So this happened, and it’s open season for games journalism now

Geoff Keighley appeared in an interview with PixelPerfectMag on YouTube and talked a little bit about some upcoming games…especially Halo 4 and its partner programs with Mountain Dew and Doritos. And boy did Mountain Dew and Doritos get some play. Now, there’s nothing wrong with sponsorship in gaming, but that should be between the video game publisher and the product maker. When gaming journalists step in and decide to take part in that relationship, everybody is going to cry foul.

I don’t have any doubts about Geoff Keighley’s ability to do his job well. I don’t think he’s been dishonest in the past, but when you see him, or anybody else for that matter, sitting in a room surrounded by promotional material, it’s not a stretch to start thinking that their viewpoint might begin to skew in favor of those sponsors just a little bit. Take a look at the video below, and I’ll give my reaction and explain why this could have been approached in a much better way.

Geoff is seated around a bunch of promotional material. That’s the first and last thing you’ll notice when watching this clip. It looks bad. The thing is, if Geoff agreed to talk about the Dew/Doritos XP program, that’s fine, but they shouldn’t have disguised it as a simple interview. They should have presented it as a sponsored segment. Secondly, it could have been presented in a more detached manner. Remove the marketing materials. All they’re doing is evoking thoughts of Wayne’s World’s sellout bit. They look cheap and forced. Talk about the program, be upfront that a deal has been made to promote it, and don’t try and act like you’re just interested in talking about Mountain Dew and Doritos because they’re such fine products.

When talking about Halo 4 or the Dew XP program, all Geoff would have said to make this go down easier would have been, “and I want to talk about this DewXP and Halo 4 stuff. I’ve been lucky enough to be asked by Mountain Dew and 343 Industries to discuss it with you.” Doing that, it would have been received so much better. By disguising it as a journalistic segment between an online magazine and a journalist, this whole segment comes across as gross, insulting, and kind of sad.

Let’s not move this direction, people. Let’s learn from this misstep and separate coverage from promotion with clear, bold lines. When we neglect to do so, especially with a respected member of the games journalism community, the reactions that arise are damaging to our industry and to our attempts to be taken seriously by the gamer community.

Why I’ll never buy another Polytron or Phil Fish game

Fez was a game that took years to develop and it enjoyed a strong amount of hype leading up to its release. For those waiting on the game, the wait felt long and painful, but finally the game hit on April 13, 2012. Gamers purchased Fez in droves, and although neither Microsoft nor Polytron released sales numbers, we do know that it sold over 100,000 copies in the early going. All seemed well, but it didn’t take long for people to start finding bugs, glitches, and hiccups in the Fez experience.

And then Polytron patched Fez.

With the patch that Polytron released for Fez, many of the bugs, crashes, and performance issues were resolved, but for a small number of gamers out there, the patch corrupted save files. The only fix was to completely abandon progress and start over, which has proven to be a tough pill to swallow by those affected.

When it became clear that the patch was problematic, Polytron pulled the patch and promised a better fix. The promise, however, would never be fulfilled. After going the rounds of negotiation with Microsoft, Phil Fish, owner/founder of Polytron decided that he’d rather not pony up the cash it costs to issue a second patch (first patch is free, second patch costs money) and just tell those who were affected by the bug, myself included, that they’d have to dump their progress and start the game over.

Well, I don’t want to start over. I don’t feel like I should have to start over. I feel like if you’re going to publish a game on a major platform that you owe it to your supporters to make sure that they get a bug free experience. Phil ranted about how it was expensive to issue a patch. So what, Phil? Fix the game and put out that patch. Eat the money.

What irks me almost as much as my flawed save file is that Phil complained about Microsoft and how it was so terrible that he would be faced with this fee. Cry me a river, Phil. YOU CHOSE TO SIGN AN EXCLUSIVE DEAL WITH MICROSOFT, DON’T TURN AROUND AND WHINE ABOUT IT LATER. Phil has gone on record saying that the exclusivity deal has been a nightmare. Yeah, I bet it sucked having Microsoft market your game aggressively for you, right Phil? I bet it sucked having prime real estate on the Xbox dashboard.

Phil likes to paint himself as a victim, but he knew what he was getting into when he signed the exclusivity agreement. He put out a game that was bugged and then issued a patch that had even worse bugs. If Phil says he was unaware of any potential problems when signing an exclusivity agreement, it was because he was blinded by dollar signs.

