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Gamasutra Podcast host Tom Kim gathers EICs from Ziff Davis, GameSpot, and PC Gamer to discuss game review policies, interactions with marketing, and how to improve the media-to-developer relationship, in this <a href=http://www.gdcradio.net/>Gamasutra Podcast</a> transcript.

Tom Kim, Blogger

December 13, 2006

36 Min Read

The following is a transcript of the December 5, 2006 edition of Gamasutra Podcast. To download and listen to the original presentation, please refer to the original news post.

The holiday season is upon us, and with it comes a launch of not one, but two new consoles, and a veritable tsunami of games - some great, some not so great. With so many titles flooding the shelves, a lot of people turn to the enthusiast press and game reviews to help them sort out what to buy and what to avoid.

And reviews seem to have been on the mind of the reviewers, as well. Recently, the PC Gamer podcast and the official Games for Windows Magazine podcast each devoted nearly an entire episode apiece to talking about the reviews and PR process. They both touched on issues such as scoring systems, use of the full range of those systems - or not, as the case may be for some outlets - and offering an inside look at how reviews are considered from the perspective of the enthusiast press. If you'd like to hear some of that material, you can visit pcgamerpodcast.com to download episode 50, and podcasts.1up.com to get the November 13th edition of GFW Radio's weekly podcast. Both sites offer subscription feeds and iTunes links.

For this show, I present the first half of an expert roundtable on game reviews and press coverage. My guests talk specifically about how developers can work more efficiently and harmoniously with the enthusiast press to get the coverage they want. They also share their opinions on the value of game reviews, how the process could be improved, how developers can take a more active role over their own communications, and how they really feel about gamerankings.com.

Today we've assembled a panel of Editorial Directors, Editors-in-Chief of various game news outlets to talk about the process of game reviews, and perhaps it's not so much about reviews, but more about awareness. Joining us today, we've got John Davison. John is a Senior VP and Editorial Director of the 1UP Network. John shapes and directs all 1UP Network editorial products, including 1up.com, mycheats.com, gamevideos.com, filefront.com, gametab.com, S-Video Podcast, The 1Up Show Vidcast, EGM, and Games for Windows: The Official Magazine. With more than 16 years of experience in the gaming industry, John has seen action in every major gaming sector in the US and Europe, and has contributed to both consumer and trade publications, in print and online. Previously, John served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Official US Playstation Magazine, and prior to that, he led Electronic Gaming Monthly Magazine in the late '90s.

Next up, we've got Greg Kasavin, Editor-in-Chief of GameSpot. Greg spends his days supervising GameSpot's editorial operations, as well as the continuous improvement of its growing list of services. He then goes home to play with a bunch of games late into the night, while his wife, baby daughter, and two dogs waste away precious hours of their lives sleeping. He's been a prolific contributor to GameSpot since 1996, and is best known for his hundreds of game reviews. Kasavin holds a master's degree in business administration and a bachelor's degree in English literature. He was born in Moscow, but has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area ever since.

And finally, we've got Greg Vederman. Greg's the Editor-in-Chief of PC Gamer Magazine. Greg's been a PC Gamer editor for over eight years, serving stints as Hardware Editor and Executive Editor. He's a highly-regarded industry figure and has cultivated an enduring relationship with many thousands of PC Gamer readers, who rightly celebrate his unique wit, bottomless knowledge, and relentless enthusiasm for PC Gaming.

I've got you guys here today to talk about the topic of game reviews. I've noticed on your own blogs and podcasts that this has, for whatever reason, been a subject that you guys have kind of brought to the fore on your own. Certainly, I know, Greg Vederman, on your podcast, you devoted pretty much a whole show to talking about the review process, and I also heard on the 1UP Network, on the official Games for Windows podcast, they spent a whole episode talking about PR process and reviews, as well.

Maybe we'll start with you, John. You oversee a host of different websites and publications, and all of them, I'd imagine, have slightly varying review policies. With all of the different websites and magazines represented under the 1UP Network, how do you ever come to some kind of consistency with your review policy?

John Davison: I initially thought it was going to be a softball question, and it's not. [laughing]

We had a bunch of stuff that was all doing essentially the same job, print and online. We soon came to the conclusion that it was all going to end up in the same place, we were going to be funneling it all through online. And we had scores out of 5, and for a while, years ago, we had some that were using letter grades... but throughout all of it, the consistent thing that we had right from day one with this group was EGM. The review scale on EGM is about twenty years old, so we said, "OK, well, we're going to go with the one that we hope everyone has some grasp on what it means."

