They had added a handful of employees, but by modern standards, the company was still tiny. I had changed slightly, as well. By the time they called me to come in, I had to keep both of my shoes flat on the ground or my socks would be visible through the soles. When I spilled root beer down the front of my only remaining decent blouse during my interview, the CEO pointed and said "Ha Ha!" a la Nelson Muntz. With as much dignity as I could muster, I said, "Bite me," and marched to the bathroom. When I came back, I had the job.
I was the 31st employee at a company launching their full scale MMOG in four months, with no marketing team, no PR team and no helpful best-practices pamphlet I could use. So I set out with three basic rules and a lot of caffeine:
Rule One: No website is too small. Small websites grow big, part-time writers go pro, and none of them ever forget who showed them proper respect.
Rule Two: If the line between news site and fansite is blurry, chuck 'em all in the beta and let the NDA sort 'em out.
Rule Three: Guild leaders are as much reporters as anyone else. They are better, in many ways, possessing the context and the culture to understand the implications of my actions.
There was more, of course - standards, guidelines, methods, common sense - but those three rules, plus a helping of "do unto others," got me through six years, 200 identical Q&As, five E3s, dozens of trade shows, three videos of myself as the Iraqi Information Minister and one instance of being Photoshopped onto a cow taking it from behind. I've never had so much fun in my life.
Part of the fun was watching second tier web journalism change without having to struggle with it myself. I enjoyed providing support for feature articles that appeared in everything from print magazines to guild news pages. I watched in dismay as the interviews of the old days devolved into shallow, "10 question"-style Q&As, in part due to the industry's stated longing to see hard questions, but in practice refusing to answer any but the simplest.
Of course, the industry was not entirely to blame. The last few years have seen the barrier of entry for potential web journalists drop to nothing. At one point, independent gaming news came solely from technically savvy people who could also write (or, like me, had a friend to handle the HTML lifting). With blogging software and simple toolsets, anyone can write, and everyone tries. Raw beginners ask designers dead-end questions that can be answered with "because the designer wanted to do that." They also tend to post unverified gossip simply for the thrill of doing so. I was guilty of that more than once in my early days.
But the beginners from seven years ago are now coming of age and asking probing questions. The old struggle of finding the line between gossip and news is still alive, but in recent dramas (such as the rise and fall of Sigil, and the IGE ownership question), the choice has increasingly been to report the goods if it has a bearing on the business itself - after verifying the information with a direct source.
The MMOG industry is exploding, with dozens of products currently in the pipeline ranging from the quirky to the mass market. As the genre expands to become more mainstream, so too will customers consider mainstream factors such as budget, management style, production experience, brand and oversight. The top-tier media guys will deliver the news professionally, but the best of the rest will give the news real meaning.
Sanya Weathers is a freelance contributor to The Escapist.