The world of game journalism is an insular, inbred place with strange rules.  Blogging shares some of that world’s DNA;  in both worlds, everybody’s looking for an angle. Everybody’s trying to one-up the competition, whether they acknowledge it or not1.

There are a lot of ways to do this: well-designed theorycrafting, deeply thought opinions, game guides, and so forth. But in the area of “news”, the one thing that trumps almost everything else is: access. 

tardis keyAccess gets you exclusives. Access gets you in first. Access is a low-energy route towards rich content for your news site.

But access does peculiar things to a blog or news site. Access makes one dependent on the one granting the access. Do something to offend the wrong person, and that access can be removed.

Sometimes the access is that of an insider. Somebody embedded deep inside an organization that, truth be told, is probably breaking the law by going counter to a corporate NDA.

Sometimes the access is that granted by an organization.  Preview content, implicit mutual endorsement of each other. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

In the game blogging/reporting world, access can mean the difference between beta access, a press screener, or no info at all. And this puts the reporter/blogger in a precarious situation: if the game’s any good, then all’s well. But if the game stinks, the reporter/blogger is in a bad situation.  Be honest, and future access will be forfeit – most likely, for your entire organization, not just yourself.

At the same time, “honesty” also requires that one be honest in all respects.  For example, reviewing a beta as if it were the production (shipping) game is largely frowned upon unless one manages to soften any blows with caveats and provisos.

And there’s my current beef.

Massively.com crossed a line in this regard, and as a result their reputation has taken a major hit with people that value honesty in game journalism.

hit manThe culprit in this case is one Eliot Lefebvre, who starts out the first entry in this virtual hit piece with several paragraphs about how he’s old school WoW, yo, so you cannot question his authenteezies. He be authentic and shizzle, yo2.

I’m not going to go into a detailed deconstruction of his articles, but I will include links to each.

I include full linkage not because I endorse the opinions expressed within, but because I would rather you read and opine your own opinion than force mine down your throat.

I will state up front that I feel it’s important that a writer feel enabled to post something critical of a game without fear of reprisal. But that kind of article needs to have a lot to back it up.  And I’m not talking about MMO street cred, here.  There are seven million people out there that have the same amount of MMO “street cred” as Eliot does, in that they played the same game at the same time as he did.  Playing a game for a long time has limited currency, and that currency is only viable in a specific context, and that context is not the context he’s using it in. There needs to be more authority to the critique that comes. As one of my bosses once told me, perfect attendance only means you’re stubborn, not talented. The “attendance” award is what they give you to make up for having nothing else that matches your particular, um, talents.

grampa simpson hates everythingThe authority of the articles is further undermined by Eliot’s repeated rebukes of his own “attendance award.”  Complaining about NPCs not having any real feeling of familiarity with the many lore characters brought into the game.  I’m not sure what I think of a gamer that claims to be old-school while at the same time drawing a blank on just why Khadgar or Thrall Kal’el Jesus Orc Go’el are part of the ongoing lore of Draenor. Arguing that new players won’t “get it” seems silly on the face of it. This wasn’t put together for new players. Not even remotely. I’m not playing the beta, and even *I* get that.  And there was none of that hand-holding in any of the previous expansions until MoP, either. Pandaria was the first place we ever encountered that was not steeped in over 15 years’ worth of lore.  The fact that Draenor changes that lore a bit has no bearing on who Khadgar is.  My only interest in HIM is just how Khadgar GOT there in the first place3.

It also doesn’t help to contradict one’s self. To first state that one has massive history with the game and then turn around and complain that the lore NPCs are meaningless to him, only then to turn around and say that the expansion does not acknowledge the lore of the game so far. You can maybe have it two ways, but not all three, and preferably one.  And to pretend that some of the problems with the expansion are NEW, when in fact the issues and/or features have been around for two or three expansions’ worth of content is disingenuous at best.

teamworkThe greatest sin of all, however, is this.  This is a game that is in beta.  It is from a company that has taken entire ZONES offline in beta to revamp them4.  And this game is no where near the point of releaseSo why in the name of Ragneros’ smoking balls would you make a recommendation on the expansion at this point?  This is beyond the pale for game journalism. A professional game journalist would know better. A professional gaming blog / site / service would know better.  This is not just a failure on Lefebvre’s part. This is a failure on the part of the editor of Massively for letting it get by.

