Hey, Gamers, Let Journalists Do Their Jobs!
My son, Tyler, who is an avid "gamer," flagged an exchange between a gaming industry journalist who conducted a perfectly reasonable interview with the two developers of id Software's Rage game and was not only attacked by fans of the game, but may also be blacklisted by some corporate types for being too harsh in his questioning. Brandon Sheffield, the editor-in-chief of Game Developer Magazine and senior editor of the Gamasutra site, blogged about the experience:
"A few weeks ago I published an interview on Gamasutra about id Software's Rage. I spoke with CEO Todd Hollenshead and artist Andy Chang, and it created a bit of a stir.
My line of questioning was perceived by some as abrasive, or rude, or even hostile. Others, journalists and indie developers especially, thought I was simply asking tough questions and not letting up when I didn't hear satisfying answers. While the latter is closer to the truth, I had no real angle - we were just having a conversation. . .
In my opinion, my interview with the Rage folks was unspectacular. It was the bare minimum we should expect from journalists. If something is said that doesn't match what you saw, ask about it. If you're curious about this or that, ask a question, no matter how “important” the interviewee may be. And sometimes the best answers can be gotten by playing devil's advocate. In my opinion, developers should be happy to have this sort of discussion. It allows you to explain your game's worldview and defend your gameplay choices, and your answers should tell you a lot about your own product."
The biggest pile-on of negative commentary seemed to be from fans of the game or the game developers who felt that Sheffield's perceived tough questioning of the two subjects was out of line. As someone who has both conducted and supported press interviews for many executives in the technology field for many years, I was surprised by the lack of understanding that someone reviewing a new game as a journalist is supposed to ask followup questions if the game developer is unclear or evasive. That's what a journalist's job essentially is -- to ferret out the facts and the truth on behalf of their readers. Even in the gaming world, potential game buyers should want to get the facts from editors like Sheffield.
What was particularly disturbing was the perceived corporate and PR backlash the editor reported in his blog post.
"The evening the interview went live, I received an email from an anonymous 'AAA creative director,' saying that 'on the basis of your hostile and clearly biased line of questioning I have instructed my PR manager to refuse any and all future requests from you and your outlet regarding our game.' (...) It's out of respect for id that I called them out on what I saw. I gave them an early chance to defend issues with the game that others were undoubtedly going to have upon release. If treating someone else's work the way you'd treat your own - that is to say with scrutiny and criticism - is disrespectful, then we clearly have different definitions of the word."
My son's reaction to the entire situation was encouraging. He gets that it's appropriate -- and even welcome -- for a game developer to have an objective assessment of their product on behalf of the buying public. He pointed out that there were some comments among the attacks on Sheffield that also recognized this and felt it was good that he insisted on getting answers from the developers.
Sheffield also noted that the two interview subjects didn't seem as well prepared for the interview as he had thought they should have been, which may be why their answers were not as specific and satisfying as he would have wanted. Maybe they needed more PR support to be ready for questions from someone who had just played the new game for four hours and had some legitimate questions. Maybe they also needed some counsel to understand that consumers of all products have the right to express their opinions and journalists often serve as a proxy to ask those questions and express those opinions.
Whatever the issue, it was a fascinating look into the communications interplay between gamers, game developers and gaming journalists that I thought would be interesting for our Beyond the Hype readers. It reminded me a bit of the "pass" some mobile device makers may sometimes get in coverage that seems to be written more by fans than journalists.
What do you all think?