About two or three months ago, we decided we were going to apply that scale to everything in the group... which, when we sat in the meetings and talked about it, I thought would be just completely obvious, what we were doing. And it actually turned out that it's taken a much bigger communication challenge than we anticipated to get the message across about that, because EGM has a bit of a reputation for marking a little harder than everyone else. Of course, that upsets all the PR people that are incentivized by their Game Rankings rating, and now they think that there's a huge conspiracy from us to undermine the Game Rankings scores.

So I said "Game Rankings" first, so someone else can take it now.

Greg Vederman: [laughing] I was going to throw in there that there's a lot of debate these days - online, on message boards, and even, to a certain extent, from developers and publishers - about review scores in particular, and I don't think that the problem really is any one institution's scale, necessarily. I think that the bigger issue is - are, rather - sites like Game Rankings. There. I'll actually blame Game Rankings. I can be the first one to do that. Because they take all of our scores and all of our scales, and assume that all of our scales are the same. For example, what was a 50% in PC Gamer would suddenly become exactly what a 50% was on some other scale. But that doesn't actually work, because, for us, a 50% is merely OK, where for another outlet, 50% could be "Miserable. Stay away."

And so Game Rankings ends up - because so many people use it, and so many publishers use it - it ends up confusing things.

Davison: I love you for saying that. I have had so many fights - it's always at this time of year, as well - you get into so many fights about Game Rankings, and...

Vederman: Yeah.

Davison: Greg, and I know it's in your group, and we're not... this isn't pointing a finger at you directly, but it does...

Greg Kasavin: Well, yeah. I should disclose, before we go on too much farther, that the parent company of GameSpot owns not just Game Rankings, but also Metacritic, which... I think the two are often said in the same sentence.

Davison: Definitely.

Kasavin: I work for GameSpot, and not for Game Rankings or Metacritic, so I can speak to them, I think, kind of...

Davison: Well, I mean, you're probably getting some crap as we speak for... I mean, the GameSpot score is singlehandedly undermining the Zelda perfection, right?

Kasavin: Well, actually, we get that more from our audience than from publishers, and I certainly am not the one who fields complaints about Game Rankings. It's not a highly trafficked site. It's a site that seems to draw much more attention from the industry than from the public.

Vederman: Yeah.

Kasavin: I think the underlying assumption of Game Rankings is - it's not necessarily a perfect science, but the assumption is reasonable - that, after a critical mass, there is something that approaches a kind of truth that's arrived thereat. I think the unfortunate problem comes up when those discussions do occur, where a game publisher goes, "Why the hell did you give us a 60, which is like an F-minus, on Game Rankings?" And it's like, "Well, we didn't. We gave you three stars out of five. That's just how Game Rankings interprets the score."

Davison: There's like a PR assumption that we should all be agreeing, and that we should be working towards conformity, which sort of undermines the whole purpose of an aggregator in the first place.

Kasavin: I think what PR does is, they gravitate to the highest scores. And to the seeming statistical outliers, to the guys that rate their games low, they say, "Well, why didn't you fall in line with these publications who rated it high?" And the answer is, because we're not all using the same rating system, and because we're not...

Vederman: All the same people.

Kasavin: The Borg. Yeah, exactly.

Vederman: I actually did not know that Game Rankings wasn't very highly trafficked, because...

Kasavin: Yeah. It's clearly an influential site - the fact that we're talking about it now.

Vederman: Yeah, sure.

Kasavin: But I just can't imagine that there are a lot of game players who use that as their main destination, because most game players don't really care about a bunch of different publications. They care about EGM or IGN or GameSpot or PC Gamer. They've got their couple of favorite outlets, and those are the ones whose scores they're going to look at.

Vederman: We just recently did a survey, and we were actually surprised, given how much time we spend looking at Game Rankings, how infrequently our readers do it. They are far more likely to listen to us than the aggregate score on Game Rankings, which I wish more game publishers would recognize.

Davison: Yeah.

Kasavin: Well, I think - looking at it from the game publishers' perspective as best I can - I see why it's important to them, yeah. But it shouldn't be something that's necessarily used as ammunition against any given publication. Not to say that it is. I mean, at GameSpot, our reviews are sometimes not looked on all that favorably by game publishers, but I think we've been around long enough to where, over the long run, they understand where we're coming from and where our commitments to this stuff lie.

Vederman: Sure.

