Game Journalists Aren’t Part Of The Game Industry

I’m a games journalist, which means I spend a lot of time paying attention to games. I play them before and after work, I write about them during the day, I read the news about them every morning, I interview developers and follow them on Twitter. In general, most of my time is spent thinking about video games and the industry that produces them. My job is dependent on the games industry, but I am not a part of it.



If you aren’t a journalist, that may sound like a distinction without a meaningful difference. If my job only exists because the industry that creates games exists, doesn’t that mean that I’m part of that industry, or at least an appendage of it? But if you care about the ideals journalism stands for and the objectives it seeks to accomplish, like speaking truth to power and informing the public, it should be clear why a view of the profession that ties it too closely to the field it covers isn’t conducive to accomplishing those goals.

Film journalists seem to have an easier time with this distinction and, as someone who also frequently writes about film, I struggle to see why gaming falters here.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the wake of the Insomniac ransomware attack that resulted in 1.67 terabytes of professional and personal information being leaked indiscriminately on the internet. Though no one thought the leak was a good thing, the event divided Games Twitter into two camps. It’s a little more nuanced than this, but the division tended to have developers on one side and journalists on the other.

Many developers criticized journalists at gaming news outlets that reported on the leaks, suggesting that they should have ignored its contents because of the harm done to Insomniac’s employees through the attack. Journalists, though, have argued that our job is to report on information that is newsworthy, and a huge company’s plans for the next decade are, by definition, newsworthy.

Wolverine's sitting on a bar.

That schism was a helpful reminder that, though we may run in similar circles and interact at events, people who make games and people who cover them journalistically are doing fundamentally different jobs in wholly different industries.

This, understandably, gets confused (by the public and members of both professions) for a few reasons. For one, gaming outlets are dependent on PR, which represents publishers and/or developers, reaching out with the code we need to write reviews, guides, and features on the games they represent. We could wait until after the game is released and buy a copy, but coverage coming a week or two after launch isn’t a great arrangement for outlets or devs. So, instead, they provide the game, we provide our honest coverage of the game. It’s a symbiotic relationship. But, to extend that metaphor, the two creatures in a symbiotic relationship don’t become one organism simply because they rely on each other and exist in the same ecosystem.

The other reason that the lines have become increasingly blurred is the rise in games coverage by influencers. Though plenty of people still read reviews and news articles, a significant portion of the audience for games news and reviews is getting that information through video content. And anyone with a phone and an internet connection can make that content. A Twitch streamer isn’t given the same education on journalistic ethics as someone who graduated from journalism school, and that’s generally okay because content creators aren’t journalists.

The problem is that streamers, TikTokers, and YouTubers are performing a similar purpose for their viewers. They provide news on a subject like a journalist, or give their thoughts on a game like a critic, but aren’t being held to the same standards that someone in either of those roles would be at a media company. That means that certain rules that a journalistic outlet might have in place to maintain distance between reporter and subject — like limitations on what free stuff it’s okay to accept from a publisher, or whether it’s okay to cover a game if they have a personal connection to a developer who worked on it — are likely lacking unless the content creator sets them for themself.

As the Spirittea fallout proves, content creators often won’t cover a game unless paid, which makes them very different in their intention and objectivity than journalists.

I’ve listened to a lot of video game podcasts over the years, and hosts and guests often have a wide range of industry or industry-adjacent jobs. YouTubers, journalists, Twitch streamers, independent critics, and developers are often sitting side by side during these discussions. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with that, but it does lead to a collapse of the wall between the press and the industry. If the Insomniac leak has any positive outcome, I hope it can help journalists, developers, and content creators reassess where the lines are. A healthy games industry needs a healthy press, and a healthy press can’t exist without the industry it reports on.


Don’t Judge Games By Footage Their Creators Didn’t Want You To See

Negative reactions to footage leaked in the Insomniac ransomware attack shows that many players don’t understand how games are made.

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