Well, this is a bit of a shock. GameSpy's new writer's guidelines for previews codify the "give the developer the benefit of the doubt" in a most explicit way. While previews by nature are positive -- they generally focus on the more exciting games in development -- these are some disturbing guidelines. What happens if you're given a program that turns out to be a conceptual dog? Do you grin, bear it, and try to act excited?
Some highlights from the new writer's guide:
The purpose of a preview is not to scold, admonish, or literally critique the game on hand, but rather to offer up insight and get readers excited about what it has to offer.
(Can't "literally critique?" Can you "figuratively critique?")
...the majority of a preview should focus on the positive. Use your discerning gamerís eye and detail what the game has to offer in its present preview form.
(Maybe take a few happy pills before booting the beta?)
Gameplay: How does the game play as it stands now? Is it fun to play? Easy? Hard?
(If it's not fun, and it's not interesting, what do you do?)
Lastly, the paragraph ends focusing on the positive, referencing an improved feature of the game,
(From an example section, again emphasizing "positive." In fact, "focusing on the positive" is boldfaced in the PDF.)
(Now here's the clincher:)
Itís imperative that your preview not exude a strong sense of negativity. We canít stress this
enough. Remember, itís not a finished product, and youíre lucky enough to get an early look at
the hard work that has gone its creation. Changes are bound to occur, and more often than not, for the better. However, when the game is a shelf-product, and if it still sucks, then you can be as subjective (with fact) as you want, and tell it like it isÖ
(So, we'll have NONE of that "telling it like it is" during a preview, I guess. How many games have you guys who write these things previewed that had major design flaws in beta, but had them fixed in release? My own experience is 10 to 15 percent... I remember when Martin Cirulis caught hell for writing a negative preview of X-Com 3. Guess what? X-Com 3 sucked. And tanked at retail. Old Martin was right. Good thing he wasn't writing for GameSpy.)
This focuses on previews, so it's not as bad as it could be. After all, the vast majority previews are of promising products. Or Battlecruiser games.
But if it starts with previews, where could it go?
The ironic thing if you read the entire guide is it stresses over and over again "objectivity." Before commanding you to write mostly happy thoughts.
Comments from the pros?
By GameSpies on Crack on Friday, October 19, 2001 - 01:43 am:
"youíre lucky enough to get an early look at
the hard work that has gone its creation"
What a fucked-up attitude.
By extension, customers must be "lucky" to get a chance to spend their hard-earned money on all that "hard work." In a way, yes -- the gaming public is lucky to be served by certain ingenious individuals who offer us something special -- but there is an entire marketplace full of "hard work" out there to purchase; I thought the reviewer's job was to cull out the "hard work" that led to something good from the "hard work" that was wasted on a crappy game.
On the other hand, in the current political climate I wouldn't be surprised if CNN et al were handing out similar instructions to their reporters: "You're lucky to get the chance to ask the President a question; don't 'exude a strong sense of negativity' by asking serious questions!"
By Mark Asher on Friday, October 19, 2001 - 05:47 am:
Previews are always tricky because a beta of a game might have gameplay problems that will be worked out by final release.
Still, I don't see a problem with a simple recitation of the problems encountered as long as a disclaimer is also issued -- "Remember, this is a beta, but these were the issues I saw...."
My guess is that this Gamespy thing is simply trying to give most readers what they want -- positive previews. Gamers like to be excited about upcoming games.
Still, I'd like more criticism in previews. Without some critical thought, they're not as interesting to me.
By Gordon Cameron on Friday, October 19, 2001 - 05:53 am:
Most previews, at least in the big gaming mags, don't have much criticism at all. I mean, when CGW does a major gigantic cover article on all the upcoming Star Wars games, they're not exactly likely to end it with "Oh by the way, Galactic Battlegrounds looks dismal in beta" or something like that. Ok, I suppose you could say they only decided to DO the article because all the upcoming games looked so darn swell, but there's a definite inertia there.
By Michael Murphy (Murph) on Friday, October 19, 2001 - 06:29 am:
Yeah, and that's really a shame -- but, like Mark said, they're giving readers what they want. I'm sure most of us on this board would like more blunt criticism in previews, but we're in the minority there. Pity, that.
By JamesG on Friday, October 19, 2001 - 07:34 am:
I don't know, as a reader I really don't mind happy smiley previews. Apologies to the professionals here, but I look at previews basically as marketing tools akin to movie trailers, and I'm fine with that. I think the gaming public is pretty familiar with the all too common disparity between what is promised and what is delivered, and I enjoy getting even an uncritical look at a game in development. On the other hand, there's always that car crash fascination with a story like Daikatana or BC3K.
Reviews are a different story, though, and there is that "slippery slope" argument.
On a related note, I think that what the MOO3 team is doing is really special. If you haven't visited it, the MOO3 home page pretty much documents the entire design and development process, complete with debates on design issues and requests for ideas on the public message board.
By Jeff Lackey on Friday, October 19, 2001 - 09:56 am:
Like Mark said, previews are a bit tricky. But I think most good writers approach them in the same way you do a review: communicate what you see as clearly as possible, as fairly as possible. It helps if you've got a communication line open with the developers. If the graphics are terrible, for example, it's probably not fair to trash the game (particularly if the developers tell you that they're still working on that aspect of the game.) But there are some gameplay elements that probably won't change (again, check off with the developers) and I think you can do readers a service by noting things such as, e.g., a flight sim with a linear, canned mission campaign, a war game with no fog of war elements, a golf sim with an odd swing interface, etc. However, my opinion is that a preview is much more an informational piece than an opinion article - so attacking the game at this point for a design decision is probably inapproriate. But that works both ways: if you take the stance that you're not going to attack the game because it's not final code, then I think it's also inappropriate to hail it as the next Greatest Game Ever.
My issue with the Gamespy dictums above is that it sounds as if they want to make sure the writers are cheerleaders in the previews.
By Gordon Cameron on Friday, October 19, 2001 - 10:17 am:
Heck, this industry is fixated on the future anyway. I get the sense that gamers spend almost as much time talking about/thinking about upcoming games as they do playing the current ones. Maybe one problem is the technology curve. Since we are so used to the idea that next year's games will blow away this year's games, the future is always more appealing than the here and now. That, and the basic "grass is greener" element of human psychology.
By Ben Sones (Felderin) on Friday, October 19, 2001 - 10:50 am:
I have no idea what the context for those guidelines is, but I don't have a big problem with them per se. For instance:
"(If it's not fun, and it's not interesting, what do you do?)"
If it's not fun and it's not interesting, then why are you previewing it at all? The point of previews is not just to inform, but to call reader attention to games that look like they have potential. Why waste a reader's time by saying, essentially, "hey! Check out this game! And by the way, it looks like it's going to suck."
If you are looking merely to inform, a short news story that basically says "Game X exists" is sufficient. If you are spending more time than that on a game, then I would hope that the game is worthwhile.
"How many games have you guys who write these things previewed that had major design flaws in beta, but had them fixed in release?"
Almost all of them. Most of the early products I see barely work at all, which is why introducing criticism into a preview is a tricky proposition. I've seen games (Porsche Unleashed from EA was one) that were Battlecruiser 300AD-level disasters just three weeks from their gold date, and then worked flawlessly by the time they reached stores. The entire basis of the preview is that you are trying to get a feel for where the developer is going with the project.
If I "told it like it is" with most alpha (and even beta) products I've seen, most of my previews would read something like "the game won't run for more than two minutes without locking up my system, the mouse cursor leaves ghost image trails of itself all across the screen, the game is horribly unbalanced and the player is essentially invinceable, half of the interface buttons don't work at all..." you get the idea. (note: the above example is from an actual alpha that I am playing with right now).
Of course actual flaws in the game's premise are worthy of note, but there are two problems with that. A lot of people have trouble seperating flaws in premise from flaws in execution, and if the flaws in premise are really that serious, why are you wasting words on the game at all? It all comes back to that, really.
