New technologies generally inspire fear in the old guard, and rightly so. The digital world is a looming threat over television, books and, most relevantly to games journalists, magazines. Games journalism is incrementally moving online, and the adaptation has been relatively smooth. However, the PlayStation 4 has brought the ability for gamers to stream gameplay footage online. Does expanding this ability to console gamers leave everyone who is called a games journalist in the lurch?
You might think that the construction of the last sentence is a bit odd. However, Jeff Jarvis famously wrote “There are no journalists, there is only the service of journalism.” I agree, but that doesn’t mean that the term journalist isn’t still going to be used. Clearly, though, not everyone is going to be called a journalist by those who use their content.
There’s definitely potential for a successful, democratised video game journalism, and it has been displayed from day one of the PS4. The most notable example is a Twitch stream known as The Spartan Show, that began life as a show streamed from The Playroom (1). It’s been recognised to such a degree that they’ve managed to grab guests such as Shahid Ahmad, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe’s Senior Business Development Manager, and staff from Housemarque, the developers of launch title Resogun. Cleary, this sort of broadcasting has been seen as something to be taken seriously.
Adam Boyes calls into The Spartan Show during its first night on air (Credit to WarioSixFour)
But let’s not act as if the ability to stream is something new. Anybody has the potential to stream gameplay footage with the right equipment . However, the PlayStation 4’s ‘Share’ feature isn’t about innovation, it is purely about democratisation via ease of access. Yes, there is stiff competition: YouTuber PewDiePie has over 18 million subscribers and 3 billion views at the time of writing. (Yes, I did mean to write billion) But it’ll mean that the likes of PewDiePie will have to work even harder to survive. Is this healthy for quality, though? Will it mean that mainstream sources have to try even harder to be heard?
It definitely means there will be more of an expectation to for gaming sites to be do forms of video broadcasting in order to keep up. Yes, even sites orientated around XBOX will face the pressure to do so when every PlayStation site is streaming gameplay footage, which will be a threat to the smaller sites that don’t have the human and technological resources. It could also be a threat to quality journalism, for it might distract attention away from crafting interesting long-form pieces.
However, it’s unlikely that quality journalism is going to see itself disappearing. Kieron Gillen proposed in his manifesto for New Games Journalism that the personal should be at the forefront of games. Chris Bateman provided an excellent rebuttal several years later, stating that NGJ has led to games journalism being too much about ‘I’. And yes, I (hah) concur. Subjectivity has it’s place but, if the people who conduct journalism want to be regarded as journalists, then they need to take their work seriously. This is part of the reason why IGN is the number one most popular video gaming site, as of December 1, 2013 (eBizMBA).
The crux of the matter is that, to produce high quality content it requires money. Up-and-comers might cause damage to some small content producers that don’t the quality journalism to keep themselves afloat. However, most games journalism websites have a repertoire of content, and the money to create a broad operation, that a YouTuber probably won’t have.
It is clear that game streaming is an increasingly important tool in the journalists’ repertoire, but it is merely supplementary. To maintain that distinction between the amateur and the professional, journalists need to use their experience, their knowledge and, in some cases, their financial resources to produce content that keeps the industry moving forward. They need to continue to provide work that others won’t or can’t. That is the role of a journalist.