28 8 / 2014
12 4 / 2014
First, you come up with the idea. And it’s the best idea in the world.
Then, drunk on your sense of self-righteousness, you think you’re the most clever person in the world for thinking up something that, probably, 20 other people are working on right now.
But you can’t stop there! Now comes the hard part of pitching. So you write your email.
And in your head, you think it comes off all cool like this:
But success! The editor has mercy on you and commissions your story.
Of course, now you actually sit down to write the thing and realise you don’t have enough material.
Now you get to sweet talk that PR rep you love to hate.
Except you suck at it.
Then in the interview which took forever to set up, your recorder stops working and the interviewee is all-
Then comes the fun part! In which your feelings about the feature go from:
The, finally, to this:
Oh, and because you were doing this instead of writing…
…your editor responds like this to an extension request…
BUT YOU’RE DONE. AND IT FEELS AWESOME.
Except here comes the editor with his revisions, kinda looking something like this:
And they just happened to edit out your favourite part - the part that ENCOMPASSES THE WHOLE FEELING OF THE PIECE, MAAAAAN.
But finally, it’s up online. And it looks GREAT…except for that typo.
But hey, you’re a super-duper published writer!
There’s just one question left - do you read the comments?
06 4 / 2014
Hey so let’s talk about crowdfunding.
I’ve been wary of crowdfunding in games for a while, (I wrote a piece back in 2011 about the Double Fine Kickstarter that is now, sadly, deleted because that blog sucked and I got rid of it), but hey, it’s here to stay.
Over the past year or so, however, there’s been a curious change in the way Kickstarter and other fundraising campaigns are approached. They’ve become increasingly personal. They’ve turned from a plea of, “let me do this thing free of creative restraint”, into, “help support me while I make what I love”.
I’m specifically talking here about writers in the games space, artists, musicians and other creative types who have started relying on Patreon and GoFundMe campaigns for various endeavors. It’s interesting the trend has changed from merely supporting a product to supporting a personality and all they embody.
(This is symptomatic of the larger move to personalities in general and the growth of media publications founded on personalities, but that’s another discussion for another time).
On the one hand, this is great, right? Plenty of writers and other artists put a huge amount of effort into their social media campaigns, and if they find a way to get something out of that, especially financial support, then that’s incredible. It shows the benefits of the crowdfunding system – by building up an audience willing to pay directly for the art you create, you’ve established an ecosystem of your own.
No creative constraints, just a direct relationship between you and the people who consume your art.
But I’m growing a little wary of what’s happening in crowdfunding at the moment because of this. And to note, I don’t think anyone is doing this out of malice, or that anyone has any bad intentions. I just think there are some ancillary effects coming out of the personalization of crowdfunding that is irking me the wrong way.
And to be clear, I haven’t processed all of these thoughts just yet, and I’m still working through them. This blog post is part of that.
Over the past couple of months, or perhaps half-year, I’ve seen a growing number of posts about Kickstarter campaigns with a very desperate plea for survival in them. For specific writers, this has gone beyond “support my work”, to “support my work because I need to pay rent”. At the same time, I’ve seen a number of posts on Twitter asking users to support various campaigns with the understanding that if various projects don’t survive, a very specific and powerful voice will be gone or at least, won’t have the funding to operate as they see fit.
I get it. I get how difficult it is to make money from doing what you love, what you’re born to do.
But at the same time, this is irking me the wrong way. Shouldn’t work be able to stand on its own? When I see these posts, I feel a very specific pressure on me to support these projects because hey, if they don’t, someone’s going to be homeless or at least will have fewer housing options available to them.
But this changes the nature of the crowdfunding relationship. It goes beyond simply, “support my project”, to “support me”, and the work itself becomes just a macguffin. It’s almost as if the person advocating the crowdfunding campaign believes the work is irrelevant. Really, it’s about supporting the person and making sure they’re comfortable, and whatever work they happen to make is just a bonus for allowing them to be creatively free.
So when I see people posting Kickstarter campaigns, or Patreon campaigns, and saying, “support this so this person can eat!” it raises the stakes. This isn’t about work anymore. This is about helping a person in need. Doesn’t that change the relationship of what’s happening here? If this person is really in a bind about living expenses, why are we bringing work into this? Why not create a specific donation campaign to help people with their living expenses instead of using the work as simply a secondary feature of the campaign?