Of course, another way those guidelines could be interpreted is "be positive about all games, even if they don't look like they are worth being positive over." That I would have a problem with, but I can't really say from what you posted whether or not that was the intent of those guidelines.
By Ben Sones (Felderin) on Friday, October 19, 2001 - 10:52 am:
Whoops! I wish this forum software allowed you to edit posted messages...
Yeah. The horse-cart simulator.
By Desslock on Friday, October 19, 2001 - 11:22 am:
>Of course actual flaws in the game's premise are worthy of note, but there are two problems with that. A lot of people have trouble seperating flaws in premise from flaws in execution, and if the flaws in premise are really that serious, why are you wasting words on the game at all
I think previews should be critical, where appropriate, but agree that a lot of previewers seem to be incapable of discerning which criticisms are appropriate. Generally, you're only going to preview games that people are anxiously anticipating or you think look good, so most previews are going to be predominately positive about the game.
While it's inappropriate to criticize many aspects of the game (balance, unfinished graphics, bugs), many game flaws are evident very early on -- certainly in time for previews. For example, if I had previewed Pool of Radiance 2 with a beta build, I would have criticized various aspects of its design (automatic allocation of skills/feats, decision to abandon D&D conventions like wizards and spell-memorization), as well as aspects of the interface if they represented the (unpolished) version the game was going to use -- like Mark stated, with qualifications where appropriate that the developers could fix "x" prior to release (and ask the damn questions of the developers, to see if they have tangible plans to do so).
Primarily, I think previews should descriptive -- describe what you see, good or bad, and allow allow the developers to comment on what you think is good/bad.
By Jason McCullough on Friday, October 19, 2001 - 12:10 pm:
'Apologies to the professionals here, but I look at previews basically as marketing tools akin to movie trailers, and I'm fine with that. I think the gaming public is pretty familiar with the all too common disparity between what is promised and what is delivered, and I enjoy getting even an uncritical look at a game in development.'
This isn't that hot of an analogy, I think. When I read a review/preview of a game in a magazine, online or no, I expect an evaluation, not journalistic advertising. By contrast, when I see a movie trailer I know quite well it's advertising.
Unless you think the public is so jaded they already consider all gaming previews advertising, the new guidelines are creepy.
By Gordon Cameron on Friday, October 19, 2001 - 01:00 pm:
There is a point at which some "journalism" crosses the line over into advertising. Always has been. People buy the magazine because they want to find out (and be excited about) new stuff; stuff-makers advertise in the magazine; and magazine editors/writers know that, at least up to a point, their bread is buttered by the stuff-makers. I mean, there is a certain degree to which any magazine like CGW or PCgamer is primarily a cheerleader for the computer-game industry. I don't mean to disparage the journalistic ethics of the individual contributors to such magazines. There are individual good writers (i.e. Tom Chick or Desslock or whomever) who are as honest as the day is long. But the net effect of these magazines is to hype computer games, to get people buying shit. Because if people don't buy the shit, everyone is out of a job -- the game developers, the game writers, and the ad guys. In no way am I implying that a fast one is being pulled on the public: readers *want* the hype. They want to get excited about computer games. At least I do. I find all the hoopla and the hype and the "this game is going to change the universe" stuff and the "best 50 computer games in history" lists and all that intoxicating -- often moreso than the games I actually play.
Now I suppose you can say there is still a line, between out-and-out advertisements (a la movie trailers) and actual journalism. In the movie industry though, that line was crossed (or at least severely blurred) long ago. "Entertainment Weekly" does not serve the same function as "Film Comment." EW is about the hype first and foremost; the legitimate criticism, while real, is secondary to the fundamental purpose. Another example is Ain't It Cool News, which of course never made any claims to being "actual journalism" and has had various ethical fiascos as studios tried to pre-empt it into a willing advertiser.
I guess you still have to try to keep some kind of a line, but there is I think a nudge-nudge-wink-wink aspect to it all. The whole thing is a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. The hype helps make the "industry" or the "art form" more real and more important and more relevant to people's lives, and it all feeds on itself.
Sorry, didn't mean to go all Noam Chomsky on you guys. :(
By JamesG on Friday, October 19, 2001 - 01:55 pm:
Jason: "When I read a review/preview of a game in a magazine, online or no, I expect an evaluation, not journalistic advertising."
I wouldn't lump reviews and previews together like that. With respect to reviews, I completely agree with you. With previews, I guess maybe I am jaded, but I definitely see them as marketing vehicles to be taken with a huge grain of salt. I mean, even if the previewer does try to be as critical and objective as possible they are still only seeing what the developer wants them to see. Again, I don't see any problem with that; I enjoy them the same way I enjoy movie trailers. Gordon said it much better than I could have, and with a Chomsky reference to boot. I expect to get a peek at what cool stuff is coming up and to get excited by the possibilities -- knowing full well that I'm not going to buy the game until I've read a real review and find out if it has lived up to its promise.
On the other hand, I don't think that's the whole of the issue here. It's all well and good for previews to be mostly positive hype, but it's another thing entirely for a magazine to tell its writers to maintain a positive bias when previewing and then expect those same writers to seriously review released games. They are setting their writers up to look foolish and damage their own credibility. I confess to not knowing a thing about the industry, but it seems to me that if they are going to tell you what to write then they shouldn't make you put your name to it.
By Robert Mayer on Friday, October 19, 2001 - 02:21 pm:
Well, as far as I know none of the PC mags has ever claimed to be the Consumer Reports of computer gaming. Our mission is different. It's a mix of entertainment, information, criticism, and recommendations. There's a good chunk of consumer advocacy there, but pretty much by default--as champions of games and gaming in general, we're pissed off by crappy games too. We serve our readers, bu there are many ways to do that, and not all of them involve blistering attacks on the industry.
It's been said before here--we tend to preview games we think are worthy of attention. That goes double for covers. We scope these things out before hand. A lot of games don't get full previews. That's for a lot of reasons, but sometimes it's simply because we look at a game and decide it's not worth our effort, because you the reader probably won't give a damn. We don't see previews as an "early warning system" for bad games. That would be terribly unfair--as Ben points out, there are a large number of games each year that suck in alpha or beta and rock as finals.
I think you'll find that the previews from good writers and publications tend to deal with issues if they're there. Our policy is to contact the people who are doing the game if we come across stuff, while doing the preview, that makes us think something ain't right. We'll ask them if the graphics are going to change (i.e., they suck now, will they not suck later?), will the interface change, etc. If they say yes, we can tell the reader that so and so promises such and such. If they say no, we can say in the preview that although it's not finished, this feature seems destined to remain unchanged, and we don't like it. Etc.
By kazz on Friday, October 19, 2001 - 02:31 pm:
Previews always seem to me to be fluff pieces, basically free advertising for the game companies involved. Sort of a gaming magazine backsheesh arrangement. The GameSpy rules just reinforce that feeling for me. I wouldn't mind, but it does have a slightly duplicitous feel to it, one of those "camel-with-the-head-in-the-tent" things, that maybe has the potential down the road of causing moral dilemmas for content editors.
It's too bad previews are so popular. If they weren't quite so in-demand, maybe the magazines could charge for them. I realize that most readers like previews. A lot. And I realize that it isn't fair to judge a final game by what an early (in some case it seems years early) preview by what you expect of a final game. So I don't see what's the rumpus for the new rules, personally.
"If it's not fun and it's not interesting, then why are you previewing it at all? "
Because someone paid him to, maybe? Do you only do previews if you know in advance that you are going to like them? Does it make editors happy if you accept an assignment, then come back and say "Sorry, I didn't think it was fun, so I didn't preview it?" I'm not being sarcastic, believe it or not. I'm not sure how work gets parceled out for these things. But it does seem like there's a lot of freelancers that frequent this board, and it also seems to me that (like all freelancers everywhere) they snap up work where they find it, and don't do things that might accidentally burn bridges with editors that might be paying their mortgage again in a few months' time. Well, at least not purposefully.
