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On March 11, 2006, Kotaku published an article by Wagner James Au called "Blogging Down the House." In it, he claimed that the gaming press is the primary reason we're forced to wade hip deep through a pool of overhyped games with quotations like "This game might be the answer to your prayers!" scrawled under their titles, just to find something we like. Au says people buy bad games because previews don't actually tell us whether or not a game is worth playing.
The cure for this cancer, argues Au, is the humble blog. It's something that's transformed the media, politics and movie making, so why not use it to change the videogame media? Surely, if the everyman on the internet makes his displeasure about the state of game journalism known, professionals throughout the industry will wake up and realize they're failing their readers by not looking at games through a more critical lens. Right?
Wrong. Fast forward to October 2006: Kotaku's own initiative to lead the rebellion, "Preview Ho," is dead in the water. Ludicrous micropayment schemes have made the leap to mainstream titles. You can see an ad for Huggies in your favorite first-person shooter. Videogame blogs, both professional and amateur, are on fire about such issues, yet the print media makes almost no mention of such things, least of all in a negative light.
Blog culture, particularly in relation to videogames, is special in that it crystallizes the internet in an ideal form: Millions of people are able to communicate with one another, more or less free of regulation or cost. Developing an intricate network, blogs almost endlessly rely on each other for content. You could own the least-visited site ever, only to see your bandwidth explode when someone links to someone who links to you and, say, Joystiq sees it. A simple innocuous message can be seized upon and delivered to tens of thousands of readers in a single day.
Example: Electronic Arts released Battlefield 2142, but didn't think it'd be a good idea to publicly mention the "tracking software" included in the software. Instead, they slipped a short note into the box explaining that when you play BF 2142, software within the game will scan your computer for your internet browsing habits in order to provide you with better-targeted in-game ads. A few years ago, players concerned by such a tactic wouldn't have had an outlet to alert the world en masse. But nowadays, sites like Digg and Shacknews mean the message can reach a massive audience within minutes of you getting home and being horrified. With photographic proof.
If anything, blogs already exert more influence over the buying habits of gamers than the printed press, particularly the professional ones such as Joystiq, Demonoid et al. In the U.K., Official PlayStation 2 sells around 100,000 copies per month, and GamesMaster sells around 50,000. Kotaku records around 85,000 visits per day, has a constant online archive of its content being picked up by search engines and has the ability to revise its position on anything at a moment's notice.
Given enough time, it's entirely possible for me to build a connection with any author. I can compare his opinions with mine, hear his views on issues I care about and discover if we have the same favorite games. With blogs, this intangible rapport can be built in weeks, or even days. With printed media, it takes months for this to happen, if it happens at all. Add in the fact that readers' comments appear alongside official views, and it's clear that the printed press simply cannot compete.
The lack of "commercially aware" control mechanisms, a pure focus on gamer culture and an acute awareness of what matters now mean these unique voices among the media can instantly spread whatever word they want. It's enough to make you wonder if we even need print magazines to change. Maybe blogs are the future of all media.
They keep us abreast of upcoming games and the teams that are developing them, the latest industry rumors, conversations with Important People, rediscoveries from the past, web-based memes, and the general reaction to the latest releases; all on a minute-to-minute bases. With such unique abilities, should the focus really be on destroying the corrupt power of another institution? Why not learn from the old medium to refine the new?