So in the bright sunshine of the morning after the Massively/Rift controversy, I wanted to open the topic up a bit more. Clearly I found it wrong for a pro-blogger to dismiss a soon-to-ship product without giving it a fair shake. Others, like Tipa and Arkenor, thought I was off my rocker. Ark voiced the opinion that anything goes in gaming coverage as long as it’s an honest opinion. Tipa just didn’t care one way or the other.
So I wanted to elaborate on my feelings a bit, setting aside the specifics of this situation.
First and most importantly, we have to ask the question of whether or not (presumably, see below) high-traffic sites like Massively influence buying decisions. If they don’t, then none of what I’m about to say matters. I’m assuming that some percentage of readers come to these sites in order to determine if a product is worth their buying consideration.
Next is the issue of scale. The higher the pulpit, the more carefully you need to weigh your words. Some guy on a street corner preaching about the end of days won’t have much impact, but if a TV network starts saying the same thing it could cause a panic. My assumption here is that Massively has significant traffic. If they don’t, then again, my arguments (and concerns) are invalidated.
So we’re talking then, about a site that has the ability to significantly move the needle when it comes to a game’s sales.
And we’re talking about a game still in beta and still being changed. This is not the game that customers will be paying for. We don’t know what that game will be.
With all these conditions met, I believe it is irresponsible for an author to off-handedly trash a game (and thereby influence sales of the game) in a post on the site. It isn’t irresponsible to say “This type of game isn’t of interest to me.” and it isn’t irresponsible to say “After 1 hour of playing my interest wasn’t captured enough to inspire me to dig deeper into this title” but it is irresponsible to say “This game is just like every other game” when you haven’t played enough to know if this statement is true or not.
As a blogger on a high-traffic site, you need to consider the impact of your words more carefully than, say, I do here on my dinky little blog.
Consider the situation from the other side of the fence. Imagine you’re working for a game developer. You’ve been helping the team make a game for the past several years and finally it’s coming to fruition and then some pundit posts untrue things about your game. Not out of malice but out of ignorance because said pundit never really looked closely at your product. Now you’re taking a hit (however small) on sales because of an off-hand comment.
Consider the situation from the point of view of your audience. They (presumably) trust you. They come to you to learn about a game. Don’t you owe it to them to know what you’re talking about? By stating what you perceive as (but what in fact isn’t) a fact based on incomplete data does an injustice to your audience.
Finally, consider the impact on your own career. By flippantly dismissing a title for reasons that aren’t accurate, you’re blowing your credibility with readers who have played the game and know that you’re stating things that aren’t true. Credibility that is very, very difficult to regain.
I’ve seen potentially good games canceled due to mishandled press coverage. Granted that was back when print magazines existed and the lag time for ‘corrections’ was very long. But damage can still be done, and if you’re a gaming enthusiast, that should matter to you. New games should be given a fair chance to prove themselves, and not be slagged prior to launch because a particular journalist wasn’t interested enough to really look at the game, and instead just made assumptions that ultimately aren’t accurate.
I firmly believe the writers at high-traffic sites need to be held to higher standards than they currently are. They should write about what they’ve experienced, and not what they assume to be true. If they’re writing about things they’ve only heard about, they should cite sources. I’m not saying they should sugar-coat issues, just that they should report accurately, even if what they’re reporting is just their opinion. Opinions based on assumptions need to be described as such.