Davison: And talking about scores - I mean, this time of year, I think it really brings a lot of things home. Vede, you were saying that a five for you is different from someone else, but what I'm finding right now is that really sticking to being kind of tough... you really have to do it at this time of year, because otherwise, the high scores stop meaning anything.

Vederman: Yeah.

Kasavin: Yeah.

Davison: You know, I mean, like... when [Dan] Hsu gave Gears of War a ten, whether you agreed with it or not - and even internally, we didn't - but people paid attention to it, because he doesn't give a ten very often.

Vederman: Right.

Davison: And this idea that, "Well, everything has to be in the seven to nine range," that we all get beaten up for on Quarter to Three and GAF and whatever...

Vederman: Sure.

Davison: It's... we have to...

Kasavin: Well, that's like three guys on Quarter to Three, though. I mean, with all due respect to Tom Chick, I don't necessarily believe the idea that the full extent of the scoring range isn't used. I mean, all our publications have been giving Gundam Crossfire, which is like the best-selling PlayStation 3 launch game in Japan, got twos and threes from major publications. I think most games fall into an average, and that's why there are a lot of scores in the seven and eight ranges - because a lot of games have a similar level of quality.

Kim: It just begs the question - what are these ranking systems for? Like, who does Game Rankings actually service? Because, Greg Kasavin, you brought up a good point that it's not very trafficked. I mean, apparently, the people who care about it most seem to be the publishers. Do these guys forget that the point of you doing reviews is you're doing this as a consumer service?

Kasavin: A game publisher doesn't need to be concerned about whether a gaming publication is serving its audience faithfully; it's concerned about how coverage of its games look, and I think rightfully so.

Vederman: To buyers, in particular.

Kasavin: To people who might potentially pay money for the game. Absolutely. Whereas a gaming publication ostensibly is concerned with its credibility and with maintaining consistency in its evaluation of games to the best extent that it can. For me, one of the interesting ironies is that, at GameSpot, we often get it from every angle. It's like, when we post, let's say, an unpopular review, it's not like we get cases where a game publisher is really mad but our audience is really happy. Usually, everyone's mad. It's not about trying to make anybody happy, or trying to make anyone mad, it's just being consistent with our message.

Davison: And you find, I think, especially in the fall, that people have already decided before they review the games whether they're going to like it or not.

Vederman: Yeah, absolutely.

Davison: And they're looking for vindication from the review score, so you get called out for saying something's bad, because people don't want it to be.

Vederman: You just stole my sound bite! Goddammit!

Davison: Ah, I'm sorry!

Vederman: I was going to jump in with that! But yeah, that's exactly right. They're either looking for a reason to back up their feelings of love or hate.

Kasavin: Right.

Vederman: It's not about trying to be educated on whether or not they should make a purchase. They made that decision back when the game was being previewed.

Kasavin: You're referring to uppity people on message boards or something like that?

Vederman: Yeah.

Davison: They're just a vocal minority, but I think a lot of people... they may have seen a preview, or they saw a video, or they saw something, and go, "Ah, that looks like exactly the kind of thing I want!" And they've decided already that they want to love it, so anything that contradicts that love is essentially someone publicly saying, "Hey, you're stupid."

Vederman: Right.

Kasavin: "Your love for this game is unwarranted, and you're wasting your time."

Davison: So we experimented around that with CGW, before we morphed it into the Games for Windows book, because the people that like PC games, they claim that they really want to dig into stuff, and they want to read stuff, and we're like, "OK. We're going to experiment with something. We're going to try and editorialize the aggregation process and just keep numbers out of it, except in context." And people hated it!

Vederman: Yep.

Kasavin: Yeah.

Davison: You take a number off, ultimately - particularly the vocal minority - all they really care about is the number.

Vederman: They do, and what was surprising about that was, I felt... as I watched that go down from the sidelines, listening to Jeff post on Quarter to Three, I just felt like this was one of those cases where - and I think we're all guilty of it - sometimes we put too much trust in what the people online are saying. Not our readers, but the people on message boards and on forums. I don't think the medium is ready to be scoreless. I don't think we've attained that level of journalistic... I don't know what you want to call it, but we're just not there yet.

Kasavin: I think that's a good thing, and I hope that day doesn't come. I like review scores; I think they're valuable. I think one of the differences between, say, video game reviews and film reviews is that video game reviews still hold real value. People actually use game reviews to decide what to buy, though perhaps less so now more than before. The reason people need those scores is because they don't necessarily have the time or inclination to read one thousand, two thousand words about a game. And my philosophy at GameSpot has always been, "That's fine." The review's going to give you as much or as little information as you want. You start reading from the top, you can get a couple of sentences in and get most of it right there, but you can read two thousand words in and get into some actual details. You know, if you don't like the score, then ignore it.