By Desslock on Friday, October 19, 2001 - 03:54 pm:
>Ben points out, there are a large number of games each year that suck in alpha or beta and rock as finals.
I'm not disagreeing with that point, but I can't think of any examples off hand where that was the case (although I don't play many alpha/betas, other than for RPGs, and so perhaps because they have lengthy development periods it's easy to see the basic features reflected early on, my feelings for the retail release are usually consistent with my early impressions). Can you guys name any from your experience?
I can definitely think of occasions where the opposite was true, however: where a game looked promising as a beta/alpha, but the developers never addressed problems I presumed would be fixed, and therefore the retail release didn't live up to my expectations based upon the beta/alpha.
I always find watching a game evolve interesting, however. I remember playing various iterations of Dark Reign, and being pretty surprised at how much the art improved, and other features were polished, over the last month or so. It wasn't the best game of its type (solid for the time, however, although it was released concurrently with Total Annihilation), but was pretty solid.
I really think those GameSpy rules are embarrassing, although they're probably just tangible representations of the practices at many gaming publications. Not the better ones though, I think.
By Ben Sones (Felderin) on Friday, October 19, 2001 - 04:44 pm:
"one of those "camel-with-the-head-in-the-tent" things"
I have no idea what that means, but it sounds vaguely pornographic.
"Because someone paid him to, maybe? Do you only do previews if you know in advance that you are going to like them?"
Well, as an editor, yes. But I get where you are coming from. If I, as a freelance writer, took a preview assignment and decided midway through that the product didn't look so hot, I'd contact my editor and say "hey--what do you want to do about this?" As an editor, I would hope that my writers would do the same.
"I'm not sure how work gets parceled out for these things."
I can't speak for all the pubs, but we are usually pretty familiar beforehand with most of the games we cover, and we try not to preview games that look like they have serious issues. The exception, of course, is high-profile games that readers want to know about. Sometimes we cover those even if they look crappy, simply because readers already know about them and want more info, and that's where you are most likely to find more critical previews. Our Star Wars Battlegrounds preview is like that--I wouldn't call it negative, but it does point out that the game is pretty much just a graphical overhaul of Age of Empires 2.
If we did assign out a preview to a writer without having foreknowledge of the game, and the game ended up looking crappy... well, that doesn't happen often, but I would hope that the writer would tell us instead of simply putting on a good face and writing up a positive preview about it.
By Ben Sones (Felderin) on Friday, October 19, 2001 - 04:46 pm:
"although I don't play many alpha/betas, other than for RPGs, and so perhaps because they have lengthy development periods it's easy to see the basic features reflected early on, my feelings for the retail release are usually consistent with my early impressions"
I dunno... even late beta builds of Fallout weren't much fun to play, and that totally reversed itself by the time the game was done. Arcanum was the same way. Pool 2 turned into a radically different game altogether in the last year or so.
But yeah, not all games do that, and some (unfortunately) go the other way.
By William Harms on Friday, October 19, 2001 - 04:46 pm:
I can think of a number of games that were pretty buggy in alpha/beta form that were fixed up before they were released. Homeworld, for example, crashed a lot in its beta form, so much so that I uninstalled it and threw it in the trash.
Sadly, there are just as many games that aren't fixed at all.
The problem we're faced with now is that people are using previews as a pre-review, and as such, gamers are basing their buying decisions off of previews. Reviews are now used by people to validate their purchase.
By Bill McClendon (Crash) on Friday, October 19, 2001 - 05:00 pm:
What bothers me the most about the whole thing is that preview clips are used on boxes to justify the final product. Yes, I know caveat emptor and do the research and all that... but the fact that anyone would say "put the best light on it" knowing that their words will be used to endorse something they may or may not endorse in a finished form... bothers me. But then we went over all this in the E3 Award thing, so never mind.
By Alan Au (Itsatrap) on Friday, October 19, 2001 - 07:14 pm:
Sadly, I think negative previews benefit publishers much more than positive previews do. Here's a chance for the developer to go back and correct the flaws that will end up giving the game a bad rating later on down the road. Of course, I can understand the desire to withhold those early impressions from the more susceptible gaming consumers, but it reflects poorly on a publication to garner praise during a preview and then slam the finished product. My experience is that negative previews simply aren't run at all.
By Johan Freeberg on Friday, October 19, 2001 - 07:43 pm:
I have a difficulty with Linux and cannot see the sense of your posts, but I will say this to you: there are many games in Finland made by master programmers. I do not want to read a guide to a game that the experts will say is going to be bad in all ways. So many games can take this space, like maybe the next Max Payne! Do not spend time on the waste that it is to read. Yet my brother says it is hard for a company to even look to see how good your programming is. Help the small companies, do not preview a bad game.
By Greg Vederman on Friday, October 19, 2001 - 09:26 pm:
Someone pointed out earlier that it's our jobs as game journalists to do a certain amount of cheerleading for the industry, and I agree 100%. Still, at least on the magazine end, a *wee* bit of critical analysis in a preview of a game that could be on shelves a month or two before our review hits is a good thing.
None of us are perfect (many of the editors over here thought Anachronox was going to stink right up until it shipped, for example), but I think a lot of the people who frequent this board can tell from mid-to-late beta what's realistically going to get fixed and what isn't based on our years of experience in the industry. Agree? Disagree? What's the harm as long as we're mostly upbeat AND qualify the hell out of any negative comments we make?
In your response, please have a thesis and remember to double space. (Sorry, just went back to college to finish up my degree and have that sentence on my brain).
PCG whipping boy
Chuck is a foo-foo head.
By Anonymous on Friday, October 19, 2001 - 10:36 pm:
>>Someone pointed out earlier that it's our jobs as game journalists to do a certain amount of cheerleading for the industry, and I agree 100%.
I might have figured it was to serve your readers.
I guess this attitude is why PC Gamer calls Lords of the Realm 2 an "Instant Strategy Classic" or some other such nonsense on its current issue. How much time did you guys spend playing the game to make that assessment?
By Greg Vederman on Friday, October 19, 2001 - 10:54 pm:
LOL! Pretty easy to take pop shots while you're posting as "Anonymous," ain't it? ;)
By Anonymous on Friday, October 19, 2001 - 11:38 pm:
>>LOL! Pretty easy to take pop shots while you're posting as "Anonymous," ain't it? ;)
Pretty easy to duck valid questions from someone posting as "Anonymous," ain't it?
So again, it's a very simple question: How long did the author of that piece play Lords of the Realm 2 before deciding it's a "strategy game classic?" Did the person play the campaigns, try some scenarios, test the AI and the multiplayer, or some combination thereof?
This reader is curious if this statement is based on your actual opinion of the game or if it's merely "cheerleading for the industry."
By Michael Murphy (Murph) on Friday, October 19, 2001 - 11:52 pm:
I understand your criticism -- and won't pretend to know the answer to the question you ask -- but some games are a safe bet. Any game that Blizzard gives us, for example. The next Lords of the Realm game (isn't it 3?) is one that I'm looking forward to, because I know the people that worked on it, and I know how much I liked the last one. Stronghold qualified, too, and then I played the demo to confirm my suspicions.
Now, the problem is, if that game sucks at release, it's still gonna have that phrase brandished on the front of the box in big, bold letters, and that's too bad.
So, I'll pose the question, not meaning any criticism, with my name attached: Greg, how long did the author play the game in question?
By Jason_cross (Jason_cross) on Saturday, October 20, 2001 - 01:50 am:
This is just my personal opinion, and not necessarily that of our company, but:
I think the job of games magazines and websites is to help people love computer games. That means several things to me. It means pointing out games worth getting excited or interested about, and why. It means fair reviews or critiques of stuff, so people don't buy bad products that make them not love PC games. It means taking into account costs of things where it's relevant (hardware, budget games, online service fees). It means making companies selling a service accountable for the quality of that service, and not just the product.
