One Move Behind – Expanded Question Time
Right after we recorded the latest Three Moves Ahead, I realized Troy and I had over-discussed each question and under-answered many of them. I would have preferred to answer more questions and maybe do a little less pontificating, but I guess that ship sailed. But there were a couple good questions that I wanted to revisit a bit, and expand on my answers.
Why port Supreme Commander to 360 and not Demigod?
On the show I kind of slammed publishers for not knowing what they’re doing when they force developers to make games for the wrong platforms. My answer was a little glib for my liking, but its was born of my increasing frustration over the number of projects that are stillborn because they can’t meet arbitrary platform requirements. Other projects that are compromised to death for the sake of cross-platform release. I despise the idea of developers being forced to design for a platform that they didn’t intend.
As RTS gamers, though, we benefit from this. Being forced to develop with an eye toward console limitations means not relying on the mouse and keyboard to overcome design excesses.
With Demigod, I’d guess that Gas Powered Games ran into a couple issues. First, it was an odd concept that a lot of larger publishers probably didn’t want to touch. All Stardock cared about was the PC, so there was no incentive to ever explore a 360 version. And since the game ran into so much trouble, and Stardock still doesn’t care about consoles (with the Impulse service, console support is not in their interest), it’s just a good idea who time will likely never come.
Games Journalism 2020
Troy says the video is the future of games journalism. I just don’t see it. Until the line between the computer and the TV is erased, video content is just going to be too slow-paced. Short video reviews and game trailers are one thing, but even with those it’s hard to find the motivation to actually watch. The way I browse, 3 minutes is a lifetime to spend on one thing. 10 is an eternity. This is why podcasts are so great: they are a background activity. Video is foreground.
But I do suspect games journalism will be in a healthier place. The collapse of the print outlets was a disaster and wiped out some tremendous collections of talent. They allowed good people to higher-quality work rather than fixate on volume. The online space has not really caught up with that.
In 2020, I hope there will be more sites like Rock, Paper, Shotgun: writing collectives that take the pressure of individual bloggers and allow for higher editorial standards without sacrificing the personal, homey atmosphere of a blog. A site like Hellmode seems to be off to a great start, and that’s just two writers. I sometimes wonder whether the TMA panel could rule the strategy, wargaming, and boardgame space if the panelists collaborated, and if that could ever be made to pay.
I think we’ll see more outlets like Eurogamer and dear, departed Crispy Gamer. Toward the end, I’ll grant that the Crispy experiment was pretty much over: the site was leaning heavily on a half-dozen staffers, which made it a much less interesting site than it had been when it was a freelancer’s heaven. But the idea is sound: cherry pick the best ideas of a few dozen people, and foster an editorial environment where they are free to experiment and spend time polishing their copy. That’s also why print will still be alive.
An Aside on Getting Paid
There are writers who say you should never work for free. Many of those writers, however, came up in a different market. The bottom line is that I’ve worked for free, and it’s not always a bad thing to do. But it needs to be done with a goal in mind.
Gamers With Jobs does not pay, but there are other benefits to writing there. First, some of my best friends write there and I want to be a part of it. Second, the Gamers With Jobs writer’s room is worth money to me. If I can post my work there to receive feedback, I will emerge from the experience a better writer. A freelancer lives by skills, after all, and there aren’t many places that can help improve them.
There are other outlets that are worth doing a little work for free just so you get the clip in your file. But eventually you need to ask people to start paying, and quit if they don’t. By all means see if you can wedge the door open with free work. But don’t spend too long in the doorway waiting.
Seriously, though, working for free can be a disaster. Exchange of services for compensation is the foundation of professionalism. If that exchange is not taking place, it’s very hard to have a professional interaction. An editor needs to be able to make expectations and preferences clear, and that’s much easier when you’re paying someone money. That’s what nobody tells you about freebies: it actually makes the work more difficult, because the relationship is undefined.
I have major ethical concerns, however, about sites that rely on a community to generate most of their content, and compensate their writers with a bit of notoriety and hints that one day, the Editors will pluck a community member from that ranks and make him Staff. I don’t think that’s an effective avenue into the industry, and if writers are generating traffic for a website, they should be given more than a pat on the head for being a “featured writer.”
I hope that in 2020, those sites are gone, and community goes back to being something to nurture and enjoy, not strip-mine.