Of course, then we’d have to discuss the nature of doing work as an artist and reasonable expectations therein. I’m wary of this growing notion that because I am an artist, and create work that people like, I should be entitled to a living wage. This motivation, I believe, is fuelling a lot of these crowdfunding campaigns, and we can see that in the rhetoric alongside their supporters – “so and so does great work, and they deserve a living wage. Help them!”
This isn’t selling a product to someone. This is, for better or worse, emotional blackmail. Ought we expect that our community will support us to gain a living wage for the work we do?
This, then, raises all sorts of questions about the amount of work we do and what people paying a living wage should expect. I don’t have answers to those questions, e.g., how many pieces should a writer funded by the community be expected to produce every week or month, etc.
The other problem here is this – what if I don’t think a particular piece of work is worth supporting. I must admit I feel a twinge of guilt whenever someone links to a crowdfunding campaign for a personality, and I simply don’t like what they do. Does liking their work even matter, now? Should I be contributing to artists’ survival even if I don’t think the work they do is particularly good, rewarding, or contributes much to artistic discussion?
Is their right to a wage simply all the motivation I need to support them?
My instinct is to say, well, no. I don’t believe I should support a crowdfunding campaign just because that artist exists. But it’s interesting to see the dialogue around these crowdfunding campaigns change – and I expect this will continue for some time.
However, I do wish we could tone down the dialogue around personalities. I understand how hard it is to make money from writing, drawing, creativity in general. But once we start selling art with the pretext of, “I need you to support me so I can survive”, we’ve changed the relationship then. It should be about the quality of the art. And after all, if I’m supporting low-quality work, I’m not doing anyone any favours.
I haven’t figured all of this stuff out. I love the fact I can start a Patreon right now and prove to myself if I really have an audience that is willing to pay for my work. And I’m so glad others have chosen to do that, even if I don’t particularly like what they do – I’m glad they have people are willing to show their support.
But I just hope we’re all honest about this, and support the work we actually love – and not feel pressured into paying for things we don’t really want nor need.
29 3 / 2014
I’ve been watching with heightened curiosity the past few days of discussion regarding Facebook and Oculus Rift. Acquisitions don’t tend to happen too much in the gaming industry, so when they do it’s a great time for speculation and predictions.
When a purchase upward of $US1 billion happens – let alone $US2 billion – it’s pretty much grounds to freak out a little bit.
Naturally, a lot of the discussion has been centered on how Facebook could ruin Oculus. This is a pretty simplistic approach to take, but it’s completely understandable. There were no signs of any sort of discussion happening between the two companies, (short of an amusing anecdote buried on Reddit), and there weren’t necessarily any public signs Oculus was looking to be acquired.
Except that last part is dead wrong.
I’ve been a little frustrated with some of the discussion happening during the past few days. One of the main criticisms against this deal, mostly coming from those who backed the Kickstarter campaign, is that Oculus is selling out its community roots. Backers were under the impression virtual reality was by the people, for the people, and so anything which gets in the way of that goal is a betrayal.
They’re not the only people who feel this way – even Minecraft creator Notch said on his blog he didn’t put $10,000 into the Kickstarter campaign so Oculus could just be acquired.
But this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Not the Facebook part – that’s a completely left-field acquisition I’m not sure anyone could see coming. But at one point or another, it was inevitable Oculus was going to be acquired. The only question was by whom, and for how much.
How do I know this? Easy – it took $90 million in funding last year from several different private equity sources, including Andreesen Horowitz. This is a clear sign Oculus wasn’t looking to just take a piece of technology mainstream – it was looking for an exit. At some point, in the next three to five years, it was going to be acquired.
It was inevitable. That level of funding dictates such a move.
But the gaming industry doesn’t see it that way. This isn’t a fault, I don’t think, but it clearly shows the gap between something like games media and business journalism. For instance, look at the two pieces on both Kotaku and Polygon last year about the $US75 million funding round from Andreessen Horowitz and some other investors.
They’re pretty snappy stories. A few hundred words each, maybe. And both are focused on how this funding helps Oculus achieve growth. The Polygon piece from earlier in 2013 even said the original $US16 million round was to help fund a consumer launch.
