Editor's Note: This piece was my final project for my Research and Info Gathering class. I in no way promote this as professional, but it was professional enough to be scrutinized and fact checked by my professor.
I start every morning by grabbing a bite to eat and sitting down in front of my computer. The screen comes to life as I press the power button, and I check my daily news aggregation websites. I look down at the GameInformer magazine next to my desk, but I log onto N4G.com for my daily video game news rather than turning to the magazine for information. I believe that GameInformer is a fantastic magazine, but I can get all of my news faster online. This has been a growing trend for me over the past few years, but is new media slowly dominating the market that traditional media once held?
Despite continued production and circulation, certain areas of traditional video game media have experienced a decline. It is no secret that magazine readership as a whole has been on the decline. Other forms of traditional video game media have also felt the pinch over the last few years. DirecTV, one of the nation’s largest satellite service providers, ceased to carry Comcast’s G4 channel in 2010. G4 is known for its production for the video game review show X-Play, but the popular show hosted by Adam Sessler and Morgan Webb wasn’t enough to convince DirecTV to keep G4 in its lineup. “We are constantly evaluating our lineup in a new world where programming costs continue to rise at significant rates. Since G4 is among the lowest rated networks based on the latest Nielsen data, we decided that it made sense to focus on preserving programming that is more relevant to our larger customer base,” A DirecTV rep said. G4 retaliated, stating that DirecTV was denying G4 fans “the only network that focuses on the popular gaming lifestyle.”
However, gaming fans have other sources of media that focuses on the gaming lifestyle to consume, and these forms of media are available at their discretion. Jared Knabenbauer, ScrewAttack.com’s anchor for the show Hard News, believes that new media reaches gamers faster and better than traditional media. “People using the internet or websites are able to find information about exactly what they want. It allows them to find as much as possible on a single subject,” Knabenbauer said. “[Traditional media] also have restrictions, with most shows condensed into 22 minutes or magazine articles being only so many words. Web-based media has complete freedom on how much they want to say or inform.”
New media thrives on speed of delivery when it comes to reporting the latest news, and with such speed comes the possibility of less depth with each report. New media publications can update hourly with news stories, daily with video newscasts and weekly with podcasts – pre-recorded online audio productions. These updates are much faster than the traditional daily newspaper or monthly magazine, but the extra time possessed by traditional media can lead to rich storytelling. Justin McElroy, managing editor for Polygon.com, believes that new media’s requirement for speed reduces information in stories. “I think that new media has the constant pressure to be fast, faster than anyone else, which can lead to being less informative,” McElroy said.
Video game-related radio programs are not common, but the Internet is thriving with various podcasts to cover all aspects of video games. Podomatic.com’s video games section boasts hundreds of podcasts to choose from, and many larger video game websites also have a regularly updated podcast. Michael Dodd, Clear Channel Communications affiliate and broadcast personality for the This Week in Geek radio show believes that this information shouldn’t be surprising. “Listeners can’t interact with radio right away,” Dodd said. Michael believes that having radio programs online makes more sense. “If you’re streaming your broadcast, you can see how many people are listening in directly on the screen. You’re taking a guess with radio.”
The open terrain of the Internet allows media professionals the chance to start and grow a small media company in ways that traditional media simply couldn’t follow. The need for materials such as printing paper and broadcast equipment is virtually non-existent, and circulation/viewership can be achieved largely by word of mouth. Additionally, this ability to start media sites with very little risk could possibly hurt media ethics and integrity by focusing on news aggregation and even borderline plagiarism as websites rapidly swap stories on a daily basis. “One thing I hate is rewording press releases,” Michael Dodd said in reference to aggregation news sites. “It seems that exclusives happen either by mistake or the journalist knows what he’s doing. The rest of the writers out there are not finding stories.” Jared Knabenbauer also has disdain for news aggregation, believing that smaller media sites aggregate stories and transforms them into commentary in order to gain views.
Not all media professionals believe that smaller aggregation sites pose a threat. Some, like Jim Squires, don’t believe that aggregation sites are paid enough attention in terms of content to be considered threatening. “I think they’d hurt integrity if anyone took any notice of them. [...] The sites that just steal a bunch of feeds and aggregate the news, while unnecessary and kinda slimy, actually have the benefit of positively affecting [Search Engine Optimization] for the sites they steal from because they create in-links to your original content.”
Jeff Gerstmann is arguably synonymous with online games media controversy.
Aggregation and sensationalism are not the only threats to journalistic integrity in terms of games new media. It is the goal and moral obligation of all media outlets to create objective, disinterested reports, but one online media outlet came under fire for terminating an employee for allegedly following this moral code instead of creating a biased product review. Jeff Gerstmann was fired from Gamespot.com in November, 2007 following an unfavorable review of Kane & Lynch: Dead Men where Gerstmann gave the game a 6 out of 10 review score. Gamespot.com denied that Gerstmann’s termination was due to the low review score, and Gerstmann himself declined to comment openly concerning the situation. On March 15, 2012, Giantbomb.com, the games media site Gerstmann co-founded, was acquired by CBS Interactive who also owns rights to Gamespot.com. The acquisition terminated a non-disparagement agreement between Gerstmann and Gamespot, and Gerstmann spoke candidly about his termination for the first time since the incident. Gerstmann confirmed that pressure from advertisers – like Eidos Interactive who published Kane & Lynch: Dead Men – led to his termination. Gerstmann cited tension between the increasingly worried marketing staff and the editorial staff as the initial buildup for Gamespot’s decision to end his position.
New media sites may be gaining the attention of games media consumers, but they may still need to gain the trust and admiration of their peers before they can gain access to large interviews, press releases and convention spots. The Electronic Entertainment Expo, dubbed “E3,” is a yearly media expo that focuses on new video game projects, new releases, new consoles and new technologies. This event is not open to the public, and journalists must meet specific credentials in order to be issued a badge for attendance. Smaller new media publications are able to gain access to the event, but are they given the same opportunities as larger media publications? “Larger outlets are typically allowed more access, whether it be to behind-closed-doors demos, interviews, off site events, and more,” Casey Lynch, Editor-in-Chief for IGN.com, stated. “A [public relations] person wants his company’s product to get the big coverage,” Michael Dodd said. “There is favoritism for sure. It’s all about the numbers.”
Uncertainty of the print medium continues to rise, and many professionals in the media see games journalism leaving the traditional print medium within ten years. “As tablets spread like wildfire, I’m not sure that paper publications will still make sense in a decade,” Justin McElroy said. Jim Squires, Editor-in-Chief of Gamezebo.com, agrees with McElroy, stating, “We’ve been rapidly moving away from the old media models for years, and this is a trend that sees no signs in stopping. We read online, we watch online, we listen online and we play online. We live online.”
Despite speculations that games journalism will leave traditional media, magazine sales have been on the rise. MCVUK.com – The Market for Computer & Video Games – reported that GameInformer Magazine saw increased sales of 55% in 2011 for the Australian and New Zealand markets. The Official Xbox Magazine and The Official Playstation Magazine have followed GameInformer‘s success in Australia, boasting readership increases of 34% and 54% respectively. GameInformer Editor Chris Stead believes that print is successful through good, consistent content and also believes that magazines offer an experience that readers can’t get anywhere else.
The Internet will continue to be a prominent aspect of our everyday lives for years to come, and we will continue to look toward the Internet to meet our demands for information, entertainment and convenience. But, arguments and statistics aside, there will be a continued demand for television shows and a good book to curl up with. Only time can tell whether games media will continue to work with print or fully embrace the digital age.