And Phil has a history of being a total douchebag. He’s put down PC gamers, media outlets, Microsoft (who offered to work with him on the patch issue and he kicked dust and cried instead), Japanese developers, and his former business partner who was by all accounts horribly misrepresented in Indie Game: The Movie on the account of Phil’s one-sided account of things. All these things could be swallowed until he burned his consumers to save a few bucks, which is often an unforgivable sin in retail.

Well, that’s it. I’m not ever giving Polytron another penny. If they want to make things right, I’ll reconsider, but I have a habit of not dealing with companies that wrong me and then make no attempt to make it right even though it’s fully within their means to do so. Maybe I’m alone, I don’t know, but I just think that Phil Fish’s stance is childish, disrespectful, and greedy.

Can anybody tell me what Ben Kuchera thinks of Ouya?

Seriously. I mean, I love when a person has an opinion on something. I also like when that person shares their opinion, even if I don’t agree, because it makes for good discussion. But when you’re in a position of authority, I think it’s entirely irresponsible to pick a target and just needle it incessantly. And this needling is exactly what Ben Kuchera has done over Ouya.

For those not familiar, Ouya is a Kickstarter-funded (still in funding as of now) gaming console that runs on Android. Ouya is aiming to create their own marketplace while creating a console that is easy to customize (hack), easy to set up, and cheap to purchase. Several developers have shown interest, and the team involved in the project includes some impressive names. For $99 you can get in on the Kickstarter and get a console with a wireless controller. It sounds nice if it all pans out, but nobody is sure quite yet how it’s all going to come together. What is clear, however, is that there’s a large group of interested people who are willing to put their money down and gamble on the device. Right now, the project has over 40,000 backers and has raised over $5.1 million dollars. Seems like there’s some good excitement out there.

But don’t look towards Ben Kuchera if you are seeking nods of approval.

Over the past week, Ben has gone on a personal crusade against the little upstart. He seems to have a daily tweet quota where he whines about the number of people backing it, how much money is going into the project, what questions are left unanswered, and even goes as far as to whine about “what if” scenarios the he creates himself. It’s crazy.

Now, Ben is fine to be cautious. Anybody who puts money into Kickstarter should always be cautious to some degree, but he’s crossed a line with his fervor. Ben has used his standing at the PA Report to write up reasons why you should pull your money or keep from pitching in. He’s tweeted out all kinds of reasons why you’re foolish to hope for anything good to come from Ouya. And the worst part of it all, it seems to be rooted in his disdain for Android. For evidence of that, look at his earliest criticisms where he basically asks, “who would want an Android device?”

Ben, nobody is asking you to support Ouya, but I am asking you to find a lower horse to sit on with this one. It’s not your place to single out a Kickstarter project and rain all over it. There are literally hundreds of destined to fail projects on Kickstarter right now, so why pick just this one? Why choose the fastest growing Kickstarter of all time? Sure, Ouya may fail, but people who are pitching in aren’t too concerned about that. They’re backing the concept. People are proclaiming that they want an open console and they want something affordable and customized. While Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, and Apple release devices that are extremely locked down (or even lose features over time), people are ready to embrace something affordable and open.

Ben is a smart guy. Ben is a great reporter. But in this case, Ben needs to chill out and stop acting like he’s exposed the Illuminati and it’s his mission in life to warn everybody else away. Ouya may fail, and Ben might be right, but for many backers, they won’t care. Ouya might be a huge success, and that would be a great thing, so why can’t we just let them keep climbing the ladder without stomping on their fingers?

If you’re interested in Ouya, you can find the Kickstarter project page here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ouya/ouya-a-new-kind-of-video-game-console

Republique Kickstarter – When the Industry Decides You Need to Pitch In

Update: With a furious last push, Republique was successfully funded. Congratulations to Camouflaj and Logan Games. Now, make us a game worthy of all the attention the project has been receiving.

Republique is a game being developed by Camouflaj and Logan Games for iOS, PC, and Mac. It aims to be a higher quality gaming experience on the mobile scene. I’m a backer, but I have to admit that I’m not terribly excited by the project as it looks a bit hokey to me. I’m just supporting the project because I like to see developers try something a little different, and for me, $10 is a pretty small price to pay to support new ideas. I am getting a little bothered, however, by the constant evangelizing of the project from the gaming press.