But Silicon Valley funding comes with strings. Venture capital firms don’t just push tens of millions of dollars into a company in order to see it grow – they aren’t charities. This funding should have sent alarm bells through the industry that Oculus was looking to be acquired at some point in the future, but neither of these pieces – nor any other piece by games media on the funding round – speculated on what that funding could mean.
Again, I’m not saying this is necessarily a deficiency in games media – this isn’t business journalism for a reason. But why weren’t backers complaining then that the company was becoming beholden to corporate overlords? Because that’s exactly what they should have been doing if they felt so strongly about it. Those funding rounds weren’t coming out of a place of charity, they were coming from a desire of the VC backers to take the Oculus technology, expand it and then finally sell to a bigger customer.
These stories weren’t just a red flag. They were a master alarm blaring a warning siren through their ear drums. It’s like noticing a shark biting a hole in your boat then only complaining when the ship finally sinks.
This happens all the time in Silicon Valley. Companies are pumped full of cash for a bigger exit later on – that’s what VC firms do. They invest money to make money. The timing of the Facebook deal is a little unusual in that it comes so quickly after a funding round, but it’s not unheard of.
This brings me to my other point. So much of the conversation among critics has been that Facebook is going to ruin Oculus, that it’s going to take the technology away from its gaming roots, make it mainstream and completely ruin everything it has going for it.
Several writers have already explained why an Oculus acquisition is a good thing, (Leigh Alexander’s take and Ben Kuchera’s are both reasonable, nuanced and comprehensive wraps on the situation). But there is another perspective here that’s warranted.
Acquisitions of this size aren’t done for the hell of it.
It’s true, technology companies are bought all the time and their products are disposed of. Take something like We Are Hunted, the music app acquired by Twitter. It disappeared to be integrated into the social network. Or something like Readmill, a German app bought by Dropbox for about $US8 million last year. During my time as a business journalist I spoke with dozens of smaller companies which had been purchased with the purpose of being integrated into a larger parent.
But that’s the key – smaller companies. Ones that are bought for less than $US10 million. When you’re dealing with numbers of upwards than $US100 million, you aren’t just buying a company for the talent. You’re buying everything that comes with it.
This is what I think a lot of people don’t understand. We talk about $US2 billion as it if’s a small amount of money, and it is, compared to a lot of the numbers that get thrown about in headlines. But it’s a huge, massive, overwhelming amount of cash. A company like Facebook doesn’t put that much money into an initiative if it’s just going to ruin it. You might not like the people running these companies, but they aren’t stupid, and they recognise that taking technology away from the user base that made it popular in the first place is a bad idea.
I’ve talked to people in companies like Facebook - and people at VC firms like Andreessen Horowitz. They don’t just buy companies for billions of dollars to gobble them up. They’re interested in making money, and the best way for them to do that is to let the companies they acquire simply follow the same trajectory they had been before they were discovered.
Besides, people complained about Instagram and it’s turned out okay. You might not like the ads showing up next to your pictures, but has its user base gone down? Not at all. Has the user experience changed that much? No - it hasn’t changed at all. Anyone who quit the network when it was acquired by Facebook back in 2012 were just shooting themselves in the foot.
If Oculus fans were really worried about what was happening to the company, they should have been paying attention last year when Silicon Valley pumped $US100 million into the business. As it stands, most seem to be lamenting the idea VR is getting ripped out of the hands of the few and into the realm of many. But this is merely an inevitable step to where they wanted Oculus to go in the first place.
27 2 / 2014
Don’t judge me, but I’ve been well and truly sucked in to the latest edition of American Idol.
I don’t usually watch these types of shows. For two reasons: Firstly, they’re not the portals to success they claim to be for most. (Can you name me the winner of season 8? Thought not). Secondly, and most importantly, they’re more focused on spectacle rather than actually crafting good musicians.
I’ve been involved in music for practically all of my life. One thing my musician friends complain about – and I agree with – is these shows don’t give good critique. The judges hear an extended long note from a belter and their eyes widen up, or the performer uses a million useless licks which don’t need to be there and it’s lapped up by the crowd and judging panel.
So this year’s season caught my interest when I saw Harry Connick Jr was going to be a judge. He’s a great musician but more importantly, he actually knows how to critique someone properly – and the crowd hates him for it.
