This morning I went to a Rock Band 4 press event, where I got to try out the game.
I wrote up this preview article detailing my thoughts. Long story short, my opinion was that at this stage it didn’t seem to be revolutionising things by any means, but that was fine because it was still Rock Band and that’s good enough for me.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s completely fine to be negative in a preview. Some believe that publications are scared to badmouth a game at preview stage because they might be denied review code, but as long as the publication is fair about it then publishers are actually usually okay with it.
In reality, the reason most of us don’t go too hard on games at a preview stage is because they’re just that: previews. The game isn’t finished yet, and much of the stuff that gamers like to read about and discuss – the graphics, the frame rate and so on – aren’t really finalised until the eleventh hour of development.
Slamming a game at preview stage for having a bad frame rate is like saying someone’s three-year-old won’t end up going to university because they draw on the walls: that shit needs a chance to get sorted out and, in time, it usually is. Of course, sometimes it isn’t, and that’s why we have both prisons and Ninjabread Man. But you have to give the benefit of the doubt.
In general though, criticising a game at preview stage can be fine and I’ve done it plenty of times in the past. What isn’t fine, however, is the article I read today. Now, this is probably massively unprofessional of me but, strictly speaking, I’m not a professional any more so to hell with it.
Before the Rock Band 4 event which took place in London today, there was one in California. As is often the case, American press events are more lavish than British ones: for Rock Band 4 we were in the basement of a pub, whereas the Americans were on the rooftop of an expensive hotel. In terms of metaphors you can’t get much stronger than that.
I can’t comment on whether this leads to a difference in media ethics between American and UK press: having never worked for a US publication it would be ignorant of me to suggest otherwise. That isn’t my point though. My point is this.
Imagine you’re on a website. Polygon, say. Imagine you’re looking forward to Rock Band 4. Imagine you see an article on the site offering a preview of Rock Band 4. Then imagine clicking it and having the following presented to you. Go ahead and read it and decide on your own conclusion before reading mine.
Here’s my take on it. Simply put, if you’re covering a game and you care so little about the game that you don’t even have the decency to pay attention to it, then – and pardon my vernacular here – fuck directly off.
The sheer contempt this article has for the game in question is breathtaking. Bear in mind here, it’s this person’s job to report on video games. On this particular day he has been sent to cover Rock Band 4. It doesn’t matter if he couldn’t care less about it or, as his writing implies, thinks it’s beneath him. It’s his fucking job.
Sometimes we do things we don’t want to do. Do you think sewage workers adore wading through shite? Can you imagine an estate agent putting up an ad for someone’s flat and writing “personally I don’t care for this apartment at all”?
It has always been my opinion that when a journalist makes themselves the story instead of the game they’re supposed to be covering, they’ve failed at doing their job.
Even when they write articles about how games affected them personally, the best writers still make sure the focus is directly on the games themselves. This amazing piece Christian Donlan wrote about how games are helping him through multiple sclerosis is as personal as you can get, and yet despite how much he opens up and shares so much about his private life with us, the overriding message is still “games are amazing”. When you finish reading it you’re more in love with this wonderful hobby than ever.
Then you’ve got this Rock Band article, in which the writer tells us how instead of checking out the game we clicked a link to read about, he instead chose to be “standing at a safe distance, drinking fizzy water, eating puff pastry canapes and chatting to another colleague about politics in the Philippines”.
Well, I couldn’t give a seventeenth of a fuck about what you have to say about politics in the Philippines. I clicked your link on your site, which is paying your wages, to read about the game you were sent to cover, and instead you have the gall to not only not bother doing so, but also go out of your way to essentially tell me “mate, I don’t like the game you’re interested in, so I’m not going to waste my time looking into it for you”.
I get it. You don’t like Rock Band. Hey, to each their own. One man’s Super Mushroom is another man’s Poison Mushroom. But when I go to McDonalds because I feel like eating something unhealthy I don’t expect the guy behind the counter to tell me “Big Macs are shit” and lock up his till.
It isn’t just the writer who makes me angry here (though let’s be clear: he definitely does). It’s the entire process.
Here’s a story. A few days before I was due to start at CVG my editor-to-be Andy called me up. “Mate, there’s a press trip to Sweden next week to look at some Paradox Interactive games”, he told me. “Do you fancy going and covering them for us?”.
Now, considering I hadn’t even started yet and I was looking to impress my new boss, it would have been in my best interests to accept his request and dig out the passport. But here’s the thing: Paradox Interactive specialises in strategy games. Not just standard turn-based efforts like your Fire Emblems, but enormous grand historical efforts. I know some people adore that sort of thing but frankly, I can’t think of anything worse.
So I turned Andy down. “To be honest mate, those games aren’t really my kind of thing,” I told him. “I’d be a bit out of my depth.”