I think maintaining a cheerleading attitude, as a rule, is dangerous. Or at least, it can be. It's all to easy to build up the kind of anticipation that can only lead to disappointment, particuarly when that anticipation is founded on nothing more than some pretty screenshots and a feature list. I'm not saying you shouldn't write as if you're excited and enthusiastic about a product that merits it. But at the same time, previews should have *measured* skepticism or criticism where appropriate.
Murph's comment about companies like Blizzard is a good point - heritage can count for a lot.
It's all a judgement call, but I think it's our job to be a little critical of a game, even in preview form, if that's what's best for the reader...if that will ultimately lead to their enjoyment not of any particular product, but of playing PC games in general.
We want people to have as much fun as possible with their PCs, and that means helping them make sound buying decisions, not as many purchases as possible.
By Michael Murphy (Murph) on Saturday, October 20, 2001 - 02:04 am:
I'd say that's the best summary anyone could ask for, Jason. I agree -- that should be the measuring stick more poeple should use.
By Greg Vederman on Saturday, October 20, 2001 - 03:24 am:
That's exactly what Iím talking about, Jason. I think that measured criticism in a preview is entirely appropriate -- especially in those situations where you have a long history with the company (or game) in question. On the flip side, I can also understand why someone would want to write a completely glowing preview.
Iím not really here to slam or argue in favor of either style. The reason I posted on this thread is because I passionately disagree with any rule that limits a writerís ability to convey his honest opinion (that assumes, of course, that the writer in question is voicing an honest AND educated opinion). Thatís all.
As for the question of how long our writer played Lords of the Realm, friends, I honestly don't know. Even if I did, it's not the sort of thing I'd answer on this (or any other) board because it's an argument I canít win. Any amount of time I give, could, and probably would, be criticized Ė especially in light of the already ďtenseĒ (oy vey) atmosphere surrounding the question.
By Michael Murphy (Murph) on Saturday, October 20, 2001 - 04:00 am:
I honestly meant no attack. I'm sure it was an educated opinion -- I was merely curious. I don't think our anonymous friend could make the same claim. I have enough faith in reviewers in general -- I don't know who said this, so I can't claim faith in their individual credibility -- to assume the best, unless I have reason to believe otherwise. (Not that mistakes haven't been made, but that's neither here nor there, necessarily.)
Besides, like I said, the people who have been working on the Lords of the Realm games are good people, who I expect good things from. They have a good track record, and so I have no reason to doubt glowing comments made about their upcoming games.
By Brian Rucker on Saturday, October 20, 2001 - 10:35 am:
As a reader of magazines and an avid purchaser of games I tend to steer clear of previews. I might skim them if a particular title interests me but I'm just so cynical now. I don't even take quotes off boxes as being meaningful because often as not they're from cheerleading previews offering the benefit of some unvoiced doubts.
I can see where folks in business to write reviews form bonds with designers and this has been discussed elsewhere. I've come to consider this pretty innocent and normal. The part that worries me, and this has been discussed to death already, is the crossover between advertising sales and the editorial content. Perhaps that shouldn't worry me either as most folks have expressed an iron-curtain philosophy of seperation. Still, rational or not, I do worry when phrases like 'cheerleading for the industry' come up.
Cheerleading for the industry shouldn't take place in a magazine whose readership is already presumably pro-gaming. Why else would they be reading it anyhow? What the cheerleading seems to be is for particular products released by particular publishers.
If the gaming business needs cheerleading it should be by industry groups and targeted at folks who don't yet know the joys of computer gaming. You'd be amazed how many there are in my area - the industry demographics might be accurate in some places but not around here. I've turned more people onto quality games that didn't even know what was out there. The image of computer gaming, to working adults with lots of spending cash, still seems wrapped around Solitaire, Doom and Pac Man - Sims notwithstanding. They don't even see the boxes of games as anything more than a couple rows of kids toys they have to pass on the way to buying serious software or peripherals.
You want to cheerlead? Get together with different developers and publishers and come up with an advocacy group. It does a body good. Just ask the dairy industry.
However, as an informed and pro-industry consumer I'd rather read real articles about real subjects.
By Tim Partlett on Saturday, October 20, 2001 - 04:10 pm:
From my experience a lot of people, even those who should know better, get carried away by the hype of a game and pre-order it based mostly on what they read in previews. On top of that there is the "rush of blood" purchases in shops based on the same principles. The people who make these kinds of purchases are putting a lot of faith in the people that write the previews to actually be putting honest enthuiasm into the article, and detailing its real potential, and not the hype. Personally I'm disappointed by GameSpy's dictum, and shall now be wary of any opinions they offer me.
Still, having written my first serious preview this week, I can certainly see why they have developed this attitude. The article I wrote based on playing the Battle Realms beta was received by the BR community with disappointment. One site complained that whilst in depth, it was "negative". Negative in that I said that I loved playing the game, but felt that it would only be a very good game, rather than great, due to some notable gameplay flaws.
I've also had to spend time defending myself in the BR community forums over the same points. It seems that people become fans of a game, or just the idea of it, long before the game is released and they simply don't want to know that the game will be less than perfect. These people invest a lot of their time getting hyped up, discussing the game with friends and reading every news item about the game, so negative opinions are treated with scorn because it deflates their euphoria.
Tim (aka Gx_Farmer)
By Spam on Saturday, October 20, 2001 - 08:18 pm:
Hey Greg! I really enjoy your work in PCG even if our opinions on certain games (cough b&w) are kinda polarized. It's good to see you posting.
(that goes for the rest of ya's too if I forgot to mention it before;)
By Michael Murphy (Murph) on Saturday, October 20, 2001 - 08:19 pm:
Brian, do you really think people buy a game because a preview says it's good? I doubt it. I doubt it very much. Games have a lot of pre-generated hype, and regardless of what a preview says, I already know that I'm gonna buy Warcraft III. It doesn't matter. I'm an informed person -- I read reviews before making a purchase 99% or the time, I seldom get caught up in hype, and rarely do I buy a game on launch day. But sometimes, it just doesn't matter what anyone says -- some people have their minds made up the day the game's announced, and nothing will sway them. The people that might be affected by a preview are people who are on the edge -- Gamespot's preview of Civ 3 (thanks Bruce), for example, told me that it was indeed likely to be the game that I was expecting, and I will probably be there on launch day to get it -- but that's not just because it's Civ 3 (although that goes a long way), but, rather, because of what I've read. But, like I said, Warcraft III is mine, and I don't care what anyone says about it. I'm already certain that I'll love it.
By Brian Rucker on Saturday, October 20, 2001 - 10:20 pm:
Murph: I honestly don't know if previews really effect actual sales but I have to think that positive, quotable, press is believed to have that effect. I suppose what bothers me is something someone else has mentioned before - whose side are the journalists on? Are they advocates for the interest of the consumers or for the industry? Is it possible to be both? I think it is with the caveat that press hyping mediocre games will only hurt sales in the long term.
Considering myself as a canary in the coal mine I know my faith, and this varies widely from publication to publication and reviewer to reviewer, in the impartiality and critical abilities of computer gaming magazines isn't especially high. Over time I've learned that the best games are only rarely the ones currently on the shelves now and hyperactively positive previews of uninspired titles are par for the course.
There's more of an obsession with the product cycles and fortunes of companies than with the actual ideas that go into games. "What's Blizzard going to do next, Brain?!" We know what Blizzard is going to do next, Pinky, they're going to churn out more overrated mass market games that are polished versions of ideas we've already seen for decades - just like they always do next.
These games will get hyped to the continually shrinking market of folks that still care. Games with breakthrough ideas that might lure a different breed of gamer tend to get left choking on the dust of the four page color spread buyers.
