Advertiser vs. Journalist


Even though I’ve been thinking about this topic quite a bit lately…I find it’s a bit difficult to put into words. I guess I’ve been thinking about this topic because of Tokyo Game Show and become of recent events. Gaming shows like E3 and Tokyo Game Show are obviously big promotion events for publishers, but they are also an important event for gaming journalism as they need to cover all the PR/ information they may learn. I think the header that Nirbion made is absolutely perfect for this article.

In light of YouTube’s ‘new’ policy requiring videos to be advertiser friendly in order to have ads placed on them…I wanted to talk about something that I’ve become increasingly aware of, and my current thoughts on it. That is being an advertiser vs. being a journalist.

Now let’s be honest: gaming journalism at the end of the day is not very serious business. If sites misreport or misrepresent information they risk angry consumers but no one should die or get hurt over it. There’s a lot of incompetent people within video game journalism, and they should strive to improve their craft…but it’s not a matter of life or death. The stakes are relatively low when compared to other types of news. In a way, video game journalism is on the same level as comic book journalism, or film journalism. At the end of the day, journalists in these fields are trying to improve the amount of information available to fans so they can make better decisions, or so they can understand their hobby better. No one is forcing anyone to engage in media relating to video games, and it really boils down to being a hobby or lifestyle choice. I do take my role as a video game journalist pretty serious, and that’s because I want to provide accurate information to the fans of this site. 

Video game journalism is closely tied to being an advertiser itself. We talk about video games every day, and kind of rely on publishers to feed us news to report on. Our audience consists of people who will, or at the very least who are interested in buying a product. Heck, a lot of the time these news are literal press releases themselves.

Publishers rely on journalists to promote their game. That’s why review copies are sent to people with a sizable audience, and interviews done with major publications. Favorable coverage can make a game sell more, while unfavorable coverage will make it sell less. Talking to smaller sites can be seen as a waste of time. Why interview with ‘Sugar Daddy’s First Gaming Blog’ when a company can have an interview with IGN? Audience size matters a lot in giving journalists additional access. If publishers feel that a review a journalist wrote didn’t gain enough traction, then they might deny additional review copies in the future.

Geoff Keighley represents this dichotomy pretty well.

In my opinion, some of the blame over the hype issue with No Man’s Sky lies with the publisher. Some of it is video game journalists themselves for publishing article after article about the game. Bad fans deserve some of the blame too. I largely agree with Jim Sterling’s thoughts on this. At the end of the day, publishers and journalists are in a symbiotic relationship and completely rely on each other –make no mistake about that. It’s kind of the uneasy truth that I’ve come to realize.

I’m pretty lucky as I don’t rely on SG being profitable at all. We run a Patreon, so I feel responsible to the Patrons, first and foremost. I have a normal full time job, and SG is done out of pure love and dedication. So, if I promote a game or a series on the site it’s because I sincerely enjoy it.

Some content creators do rely on their content being profitable and therefore might be less “free” to voice their honest opinions. Not all, but some. It’s a bit like self censorship. After all, they wouldn’t want to rock the boat too much, as it could lead to less access in the future. Blacklists do exist, on sites and within publishers

But still — even with being ‘free’ from any kind of financial involvement with the site…I still find the balance difficult. There has been times where I think to myself, ‘Am I just being a corporate shill?’ Am I being too positive about this product because I have access? Am I being an advertiser, or am I being a journalist

And so, even with my own work on Source Gaming, I feel that I must balance the two roles. Sometimes, I feel that I need to advertise, so that I can be a journalist. I can rock the boat a bit, but if I rock it too much I risk being blacklisted and losing access. It’s somewhat akin to being angry with a boss or employer and not saying ‘fuck you’ to their face. You can go ahead and say it, but for most people the obvious consequences would deter them. The compromise that I’ve settled on is anything and everything I do ‘promote’ on Source Gaming is something I actually do enjoy.

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  1. I noticed that there is a recent article about the Japan game awards and Masahiro Sakurai was one of those people who not only won awards, but made a statement about the necessity of Japanese Developers to strive for global success beyond their homeland.

    It might be a good idea to analyze and trace it to the closest source possible.

    The link is below. Nintendolife is one year late or so.

    Actual source back in October 2015

  2. It’s a shame that publishers have a stranglehold on professional game journalists, since publishers can withhold review copies and event access if the journalists weren’t positive enough about their games. Sometimes it reaches the point where publishers will threaten journalists for less than stellar reception of games, such as publishers pulling ads from a magazine or site, or refusing to send future review copies. There needs to be a way for professional journalists to share their honest thoughts on games without publishers breathing down their necks.

  3. That’s interesting. I’ve been paying more attention and even considered on how life would be if I were to be a gaming journalist. but really, all I really want is to talk about games out of passion, not talk about games because a publisher wants me to sell a game for them. I mean I guess it’d depend on whether if i am truly interested or not, but i don’t see that actually being an issue in my life.

    I am curious about the big picture on relationships with being a journalist and being a publisher though. I really despise the idea of publication for being a sellout though.

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