I’ve always believed that success is one of the worst things that could happen to a person, or a brand. I learned that one of my favorite gaming websites, 1up.com, is going to be shutting down and their staff relocated to now parent company IGN (or fired).
I wasn’t so much a fan of 1up.com itself, but the news section was great, similar to engadget in that it was true simple reporting. Kotaku doesn’t do it for me, IGN feels like it’s 100% advertising spam, and I’ve long been a believer that most video game content, especially reviews, are driven by advertising revenue above all else. (For example – I guess Capcom didn’t pay IGN well enough to earn a higher review for the AMAZING DmC: Devil May Cry reboot. Really, 8.5?! It’s easily a 9.5 or a 10!)
Rewind about ten years (you can see my baby-faced 17 year old self above the guy in the black cowboy hat), I was a journalist, a gaming journalist focusing on the games dedicated to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. I was living in Hollywood at the time, covering signings, conventions, etc, and rubbing elbows with some pretty amazing people (like Star Wars’ Mark Hamill and the Weta Workshop team in the above photo). At one such event, I was sitting in a bar for a Universal Vivendi press presentation, they either didn’t know I wasn’t 21 or they didn’t care.
I was really excited to find that sitting next to me was a pair of editors from GamePro, a childhood favorite of mine. After chatting with them a bit I’d asked them, apparently naively, what they’d liked about the games they’d played. They laughed, admitting that they don’t actually play the games, but simply regurgitate the contents of a press release onto the printed page, relying on the developers honesty (hah!) to drive their content.
I was devastated. What’s next? No Easter Bunny? Santa isn’t real?! You mean these guys who call themselves gaming journalists are truly only interested in the free martinis and swag they get, and not the actual product they’re supposed to be covering?!
I probably aged five years in that one day, sitting in that Santa Monica bar during E3, the Electronics Entertainment Expo. This was long before sites like Penny Arcade mocked the industry for how flexible they can be with reviews, especially when the website providing the review is accepting advertising revenue from the game producers.
The world had been exposed to me as the cold, greedy place it could be, or rather maybe the cold, greedy place Los Angeles could be (gotta love Texas). In school, they teach us about integrity, about honesty, as a journalism student they taught us about ethics in reporting, and point blank, letting your advertisers dictate your editorial content goes against every book, blog or lecture I’ve ever heard on journalistic ethics.
So 1up.com’s news section, which has been very dead of late, will be going away all together and I find myself missing my early days as a game journalist where reviews were more news focused and these folks pretending to be journalists weren’t leveraging all the eyeballs they had to make every last penny that they could.
The moral of the story here, is that you shouldn’t trust what you read. Ask questions, do your own research, ask yourself where the money is coming from. Money is the worst thing that can happen to a great idea, and it feels like most people will happily trade their integrity in if the money is right.
Maybe I’m an idealist. Maybe I’m naive. Hell, maybe I’m an asshole for drawing attention to this, and I’m ok with all three labels as long as I never feel like a hypocrite.
“Make the money, don’t let the money make you.” – Macklemore