Vederman: That's what we thought. We sort of felt like CGW was penalizing its readers. They were removing information and making it harder to get at; if they wanted something quickly, they were being told that they were, basically... they weren't the CGW reader. Like, "If you're not willing to invest the time to hear what we have to say, to get into the meat and potatoes of what we really think of a game, then we don't care about you," is how we sort of interpreted it. And we thought that was wrong, and I was actually... because, I mean, this is a very small industry, and we're all buddies, and I'm close with Darren Gladstone, and I like Jeff a lot. So when Games for Windows came out, and scores came back, I was actually really happy, because I think it was the right move. I think this medium needs scores.

Davison: Well, that's the thing. I mean, from my perspective... we wanted to try it. You know?

Vederman: Yes.

Davison: And just see what would happen, because every year, there's always the, "Oh, where is writing about games going, and when is it going to grow up, and when is it going to mature?" So it was like, "All right. Let's see. If any of the readers of any of our properties are going to be able to handle something new, it's probably the PC gamers, because they're older, and we hope they're a little more mature about it." But when it does come down to it, and you say, "OK, let's just try writing about the games, and see how you take to that," and it was just - oh, my God. It was unbelievably negative.

Kasavin: It must be somehow satisfying to have conducted the experiment, so it's kind of like, now you know, at least.

Davison: Mmm-hmm.

Kasavin: Because it's true - I mean, up until now, it's been one of those things that has definitely come up pretty often, this type of conversation, both internally at publications and also just on message boards and what have you. You know, among those who care about this stuff.

Davison: Right.

Kasavin: And it's like, well, the theory and the practice aren't necessarily exactly aligned.

Davison: Right, and now I know, when I read yet another one of these pseudo-intellectual masturbation pieces about games journalism, I have proof that they're talking out of their asses.

Vederman: [laughing] Yeah, you've tried it! You know it! We've had the same conversations, obviously. It's struck me, for quite a while, that it's much ado about nothing. I've never once... I mean, we - as, I'm sure, both of you guys - get hundreds, thousands of emails a week, and not one of those people has ever said, "You know, I wish you guys were giving me less information. I wish you'd just drop the scores, because I really don't want the scores, and I really don't want the little highs, lows, and bottom line, like in a nice little tasty morsel at the bottom there, where I can easily digest it. I don't want that. Please remove that." Nobody does that. What it is, is it's pressure from journalists internally. It's like, a lot of us, for some reason, want to move into this Rolling Stone era of games journalism, which is ridiculous.

Kasavin: I think that's totally backwards as well. I think people mistake that type of attitude for innovation, but that's not where innovation on game reviews is going to happen.

People could always be better writers for sure, but just writing more articulate, more high brow articles - that's just going to limit the audience, not grow it. At the risk of speaking for the three of us, I'm pretty sure we're all in the business of growing our audience. We're not trying to cater to the elite enthusiast. We're helping to get the word out about this stuff to anyone who cares to have a discerning opinion. I think it's more about ease of use, more about breaking things down more clearly to people and finding new ways to do that. I enjoy the craft of writing, but I don't think, for everyone writing about games, for them to become better writers is the solution to having better game reviews. I think it's a little more complicated than that, and it gets down to the question of what is it that people are looking for really from a game review. They want to know what the game is like.

Vederman: Absolutely.

Kasavin: We all work in onlines to varying degrees. I thing we've all discovered there are things like video that are pretty compelling. You could construct a really great paragraph, but showing someone a game play clip for a minute might do a better job of showing the person what the game is actually like than that paragraph.

Davison: A minute video clip with you going, "This part's awesome!"

[laughter]

Vederman: Where was it yesterday when it was spreading around the Internet like wildfire - the Wii remote wristband has been breaking, and people have been throwing the remote into their wall and into their TV. I might be wrong here, but I think it was maybe IGN?

Davison: Oh, yeah. They did a piece about it snapping.

Vederman: They did it on video. It wasn't a video showing it happening - it was a video of a guy standing there talking about how it happened? Yet, that's still more interesting to a lot of people than that same article just written out. There's something about video - that it's very compelling.

Davison: The biggest video on Game Videos last week for a couple of days was Japanese people standing in line for a Wii. It's like, wow. That's who you want to watch? But it's all about context and seeing something just unusual. I think there's a lot that we're going to see with video from all of us over the next year where we're discovering what we can do with it and how efficient it can be.