Maybe I'm overstating things. Maybe my tastes are lacking. Maybe it's a good thing I'm not writing previews. But I look at the insular, incestuous, self-referential nature of the business with my face pressed up against the window and wonder if those pros aren't missing the point.
By Michael Murphy (Murph) on Saturday, October 20, 2001 - 11:12 pm:
But I look at the insular, incestuous, self-referential nature of the business with my face pressed up against the window and wonder if those pros aren't missing the point.
>I think that measured criticism in a preview is entirely appropriate -- especially in those situations where you have a long history with the company (or game) in question.
So, did Galactic Battlegrounds really give you wood? Y'know, to build a fire with when you land your X-Wing? 'Cause you know, Lucasarts has just been developing a string of hits lately...
By Bub (Bub) on Sunday, October 21, 2001 - 03:40 am:
I've been debating on whether or not to contribute here, given that Gamespy is one of the sites I write for. But my responding isn't nearly as bad as "Spider Jerusalem" posting them here. Editorial guidelines aren't supposed to be revealed.
But, having read the Preview guidelines for almost every publishing mag/site out there (and some gone). I can say this: Gamespy's are only "out of the norm" in terms of strength of their language. I've written a few for Gamespy already that were less than favorable, without a peep from the editors.
Guidelines are really there to set a tone and to help those new to the biz. So, things are more spelled out in that document than exists in reality. I presume Gamespy has had to deal with more newbie writers and amateurs, and figures it needed to nip them in the bud, before they levied unfair criticism of a game. Maybe the language it uses is just too strong.
You see, an experienced previewer knows how to criticize an unfinished work-in-progress preview code *fairly*, and therefore, doesn't really follow a guide. Most knee-jerk criticisms you can level at an unfinished anything aren't fair. And anyone who bases a buying decision on a preview is a foolish consumer. Not because "previews lie", but because previews aren't criticism articles. They're expository articles and often filled with hyperbole. They're supposed to be and I can't think of any consumer journalism field that judges unfinished anything in less than a "boosterish" tone of voice.
In fact, most fan magazines avoid criticism altogether.
Q: What is Wizard Magazine but a cheerleader for comic books?
A: It's a place you can get information about comic books that are coming out.
Now, since I'm also idealistic, as some of you are here, I see the point of why you guys want "pre-reviews" of games in place of industry standard preview articles.
So I do the best I can, and so do most writers I know. I avoid making bold statements about the quality of an unfinished game as assiduously as I avoid making unfair criticisms. So, I generally contact the PR or developer and let them give me some quotes. Let them call Deus Ex 2 the "best game ever" let them say "Black & White will revolutionize gaming", or let them say
"suberb writing" about Max Payne.
That's also why I prefer to preview games I've seen in action or learned about through extensive interviewing, rather than beta builds that come to my house and crash my system.
A preview should inform the public about a coming game, why they should be interested, why it might be worth waiting for, what the developers are trying to accomplish, and a bit of honest misgivings on the writer's part if he/she sees real problems. It absolutely should have a positive spin, because it is both an "inform the public" AND an "advertising tool."
But the real goal of the previewer is the entertain the reader with an article about a coming game. Make it a good, interesting, informative, read. Don't pre-judge it too far in the "good" and especially not in the "bad" category.
Good is cheerleaderism and often leads to embarassing box quotes on terrible games. Bad just rightfully makes the people slaving away at the game, year after year, (rightfully) feel they're getting the shaft from some hack.
By Jeff Lackey on Sunday, October 21, 2001 - 08:31 am:
Most of the freelancers I know and regularly chat with are some of the most cynical and skeptical folks I know - that's a good thing. And they know games. They know the history of games. In the group of freelancers I know, there's not a "fan-boy" amongst them.
I think, as in reviews, the experience and background of the writer is of paramount importance. For example, had I previewed Pool of Radiance, I would have missed a lot of potential issues that I saw old RPG pro Desslock mention, rules issues, etc.
This isn't rocket science. Just tell the frikken truth in an accurate and entertaining way. Get someone who knows the genre well and has a lot of experience in the computer gaming world, so they know what looks very promising, what looks potentially revolutionary, what looks like significant issues, knows which areas are likely to be improved before the final build, and knows how to communicate that in an entertaining way to the readers. Readers should know that previews tend to be more positive on average than reviews, since only the most promising titles are selected for previews and since the game isn't finished, many criticisms aren't yet valid. I don't particularly think a preview should be "cheerleading" because my opinion is that the target beneficiaries of the magazine should be the readers.
By William Abner on Sunday, October 21, 2001 - 08:35 am:
I thought the Galactic Battlegrounds Beta was OK. Not great, not terrible. It's what you'd expect from a AoE2 Star Wars mod.
I'd rather play GB than any of the other Star Wars games from the past few years, though. I'll take an AoE2 clone over the other trash LA has delivered anyday.
By Brian Rucker on Sunday, October 21, 2001 - 10:54 am:
Murph: It doesn't take courage to have opinions and to spout off about them. Just takes a little bit of irritiation. If I were really so perceptive as I tend to make out I'd probably working in the field and growing more exposed, myself, to the influences that shape the trends and opinions in the mainstream. My perspective might be valuable only in that I am a knowledgeable gamer who isn't affected by the daily pressures, demands, hassles, ambiguities and consequences that the real reviewers and publishers face. I may offer critiques, for whatever they're worth and it's probably not that much, so here's a grain of salt to go with them.
By Jeff Atwood (Wumpus) on Sunday, October 21, 2001 - 04:38 pm:
WRT previews, I think the true rationale for publishing them is that they're hugely popular. Steve has said a bunch of times that their best written online articles get a tiny fraction of the hits that some fluff preview of Quake 4 with 5 exclusive screenshots will get. I assume the same rules hold true for print articles aws well.
"This isn't rocket science. Just tell the frikken truth in an accurate and entertaining way."
Ah, the truth. Tell that to the two GOTY boxes sitting on the shelf: Deus Ex and NOLF. If only it was so easy. The real challenge-- short of buying every game and playing it your own damn self-- is matching your preferences with the reviewer's preferences.
Alternatively, for online-only games, the # of players actually _playing_ the game is an almost infallibile indicator of actual gameplay quality. God knows how many copies of a boxed, single-player game are sold and played for an hour and subquently abandoned. But with these online-only multiplayer games, you can get actual playtime figures, which are far more meaningful.
"Get someone who knows the genre well and has a lot of experience in the computer gaming world, so they know what looks very promising, what looks potentially revolutionary, what looks like significant issues, knows which areas are likely to be improved before the final build, and knows how to communicate that in an entertaining way to the readers."
There's a certain aspect of preaching to the choir here that bothers me. The vast majority of people don't care about gaming. Are we writing this stuff to amuse and titillate other hardcore gamers? It can be little more than reflexive masturbation.
"I think the job of games magazines and websites is to help people love computer games."
If you really believe this, the goal of the industry should be to EXPAND the sphere of gaming as far as possible. That does involve some evangelism, but not to this select group, or really, even to your subscribers. It's to other people who haven't yet played Half-Life, or whatever. Those people that are gamers, but they just don't know it yet.
By Brian Rucker on Sunday, October 21, 2001 - 05:39 pm:
By Michael Murphy (Murph) on Sunday, October 21, 2001 - 08:18 pm:
It's amazing how many people are gamers, but don't know it yet. Hardly anyone I know has played much, but I've turned my three best friends on to it in the last year or two, just by going, "Hey, check this out..." and fifteen minutes later, they're hooked.
By Jeff Atwood (Wumpus) on Sunday, October 21, 2001 - 09:20 pm:
"It's amazing how many people are gamers, but don't know it yet. Hardly anyone I know has played much, but I've turned my three best friends on to it in the last year or two, just by going, "Hey, check this out..." and fifteen minutes later, they're hooked."