Until the final paragraph of that series, it was only egregiously hostile towards the expansion, obviously written by somebody that didn’t know any better, but given the track record of various AoL properties in maintaining perspective, it was not a big surprise and easily moved past, just another cranky entitled gamer not getting his props.   But the “recommendation” at the end is just fundamentally irresponsible of Joystiq’s editorial staff. Despite claims to the contrary, this kind of thing can only be seen as clickbait.

Flawed as they might be, most of the complaints in these three articles are valid comments when directed towards the development staff. I have no idea if that actually happened in this case, and I strongly suspect that it didn’t.  I strongly suspect Lefebvre viewed access to the beta as the means to the end of getting an early jump on the Blizzard-bashing yet to come5 and had no intention of providing anything like constructive feedback to the staff. I could be wrong, but the tone of the article certainly implies that he’s done with it all and has no interest in continuing onward.  Those beta keys donated as a gesture of goodwill6 were thanked with a shallow, vitriolic spew.

The only thing worse than a beta tester that is negligent in his/her duties is a supposed “journalist” with an axe to grind.

I don’t normally give two shits about people posting hit pieces about games that they don’t like. Usually the hate is honest and well framed. But it really gets my back up to see someone misrepresent an unfinished product, knowing damned well that it’s unfinished, and blowing that off anyway, because, pageviews.

The staff of WoWInsider and Massively can take umbrage at being looked down for the pageviews thing if they want.  Truth is, it’s not that that people get annoyed at. It’s the cheapness of the sort of ploy in these three articles.  You wanna go with that sort of piece?  Fine. Do so, but put some substance behind it, and don’t be foolish enough to try to recommend a game based on data that will likely be invalid at time of release.

The thing that bugs me most is WoWInsider’s silence on this.  Where are they? I’m sure the editors there read their sister site, since they publish a weekly linkshill for each other. If Lefebvre’s beefs are legit, why did we hear it from Massively instead of WoWInsider?  And if they aren’t, why haven’t they brought out a good rebuttal?  I mean, wanna talk linkbait? Two AoL sites sniping at each other on the basis of turf and seniority sounds like a great way to get pageviews.

If WoWInsider is eschewing relevancy for access, then it’s starting to look like one can best be served by reading elsewhere. They used to at least provide some link love to indy blogs, but since they stopped doing that, reading that site has become more and more frustrating – over stuff like this, as well as watching them fail to meet potential on a daily basis.

Hey, I admit up front that the view’s great from the cheap seats.  Being an indie hipster dwarf makes it easy to ignore things like pageviews and SEO and funding and all sorts of silly stuff like that. But it also means that I do this for reasons important to me, and have the option to be uncompromising.  I’ll never make a living at it, and never have to make that difficult call between relevancy, editorial freedom, and solvency.

But I am so, so, very disappoint in everything this affair brings to light.

disappointment


  1. I’m looking at you, BBB, and your filthy little “bearwalls.” []
  2. Also, “dude”. That actually appeared. []
  3. I’m sure I’ll find out. []
  4. Which he seems to “pretend” to have forgotten about. []
  5. There always is, no matter how good or bad the expansion is. []
  6. And probably in hope of a sort of codependent relationship to come. []
6 Responses to “You can’t please anybody”
  1. Agree totally. I just blog posted something akin to this too – about how difficult it is to read and accept the ranting about “failure” or “bad design” at this early stage of the beta; especially with the vendor’s high quality track record. For example I don’t like Hearthstone as a game, but the game is exceedingly well constructed and sets a new high for the communications, attitude to customer engagement, and overall quality. We learnt recently that the Blood Elf model won’t be ready for day-one WoD, and a few people freaked and started suggesting the sky was falling.

    Writing a hate article for WoD before the actual release is just click-bait. Observations with constructive feedback are good, blather annoys me to hell.

    • Grimmtooth says:

      Maybe I’m naive about this, but I always assumed there was an unspoken rule that doing that sort of thing was verboten. That was just so … nubbish. They canned some damned fine editors over there at Joystiq, and kept this guy. Go figure.

      • We’re certainly not seeing the backstory on the Joystick staff reduction, and its never pretty when it occurs. I feel for them, especially the guys who had the real passion and ambition.
        I’m an almost unknown blogger so generally I can rant and nobody really cares, and I’m not being paid by anyone. Conversely the style of Joystick has felt more like a PR house than a niche/edgy blog outfit, and perhaps it will take a while for this guy to understand who is signing the payslips.
        When we start seeing the “…and you’ll never guess what happened next” or “15 reasons your …” titles its past time to unsubscribe.

