Game Junkets

Here is a Fallout article disguised as an article on gaming press junkets. Or maybe it’s the other way around?

I met the writer of this article (briefly, at E3 several years ago). He’s a nice guy who gets frustrated at the lack of news at events and gatherings, and big to-dos for products that aren’t likely to ship in a year.

In fact, most reporters who have been on the beat for more than a single development cycle know that if the’re seeing or playing a finished-looking demo a year before launch, the explanation is that they need hip waders to get through the bullshit.

The polished, year-early demo was built by stopping actual development, and polishing a build that has as its sole purpose “getting the press excited.” Avatars are pre-created to be balanced against one another/the environment, with abilities that will probably not exist in the final game – or if they do, they’ll be reserved for the highest level players. The characters are certainly wearing armor only available at the highest levels.

This Potemkin village nonsense is one of the things that killed E3. May is, for most developers, not the time of year in which the products are shiny enough for public consumption. Making a demo that wows show attendees is an entirely separate project from responsible, incremental game development that builds a product from the foundation up. Any product that is behind schedule is just one more month behind that schedule after a trade show in the spring.

It doesn’t help to point this out. Articles still need to be written. Asking questions doesn’t help to write that article, either. An article in a magazine or a newspaper needs content, and you can’t fill three thousand words with “I dunno, ask in six months.” Sometimes you can kill a few paragraphs with hilarious anecdotes involving developers or community people singing show tunes and doing a can can, but it still boils down to “I dunno” to the astute reader, and the more savvy writers won’t fill column inches that way.

So asking questions doesn’t help, and the demo, however fun, is pure smoke and mirrors. But you don’t want to trash a game or the makers for having a premature junket. For one thing, some games such as Fallout will probably rock. No one with magazines to sell is going to cut off their nose to spite their cover a year from now. Also, even if you think the product will suck, you still have to protect your assets. Pushing a producer with “hey, this doesn’t look anything like the build from six months ago in design or function – how many times have you flushed and hit restart, anyway?” gets you tagged as the asshole, so unless you’re from PC Gamer or something similar, you wouldn’t be invited back. Your employers won’t appreciate that, and your readers, most of whom are perfectly happy to consume stories of happy peasants, might not either.

In a free market society, the only way to get responsible journalism is to consume it. The nine of you reading this aren’t consuming responsible journalism, you’re sitting here hoping I’ll say something about Warhammer Online.

When Frosty the Snowman chases an EA VP through hell, I’ll be allowed to cover Warhammer as a member of the media. But if I could, and I worked for a daily publication that didn’t need me to be specific about the game, I wouldn’t bother until a few months prior to release, when I’d be certain what I saw was close to finished. Until then, I’d go to the junkets, hang out with the friends I’d made at a hundred other junkets, and write a story about the junket itself and the cool places my friends have been.

I love the Fallout concept work, though. And some of the finest people in the entire damned industry are working nights and weekends on WAR, FWIW. So stop reading my gossip, and go find a journalist or something.

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18 Comments

  1. Michael said,

    July 3, 2007 at 9:20 am

    Well, I can’t speak for everybody, but personally I’m reading because I’m hoping you’ll start swearing a blue streak. 🙂

  2. Tiger said,

    July 3, 2007 at 9:46 am

    Well I’ve loved your mind for years now. So when I see you talking about something that is interesting. (Two somethings Fallout and Warhammer) I do stand up and pay attention.

    I don’t actually expect to hear much about Warhammer from you at all. If I did I would of expected you to be the community manager for it. (Actually to be dead honest, I wanted you to be that person. But I have no idea how that idea would of gone down. Probably pretty pill like and a laxative.)

    As far as the shit that comes out of the junkets, or E3’s. Over the years, they’ve ruined it for creating hype. You can only believe something special about a game from said preview, and to be honest, the reviewers are often so deep in the pockets of the game companies and their revenue streams, that you don’t even get to play in the same ball park as their reality.

    See I know Fallout will be just fucking awesome. And I don’t need to it to be isometric in view, or what not. It’s the world, it’s the story, its the character of the apocalypse. Warhammer is going to be a great game because *FUN YOU FUCKERS*. And the past experience of RVR stuff from DAoC. Mythic knows what they’re doing there. And I trust that experience to create a fun game.

    Honestly, DAOC was the first game where the PVP/RVR was actually fun. It didn’t feel like you were getting raped. And I loved the Sieges. And I realize that they aren’t creating that exact experience in Warhammer. And it’s an entirely different IP, one which I’ve been a fan of since I first heard of a White Dwarf. Truthfully, I still have my original copy of the Warhammer Fantasy RP.