Yes, this is the kind of evangelism we desperately need! I try and try to get co-workers and friends to take an interest in gaming. Sometimes it does take a bit of hand-holding. Frequently there's no interest whatsoever.
Tom's Fight Club is another excellent example. I remember reading several of the guys weren't really gamers per se, so this was their first taste of re-installing drivers.. er, I mean, PC multiplayer gaming. ;)
By Alan on Monday, October 22, 2001 - 12:49 am:
"Tom's Fight Club"
You're quite the asshole, aren't you? You come to someone's messageboard and then just continually take shots at them, even after that person has made it clear you're not welcome. But you post all over the place like an alcoholic who just wants one more shot of whiskey, deliberately piss people off, and all the while take whatever chance you get to needle the guy whose site you're posting to.
What a classy guy you are.
By Bill McClendon (Crash) on Monday, October 22, 2001 - 04:48 am:
"Alternatively, for online-only games, the # of players actually _playing_ the game is an almost infallibile indicator of actual gameplay quality."
Right. So Everquest is better than Counterstrike, Quake III Arena, Unreal Tournament, *and* Rainbow Six COMBINED on the Wumpus Quality-O-Meter.
Must be easy giving out game of the year awards on your site--just crib the NPD end-of-year chart, and bang, there ya go.
By Michael Murphy (Murph) on Monday, October 22, 2001 - 08:51 am:
Hmmm...Question, Alan -- what exactly was it that Wumpus said that was so offensive to Tom? I didn't catch it -- other than, of course, calling it Fight Club and not Shoot club, but his comments seemed genuine. Perhaps I'm just naive...But it sounded as sincere as you could expect...Sure, he's dogging the re-installing of drivers, but is that a shot at Tom? I didn't take it as such...
By Dave Long on Monday, October 22, 2001 - 10:35 am:
Looks to me like wumpus was paying Tom a compliment. I don't see the negative connotation either?
By Alan on Monday, October 22, 2001 - 10:37 am:
He knows it's called Shoot Club, not Fight Club. I'm not saying he was criticizing the column. I'm saying he's always sticking in some kind of jab. And it's getting really old.
By Spigot on Monday, October 22, 2001 - 11:11 am:
Speaking of which, when is the next Shoot Club going up, Tom? I've got a few friends and myself who are eagerly awaiting the next one.
By Michael Murphy (Murph) on Monday, October 22, 2001 - 12:11 pm:
Is it possible Wumpus just mis-spoke? Perhaps I give him more "benefit of the doubt" than he deserves...I didn't interpret it as a jab. The question WOULD be "Did Tom interpret it as such?" but I think Tom pretty much ignores all Wumpus posts and those resulting from them...
Spigot, we all eagerly await the next Shoot Club. But, I can tell you what Tom will say -- that whole "I have to pay the bills" excuse! :-)
We'll get it when we get it, and not a moment sooner. I, for one, wish a magazine or website would carry it and actually pay him for it. I think it's the most inspired, enteretaining, and yet truthful column I've ever read -- a little glimpse into the souls of us all.
Plus, it makes me laugh, and that goes a long way with me...
Now, if only Jeff Green agreed, and decided to run it...(I chose Green largely because Bauman has already given Tom a regular column, and I don't know any other "Industry Big-Wigs" by name! Plus, CGW does seem the time to run such a column...)
By Sean Tudor on Monday, October 22, 2001 - 06:01 pm:
Well Alan I have to add I didn't read anything into Jeff's "Fight Club" comment. I am still scratching my head over your response.
By Jeff Atwood (Wumpus) on Monday, October 22, 2001 - 06:09 pm:
"He knows it's called Shoot Club, not Fight Club. I'm not saying he was criticizing the column. I'm saying he's always sticking in some kind of jab. And it's getting really old."
Relax, folks, it was an honest mistake. I meant to write "Shoot Club". I was paying a compliment to Tom. If we really care about the future of gaming, it's imperative that we try to expand the audience. As illustrated in Tom's series. That is to say, introducing our non-gaming friends to PC multiplayer and doing a little hand-holding to get them going.
Sharing enthusiasm is a good thing. Well, except for those door-to-door missionaries.
By Jeff Atwood (Wumpus) on Monday, October 22, 2001 - 06:14 pm:
"Right. So Everquest is better than Counterstrike, Quake III Arena, Unreal Tournament, *and* Rainbow Six COMBINED on the Wumpus Quality-O-Meter."
Not necessarily. However, the amount of actual playtime expended on a game is a far, far better metric of quality gameplay than game box sales.
And it's a little silly to make it cross-genre. Indicator of quality, yes, "better than (totally unrelated online game)", well.. that depends what you enjoy. As for whether counter-strike is the most enjoyable online *FPS* game ever.. well, do you really need to ask me that? Just go look up the playtime metrics. ;)
By Greg Vederman on Monday, October 22, 2001 - 07:37 pm:
"So, did Galactic Battlegrounds really give you wood? Y'know, to build a fire with when you land your X-Wing? 'Cause you know, Lucasarts has just been developing a string of hits lately..."
LOL! Yeah, Jason, back when I first saw it toward the start of this year, my member was fully engorged. So sue me! =)
By Bill McClendon (Crash) on Monday, October 22, 2001 - 07:39 pm:
"However, the amount of actual playtime expended on a game is a far, far better metric of quality gameplay than game box sales."
You know, I had a rebuttal typed out, complete with facts and conclusions, but then I thought, "Why bother; he believes this despite evidence to the contrary, and nothing's going to change his mind."
So there you go. You're right.
By Jeff Atwood (Wumpus) on Monday, October 22, 2001 - 08:13 pm:
"You know, I had a rebuttal typed out, complete with facts and conclusions, but then I thought, "Why bother; he believes this despite evidence to the contrary, and nothing's going to change his mind."
You're such a tease!
Game box sales is an OK metric. However, I'm a firm believer that 90% of games are purchased and then played for a few hours, tops, before being shelved indefinitely. Particularly console games, but PC games as well. If anyone has any evidence that this *isn't* true, feel free to share.
By Spigot on Monday, October 22, 2001 - 10:15 pm:
But what about games that are short, but just sooo good? I'm thinking of Metal Gear Solid for the Playstation, in particular. That was one of the best games I've played (and I've been playing since Pong) but it only took me about 2 days to beat it. And I only really played it once... but the memories of the game have really stuck with me.
What was the point we were trying to make again?
By Jeff Atwood (Wumpus) on Monday, October 22, 2001 - 11:12 pm:
By "few hours" I mean 2-3 hours, not the 10-15 hours it would take to beat MGS. That's on the short side (divide # of hours by $ paid), but it's reasonable if the entertainment value was high.
Here's an example of what I mean. How many copies of Myst do you think were sold and actually played more than 2-3 hours? I'm betting less than 10 percent. Of course there's no way to know-- but I have literally dozens of games on my shelf that I've done that with. Including Myst, back in the day. I'd imagine the ratio is much higher with casual gamers.
With online games, we don't have to guess. We have the playtime metrics.
By Michael Murphy (Murph) on Monday, October 22, 2001 - 11:48 pm:
I dunno, Wumpus. I think it might be less with casual gamers, 'cause they buy fewer games. I'd expect that they often don't buy a new game until they've finished the one they've got -- and by finished, that doesn't necessarily mean completed, if they got tired of it. But...well, that's about all I have to add to this...
By Brian Rucker on Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 01:26 am:
I'm not sure that either time spent with a particular title or total unit sales are particularly good ways to judge the quality of games. What I'd look at would be how a game deals with a subject and delivers gameplay in terms of design. That means understanding related games and being able to see where a title fits into the scheme of things in terms of innovations and shortcomings.
In Sync moves alot of units and probably gets alot of time on certain turntables. Doesn't mean it's good music.
By Thierry Nguyen on Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 03:44 am:
You misspelled *NSYNC.