Now, judges have always been booed by the crowd on American Idol. But during the past 12 years it’s never been for substantial critique, only for general comments about whether they didn’t like a performance or not. You’ll get comments about something wasn’t “believable”, or vague statements like, “I wasn’t really feeling it”.
Instead, Connick looks the contestants in the eye and says things like, “your intonation was off, you need to work on that”, or “you took out your ear monitor, I’m not sure why you did that”. Or even, “you do this strange thing with your tongue that affects your singing – but that’s a quick fix”.
During one of the shows last week, he told a singer that he sang out of tune – which was completely true – and the crowd booed him. Booed him.
It’s so strange to me as someone who has grown up around music, currently plays music in a band and has several musician friends. When I play in the band at my Church, it’s the job of the leader to tell the various musicians what’s going on. It’s common for him or her to take a pass at a song, then turn to each musician and correct or confirm their playing.
Often, I might hear a leader say, “that was good, Pat, but let’s leave it quiet in the second verse”, or “you’re hitting those notes too hard in the chorus, let’s leave it back a little”.
I’m used to this, and so is everyone in the band, because we recognise that when we receive critique we’re going to give a better performance as a whole. It’s not about us but rather the collective output of the group. Hell, if you’re a writer then you know this experience all too well.
When I was starting my role as a business journalist, my editor had me stand behind him while he would edit my work furiously. For each line he would ask me, “why did you write this?” or “why did you use this word?”
When someone is looking at your choices and questioning them, you start to do the same – and if you don’t have an answer it can become uncomfortable very, very quickly – and you get defensive.
This is why the crowds at American Idol don’t like when Connick points out something which is so obviously true. Not because we live in a culture of positivity and shutting down anything which could possibly make us better, even when it hurts, (although that is true), but because they’ve never been in a situation in which criticism is needed to perfect a craft. Singing – like other artistic pursuits – is serious business. It requires honing over years and years.
To be perfectly frank, this is why a lot of people who have a hint of creativity tend to balk at going any further that a year of practice or so because they don’t know how to accept criticism. When you’re performing anything creative, a piece of you is inside whatever you’re doing, whether it’s a song, poem, dance – whatever. When someone critiques part of that, you feel like they’re critiquing not just you – but the experiences, personality and spirit that went into the performance in the first place.
And hey, critique is uncomfortable. Look at how Connick looks the contestants in the eye and tells them they did something wrong. Everything he’s telling them = don’t do stupid licks, sing in tune, don’t go over the top – is against everything a lot of the contestants have heard on the radio or in popular culture.
It might be a long stretch, but I can consider the crowd’s difficulty in accepting critique as being connected to the culture of personality in which we live. So much of popular culture today is built on snapshots – something that’s here today and gone tomorrow. It’s hard to accept critique – to think of the long term in perfecting a craft – when that particular song feels good right now. Who cares if the singer put in heaps of useless licks and rolls? It made me happy – so what?
But critique isn’t about cutting down a personality for the sake of hurting them. Connick looks those singers in the eye and tells them how to get better because he cares about them. He wants to see talent nurtured, and just as a child will never grow into a capable adult if they go undisciplined, a craft will never improve if it’s fed a diet of positive reinforcement.
I remember in my final year of high school, I tried so hard to get an A+ on an assignment all year. I never did. I asked my teacher why I never quite got there, and she said something interesting – that she never intended on giving anyone an A+. There’s always a way to improve, she said.
She was right. You’re never perfect, you’re never going to reach the top. Perfecting a craft is a lifelong journey, and critique is the fuel that drives it – anyone looking to become a creative professional needs to understand that as early as possible. If they do, they’ll be all the better for it.
01 10 / 2013
I don’t enjoy doing these types of lists. Firstly, who cares what I think? By just offering an opinion I’m somehow making it seem valid, which is ridiculous because my thoughts rarely are.
But in the general discussion about video games journalism, there’s very little talk about the investigative work that’s been done and is continuing to be written. By and large I think criticism gets the most discussion. (Although to be fair, Polygon’s features have mostly changed that perspective).
I view journalism as a very distinct thing, separate from criticism. When we talk about “journalism” I think sources, interviews and investigations, not opinions and reviews. Both are good, but very different things.
