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Who are you and what’s your experience in the industry?

Hi, I’m Jim and I’ve been active in one way or another in the gaming press since 1996. I wrote for a variety of magazines and websites from 1997 until 2002 when I took a hiatus from doing paid work – mainly because my friends were writing to support their families and I felt that every assignment I took was depriving them of work as I was doing it as a hobby. I’ve been very active starting on Usenet in the 90s, blogs and forums, and finally arrived in podcasting.  I did badmoviepodcast.com with a friend from 2009-2013, and I’ve been cohosting Brian Rubin’s SpaceGameJunkie.com podcast for two years now.  There’s 18 years of timeline there, but those are the highlights for brevity’s sake.

How do you feel the gaming press has changed over the last 18 years?

Tons, but it’s entirely traceable and due to market pressures. Very interesting if you’ve made a 2-decade long study of it. Essentially, enthusiasts are early adopters of any new medium and create enthusiast-centric things in it, but are limited by talent, time, resources, and most importantly distribution channel. You can create a thing, but how do you distribute it to an audience? Mainstream media has to come in, embrace the enthusiast, monetize and distribute them.

Print, radio and television all have a very tight distribution channel that you can’t circumvent. The Internet made distribution free and creation a function of free time alone. Suddenly you don’t need to have mass appeal, so you can get back to amateur enthusiast content targeted to their own specific niche. Seth Godin’s book “We Are All Weird” covers this nicely from a marketing perspective, and I urge you to look it up. The printing press, radio then television; each went digital as well in that order: Blogs, podcasts, and now Youtube/Twitch. Mainstream has done what they do, embracing and monetizing once the pioneers establish their first successes. The huge difference this time around is that distribution is no longer under mainstream media’s access control.

Distribution is free to all now, and this breaks the oscillating cycle that existed before. Game magazines couldn’t compete with online print, because a magazine took 30 days to hit the shelf and a website has the “scoop” up in minutes. Magazines have very limited space. Websites can show you 100 screenshots, and now can show you video of the game being played. It used to require a certain artistry to engage the print reader, lead them on a journey of imagination backed by a single screenshot, and give them an understanding of the experience. With video, that skill is completely irrelevant. A lot of top end talent left the business in the last decade, and now we’re in a strange quasi-amateur media that has expectations of being treated as if they had earned the AAA clout of their formers.

Print had a majesty about it. We knew that behind the magic curtain were just people like us, but from out in the audience the illusion is that they are the wizard, and you could have faith that the wizard took it seriously and felt that their authority was balanced by the weight of accountability. Accountability is straight out the window today. Authoritative journalism has been replaced with snarky “angsty gamer” opinion pieces, clickbait gossip, and platforming for one ridiculous social agenda or another. The message in the industry is clearly that there is inadequate return on investment on an honest, fair, and adequately researched article anymore. Not when minimal effort can garner more pageviews and create 10x the volume, written by people who will work for a comparatively negligible fee. And that’s the sad state we’re in today.

Do you think it has all moved for the better for the consumer with access to instant information, or has the thirst for clicks been problematic?

Multifaceted with no easy answer. Access to direct developer-to-customer information is something new. Social media amplifies this go-direct connection. The press is in a panic to stay relevant and add value. How can they do that? Be an expert curator on relationships, design philosophy, and history. Stun me with depth on “who, why, and how.” The “what, where and when” will come direct from the developer now. You used to need me to fly to E3 and sit in an hour long press demo, then relate it to you. Now, you just watch the dev present it to you on Youtube on a weekly basis. Don’t even try to compete with that.

Have you noticed that formerly “Developer X is doing Y” coverage has transformed into “The community response to X is Y” type coverage? That’s because awareness of the broader community goings-on surrounding games is what people have trouble discovering on their own. It’s time consuming, requires engagement and contextual knowledge to put a momentary community response into perspective.

In an age where everyone picks their narrow niche interests and is ignorant of anything external to it, breadth of knowledge and awareness by the writer is very valuable too. It’s discovery and interpretation in a centralized aggregation space for people to look instead of discovering and tracking 100 products themselves. That’s where the value is in a games blog. Service the reader by providing: aggregation, discovery, perspective, and analysis.

