On one side was Marcus Beer, GameTrailer’s Annoyed Gamer, who criticized prominent indie developers Phil Fish and Jonathan Blow for not commenting on Microsoft allowing indie game self-publishing on the Xbox One. On the other side was the aforementioned Phil Fish who didn’t take kindly to Beer lobbing personal insults at him on video.
However, I don’t think that the takeaway from this feud should be anything about either Beer or Fish. I think how this feud started says more about how this gaming journalism works and why it might be irreparably broken.
You may have heard that Microsoft recently pulled another Xbox One-80 on a policy. This time, they made an about-face on self-publishing games. Considering every other controversial Xbox policy has been changed, this wasn’t a surprise.
In my write-up on et geekera (written on Saturday morning, for disclosure’s sake), I noted that Microsoft’s announcement was lacking details. Basically, the announcement was “We’re going to allow indies to self-publish but we won’t give you the details until Gamescom at the end of August.”
Because this is a story about the Xbox One and the indies, two big clickable topics for the gaming press, prominent indie devs were inundated with requests for comment. Phil Fish and Jonathan Blow were among those asked to comment but declined saying that there wasn’t anything to comment on yet.
Marcus Beer, GameTrailers’ Annoyed Gamer, didn’t take too kindly to them declining comment and complaining that they’re barraged by the press any time a story involving indies breaks. In making his point on last weekend’s Invisible Walls, Beer referred to the pair as “tosspots,” “wankers,” “arseholes” and “f***ing hipsters.”
It just got worse from there with Fish firing back on Twitter, suggesting that Beer kill himself. Both demanded on camera apologies from the other. Fish even tweeted the cancellation of Fez II and announced that he was getting out of gaming. It wasn’t pretty and both could have handled it a lot better and more maturely and I say that as a fan of both men.
Back to the original issue, I agree with Fish and Blow about not needing to comment. Like I said, I wrote that there wasn’t anything in the way of details. Microsoft’s statement said that details about self-publishing were coming at a later date. The war of tweets between the two men isn’t the point and anyone who only focuses on that is missing the greater lesson from this.
In his comments on Invisible Walls, Beer said:
“If you’re successful and you want people to promote your games and you go to the press and give them quotes for anything that pertains to your shilling your next title, when the press then come to you and say, ‘This is something that’s pertinent to the indie scene. Let’s talk to BlowFish (Jonathan Blow and Phil Fish)…’ Don’t get f***ing snicky about it, right? Jesus, you should be grateful that these people consider something that you say still of use.
If you guys want the promotion the next time around on Fez II or… The Witless. Fair is fair. And I’d like to say to every outlet who got dismissed by BlowFish, f*** ’em. Next time they have something to shill, say, ‘Yeah, not so much interested.’ It is a two-way street. It is a symbiotic relationship.”
That’s a real problem with the gaming industry right now. There is a lot of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” I like to think that I do very little “shilling” work. Sure, I got a preview of the upcoming game Aarklash: Legacy courtesy of Cyanide Studios with the understanding that I’d give it a write up. I’m working on that piece right now (it got pushed back to run this earlier) but it’s not going to be 100% positive and I doubt that Cyanide will be entirely happy with me as a result. From a personal ethics standpoint, if I call it down the middle, consequences be damned, I can look myself in the mirror in the morning.
What concerns me about Beer’s comments is the implications that indie developers need coverage from the press to sell their game and that they should be open to every media request so the media gets clicks for stories that aren’t shilling games.
While Marcus’ Annoyed Gamer show opens with “Marcus’ views do not necessarily represent those of GameTrailers,” what if they do and the gaming press at large? His attitude borders on “We can make you and we can break you.”
This contrasts very much with perception that the press bends over backwards to keep the triple-A developers and publishers happy so ads and spoon-fed exclusives can keep the lights on their sites. I’ve already written at length about this, including about GameTrailers and face of GT, Geoff Keighley, so I don’t think there’s too much I can add about the lack of trust in the games media.
However, if the perception of the press is that “We help developers sell games so developers should help us get clicks,” the gaming press is broken. So broken that referring to what they do as journalism and referring to them collectively as the press or journalists is embarrassing, especially when compared to real journalists who do proper journalism.
And this, once again, brings us to the core problem with the gaming news media. The publishers have made it so that the media is reliant on them for stories that will get clicks and ad revenue. As long as the press lets themselves work as a PR adjunct to powerful publishers and developers, we won’t see proper games journalism and a proper journalistic attitude out of the gaming press. After all, what self-respecting journalist just accepts that he should shill for someone.