Vederman: Also just finding out what works. It seems like, obviously we've got less experience with it here on PC Gamer. We're just at the starting stages of doing our video podcasts. But we have a lot of traction with our video podcast, probably relatively speaking. I'm not sure what downloads numbers you guys are getting, but it's at random times. You think you've put together this awesome video piece, and it tanks. Then you put something out that you weren't that happy about, and it gets crazy download numbers.

Kim: Well, now you know how the game developers feel.

Vederman: That's true, I'm sure. In a lot of cases, though, I think it's probably different. I think it's probably rare, with as much time and effort, and as many people as have had their hands on a game for that long - by the time it ships, my guess is that most people know it's either a good game or not. Now, how well it sells, it's tricky. I think, unfortunately, for better or for worse, if you put out the world's best - I don't know - World War II shooter, it'll sell right now; whereas if you put out the world's best - let's say - Psychonauts clone, it's not going to do well, even if the Psychonauts clone is a better game.

Davison: Let's talk about the way that the studios and MPI uses media right now, because I think gaming PR is a bit behind the times in acknowledging the way people want to consume media right now. They're not really embracing what's happening with blogs and MySpace and the way people are responding to video on YouTube. It's all still way too convoluted. It's over-produced. There's too much of it, when very often all it's going to take is 20 seconds of something cool and get it out there. They haven't got there yet. There's things that we can do to do that, but all we ever hear from PR about the process is, "We don't have the time to generate that. We don't have the time to give you the screenshots. We don't have the time to get you the video." If you knew what would work, you wouldn't be saying this.

Vederman: In this day and age, that drives me nuts like nothing else. The idea that, you came by. You showed us a game. We played it for half an hour. Now we've asked you for five screenshots, and you can't do that - like, somehow screenshots are this precious commodity that can't be taken, or that we can't be entrusted with more. If we've got the code, then it's even more infuriating. Sometimes we'll get code, and then we'll publish a Rule One to get approval, so you'll take screenshots, and then you have to submit them to them, as if we don't know how to take screenshots for our magazine.

Kasavin: I share some of your frustrations, but I guess I can see it from the perspective that they're just being really protective of their intellectual property essentially. I think the publishers who realize that they have to let go a little are really going to benefit in the next year. YouTube, I think, is the biggest phenomenon that's affected games coverage in a while because publishers used to be - and they still are - very, very protective of the format of their video. There's a publisher that says, "You can only put up our videos in downloadable QuickTime because we want to make sure people see it at the right quality." People just don't care. They want to see it now. Anytime something's at Tokyo Game Show or something, it's going to be on YouTube right away. Publishers who insist on not officially giving out their assets are shooting themselves in the foot, because that stuff's going to get out there anyway. If they're prepared to show something to the small subset of people, then they should be prepared to show it to the world at this point.

Kim: I can say that, as a developer, usually we were so busy getting the game done. Unless you had somebody whose job it was to actually take those screenshots, they probably wouldn't get done because everyone was already behind time with the tasks they were assigned. Greg, I totally hear you with your frustration about - the publisher only wants to set up some kind of canned demonstration. When you ask them for material that you want to cover their game in certain ways, but they're still not willing to give it to you - that's got to be maddening.

Vederman: Theproblem there is, as I alluded to earlier - we're selling games with our previews probably more so than with our reviews, all of us. If you're telling me as a developer that you don't have the time to get me your screenshots, then my response to you is, then you're not trying as hard as you can to sell your game.

Kim: That's an appropriately perfect response, and I think that's actually the right response. It's a value proposition. I think the problem is, there's this lack of interface between the press, publishers, and developers themselves. If developers would perhaps be more proactive about this - a little bit of investment of time could result in a much better end result for them. Well, what are some things that you guys would like them to do, to make your job easier to sell their products?

Davison: Some of the best results that we've seen from articles both in print and online over the last six months have been: when the studio or the team has their own rep who is briefed by the PR militia and who knows what they're allowed to give out and what they're not, but is a direct interface with the studio. The results are faster. We get stuff. The guys tend to know the games more intimately. We worked with guys at Insomniac during Resistance. But they were much faster, and they had much better access to stuff than SCEA. Same dealing with Epic for Gears of War. They were great. I think for this to move in the right direction, the studios need to take back ownership over the communication.

