Published on January 12th, 2017 | by IceCube
The slow demise of video game media
How do we get the biggest video game scoops today? We look to the internet, right?
Gamers only need to turn to their mobile phones or laptop for a new trailer or screenshot to pop-up on one of their feeds. By the end of the day, we’ve been alerted to the “news”.
But it’s not really “news”, is it?
No, this is an advertisement, but we – the audience – treat it like it’s news. We no longer care who provided the source asset, we just want the source asset first.
That’s weird! I mean, don’t we hate ads? They invade our space with fluff claims like: “Our TV has the brightest colours!”, “Look your best with our new moisturizing cream!”, or “We bake the softest bread!”. But for video games, it seems that self-promoting fluff is as good as any media piece.
There’s multiple reasons, plus a chain of events that lead things to be this way today.
To find the answer, rewind your brains to the pre-internet era and think about how we got our gaming news when there was no Facebook, Google Ads or YouTube.
How did we hear about the coolest new games?
All of our source information came from written media previews and screenshots in gaming magazines. Outside of that, on an extremely rare occasion, a big-budget game may get a bus shelter poster or TV ad close to launch day. That’s literally it.
These bibles were once your: trailers, screenshots, previews, reviews, E3 and news.
The game developers had no internet to self-promote, so gaming magazines were the place to speak to the market for years.
So, before the internet takeover, you can see why the media was an extremely valuable tool for video game developers. The business partnership between the two industries was equally beneficial: The video game developer provides the exclusive assets for the media to deliver the information, while the media writes an article about the video game to create exposure and awareness to their target audience.
What a good system, eh?!
Now, enter the internet age:
Video game media websites like IGN, Gamespot and Kotaku were some of the first outlets to learn how to make money online with video game reporting. Basically, high-volume website traffic lead to online advertising dollars from video game developers. It’s a system that gaming magazines were unable to successfully convert to.
This newfound business strategy inspired many hardcore gamers to launch their own websites in hope that it might gain traction as a business. The business investment risk was low and appealed to too many, attracting a huge volume of new media websites and blogs willing to operate for free. However, today in Australia, over 95% of these websites are either closed, abandoned or continue to operate with no generated income. These smaller sites could not compete with the established websites launched in the USA (home of video game source content), or their locally financed subsidiaries.
A portrait of me dealing with our current situation.
Unlike the days of print magazines, part of their website success spawned from taking an entire global audience – not just their national market. This meant bad news for every media outlet outside of the USA.
For a good decade, it seemed like the biggest video game media websites had it figured out and were livin’ large. They had successfully taken the magazine audience, they were getting all the exclusive scoops, and they were collecting ad revenue for their monopoly on international website visitors.
Then technology evolved again. Where technology once helped these outlets to profit, it has also started their demise…
Enter digital marketing: a business strategy with its own definition, but one that provides a way for video game developers to bypass the media entirely and report their own product announcements as “news” directly to the consumer.
How do they do it? When, say, Activision releases a new Call of Duty trailer on their YouTube channel, every media outlet reports it second. When, say, Bethesda announces a release date for the new Doom game on Facebook, every media outlet reports it second. The fight to be “first” and “exclusive” has always been the key to success for the media. Today, the media is second every time.
A more public example are the massive E3 press conferences. I was annually present back when they were closed-door events for conservative media only, and we’d leave each press conference with all kinds of exclusive scoops to send to print. Now? It’s a mockery. The internet age has seen the press conference halls filled with a new breed of media, where qualified and experienced journalists are substituted in favor of “YouTube celebrities” and bloggers. Reserved reactions are benched in favor of whooping and applauding fans, who holler and cheer over every video trailer like something out of the Jerry Springer show.
To make things worse, these circus spectacles are now streamed live, globally, over multiple channels, providing no reason for any media to be present at all, less even call it a “press conference”. The media who do attend are left with no new content, nothing to report and nothing to reveal. The world has witnessed the scoop already.
What is the point?
Ladies and gentlemen… Your new breed of representatives at E3.
The internet age had successfully destroyed the print gaming media and it’s already coming for the online gaming media.
Some of the larger video game publishers have internally funded their own, in-house media outlet. Yep, ad news!
Take for example PlayStation Access, a YouTube channel well-funded and operated by the Sony UK office as it’s own media outlet for PlayStation news. Despite the obvious product bias, their ‘pretend’ news service has the audience none-the-wiser, with a rapidly-growing subscriber count over 1.3 million.
A slightly different approach was taken by Nintendo when they launched the Nintendo Direct service, which allows Nintendo to report their news directly to their audience. Digital marketing has allowed Nintendo to communicate with their global audience directly, informing them when to tune in to the live show and then showcasing their products the way they want it seen: in a 100% positive light.
In effect, video game publishers have almost fully removed the media from their marketing plans, as they’re coming to realize how much of an edge they now have in the business partnership that used to be mutually beneficial.
Nintendo Direct will tell us if their product sucks, er, right?
In this internet age, it seems that honest reporting comes second to speed. First-in is best dressed as they say. The audience cares less for the opinion and the unbiased reporting, and more about hearing it and seeing it first. We will opt in for that privilege and happily consume information in haste.
There’s no telling if the media itself has a future at all in this industry, as people seem content to make up their own minds with the front seat access that developers provide us with today.
It seems that the content creator holds the power to this messy power struggle. If video game publishers can reach a point where they are rivaling the audience numbers of the online media outlets, then the only edge the media have will be gone.