say. Hopefully most of us walk away from those courses with a critical distrust of any survey conducted by anyone, but unless someone can tell me what Neilsen had to gain by constructing this survey to generate such low numbers, I'm willing to accept they have some validity.

We can safely dismiss the notion that the gaming press simply hasn't covered Natal and Move well enough. Anyone with a robust RSS feed from all the major gaming sites can attest to this in the time it takes to search either of those keywords. Even a basic level of awareness should have informed anyone reading gaming websites and magazines of the existence of Natal and Move. We're not talking about knowledge of the details of these systems, but merely the knowledge they were coming.

Back when I was part of the suggested 60% of gamers who really pay no attention to our press I'd pop onto GameSpot, go straight into the XBox 360 section of the site, and look up the review of the game I wanted to read about which would almost always be on the Top 10 list that day because the game was new. My eye would unlikely be drawn anywhere on the page other than where it needed to go to suss out the specific information I wanted.

If that were a normative experience for gamers then the Neilsen study makes perfect sense. If the study is valid, it throws a very stark light on the potential growth of the gaming press, and just how much opportunity there is for newcomers to the industry. This may be another truth that is just as obvious as my observations about the state of our media back in April. but for anyone new to writing about games it's important to register.

Over on my website, the biggest traffic spike we had was in response to submitting our Modern Warfare 2 review to N4G. I was shocked: hadn't all these gamers read plenty of MW2 reviews already? If product reviews are what justify the existence of the video game media, just how many sources for this sort of thing do we need? If it's about access to screenshots and trailers, why don't gamers just sign up for accounts at Gamespress and skip the middleman?

If the study is valid, it also would explain why the mainstream media just doesn't care about video games. There's no incentive to spend money covering subject matter that even the majority of enthusiasts can't be bothered to read. The other reasonable conclusion is that the study speaks less to awareness or interest in the gaming media, but more to literacy rates among gamers, something I would not dismiss out of hand given the quality of many of the comments I read on gaming websites (TL;DR).

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