Thursday, 5 April 2012

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

They aren't the devil, but they still get my sympathy.

This article is probably going to seem a bit peculiar, especially given some of my recent rantings. I -- like a vast majority of people -- am firmly on the outside of the gaming industry, looking in. I'd give nearly anything for at least a shot at being on the other side of the looking glass. At the same time I've really been starting to wonder, now more than ever, as to whether it's not a matter of being on one side or the other, but rather trapped right smack dab in the middle.

To explain I'm going to be centering mostly on gaming journalism because it's by far the facet of the industry that I understand the most (although I cannot claim to have anywhere near a comprehensive understanding after all); these issues probably exist to at least some extent within every facet of the games industry, and a lot of the entertainment industry in general as well. It's just that with gaming journalism I can point out what I think are some examples of why it's treading a thin line between player and professional, and just how difficult that can be.

I'm not out to paint a picture where people in the position I want to be in are miserable for it, but it's sure in the hell isn't all sunshine and rainbows either. The name that comes to mind for me as having gotten the worst of it from both ends is Jeff Gerstmann, the co-founder of Giant Bomb and former Gamespot columnist. For those not in the know Jeff got crucified by both fans and the industry on a couple of separate occasions. The fan hate came from his now infamous review of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess where he had the audacity to give the game an 8.8 out of 10. Fans of the series when absolutely ballistic, death threats were uttered, a jolly time was had by all.

This fan based incident wasn't even close to the end for Gerstmann's woes though, as he was later canned from Gamespot for failing to give Kane & Lynch: Dead Men a review that lived up to Eidos' expectations. Gerstmann would later go on the record as saying that he was fired because Gamespot caved to pressure from advertisers. Essentially because he lambasted a game that was being heavily marketed on the site he was given his walking papers.

Certainly Gerstmann's case is an extreme example, but tamer versions of these incidents are things that a lot of people are accustomed to seeing. Giving a game a bad review (or even an honest review that still, you know, actually has constructive criticism) gets fanboys on your case, as does giving a game a good review. If you cave to pressure from outside sources then your credibility goes out the window, but if you don't then it might cost you your job. It's a difficult tightrope to walk, and I'm going to say impossible to do without seriously pissing off at least one group regardless of what you do.

I'd imagine that being within a studio or a publisher might be the same. Most of these people got into the industry because they love gaming and games in general, so for the unprepared I can only imagine that the vitriol that comes down the pipe sometimes (which I will admit I've added to numerous times myself) must be shocking to say the least. That's not to say that it's never deserved, but that it must be difficult to deal with even for the most hardened industry insiders, at least from time to time.

Am I saying that we should lay off people in the industry? Of course not. I think that if people have something to say, especially if that something is actually constructive in nature, then they have every right to say it. I just think that far too often the actual pressure on some of these people goes unrecognized. It's not that they don't have awesome jobs -- hell if I got offered one tomorrow I wouldn't say no that's for damn sure -- it's just that sometimes it's probably more difficult than we imagine it is, even knowing what we do.

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