        • Grimmtooth says:

          That’s what surprised me about that series, was that it exhibited some real fire. I’m down with that. But just shouting at people because you didn’t like today’s flavor of breakfast cereal at the asylum is fairly suicidal and a real disservice to the reader.

          It’s not just the one guy in this case. One or more editors signed off on those articles. Kinda builds a case for clickwhoring when you realize that somebody looked at that, knew damned well it was the wrong thing to do, and did it anyway.

  2. ElBne says:

    Hey Grimm,
    I’ve been reading your blog for a bit now and I find myself commenting for the first time because I disagree with you on this one for a couple of reasons.

    1. Right off I didn’t read these as hit pieces.
    I read them as “this isn’t what I was expecting and I don’t like it” opinion pieces. To be fair they are also the first 3 massively articles I’ve ever read, so it’s possible that they are wildly out of line from their normal work. I used to read WoWinsider (until I got tired of the unabashed fanboyism and when they cut the informational class columns) so I’ve gotten used to “this is my take on how awesome the game is” articles. In this case I read them as “this is my take on how underwhelming this expansion is going to be”.

    And I don’t think he hides that this is a beta unfinished product. In fact I found it clear that the fact that we’re at month 11 since any new content and “this is all there is” in the beta is part and parcel of why he’s so disappointed.

    2. Blizz is using the testing period as a marketing tool.
    They opened the “alpha” testing two months ago, and the beta invites were shortly thereafter. Blizz first invited the “word of mouth” people to beta test specifically because bloggers and streamers and such drive word of mouth. It’s also notable that they opened testing in early/late June which allows the buzz to boost sub numbers in both Q2 and Q3 reports.

    Therefore I think it’s perfectly reasonable to say that they want people to judge their product and drive engagement. If they genuinely wanted QA work done then they’d have done a random sample invite to get a variety of playstyles/computer rigs into the beta.

    Blizz is counting on people seeing beta info and saying “this is the game I want to play”. As such it’s tremendously unlikely that they are going to make any major changes to core mechanics (what Garrisons are, how quests will work, how the game will “feel” etc) at this point.

    3. The Jade Forest Revamp wasn’t that big a deal
    I was a fairly early invite to the MoP beta. The Jade Forest Revamp was primarily a graphical/story flow revamp because they hadn’t gotten that part figured out yet. It didn’t involve any real changes to how the expansion played as a whole. I was testing in Krasarang Wilds and it “felt” about the same as Jade Forest pre and post revamp.

    4. This article misrepresents what he wrote.
    I say this because I don’t think it’s deliberate. For instance “I’m not sure what I think of a gamer that claims to be old-school while at the same time drawing a blank on just why Khadgar or Thrall Kal’el Jesus Orc Go’el are part of the ongoing lore of Draenor” is flatout inaccurate. The author states specifically that his issue is that we meet all the old lore characters, but we aren’t given any reason to care about them. So if you don’t already know who Khadgar is, you still won’t. Which is fine since WoD is clearly being marketed at old WoW players, not new ones.

    Your chosen wording and tone clearly indicate that you’re upset by these articles for reasons you clearly outline to open. It also appears that you’re taking some liberties to drive home your point. Which I’m not used to in your writing previously, which is what drove me to comment at all.

    So yeah. I don’t think he’s out of line to write what he wrote. The fact that it’s a beta is clearly stated, but I don’t agree with the idea that “I don’t like this because of A B C” is an invalid criticism simply because Blizz might “fix it” before launch. As a counterpoint I would point out that when they announced that Deathwing was the endboss of cata, a good number of people were excited because of how devious that character had been in the lore. The end result was basically Godzilla, but less interesting (for me anyway) and so it’s also entirely possible that Blizz can do things to make the game worse after release as well.

    • Grimmtooth says:

      ElBne,

      Have a closer look at the very end of the third article in that series. That forms the crux of my disdain in this particular case. Up until then, I had churlish thoughts a plenty but as it looked like just another crank article (Metzen knows there are plenty of those on Massively). That ending twisted it up though.

      Nowhere did I question that he hid that he was reviewing a beta app. It’s in the titles! Be pretty stupid of me to claim otherwise. But a buy/no buy recommendation should be made on something closer to finished than this obviously is. Had that not been there, I would not have written this article, it’s that simple.

  3.