Ryan Payton is the founder of Camouflaj studios. For those unfamiliar with Ryan’s background, he’s gone from games journalist to working in the game industry as a developer. After his time with 1up and Famitsu, Ryan had the chance to work on some high profile projects, including Metal Gear Solid 3 & 4 and Halo 4. Last year Ryan left 343 Industries to found Camouflaj, where he could start up mobile game development on iOS. Due to his roots as a journalist, Ryan has a lot of friends spread around the games journalism scene, and the overwhelming support from the press for his Kickstarter is a direct result of those relationships.

I don’t have a problem with anybody giving a quick shout out to a friend’s project or even a little encouragement to check out what a colleague is doing. But this whole Republique banner waving is getting a little gross. I feel as if we, the readers of these video game sites and blogs, are being held captive to their evangelizing. We don’t even know if the game is going to be any good, and every time you turn around, another major media outlet is reiterating how you should be donating or increasing your current donation to the Republique Kickstarter fund. Shacknews, Giant Bomb, Joystiq, etc. are all over this pitch, and barely a day goes by without a mention hitting the podcast or news feeds.

I don’t think that reporters are totally conscious of how heavy handed they’re being. I don’t think they realize how biased they appear. Many of the people constantly reminding us about Camouflaj through their stories, Twitter updates, Facebook statuses, and podcast mentions are some of my favorite journalists and editors in the industry. I just think that the nepotism that we show for fellow games journalist brothers (or former members of the media) is getting to the point where lines are being crossed.

I think an editor, podcast host, or reporter should be able to give a mention to the stuff that they love, but I don’t think they should act as bannermen, pledging loyalty to a product. If Camouflaj wants the exposure, they should buy it through marketing efforts. Not everybody with a good idea is lucky enough to have come from the ranks of games journalism, and it’s unfair to them (and to readers of the site) that certain projects get constant attention ahead of their own for no significant reason.

There are only three days left on the Republique Kickstarter, and it’s pretty obvious that the project won’t be funded. Everybody who pitched in will get their money back, but the profile on the project has been raised so much that when the game eventually makes its way to release via alternative funding, most of its marketing push will already have been established and “paid for” through free mentions and articles on many of gaming’s largest news and opinion outlets.

I hope Camouflaj puts out a good game. I hope that they find themselves successful as a studio, but I don’t think it’s our burden to ensure that they are.

Can Kotaku repair their image with the hardcore audience?

I’ve been an outspoken critic of Kotaku over the years. I’ve refused to give the site clicks, and I’ve heard countless complaints from other gamers about how poor the coverage is at Kotaku. Normally I wouldn’t rail so hard against a publication, but Kotaku was seriously one of the shining of examples of everything that holds games journalism back from being taken seriously.

Always willing to sacrifice quality for the sake of a few extra clicks, Kotaku was notorious for putting out articles that were extremely low quality, rushed, off topic, not properly sourced when they were reporting on another site’s exclusive news, and for having a poor attitude when answering to criticism and negative feedback.

But everything is changing now. Kotaku is not the same as it was even three months ago.

Stephen Totilo has taken over at Kotaku as top dog now that Brian Crecente has left to be part of the Vox Games team and former editor-in-chief Joel Johnson is writing for Jalopnik. New faces at the site are headlined by the highly respected and likable Jason Schreirer. These changes have brought about an immediate change in the attitude at the site, and the writing has noticeably improved. The design is still a mess, but we’ll worry about that later.

In recent weeks, Stephen Totilo has shown that he’s a responsible editor-in-chief that cares about the content produced under his watch. There’s still a disposable story that slips through here and there, but the blatantly offensive or truly awful posts have been put to a stop, and when one has slipped by, Stephen has apologized via Twitter for it. It’s radical change in attitude coming from the top at Kotaku then we’re used to, and I hope people are paying attention.

For years Kotaku’s stance has always been, “we’re Kotaku, so deal with it.” Seeing Stephen opening up increased dialog is what is going to be the biggest difference for the blog. For the first time in years I’ve been willing to read articles at Kotaku, and if I don’t like what I see, I have patience because I am seeing a sincere effort by the staff to improve.

I’m curious what others think. I’ve rarely heard a good word about the site said when I’ve been sitting down with other journalists or talking to gamers who are well read in the world of gaming.