    Not that you care, the point though. A little faith on our parts, and knowing that SONY doesn’t have it’s pecker in the games rears, and I’m a happy camper. Not that I blame Sony, but they’ve left a bad taste in my mouth of the years that they’ve never quite erased. And the whole Banning of Tweety was some bullshit. But it propelled you to Mythic so that’s cool by me.

  3. Aufero said,

    July 3, 2007 at 12:26 pm

    I was sitting here hoping you’d say something about Fallout. I’m not having any luck finding responsible journalism.

  4. Jubilus said,

    July 3, 2007 at 1:46 pm

    Bah we have Georgia to bother about Warhammer!

    So…

    1. Game Company plans to release Game in One Year.
    2. Players hear about it. Players get preconceived ideas as to how it will play.
    3. Game Company wants Magazine to promote it in their publication.
    4. Game Company hosts demo event for Magazine in the hopes they get good press coverage for it.
    5. More players hear about it. Those players get different preconceived ideas as to how it will play because the game has changed. EZboard arguments ensue.
    6. Game is 1-2 months later in development because of the demo they worked hard on.
    7. More players hear about it. Those players get different preconceived ideas as to how it will play because the game has changed. VN Board arguments ensue.
    8. Gaming Magazine releases article on how the game will look and feel 6 months before the expected launch. Average Game Players know about it now, or live in Madagascar.
    9. OPEN BETA BEGINS. Game still resembles a little like it did when it was published in the Gaming Magazines. Power Gamers know all of the information already and are already planning on how to exploit game mechanics to level them to 100 by the second week of Beta to win the random contest with prizes furbished by nVidia or Alienware.
    10. Game is delayed by 2 months to iron out problems discovered in closed beta (not open beta, thats not used for development).
    11. Game launches. Game looks nothing like how it was presented in the Game Magazine articles. It also barely resembles how it looked in Beta. Basic functionality is still similar, though, so the power gamers will win the second random contest to win a new PC from Alienware. They will also hit level 100 first (or have the longest beards).
    12. I buy the game and begin playing. Its been a week or so since the game came out. By the time I am level 20 the developers release a patch that destroys whatever class or archetype I picked at the beginning.
    13. Players that leveled to 100 first are now whining they have nothing else to do. They decide to start “ganking” other players if at all possible.
    14. Developers begin working hard on new content updates. They stop working on known bugs (they no longer have the resources to deal with them).
    15. I reroll to a new class because the one I was playing was absolutely destroyed by the last patch. I struggle to level because of game bugs or content holes.
    16. Game Company cheers and releases their first quarterly report exclaiming Game to be a huge success.
    17. I go back to WoW.

    But thats just my opinion.

    So why don’t the Magazine Companies use information about a game right before launch? Just because they want to get the word out first? If they are so concerned about giving an accurate description to their readers, they wouldn’t say anything about it until it is closer to release… right?

  5. Big Hal said,

    July 3, 2007 at 1:46 pm

    I haven’t read computer games journalism since Scorpia left CGW lo these many years ago. Thanks to the three gaming related blogs and one gaming focussed discussion site I get more and better info about the things I’m interested in than I would from any amount of paging through magazines filled with super early special access previews, a few pages of cheats and an article or two on upgrading your rig, and reviews that seem to be focussed on making sure the game developer continues to buy full page adds. Also, I don’t come here looking for info on Warcraft since 1. I’m not sure I really care about it and 2. I’ve learned that basing a buying decision on pre release info leads to a bad experience most of the time.

  6. xaldin said,

    July 3, 2007 at 3:34 pm

    Actually couldn’t care if you never mentioned warhammer. I’m more along Michael’s line. You were always at your best when it’d have given the FCC heartattacks if you were on live TV.

  7. Christian Maslak said,

    July 3, 2007 at 4:35 pm

    I think I shall hop on the “No no, we really love you. And not only for your sexy knowledge of WAR”-boat.
    I am reading your blog because your communication style kicks ten kinds of ass. It did when you were telling me(not personally. The me there is a representation of me as a representative of DAoC players) what the goings on was in Myffic. And lo and behold. It still does. More thanks than I know what to do with are due.

  8. Parizad said,

    July 3, 2007 at 5:53 pm

    The nine of you reading this aren’t consuming responsible journalism, you’re sitting here hoping I’ll say something about Warhammer Online.