By Brian Rucker on Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 08:00 am:
I stand corrected. It was late. :)
By Mark H. Walker on Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 10:58 am:
Sorry if I'm duping a message here, but the critical point no one seems to have brought up is the inherent breach in faith by the GameSpy reviewer in "publishing" those guideleines. They were not given as a public document, and I assume that Keefer did not expect them to be released. Doing so was immature and unprofessional.
But to comment on the content...the idea of using a PREview for a REView is inappropriate as most of us agree. Stuff changes. In writing strategy guides, I see a lot of early stuff. Often it has enough problems to turn me off, but I never cease to be surprised by the progress that publishers make in the final month or so. Accordingly, I'm very hesitant to criticize what is an unfinished product. Yes, I'm concered about the gamer. I don't want them to buy bad merchandice, but I'm also concerned about the development team that pours their life into the game. Criticizing an unfinished product could compromise a couple of years of effort.
By Alan Dunkin on Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 11:57 am:
I agree, but to blow a whisltle, you have to be willing put your hand in the muck to get it.
By Denny on Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 02:40 pm:
How are writers' guidelines "not public," being that they're generally given to anyone who requests them?
I've certainly never had anything in the writer's guidelines used by any magazine I've worked for--Omni, CGM, CGW, Compute--that I would have any problem with any of my readers seeing.
There's something in your writer's guidelines that you feel should be a "secret," something's probably wrong with your writer's guidelines.
(As for Galactic Battlegrounds, I haven't played a beta, but the demo bored me to tears... It felt like, oh, Star Wars units crammed into AOE2...)
By TomChick on Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 02:53 pm:
If I were really clever, I could think up some pun on "being bored" and "getting wood" when I saw Galactic Battlegrounds. But I'm not that clever. I can't say what The Vede saw in it, but here's what Mark and I saw:
In fact, after E3, I was tempted to write something grave like "Star Wars is dead as a licensing property". But to my mind, Star Wars is pretty much dead, period. It's like hearing there's no such thing as Santa Claus.
By Bub (Bub) on Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 03:04 pm:
I was late to my E3 LucasArts appointment and had the honor of seeing SW:GB *with* the Ensemble guys. The LA demo guy was understandably nervous. The Ensemble guys were viewing the game for the first time (and so I learned that they weren't working on it). Bruce Shelley was very kind and diplomatic (which is his nature) but, man o' man, did that group seem unimpressed. No wood anywhere.
I respectfully disagree that Star Wars is "pretty much dead, period" however, and I still FIRMLY believe in Santa Claus.
By Johan Freeberg on Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 03:12 pm:
"I still FIRMLY believe in Santa Claus"
That is why you are recognized in the press, my friend!
By Alan Au (Itsatrap) on Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 03:31 pm:
I agree with Mark that previews are not reviews (either negative or positive) and should not be treated as such. Given that, I don't see anything particularly wrong with the aforementioned guidelines. However, neither should previews be out and out advertisements; I can see how those guidelines might have been interpreted as such.
IMHO, previews are self-selecting for the most part anyway. Readers (and therefore publications) are probably most interested previews about games that they expect will be fun to play. Then again, there's no accounting for taste.
By Bub (Bub) on Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 03:33 pm:
Why thank you Johan.
I know Joulupukki is watching you from Korvatunturi, Johan. Be a good boy this year and maybe Lucia will kiss you!
By Mark Asher on Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 03:40 pm:
I actually read Gamespy's preview guide last night for the first time. It's fine. They don't discourage critcal commentary at all. That excerpt was one small part of a larger document.
They just don't want a preview that comes off as a slam of the game. That's more or less the same unspoken dictum at all the magazines too. Find me a preview published in any of them or at Gamespot or Avault or IGN that comes across as a slam. All Gamespy did was put it in print for the writers.
The only preview at a major publication I can think of off the top of my head that slammed a game was the Tomb Raider 3 or 4 preview at PCXL that simply reprinted their preview of the previous game and crossed out some details and added new ones. I actually did LOL when I saw that. LOLOLOLOL! (I hate myself now.)
By XtienMurawski on Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 04:15 pm:
"But to my mind, Star Wars is pretty much dead, period."
Conversation in a high school classroom:
Student 1: "Why are you reading Lord of the Rings?"
Student 2: "I want to read it before the movie comes out."
Student 1: "Cool. I hope the movie's good."
Student 2: "At least it'll be better than Star Wars."
Student 1: "Oh, yeah. Of course."
Is this a harbinger? Perhaps. If high school students think Phantom Menace is a fairly dumb movie and that the title of the second film is, um, moronic, can death be far off?
By Mark H. Walker on Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 04:21 pm:
"How are writers' guidelines "not public," being that they're generally given to anyone who requests them?"
Not public, as in not distributed to public mailing lists, as in not to be taken out of context. We request writers guideline with the hope of submitting writing to those magazines. Not to take those guidelines, launder them on a public forum, and critique them.
By Jason McCullough on Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 05:04 pm:
'Sorry if I'm duping a message here, but the critical point no one seems to have brought up is the inherent breach in faith by the GameSpy reviewer in "publishing" those guideleines. They were not given as a public document, and I assume that Keefer did not expect them to be released. Doing so was immature and unprofessional.'
Journalism, in general, lives on documents that aren't supposed to be seen and are virtually always taken out of context. Should Gamespy be given the benefit of the doubt when the Pentagon isn't?
Yes, I'm Mr. Hyperbole now.
By Bub (Bub) on Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 05:09 pm:
Well Jason, we're making the assumption that the original poster here works for Gamespy. Like Asher, Walker, and I. That makes him less a journalist and more a contract employee. Which is it looks unprofessional.
Now, if he's just some gamer who got hold of the document and posted it, that makes him more the Woodward/Bernstein of the Q23 boards. Journalistically speaking.
By Brad Grenz on Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 05:19 pm:
Two thing the Lord of the Rings will never have: the Millenium Falcon and lightsaber battles. I'll concede the point that Lucas has completely lost touch (see: Greedo shoots first), but that doesn't mean the license is dead. Galaxies, Dark Forces III: Jedi Knight II: Jedi Oucast, and Bioware's Tales of the Jedi RPG all have a great deal of potential.
One thing does bug me about Star Wars games. They keep making the same Star Fighter simulator games. How many times can you play the battle on Hoth or the assault on the Death Star? There must have been conflicts involving space combat other than those represented in the movies. Christ, If I have to trip an AT-AT or make a trench run one more time I think I'm going to puke. I don't care how much better the graphics are in the latest iteration.
By Mark H. Walker on Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 05:21 pm:
Yes, Andy, there you go. Whoever the instigator was should be praised for a fine bit of investigative reporting. ;-)Today QT3, tomorrow The Washington Post!
Seriously, in reply to Jason, there is needs to be a bit of trust within the community. To use your example, if a journalist lifted confidential Pentagon docs, he or she would go to jail. If the press corps violates a trust with the White House, they get cut out of the loop.
The lack of name with the original post says it all. That person knew they were violating a trust
By Gordon Cameron on Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 06:06 pm:
"I want to read it before the movie comes out."
This depresses me. It's this unspoken attitude that a book in itself somehow isn't *real* until they make a movie of it, and even then the book is just a sort of primer for the real thing.
By TomChick on Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 06:15 pm:
I'm actually not terribly impressed with what I've seen in any of the upcoming Star Wars titles. I don't trust that Raven understands what made Justin Chin's Dark Forces titles so good (flexible force powers, huge levels, sound effects, excellent pacing!). I'm worried they'll just script some tight little Elite Force romp with boomerang light sabers.
The guys doing Star Wars: Galaxies have plenty of ambition and they seem to have a handle on what problems other MMORPGs have, but they've got their work cut out doing it right and doing it with a Star Wars license. And topping whatever MMORPGs come out in the next two years.
Finally, aside from Galactic Battlegrounds giving The Vede a boner (did you really write that, Greg?), I can't imagine that's going to turn out well.