There is a cheaper, darker path for the lazy, however. Hire a drama-magnet writer that is using the gaming space as a soapbox for their controversial antics and have them generate a stream of low-effort click-bait that will draw eyes and dazzle them with a facade of shallow knowledge that reinforces their pre-disposed opinions. Plus you draw in non-gamers who want to see what the stink is about, and that’s great for revenue. Terrible for the readers who want substance, however.

Do you believe that the way the media has changed and adapted is less consumer friendly than it was in the past? With the rise of pre-orders media coverage is more crucial than ever.

I think pre-order and early access is a side-stepping of the press process. Press can’t do any type of consumer advocacy work when the consumer is financially committed before an opinion can be rendered. Unwritten rule – previews are positive only, and all negative aspects are subject to change. Ok, so this puts the press in a position of needing to “review” the early access alpha state. My, how awkward. So if you’re going to steer your readers away from a dud, you have to yell “Don’t pre-order THAT one!” which breaks the traditional media cycle and is very rarely done. Consider the press fully circumvented now.

The review role is now supplied by that thumbs up/down mechanism on Steam. However, crowd-sourced average review scores are fickle and subject to whim and mob mentality, so you still need to read for context. Ponder early access to games in an alpha state, combined with a reviewing system that starts counting average up/down review scores while the game is just a framework and by definition broken as hell. If you release an alpha that is really an alpha you’re going to get buried in red by the over-entitled – and Steam doesn’t wipe that when you release v1.0. That whole early access system is tragic.

What function do mainstream review sites actually service when they put a score on a game? I think they’re just feeding Marc Doyle, who founded and operates Metacritic’s game score aggregation. Yes, it’s a one-man show. I keep hearing about various game studios that base their bonus pay-out on Metacritic average review scores. Techraptor should take a run at that, I think. Interesting to think that all it takes is a couple of writers who want to “make a statement” and clobber a review score over some personal objection to stop a whole company from getting their bonus checks, eh? Metacritic doesn’t poll enough sites to make those outliers fall out in the averages, so it gives too much power there. Who decides which sites are “mainstream enough”? Marc, I suppose. Better be nice to him.

Make sure to check out page 2!


Georgina Young

Contributor

British girl, currently in Japan. Surviving on a diet of retro games. Worshiping the god that is the Sega Megadrive. I like Nintendo.



  • AlienPickle

    First post, woot! (It’s a real honor to get to do that) Thanks Georgina for giving me the opportunity to air what I’ve been agitated about for quite some time.

  • SevTheBear

    Great read Georgina. Thank you so much.

  • 33

    On the point about review scores, what ever happened to TechRaptor’s old style that marked various parts of the game instead of just a single #/10? Perhaps it depends on the writer, I don’t read every review, but I was just wondering. Personally I prefer no score but scores for each part of the game strikes me as better than one number for the entire game.

  • Bitterbear

    Is there any future for Nintendo?

  • coboney

    We’ve been messing around it a bit in general and how we want to do it going forward we have some ideas as well that aren’t set in stone with the new theme. However, we are very interested in hearing what you have to say – and the best way to make sure it gets in is to em is to write it in – you can hit us on twitter @Techraptr or email rutledge at rutledge[at]techraptor[dot]net or I can take it and pass it on at don[at]techraptor[dot]net

  • AlienPickle

    Yes. Nintendo is in a market segment that has been unchanged since 1988. The “Family friendly cartoony non-violent games” market. That’s a valuable niche, and they absolutely dominate it. Spyro and Sonic and Rayman have tried to penetrate, but just don’t have the sticking power of N. Additionally, consider that Nintendo is the only publisher that distributes via cartridge media right now. Game on chip = DRM, resale potential, loan to friend, etc. All good, and the opposite of the oppression coming from other consoles where non-ownership is coming to be the norm.

  • Tech Stegosaurus

    What an interesting perspective. Thanks for this!

  • Cy

    Really interesting interview. I totally agree about Metacritic and especially Early Access. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve clicked on a game that got a full release on Steam and the top three reviews are for one of the Early Access versions. Once the game is released they should be archived in a separate area so people can see the progress the game’s made if they want, but aren’t turned off by all the negative “reviews” that they see when they scroll down.

  • Doc Hammer

    Georgie, WOW. That was eye opening. Jim really confirmed a lot of things that I think many of us suspected were boiling beneath the surface. Great interview!