For Kotaku to turn their image around, they’re going to have to stay pushing into this new direction. It may cause their overall click count to go down, an I’m not sure how the upper management at Gawker will feel about that, but I just hope that they stay patient and allow Stephen Totilo to continue to have free reign.

Personally I’d love to see Kotaku become a respectable website in our community. The more great outlets we have, the better we are as an industry. It’s a long road back, but it looks like the driving forces at Kotaku are willing to stay in for the long haul.

David Jaffe’s horribly uncomfortable interview with Olivia Munn

Dang. Now, David Jaffe has made a fool of himself many times in the past in drunken tirades, emotional outbursts, and poorly thought out forum posts, but here he didn’t deserve the noise that Olivia Munn was tossing his direction. I’m guessing that G4 will have this video pulled soon, so enjoy it while you can.

Note: I’ve had some emails wondering why I haven’t reviewed games or dropped editorials onto the blog lately. Part of that is due to me saving up material for Gamer Theory, part of it is just me being a little lazy. I’ll do something soon other than the podcast or a YouTube video dump…I promise.

Garnett Lee leaves 1up for Gamefly, Inc.

This is certainly good news for Garnett, but it’s horrible news for fans of 1up and the 1up podcast, Listen Up. Garnett Lee has accepted a new position with Gamefly, Inc. where he’ll act as editorial director for their gaming sites, including Shacknews. David Ellis announced on Twitter that the Listen Up crew will do one more show together and then Garnett will make his move over to the new job.

With John Davison’s What They Play being sold to IGN recently, his status with the podcast is also up in the air. The show has survived key members leaving before, but Garnett was the man that ran the show and made it what it was. Maybe 1up can woo John back now that he’s become a free man again, huh? Most likely the show will continue on, but it’s certainly not going to be the same.

Good luck Garnett.

Happy Birthday, Giant Bomb

Yesterday Giant Bomb celebrated their first anniversary since the full site was launched. It’s pretty remarkable how much the guys over at Giant Bomb have built up their site in a year’s time. I remember when Brad, Vinny, and the rest of the guys were bailing on Gamespot to join Jeff’s Giant Bomb venture that the general opinion was that the network was bigger than the personalities and that their leaving would be a short-lived consequence. Well, Gamespot remains the larger media outlet as far as traffic goes, but Giant Bomb is steadily increasing over time as Gamespot has slowly but steadily declined. I know Alexa numbers are suspect, but it’s something to go off of at least. Check the chart below from a comparison I ran between the two sites.
comparison

I doubt that the Giant Bomb guys are too worried about competing with Gamespot, but it’s nice to see that good journalism is winning out over a brand name. If you haven’t been listening, I suggest you check out the Giant Bomb podcast. New episodes come out every Tuesday.

Former 1up Show staff finds their permanent home at Area 5

In just a couple of short weeks, the 1up Show staff has managed to do a pretty impressive job at pooling together their resources and re-establish themselves on their new permanent home: Area 5 (http://area5.tv). The team has already uploaded their first episode, and it’s jam-packed with ex-1up staff as they go over their favorite games from 2008. The name of the show is Co-Op, and we can only expect good things as the guys get the gear they need together and find more solid footing in their newfound situation. Here are some helpful links to get rolling with the show:

Episode 1: http://area5.tv/2009/01/21/the-producers-of-the-1up-show-form-area-5-launch-new-show-co-op/

YouTube Channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/area5media

Right now you can’t subscribe via iTunes, but the YouTube subscription is free. The reasons for this direction are detailed on the Area 5 site. It’s important that the team gets a lot of YouTube subscribers, so if you’re interested in what they’re doing, make sure to support them with the subscription.

Shane Bettenhausen is the new shot caller at Ignition Entertainment

While it’s a major bummer to see such a great personality and such a deeply opinionated journalist leave the gaming journalism industry, it’s encouraging to see one of the most popular former 1up staffers land such a big job. Shane’s official job title at Ignition is Director of Business Development; which means that Shane is going to be making the decisions on what games the publisher should publish and which games they should pass on. If you want to hear Shane talking about his new job, give Rebel FM a listen. Shane makes the announcement on episode 2, right around the 20-21 minute mark.

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Download the Rebel FM episode #2 podcast, right here: Click to download.