BioWare's RPG has the most promise, but that's because it seems to have the most freedom to go wherever it wants, becuase it's set in the Old Republic. Which didn't mean anything to me until someone explained it was a thousand years before the first Star Wars movie.
But, hell, what do I know? Maybe one of those big head Star Wars racing games starring Darth Maul and Jar-Jar is really good...
By Mark Asher on Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 06:32 pm:
"Finally, aside from Galactic Battlegrounds giving The Vede a boner (did you really write that, Greg?), I can't imagine that's going to turn out well."
I had a boner from imagining a naked Cameron Diaz reinstalling my video and sound card drivers and then getting to work on me, but then I played the demo for Battlegrounds and my boner deflated. It's anti-boner material.
Still, it could be a fun game in an RTS sort of way. It looks to be a lot more playable than Force Commander.
By Tracy Baker on Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 06:56 pm:
>This depresses me. It's this unspoken attitude that a book in itself somehow isn't *real* until they make a movie of it, and even then the book is just a sort of primer for the real thing.
That's not necessarily true. I always read the book before going to the movie so the movie doesn't ruin the book. The book is the real thing, and I don't want the ending of something that takes me a week to read to be spoiled by an inferior summation that takes only a few hours to watch.
By Bub (Bub) on Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 07:12 pm:
"The book is the real thing, and I don't want the ending of something that takes me a week to read to be spoiled by an inferior summation that takes only a few hours to watch."
The Godfather (1&2) is one of the happy exceptions to this rule.
By Jeff Atwood (Wumpus) on Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 07:25 pm:
"In Sync moves alot of units and probably gets alot of time on certain turntables. Doesn't mean it's good music."
Playing a game requires active, ongoing participation-- thus a larger commitment of effort and time than just passively listening to a few tracks from a CD. The more people that are willing to do this, the stronger the evidence that the gameplay is worth exploring.
And then there's the whole issue of multiplayer-only games, which _require_ other people to play against.
By Jeff Atwood (Wumpus) on Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 07:35 pm:
Also. Andrew. You don't have to reply to every single post directed at you, for God's sake. Some guy calls you a meathead, so you then call him a pinhead? That's class, baby!
By Bub (Bub) on Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 08:50 pm:
By Bub (Bub) on Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 08:55 pm:
In all seriousness though Jeff, I did more than call him a pinhead. I called him a dickweed and I pointed out his misinterpretation.
"You don't have to reply to every single post directed at you, for God's sake."
Not very self-aware, are you Wumpus?
By Jason McCullough on Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 08:57 pm:
'Seriously, in reply to Jason, there is needs to be a bit of trust within the community. To use your example, if a journalist lifted confidential Pentagon docs, he or she would go to jail. If the press corps violates a trust with the White House, they get cut out of the loop.'
Would you think they were "violating a trust" if someone at Gamespot released a memo indicating a straight trade of money for a favorable review? That's obviously the worst possible variation, but where do you draw the line on what to go public with? Myself, it smells enough like a violation of journalistic ethics that I'd send it out.
I'm actually curious about this now. Who here would have dumped that document on the public?
By Jason McCullough on Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 09:01 pm:
'Well Jason, we're making the assumption that the original poster here works for Gamespy. Like Asher, Walker, and I. That makes him less a journalist and more a contract employee. Which is it looks unprofessional.
Now, if he's just some gamer who got hold of the document and posted it, that makes him more the Woodward/Bernstein of the Q23 boards. Journalistically speaking.'
So what's the difference between a general employee a journalist employee, and a non-employee (who somehow acquires it without inside help) leaking a document? I'm drawing a blank, unless it's a case of who signed what contract, where non-disclosure contracts are routinely legally ignored based on other countervailing interests.
Why is it unprofessional?
By Brian Rucker on Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 10:57 pm:
Wumpus: "Playing a game requires active, ongoing participation-- thus a larger commitment of effort and time than just passively listening to a few tracks from a CD. The more people that are willing to do this, the stronger the evidence that the gameplay is worth exploring."
I'd disagree with the conclusion here. I'd say there could be games that genuinely appeal across a broad spectrum of experience and intellectual acuity, as alot of 'roots' music (blues, bluegrass, folk, dixieland, etc.) does by way of analogy. You can embrace it on the surface or enjoy the resonances of the music with your knowledge of the form and the significance of historical reference. Maybe I'm odd in that I actually pay attention to music I'm listening to.
Computer games are so in their infancy right now that we really don't have much by way of roots to point at and feel any nostalgia or context about. Maybe old Atari games and the early DOS titles that still define how most of us think about genres and computer gaming. I tend to think of CRPGs that lean on the old Nethack/D&D dungeon crawl model in this light. It's rather heartwarming when they really nod to the classics but the ones that try to pretend it's something new irritate me. Like the difference between real country music and top 40 country. Or real punk and this retro kids stuff these days.
However, roots gaming aside, I do think that engaged gamers with a sense of perspective will tend to look for different games than gamers who are mainly concerned with what their buddies are playing. They'll also have a higher tolerance for new ideas and complex systems.
By Jeff Atwood (Wumpus) on Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 11:12 pm:
"That's obviously the worst possible variation, but where do you draw the line on what to go public with? Myself, it smells enough like a violation of journalistic ethics that I'd send it out."
Trust is an earned relationship.
"I'd disagree with the conclusion here. I'd say there could be games that genuinely appeal across a broad spectrum of experience and intellectual acuity, as alot of 'roots' music (blues, bluegrass, folk, dixieland, etc.) does by way of analogy."
Maybe if you were a DJ-- if your actions directly influenced how the music sounded. That's active participation. Otherwise, it's passive, and in a totally different category of entertainment. Not a lesser category, mind you, just a different one.
By Bill McClendon (Crash) on Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 11:22 pm:
"I'm actually curious about this now. Who here would have dumped that document on the public?"
Dumped it on the public? It's not NDA material, far as I can tell. Not a question of Journalistic Integrity And Ethicsô, really, but one of respect and perhaps a touch of honor, I guess. Depending on how you define honor.
To answer the question, if I were working for Gamespy, I wouldn't have because that's a business relationship, and that's fairly harmless information in either case. If I weren't working for Gamespy, I wouldn't have it, so the point there is moot. If I were working for a "competitor", I would be inviting scrutiny of my employer's work--and as noted above, this isn't really a shocking scandal or something that's never been done before. It's just codifying it, with the attendant misinterpretation risks as well. For instance, from the original post, the text from the guidelines is this:
Itís imperative that your preview not exude a strong sense of negativity. We canít stress this
And then our intrepid "anonymous informant" springs, grasshopper-like, to this:
(So, we'll have NONE of that "telling it like it is" during a preview, I guess.)
I'll just say, "If you're going to do leading comments such as these, at least do them well," and leave it at that. (Hint: The two aspects aren't mutually exclusive. "Telling it like it is" and "publishing a textual enema on an in-development product" are two entirely different things.)
Is there really a story when "unwritten rules" are written down? I say no. Makes for interesting discussion, though.
By Michael Murphy (Murph) on Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 11:32 pm:
I had a boner from imagining a naked Cameron Diaz reinstalling my video and sound card drivers and then getting to work on me...
"Why is it unprofessional?"
Because it betrays a trust.
By Greg Vederman on Wednesday, October 24, 2001 - 01:01 pm:
"If I were really clever, I could think up some pun on "being bored" and "getting wood" when I saw Galactic Battlegrounds. But I'm not that clever. I can't say what The Vede saw in it, but here's what Mark and I saw..."
Despite the horror show that was Force Commander, back when I first looked at GB, I saw some real potential. "Star Wars meets AoEII? I'm in!" Just keep in mind that when I saw the game for our preview, it wasn't much of a game yet; it was very much in the early stages of its development.
By David E. Hunt (Davidcpa) on Thursday, October 25, 2001 - 12:08 pm:
Geez..Everyone must be in the lull between deadlines:-) Very long thread and good discussion even for those outside the industry.