Thursday, April 30, 2009

Game stenography

In last Friday's links roundup, cpe said something about Kotaku that I thought was right on the money:
...the best stuff they do gets buried in seconds under the torrent of never-ending, never-important press releases and rumors pulled off NeoGAF. I do wish there was a more granular way to subscribe to Kotaku's RSS feed, at least -- I absolutely do not care about new Red Faction screenshots, but there they are in Google Reader nonetheless.

In Google Reader, I subscribe to a number of video game feeds. Most are smaller, niche blogs that provide original insight and analysis about games new and old. But the majority of posts that pop up in my games folder come from just a handful of big sites, like Kotaku, Joystiq, Game|Life, and Giant Bomb. All these sites do their share of worthwhile, original work, but they're much more likely to all, within moments of one another, start pimping screenshots for some new game.

I don't mean to suggest that I think every site should serve me and only me. cpe and I may agree that new Red Faction screens aren't interesting, but for many people they're probably fascinating. And it's good that anybody looking for screenshots of upcoming games knows where to go. The problem here is who's directing the conversation.

These sites aren't publishing new screenshots and commenting hilariously on bulleted lists of gameplay features because of any editorial decisions on their part. They're doing it because the game publishers have given them the assets and told them when to post them. That's it.

They're not checking to see if the visuals are un-retouched, in-game graphics, or if they're bullshots. They're not putting in the legwork to give their readers new and important information. They are, literally, taking what the publisher gives them, then turning around and giving it to you, without insight or analysis. Instead of acting as gatekeepers, they're the town criers.

To reiterate, I'm not saying that these things shouldn't be made available. And I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that these kinds of posts generate more traffic than think pieces and originals. But it's discouraging to realize that game publishers are steering the entire conversation, and both readers and writers are happy to let them take the wheel.


Filipe Salgado said...

This is exactly why I don't get why Stephen Totilo decided to move over. I think Kotaku is good for throwing out screenshots and press releases, but, like you said, any serious discussion gets lost in the shuffle. There are better forums for it.

Mike said...

I think you hit upon precisely why I stopped reading Kotaku. Too much noise that wasn't worth the (albeit good) signal.

bEN said...

A little off topic, but have you tried the Red Faction demo yet? I'm sure its partially to do with the fact that I had zero anticipation (or even information) about the title, but its actually surprisingly fun. Oh, and its not an FPS, its more like Crackdown. Who knew?!

Dave said...

A minor Google Reader tip that's helped me is to have multiple folders. I have a 'games' and 'game discussion' folder. Sites like Kotaku that post all the dang time go in the first, and sites like this, BrainyGamer, etc. go in the second. I'll just scan the headlines in games but usually read everything in games discussion. YMMV.

juv3nal said...

just FYI I'm pretty sure there *is* a more granular way to subscribe to kotaku. It's not described anywhere on the site proper as far as I can tell, but I think, as a gawker site, the process described here:

blokey said...

Can't wait for Games Press to drop the "press-only" facade and open up to fully public access, what with the same high-res screenshots and same verbatim pre-snarked press releases as every major games blog.

That'd alone would drop Kotaku and Joystiq's relevant output of staff-generated content to the level of the old Idle Thumbs, at its peak.

If only there was a blog that would dominate the gamecake/shoe/plush/papercraft conversation so well that other blogs would shut up about that, too.

Grobstein said...

I don't read Kotaku for the same reason.

But it's worth mentioning that we have very powerful technology for splicing together our own RSS feeds from existing ones. If someone spent a couple hours with (for example) the GUI at Yahoo! Pipes and put together a feed of all the games writing without the PR stuff, I would subscribe.

Jose said...

Amen, brother. I use Google Reader everyday and keep up with all of my subscriptions (and there are many of them) except for Kotaku, Joystiq, and Game|Life. As of this writing, there are hundreds of unread items on my Joystiq and Game|Life feeds; i can't say how many unread items are in my Kotaku folder because google gave up counting after the "1000+" mark.

You are right to worry about their uncritical and ethically dubious support of the game industry's hype machine. If anything, you are perhaps being a little too generous towards them with your insistance that you are "not saying that these things shouldn't be made available."

I know that you are only trying to be open-minded and tolerant towards the group of gamers who do enjoy such content. But at times it is best simply to bear witness to the truth, regardless of how bad it might be. We should therefore not feel bad about calling those Kotaku/Joystiq posts what they are: namely, boring and inane attempts at fanboy service.

That might sound crude and harsh, but then again,I just opened my Joystiq feed and the top headline reads "New Brutal Legend Shots, Now with More Lemmy!" (Who the hell is Lemmy anyway?)

Mitch Krpata said...

See I actually was a little interested to learn that Lemmy is in Brutal Legend. So interested that I learned it a half-dozen times in a 30-minute span.

brilliam said...

Check out Yahoo Pipes. It's a little annoying to use, but when you're done, you can create RSS filters that will only give you one writer, or filter out anything with "screenshots" in the title, or many other totally awesome chaff-separating tricks.

Rob LeFebvre said...

These posts generate TONS more traffic than originals and thought pieces. My long pieces at GameAreEvil brought in traffic composed of my freinds and family, while a top ten list or new screenie post brought in thousands of folks. It's not going away. I think that maybe adding another RSS feed for just posts that are NOT screenshot/PR release vomiting may be a good answer.