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.
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.
The 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.
The 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.
The 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 release. So 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.
- I’m looking at you, BBB, and your filthy little “bearwalls.” [↩]
- Also, “dude”. That actually appeared. [↩]
- I’m sure I’ll find out. [↩]
- Which he seems to “pretend” to have forgotten about. [↩]
- There always is, no matter how good or bad the expansion is. [↩]
- And probably in hope of a sort of codependent relationship to come. [↩]