The Developer Journalist – The Developist

October 21, 2009 § Leave a comment

The role of games journalists has for a while now been a hotly debated topic amongst bloggers and commenters. Some argue that they’re role is nothing more than to present a buyers guide to their readers, whilst others believe they should try to be more, pointing gamers to more innovative titles that may be lacking in areas important to more superficial gamers.

Recently Dan Marshall of Zombie Cow productions and PCZone threw his comments into the debate. Marshall is in something of a unique position amongst game journalists, in that whilst writing his reviews he’s also worked on his own games, such as Been There Dan That and Gibbage. He believes this is a practise that’s helped him immeasurably, “I think all games journos should be forced to make a game somehow, see how they get on. It gives you a more rounded perspective.”

Whilst I agree that there’s a large amount of journalists out there who are wholly ignorant as to just how much work goes into the games we play, I don’t think forcing them into the other side of the games business is going to make them any better at their job.

When examining the issue, we first need to lock down exactly what the role of the games journalist is. From the first preview of an early alpha build, right up until the review of the final product, the writer exists as a means to convey to the reader exactly how fun a game is to play, and by extension whether it’s worth your money. In a perfect world reviews would consist of either three or four words; either ‘Buy this game,’ or possibly, ‘Do not buy this game.’

Obviously this world isn’t perfect, and a reviewer’s taste isn’t necessarily going to be exactly the same as their readers. It thus becomes necessary to justify your opinion on what makes the game fun, readers can identify whether they agree that these things make an experience enjoyable, and can come away from the review knowing more or less whether this game is for them.

Even with the best and most objective reviewers out there, personal opinion is likely to creep in to any piece of writing. How do we ensure that this doesn’t affect the effectiveness of a review as a buyer’s guide?

We try and make the views of the reviewer as close as possible to any of their readers.

If I’m reading a review by Destructoid’s Anthony Burch, or former 1Upper Nick Suttner, and personal bias creeps into their review, it doesn’t matter, because that personal bias is something we share.

If game journalists are all game developers in their spare time, then this creates a barrier between them and their readers. A game developist (developer-journalist, keep up!) is going to notice things about a game’s design which affects their view on the game either positively or negatively, but these intricacies are going to be lost on me, the reader.

Maybe the design of a certain mission is particularly intricate in a way that only a developer would notice. Perhaps the developist notices this, and it influences him to write a more positive review. Does this equate to a more positive experience on my part? Of course not.

There’s already so much distance between how a reviewer plays a game and how the consumer will play it, anything more and they might as well be playing different games. Reviewers have to complete games in an obscenely short period of time, have their games paid for, and often play in an office environment; in other words their experience with the game is already very different from ours.

Game reviewing is a tough job at the best of times. You have to deal with fallout from fans, fallout from developers, and if you add to this a requirement to be a developer as well as a proficient writer you’re not going to find many people capable of advising the gaming public on their buying choices.


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