    I wonder if we can save ourselves from a second crash somehow? Jim didn’t seem to think so. I think he was spot on about supporting the indies that choose to reach out to the community. And I think you’re going a long way to make TechRaptor one of the survivors. Keep it up. 🙂

  • PossiblyCthulhu

    ‘There is a cheaper, darker path for the lazy, however. Hire a drama-magnet writer that is using the gaming space as a soapbox for their controversial antics…’

    Tl;DR for that paragraph?

    There is a cheaper, darker path for the lazy called ‘Being Ben Kuchera’

  • Bitterbear

    I’m noticing an interesting trend with Nintendo: Parents who have small children (preschooler/kindergarten age) are the ones buying the Wii U.

  • AlienPickle

    Oh, I had a list of 12+ names actually. I just decided to leave it to the imagination.

  • PossiblyCthulhu

    We could have a game of ‘Guess Who?’!

  • Greg Nieto

    I don’t think that crash is as likely as some people think. Some practices HAVE started to change. Even EA delayed the release of BF:Hardline after the fan response to BF4. Ubisoft may see the disparity between low pre-orders and high ultimate sales for CoD:AW as indicative of a broader trend. I guarantee you that the next AC game will have low as shit pre-orders, and sales will only be redeemed by quality.

    I could be wrong about this, but I find it VERY hard to believe that the AAA industry isn’t aware of the previous crash, and won’t try to avoid a similar crash if they see the same factors creeping in to modern development.

  • Alex

    Wow! What a great read! I want more articles like this one!

  • AlienPickle

    I think their confidence comes from “too big to fail”. However, when the stockholders dump you in an avalanche, well, nobody ever says “we saw that coming” right? Do I seriously think it’s a certainty? No, they could keep limping along or even start to tighten up their act after how bad 2014 was. But if they don’t, then farewell.

  • Marcus Orealias

    Good article. Excellent points Mr. Pickle.

  • hots

    Friggen righteous article. More of these.

  • hots

    Hello, great interview. I’m interested in the stat where you said only 25% of crowd-funded games actually deliver anything. That sounds fairly loose, so do you have a source where you got the number? Does it factor games that don’t reach their goal and receive no money? I’d really like to look more into the specifics.

  • AlienPickle
  • AlienPickle

    Quote: However, it is important to clarify that the release of an Early Access version of a title does not represent the release of a full, completed game. In fact, since the launch of the program, only 25% of the Early Access titles released have been released as full games. And while some of this low release percentage could be explained by recent Early Access releases, Early Access titles from 2013 do not have a significantly higher full game release percentage. Case in point, of the 9 games that kicked off the Early Access program in March 2013 over 18 months ago, only 3, or 33%, have been released as full games:

  • AlienPickle

    Since Hots asked about where my “only 25% of crowdfunded games have shipped anything.” figure came from. (early access is the correct term – I lumped them together)

    I did you guys a favor and quoted my reference for you here on my site: http://www.alienpickle.com/2015/01/only-25-of-early-access-titles-ever.html

  • dsadsada

    I really like the way Jim writes. It’s dynamic like a machinegune and gets the point across.

    Writing styles aside, it’s interesting what he has to say about the industry. Lack of consumer faith has been something that’s been bothering me for a while with the big developers, particularly since at times, it’s hard to see them doing anything to remedy it. Consoles being a money loser makes sense too since Sony said they were selling the PS4 at a loss at the time and probably still are. But I still don’t look forward to the day that we stream our games just as he says.

    All in all, this was a great read. Thanks Jim, and thanks George.

  • AlienPickle

    Btw, I’m not standing out in the street with a sign saying “the end is nigh!” but I am saying that if it’s going to happen, the conditions for it are indeed all in place. It really depends on what the consumer does. If we continue to be good little consumers and preorder and buy that DLC despite being disgruntled, then no catastrophy. We’re like crackheads saying “This crack is terrible, can I pre-pay for my next dose?”

  • AlienPickle

    If you like this sort of thing, come over to my blog where you can drink from the firehose.

    http://www.alienpickle.com

    Today’s special: How to blow your journalistic credit with a single tweet. http://www.alienpickle.com/2015/01/journalists-what-not-to-do.html

  • Richard White

    Wow really good to see you here at TechRaptor Jim, as I’ve been listening to you for whilie on the Space Game Junkie podcast. Your thoughts on AAA are quite interesting and makes me worried that there could be another industry crash. Also really appreciate that you’ve also noticed that gaming media is trending towards pushing their own agendas and clickbait.

