One of the more interesting panel discussions at this year’s Games Convention Developers Conference focused on the press coverage of the Nintendo Wii, and the implications of this on the rest of the industry. Factor 5 president Julian Eggebrecht ventured forth the opinion that, should the Wii continue to grow in popularity to the point where it “takes over the world,”, magazines that specialize in perhaps overly-critical coverage of the console will cease to operate in the market. Certainly a valid point, given the openly-hostile and somewhat gratuitous negativity that plagued the console from it’s launch – however, does this mean that substandard games and blatant gimmickry should be overlooked for fear of reprisal from the rest of the ‘mainstream’ games journalism industry?
Case in point; Ubisoft’s Red Steel. I’m sure that many a gamer had visualized such a title long before it’s announcement – the combination of samurai sword-wielding action and first person shooter with the Wii’s innovative control system should have been a surefire success. However, as anyone that has actually played – nay, endured – the game will testify, it was anything but. Even Ubisoft’s attempts to rectify the less-than optimal control system of the game (where delay between player action and character response was significant enough to prove frustrating) failed to save the game from the beating that it inevitably suffered at the hands of the press. Truly a wasted opportunity, but the vast majority of the reporting on the game was largely accurate and, most importantly, fair.
Whilst negative gameplay experiences should and must be reported in the press, consider the alternative; the magazine in question (say, Arena, for the sake of example) delivers a well-crafted and compelling argument as to why Red Steel is such a disappointment, only to be branded as a whiny bunch of Wii-haters by everyone else so enamored by the Wii that ultimately their position is deemed unjustly harsh and is ultimately detrimental to the circulation figures of the magazine. Whilst truly poor games that fail to contribute anything positive to the console or it’s audience should be outed for the flagrant exploitation they are, we mustn’t ‘progress’ to the point that because of a console’s commercial success and consumer following, substandard products go unpunished in the press. Consumer loyalty and trust are critical in gaming journalism, and fans (read: consumers) should be given impartial, accurate reporting on the products in question, otherwise what’s the point?
Whilst all the examples and situations in this discussion are somewhat extreme, the point remains the same – where does the boundary between needless criticism and genuine difference of opinion lie? With the journalist in question. And, given that if a journalist knows little of what they write about, then surely this lack of due diligence and the poor penmanship that is so prevalent in much of today’s gaming ‘journalism’ will achieve the same result as the needless Wii-bashing mentioned by Eggebrecht in the panel discussion.