    Damn. Caught me.

    There’s no reason for me to comment, except to yet again tell you how wonderful you are. Major

  9. Parizad said,

    July 3, 2007 at 5:55 pm

    Hrm. Wouldn’t let me make the hearty-heart sign. Major love to you!

    …or giant sac of balls. Whichever.

  10. Lorna said,

    July 3, 2007 at 8:34 pm

    Oh no. I read this blog for the same reasons listed above by others, and more. You are interesting, funny, one hell of a good communicator and smart to boot. 🙂

    I’m a developer, though, sadly, I don’t get to make games. But a lot of what you talk about pertains to all software development, not just MMO’s. I am a fan of MMOs (UO, DAOC, WoW, being on the top of my list, not necessarily in that order) and this stuff interests me. One of my favorite things on Friday nights was to get some dinner and sit down to read another rip roaring addition of the Grab Bag! I don’t do that now (no offense to Richard — but he just doesn’t have your style).

    Keep on doing what you do — there are a lot of us out here in the world who appreciate your perspective and insight — even when we don’t agree with you sometimes:)

  11. Staryx said,

    July 3, 2007 at 8:56 pm

    “The nine of you reading this aren’t consuming responsible journalism, you’re sitting here hoping I’ll say something about Warhammer Online.”

    No, actually I’m reading because you often have interesting things to say.

    Besides, I’m already in the Beta for WAR. 😉

  12. Tovin said,

    July 3, 2007 at 10:21 pm

    I loved ya long before you could say anything about WAR!! No one in their right mind expects it of you now! =)

    It’s always okay to bash anyone for *trying* to push out something as a finished product when the developer, the coverage and the readers all know it’s anything but. But to expect players to hear nothing for a year and half and then suddenly care is silly as well. Players are fickle.

    “Journalists” are interesting in this field. Annnnnd, I don’t think I’m going to pursue that, having to work with (or previously worked with) many of them. At least where I am now, we cover things from a player perspective, not as journalists. Makes it way easier! And WAY more fun!!!

  13. Grimjakk said,

    July 4, 2007 at 2:46 am

    Honestly… what they said. =) I’ve been reading your rants since Lum was mildly annoyed…

  14. Apache said,

    July 8, 2007 at 1:59 am

    In case anyone is wondering, i’m the dude in the orange shift on the very right in the video photo.

    While this PR junket may have sounded like a huge cash register clanging for anyone who went, keep in mind I still had to pay for airport transportation to and from PHX Sky Harbor airport, plus the oh-so much fun 7 hours of waiting at the airport for delays.

    Cost of hotel x3 days – $266 x3
    $9 Gin and Tonics – Sorry, I lost count
    Airline tickets – $400 (coach, for the lose)

    Sounds like a big payoff, right? Sorry, but I doubt I broke even.

    Staying home posting news is often > going on press junkets.

  15. Apache said,

    July 8, 2007 at 2:01 am

    Edit- Sorry, I’m the dude on the very left.

  16. mandrill said,

    July 17, 2007 at 6:38 am

    Games magazines are not in it to be objective, honest, or informative. They feed on hype just like the publishers do. (devs suffer for this as they’re the ones who have to work their asses of to live up to the hype put out by the publishers and magazines).
    If a mag gets an exclusive preview of the next hot game its going to get more readers. Its not important to the magazine whether what they’re saying reflects any kind of truth about the final release as long as people buy the mag. You’re right when you say that they have to be flattering about what they see at these junkets (which I’d love to be invited to) any hint of honesty will not get them invited to the next one, and so the hype builds. The mag gets more ad revenue due to increased readership, the publishers get more units sold when the game goes to retail (finished or not), and the devs get the headaches of having to delay the game to feed the hype and the criticism for releasing a buggy and unfinished game.
    Whats needed in games journalism is a standard of honesty, if we as journalists hold ourselves to that standard, the publishers will have to hold themselves to the same standard. Wishful thinking I know, there’s no money in honesty.

  17. mandrill said,

    July 18, 2007 at 11:05 am

    Having said the above I have just received my first invitation to an event as a member of the press. Fingers crossed I don’t make a total fool of myself.

  18. July 21, 2007 at 6:51 am

    […] Eating Bees » Blog Archive » Game Junkets Basic functionality is still similar, though, so the power gamers will win the second random contest to win a new PC from Alienware. They will also hit level 100 first (or have the longest beards) http://eatingbees.brokentoys.org/?p=18 […]


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