    Also great questions Georgina, keep up the good work.

  • ArsCortica

    A very good interview that confirmed many of the expectations that I see coming with the games industry. It is only a matter of time until gamers, absolutely fed up with all this DLC bullshit, throw off the corporate publishers (and the developers attached to them) like a horse kicks off a particularly bad rider.
    As for early access programs – though I can fully understand the (justified) distrust many people have against early access games, I like to remember them as what they used to be – opportunities for industry newcomers and indie developers alike to create games without having to lick the boot of one of the aforementioned corporate publishers. That it is now used to fool well-meaning people into financing a game that is never going to be finished *cough* DOUBLEFINE *cough* is a very sad development.

  • Ben Jeanotte

    Still reading, but I will say that I disagree with him on the point that video makes artistry irrelevant. I usually hate to take the time to watch a video, where a good picture can intrigue in much less time. I also really appreciate good art, screenshots, and photo editing in online publications.

  • Greg Nieto

    Whatever. I’ll pre-order the SHIT out of the Witcher 3, and you can’t do anything to stop me!

    But yeah, after Destiny, I kind of haven’t pre-ordered anything else. Alien: Colonial Marines should have taught me, but the hype train for Destiny was so fierce and the product was SOOOO disappointing.

  • RD20

    There are also a lot of college students buying it, its a cheap console and has the best exclusives currently out the only thing it’s really missing is a good shooter, and I have hopes for Splatoon in that regard.

  • AlienPickle

    It doesn’t make artistry artistically irrelevant at at. It just makes it much less commercially sustainable. Once they got to the point where it was cheaper to pay somebody $50 to crank out 2,000+ words that they could stretch across 3 pageviews and get triple ad revenue for, instead of pay me $300+ for 600-800 words, it makes unfortunate business sense to do so *IF* the readership doesn’t demand higher quality writing – which they generally don’t. That’s pretty discouraging. Couple with the fact that I’m going to put 20+ hours into gameplay (usually 60+) and then another 10 into writing process, weighed against 1 hour to unbox, install, stream it for 30 minutes and call it a day. And you don’t see ANY game writers making Totalbiscuit or Pewdie levels of bank. So, work 60x more hours for a fraction of the pay. Yeah, so… I do this for the love of it, definitely not the compensation and at the going payscale might as well do it for free.

    Realpolitik: When I write technical documentation for datacenter systems, I’m pulling north of $50 an hour to do it. 30 hr minimum effort into $150 article = $5 an hour. Nobody in games writing is cashing fat checks at the freelance level. Maybe if you get an editorial gig, but you’re still scrambling with 5x the workload of a normal non-games writer just to break even.

    If you get with a website that directly commissions writers based on how popular their articles are (Hello clickbait incentives!) then you can expect $1 per 1,000 pageviews perhaps? Let’s look specifically at Gawker/Kotaku/Gamasutra here. You make $5 per 1,000 unique pageviews, with a monthly ceiling of $6,000 payout last I heard. That’s uniques, which is very important. If my IP address comes on and reads every page of everything you ever wrote, that’s 1. Only 999 more to go and you get $5. If they tracked multiple views by the same person, that’s way to easy to cheat at.

    This is also called RPM when dealing direct to the advertiser, and a sensible rate is $4 per 1,000 page views. That’s about average Google adsense RPM anyway. This tells me that if you’re starting your own site, expect $4 per 1000 from Google, and then you pay writers a percentage of that. Depending on hosting costs and other factors $1-2.

    This is how I know Rutledge is a little nutty for being in this business. 🙂 Also why anybody doing it with artistry is doing it out of love and not pay.

  • AlienPickle

    CDProjekt has earned our trust in spades. I’ll allow it.

  • AlienPickle

    Additional info: Polygon pays for written feature articles at a base rate of 25¢ US per edited word.

    http://www.polygon.com/2015/1/19/7550887/resident-evil-hd-remaster-review-pc-xbox-one-ps4-playstation-4-360-3

    $230-240 (depending on how they define wordcount, “a” “of” don’t count sometimes)

    Contrast against $4 average RPM from google adsense. Techraptor pulled 322k pageviews in December. 322 x 4 = $1290. So if they paid at Polygon scale, they could afford 5 articles a month.

