Just A Blogger…

I went to GamesCom in Cologne this year and was pleased to see it turn out better than my last two visits. This time I knew people, my way around and where all the good parties were. I had bookings back to back and they were all interesting. Best of all, I didn’t end up stranded in the same industrial wasteland I got stuck in two years ago – the one populated only by vodka and prostitutes.

One thing I did notice though was an abundance of unusually young people with press badges, often moving in groups of three as they nervously navigated the business centre. At first I thought I was just being getting old and judgemental; then I got chatting to one group and discovered that they were bloggers.

Bloggers was how they described themselves (in fractured English) and it was immediately clear before they explained further that they weren’t from Kotaku or Joystiq or anything of that scale. To be honest, I was a little stunned that they’d even been able to get themselves press passes, as they had the impression of not knowing what to do with what they had.

I’ll admit that a part of me bristled at the situation – I’ve been doing this job professionally for five years and yet this group had greater presence at the show than Dennis Publishing (or Future, by the looks of it) and were being taken with matching seriousness. I’ve tried to shove this bitterness aside however, as it’s unfair to judge without knowing more.

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Why I’m A Bad Journalist #1

One thing I learned very early on about games journalism is that it’s an incredibly incestuous business; oddly closed and reliant on the swapping of favours. It’s cliquey, with writers who ‘come up together’ often remaining so and PRs, who constantly shuffle from one allegiance to another, carrying their bonds with them when they go. Worse, some journalists then jump to PR and complicate things a whole lot more.

I’m not having a cry about this; I realise it’s an essential part of an industry where people move around a lot and I’ve only once heard of these cliques being juvenilely enforced in the ‘You’re a Future writer, you can’t talk to us!’ kind of way. Still, the Future writers do tend to band together, as do Imagine’s and so on. Sometimes they’re easy to spot, like the Official Console writers, who seem to radiate their own kind of party-hard vibe, or those I think of as The Next Generation, who form a welcoming, laughing huddle at all the launch events. Loosely and with acknowledgement to the foggy boundaries, these cliques exist and that’s not an unexpected or bad thing.
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Looking to Score…

I had a disagreement about a score recently. I wrote two reviews for a game, one for Bit-Gamer and one for Custom PC Magazine, and in the process of formalising my thoughts I scored 95 per cent for one review, 99 per cent for the other. I wasn’t sure why. Maybe I just had a better day when I wrote the second review, or had just done particularly well in the lunchtime game of Call of Duty 2. Either way, a 4 per cent discrepancy showed up and I wanted to stand by both scores equally.

In the end, I was rightly told to reconcile the reviews to a single, consistent figure across the brand. The game scored 95 per cent, remained excellent and I moved on to the next project – but not before I’d had several interesting discussions with other journalists about their views on scoring systems.

The idea which seemed to stick in most people’s craw was that you cannot ever score something 100 per cent and that there is no such thing as perfection. 10/10 was alright, some people said, because it’s less granular – a 96 per cent game would be 10/10 without having to be perfect, for example. 100 per cent, however? Get out of town.
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The Killing Screens…

I’ve been reading Kill Screen lately, which is a new American games magazine that’s currently working towards its fourth issue. I’ve already subscribed to the mag (which costs a pretty penny when you factor in shipping), but it’s important to note that ‘magazine’ isn’t really the correct word. It’s more like a periodical or multi-author novella.

Structurally, the first thing that sets Kill Screen apart is that there are no adverts in it. In fact, there’s very little in the way of pictures at all and what few are there are usually illustrations or brief photo-articles in their own right. This alone sets it apart from the increasingly flashy magazines that spatter across newsagent shelves – most magazines like pictures because they grab the attention of customers and are far cheaper than paying writers. Once a magazine has more pictures than words, it’s usually a bad sign.

Kill Screen does a few other things I like too, but it’s important to note that much of this is only possible because it doesn’t really care about the recent trends or news. Each issue has a central theme, which is decided far in advance and which all the writers discuss in their own way. There are no reviews and no news pieces – just a topic and the guiding tone, which can admittedly get pretty pretentious. New Games Journalism and its approximates are out in full force.

Kill Screen has a website too, by the way, but like me they don’t like to repeat content from the magazine on the site. I’ve been forced to do that occasionally (usually because of interfering deadlines or because we’ve had an article that I think needs repeating). Other than that, nearly all games content for Custom PC is either unique or rewritten.

Mainly though, what I like about Kill Screen is that it’s different. In the publishing industry there are still plenty of folk going over the same arguments that we’ve been having for years – what do we do when print dies and internet advertising finally bottoms out? At the moment the focus is on tablet devices and Social Media, because that’s all anyone ever talks about. Those things will doubtless be important, but as the primary form of publishing? I’m not convinced.

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