So with that in mind, I’ve drawn up a quick list of ten of the best pieces of journalism about or relating to video games. You won’t find opinions in this list, nor will you find reviews. This is about investigation and profiles – classical journalism type stuff.
Why do this? Well, apart from the fact I can, I think it’s a good idea to share good writing when we can. It gives us a good standard to live up to and by promoting these pieces of writing as good, we all strive a little more. The video game industry does excellent work, and these are just a few examples of that. When we focus and put our heads down, we can make excellent, fantastic work.
So here are 10 of the best, (and in no particular order). I hope you enjoy them:
Simon Parkin is possibly the closest thing to a Michael Lewis we have in games writing – his ability to turn a phrase makes me weep. His investigation into the deaths of Taiwan gamers in cafes is well-research and excellently told.
Hyper – The Rise and Fall of Red Ant (Originally printed in Hyper, republished on Kotaku)
I’m proud to have written for a magazine which has published such a riveting story – a story that won Tracey Lien a Walkley award for journalism. This extraordinarily well-researched story delves into the collapse of a once-great Australian publisher.
Boston Globe – End Game
Funny how these stories tend to focus on collapses – perhaps it’s the drama. In any case, Curt Schilling’s journalism here chronicles the end of 38 Studios after the disappointing Kingdoms of Amalur. Some of the best video game journalism comes from non-video game journalists, and this is an excellent example.
New Yorker – Jennifer Hale: The Queen of Video-Game Acting
The art of the profile is an extremely difficult one to master. Tom Bissell does it well. This portrait of Hale’s life and her work is not only an honest look at one of the industry’s most recognised voices but also one that provides a sobering look at how beloved games are actually made.
Journalism is full of stories of writers being embedded in a group and then reporting on the outcome. Maddy Myers’ story may not have had the life-threatening elements of someone like Nellie Bly, her courage should be rewarded all the same.
New Yorker – The grammar of fun
Another New Yorker, another Tom Bissell. And with good reason. This profile of gaming’s closest thing to a rock star is a solid lesson in how to portray someone in print. The touches on Bleszenski’s late father are lovely.
Eurogamer – Journeyman
Yet another Simon Parkin piece. His discussion with Jenova Chen made waves when published for its portrayal of who is probably one of the industry’s best chances of pushing the medium into something new and exciting. A lovely look at what makes the man tick.
iOS/PC/Mac – The Final Hours of Portal 2
Geoff Keighley gets a bad rap, but his Final Hours series are excellent pieces of journalism. The content is rich, with interviews and discussions on the difficulties of making specific games and the rush to the finish line. The execution is also just as important – by self-publishing the apps Keighley paves the way for more writers to take control of their content. (Brendan Keogh took up the torch with his book on Spec Ops, Killing Is Harmless, in 2012).
IGN Australia – Why did LA Noire take seven years to make?
Andrew McMillen deserves praise for his hard work in piecing together this story from employees and others in the industry. His work brought to light the troubles involved with the Team Bondi studio, which eventually collapsed. It’s excellent stuff, and a good example of how games journalists still have the ability to do more traditional reporting with gusto.
Worth taking a look at also is McMillen’s talk on the aftermath of his piece – featuring some commentary on games journalism practices in general.
Kotaku – How LucasArts Fell Apart
A relatively new piece, Jason Schreier’s epic piece at Kotaku is an excellent showcase of reporting over a long period of time. Tying up interviews with ex-employees he puts together the tragic story of a once-proud developer turned dead. Fantastic, riveting stuff.
26 9 / 2013
We need to get rid of comments.
Banning people isn’t enough. Moderation isn’t sufficient. Let’s just get rid of ‘em. No more debate, no more talking and no more discussion. We had our fun, and now it’s over. Let’s close up the comments forever and leave it be.
It sounds like hyperbole, but I’m not exaggerating. (Okay, maybe a little for dramatic effect). But given the amount of changes we’ve seen in the past few months regarding comments and the people who make them, surely we can agree some people have seen the light – and more needs to be done.
Today, Gamespot announced a new comment policy, essentially a three-strikes system, accompanied by a new code of conduct in how the site would approach comments. It’s a great step. IGN took a similar one several weeks ago, and although I haven’t heard any good news about it, I haven’t heard anything spectacularly bad either, so I assume it’s doing its job.