  • Ben Jeanotte

    Well, certainly the payscale is charmingly modest in the startup tiers. I am working on getting published at The Escapist, which pays $250 for a freelance article of at least 1000 words, and some writers at kotaku are known to pull in 6 figures based on a payscale of $7.50 per 1000 page views. That can really add up if your articles are getting hundreds of thousands, if not millions of views.

    Lately, I’ve really been digging in on research for game journalism pay. It’s not tooooooo dismal, if you know where to push your efforts. Still, there are places like Gamenesia that recently started pulling in millions of page-views, and yet has no intention of paying their writers.(according to their application page)

    While you are right, the artistry does come from love and not pay. My point is, it is still appreciated by readers. As for myself, I often spend hours employing my modest photo editing skills in GIMP for my articles. Certainly, this is not for the money, but mostly just because, as a reader, I enjoy reading articles that are paced with relevant and hopefully eye-catching graphics.

    Some publications, like The Escapist, have dedicated artists and photo editors that add graphics to articles, though I admit to having no idea what they are paid, I doubt it is horrible.

  • Ben Jeanotte

    Oh for sure, us writers here at techraptor are investing our hopes and dreams into the site, and I am pretty confident we will one day see a viewership that can pull in a sustainable income for some of us that work here. If I could make just $700 a month from writing, that is a sustainable income for me, what with my car paid off and a room mate, my expenses are modest, but I can see how others with more extreme needs and standards might be depressed at the state of game and tech journalism pay, especially at entry levels. I’m pretty hopeful, however.

  • Ravin Rabbids

    Wonderful interview and great insight from Jim. I entirely agree about how consumers like to drop money on what reviews, especially Metacritic, gives as a score and not research what the game is fully about and get lured in by hype trains by sites or special looking pre-order incentives.

    I’ve never preordered anything and have strong animosity against it because you never truly know what the final product is going to actually be, regardless of how sites practically scream in your face that this game will be the greatest game known to man and how you should totally pre-order it.

  • AlienPickle

    Ok, so you just made my short list of writers that I read because of who they are and not what the story is. Good to know about Escapist. In fact, let’s take up this writing pay research topic in email, because there’s a rippin article trying to hatch here.

    I’m trying to grasp the 6 figure thing, because glassdoor has editorial payscale topping out just north of 70k, which works with the “$6000 /month cap” on payouts for maximizing uniques, and I assumed page VIEWS and uniques beyond 1,200,000 ($6000) were just gravy train for them. Since they do offer benefits after 3 months of performance eval, that’s a factor too.

    However, what I think is happening is that I have stale and/or incomplete data sources because I know these people aren’t living in the SF valley on 72k a year – or they eat nothing but ramen. You’re probably already more aware than I about where to find the info, since you’ve been digging for it a while in advance.

  • AlienPickle

    Btw, Escapist… I drive past their office on my way to work. If you need me to deliver hookers and blow, or a horse head (whatever gets it done) just give me the nod and I’ll make it happen.

  • Ben Jeanotte

    Are you trying to tell the stories I cover aren’t cool!? 😛

    There is an extremely revealing investigation on gawker and kotaku pay out there that I will try and go find again as soon as I’m done churning out my next article here.

  • AlienPickle

    So, I wrote a little about the Escapist/Gamefront/Gametrailers layoff and what it means.
    http://www.alienpickle.com/2015/01/the-king-is-dead-all-hail-king.html

    By pure dumb luck I was awake at 2am and started live-blogging the tweets as they were going out. Made for a 40 hour long day since I didn’t get to sleep until midnight yesterday. So, now we’ve seen Defy Media perhaps have a financial issue (or maybe a personality change, more likely) and we’ve seen ComputerandVideoGames get shut down. Who’s next?

    http://www.computerandvideogames.com/483033/features/messages-from-the-editors/

    quote:
    I’ve dwelled on this post for weeks, striking sentences and struggling to form meaningful metaphors for what’s happened. But there isn’t really an elegant way to tell you that Computer and Video Games as you know it will soon cease to exist.
    The current site will be closed and some content migrated in to the new GamesRadar+. Currently, no CVG writers will be part of the larger site.

  • Gav

    An amazing interview, a really good read. From a really insightful, evidently experienced person.