Rather than think “this prick isn’t a team player”, Andy understood because he realised, as any good editor should, that sending someone who isn’t even remotely interested in a game is essentially a waste of time. We’re called ‘specialist press’ for a reason, and if you don’t send a specialist who knows the genre enough to not only report on a game but also analyse it and comment on it, you might as well just ask for a press release.
What stuns me about this article is the triple dose of bad decisions surrounding it. Firstly, whoever commissioned this didn’t sufficiently check that the writer cared or knew enough about the game’s genre to be the right person to cover it. I find it very hard to believe that nobody at Polygon cares about Rock Band: they’re hipster, but not that hipster.
Secondly, there’s the obvious issue of the article itself: a pretentious pile of bumwash about a nonplussed writer’s experience at a shit rooftop party which happened to have some sort of music game or something playing in the background, I dunno, I wasn’t paying attention.
And finally, this article was actually submitted, approved and published without anyone saying “wait a minute, this isn’t good enough, you didn’t put a shred of effort in here”.
The cynic in me thinks the article was posted just to rile people up and get hits. And by posting this article moaning about it, I suppose if that’s the case then I’ve fallen for it. But the optimist in me hopes there was just a breakdown in communications somewhere and it went up unchecked.
What annoys me most of all, though, is how little appreciation this writer seems to have for the fortunate position he finds himself in.
There are likely tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of people around the world who would kill to be a professional games journalist. For all the moaning about media ethics and GamerGate and all that shite, there are an enormous number of gamers – including those who give the industry constant abuse – who would give anything to do this job.
It may be stressful at times (as I detailed in a previous article) and it may be low-paying, but it’s still getting to play the newest video games before anyone else and getting paid to do so. It’s still the dream job.
As I keep boring people by telling them, I’ve been doing this for nine years now. This morning I still hopped out of bed with a smile on my face because I was getting to see a new game today.
I’ve always said that the day I stop caring about this job is the day I stop doing it. But ultimately this was a decision that was taken out of my hands when CVG closed down and I was made redundant.
And that’s why this article really infuriates me: because while countless people – now including me again – are writing stuff like this entirely unpaid because we love doing it and would kill to make it our job (again, in my case), there are writers like this guy who are being paid to show a complete disregard for this dream job so many are desperate to get just a taste of.
So this is my open advice to all games journalists who don’t give a shit: quit. Go drink your fizzy water and talk about Filipino politics elsewhere, and give up your job for someone who has a passion for this and wants to share that passion with others. If you feel that events like the one you attended are wasting your time, then stop fucking wasting ours.
Here on Tired Old Hack, I am committed to positive coverage of video games. Too many sites are putting a negative, cynical spin on this incredible industry (the above being one of the most blatant examples) and I refuse to go down that route.
This site is a celebration of gaming. My aim is to have you leaving my site with a smile on your face and an urge to play more games, not a frown and a feeling that your favourite hobby is going down the toilet. Because it really isn’t.
We live in a time where there are more fantastic games than ever before, many of which can be bought for only a handful of quid, or sometimes not even that.
We have games where we can turn into squids and cover arenas in paint, or jump into massive robots and destroy cities, or explore a beautifully accurate representation of the Nostromo from Alien, or race go-karts up a waterfall.
And yet many of us spend our times moaning and whining about DLC and resolutions and free-to-play gaming.
Well, not on here.
On here we celebrate.
For more about Tired Old Hack, who I am and my background, check out the site’s About FAQ.
Alternatively, if you’d like to read more of my thoughts on the games industry, here’s Part 1 and Part 2 of my article on the corrupt* world of games reviews. Which, sorry folks, isn’t actually as corrupt as you’d think.
Finally, are you a developer? Want someone to actually play your game rather than simply stand in the same room as it? I’m guaranteeing coverage of your game (note: this will be a review, so may be either positive or negative), regardless of the scale of your project. Enter the Tired Old Hack Developer Open Invitational if you’re interested.
Update: I’ve seen a lot of people tweeting this article along with a GamerGate hashtag. Let me be clear: I do not support a movement that calls into question the credibility of the job I spent nearly a decade doing. Numerous GamerGate members in the past have directly accused me of corruption with absolutely no evidence, purely because of what my job was. My comments on this article are in no way an indication of widespread corruption in the games media. One poorly written preview does not industry-wide shadiness make.
I also refuse to give my blessing to a group of which a proportion of its members harass women. I politely ask that you respect this: I am not going to get involved in any arguments about it. I’ve already wasted enough of my life being lectured by the illiterati on how feminism is apparently the worst thing ever, and I’m not prepared to indulge any more.
Apologies if you support the movement and the above disclaimer offends you in any way, but try to deal with it. Arguing with me about it is fruitless: I won’t be swayed.