The problem with comments – and this applies to much of the internet – is that the possibility of having a say in an issue is equalised with the substance of your words. The ability to make a comment is seen as a right, which is a misunderstanding in itself, but all sort of discussion is seen as valid.
Short point: It’s not.
PopSci took a dramatic step this week by completely banning comments. It took a bold step – by saying the contents of the site were simply not up for debate. It wasn’t that people weren’t allowed to have a say, but that the discussion was actually bringing down the scientific community. Because people believe their comments are just as good as any other person’s, debates over subjects the scientific community take for granted are now up for grabs.
Arguing the community on a gaming site is as important as a site discussing scientific theory and content is wrong, but nevertheless, PopSci sets a good example.
It’s not the only one. Google has introduced changes to YouTube comments as well, (a “community” long-regarded as the pit of commenting hell).
Just consider some of the discussions on major gaming sites over the past several months. Hell, last month on Polygon there was a major discussion on whether reviews should be “objective” or not.
That isn’t a discussion worth having. It’s not that there are opinions or a grey area – there’s not one there. There is no merit in suggesting reviews should be “objective”, because they aren’t designed to be that way and that’s not the method by which they are written. End of story.
Or consider the IGN topic regarding Gamespot reviewer Carolyn Petit. Awful things were said about Petit, (I’m not going to link to them). IGN’s policy on comments is a welcome change, but it can’t be everywhere at once, so it’s not surprising these types of comments were made. (Considering IGN’s audience, it almost seems inevitable).
The debate over user-controlled comments and moderation is worth considering in light of the popularity of Reddit and Something Awful – two of the most popular message boards in the world with two very different approaches to comments and user activity.
Reddit, famously, very much takes a user-controlled approach. Comments aren’t moderated, and the best rise to the top. The “best” being those comments which are voted on by the community as being witty, or funny, insightful, or whatever.
The upside of this is the reader of any particular thread sees the most useful comments first. But they also show comments seen as the most popular, which aren’t always right.
The lack of moderation also means we have sub-Reddits with racist and sexist content, although lately Reddit has been stepping down on those. (Again, the benefits of moderation).
Something Awful takes a much more clinical approach. Users are banned for the slightest of rule-breaks, including not using punctuation or simply breaking the rules of a particular thread.
Of course, having all replies be equal in a message board is akin to the commenting problem – every viewpoint is seen as being valid, whereas in Reddit, unpopular views may be more likely to drop to the bottom. In a sub about science, for instance, this would be of great benefit.
We’re seeing more sites take the Something Awful approach with comments, by working on moderation and banning those who make hurtful comments.
But here’s the problem – neither of these approaches weeds out the bad comments. They simply approach them in different ways.
We live in an age in which all opinions, views or updates are viewed as valid. “I’m going to the gym!” I say on Facebook – instantly get three likes. Awesome, I think to myself. What I just said was valuable and useful to someone.
Except it’s not. We live in a delusional echo chamber, and the internet magnifies that effect. We need to stop this notion that what we say matters, because of most us are stupid, uninformed and have no right to speak authoritatively on any issue that we haven’t seriously studied.
Do we really think the people commenting on Anita Sarkeesian’s videos have done as much research as she has? Do we really think people insulting those in the trans community have gone through as much hurt and pain as they have, or understand the ramifications of their words?
Are we supposed to believe that someone commenting on the fact global warming is a myth has done as much research as professional scientists?
Enough is enough. We need to stop the notion that having a say is somehow a right. No, it’s a privilege. By cutting out comments altogether, we can move the discussion elsewhere.
After all, it’s lazy, isn’t it? By making the first comment or putting an argument on someone’s article, I’m robbing their attention and have an in-built audience. But if I want to create a blog post rebutting someone, it takes a lot more work to gain an audience.
Maybe for news posts and more harmless content, comments can slide. We can let them be.
But for features, or pieces of content that are somehow controversial? It’s time to get rid of ‘em.
After more than twenty years of using the internet as a place to talk, we need to change it up. By getting rid of comments, we can force everyone to do the most important thing to build empathy and knowledge – simply listen.
28 8 / 2013
19 6 / 2013
09 6 / 2013