Vederman: Do you think that has more to do with possibly the PR people that you're interfacing with? Because I feel, as I'm sure you both do with a number of boutique PR agencies - not across the board obviously, but at a lot of those agencies, they are experts. That interfacing with them - it feels, to me at least, as easy as interfacing with a PR person who works directly for the company. There are exceptions, of course. But I've worked plenty times with internal PR that just didn't know anything either. I think part of the issue might be that, it's just we need more people that are passionate - whether they're agency or internal - that games PR is fundamentally different from other entertainment mediums, and just because you were good at one of the other ones doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to be good at games. We need to have more people who understand the products they're working on as a whole.

Davison: That would definitely help. I'm learning to appreciate the new Microsoft model, which is a three-pronged attack. You have the guys at Microsoft, the guys at Edelman, but then you've also got the community guys that are popping up that are responsible for just one game. That seems to make a big difference because they're in touch with what people want to hear about pre-release, so they're pre-empting what we're going in and asking about because they are looking at the same places we are and what people are latching on to and we want to see more screenshots of this. So we want to see this guy talking about why he felt that was the necessary choice to make. They can pre-empt that and that can be a really smart way to take things.

Vederman: It is and obviously it takes head count. It takes the investment in manpower to make that happen, but I think you're right. You get better coverage out of it and I think anybody who is saying that they don't have time to stop development to get screenshots, to get assets, to get information from the developers to the press probably needs to reconsider how they are organized and maybe flip things around so that earlier in the process resources are made available to us from people that really know the products. That are really in-tune with the message they want to sell.

Davison: I think the other thing is looking at the entire media plan and working out when assets are going to be available, when it's going to be easy to go to the team and say "I need six screenshots for these guys, I need to be exclusive" or "I need a minute of video," but then there is going to be periods as well where nobody is going to be able to do anything. To be able to still get coverage for that period. What everyone seems to forget is, you can stick a guy on a podcast, but you can put a guy in front of a camera and you don't need new video and screens to go with that, just give me five minutes of the guy's time at an event where he's peddling the game anyway, you can get another month's coverage out of that.

To go back to the point I was saying about nobody's embraced the Youtube, Podcast and Myspace thing yet. They're not looking outside of the ordinary for opportunities. I think the quicker they adapt to that, the more information they are going to get out of the games. There are going to be less games next year so we all need to be writing and doing more about fewer topics. There are going to be some big gaps next year that we need to just pull out of our ass. OK there are no screenshots for six months on this game, let's get the level designer to talk about why he is doing things a certain way or we going to want access to do that. No, just give me the guide.

Vederman: I agree with that, but I think the issue also runs deeper than that. It's that people are afraid of getting that sort of viral thing going on. If Youtube was so easy, more people would be doing it. I guess to your earlier point on about how people think they need to produce the stuff too much so they spend a lot of time doing that and they can't get anything out early and frequently as a result because they are just spinning their wheels on production values that they don't really need. I think it's a scary thing because nobody is sure what sticks. We've all put stuff out there that we thought would be great and we thought would get a lot of traction and it doesn't. So, I grant you that the sooner the industry gets on board with getting us those types of materials earlier will stumble upon the right formula for what works, but it's still a scary thing. So it's hard right now for me, fault necessary publishers for that, from my end obviously I'm not dealing with as much video as you guys are. For me it's just a general access to resource that I need more often and in greater quantity that has always been a problem, it's not getting any better- it seems to be harder. Now more than ever there are more approvals than ever to get anything you need-

Davison: Yes, say you have a story with four screenshots attached to it and no cover art. Great, nice pitch, thanks.

Vederman: Terrific, and they're upset when you don't take the deal!

Davison: Yes.

Vederman: They don't understand why you're not taking the deal. It's going the wrong direction. We need to turn the car around and start driving it back the other direction start the process earlier and we need more help, we need more resources earlier.

Kasavin: OK, from a developer-centric or even a publisher-centric point of view, they want coverage but they perhaps don't understand stupid things that they do or great things that they do that enable you to give them more traction or that absolutely put banana peels under the wheels.

Vederman: I still find, this has been the case ever since I've been at the magazine, a lot of developers and publishers are concerned about getting preview code out too early. They are regardless of our pedigrees. No matter how long John, or myself, or Greg have been doing this, they're concerned that if we see code too early, we will slam it. Though it's never happened before, though PC Gamer could never be accused of having done a sort of review in a preview-format, there are still concerns.

So we don't get code early enough, we can't cover something and then we can't give them the covers that they want, that we want to give them, and opportunities pass by time and time again. There is no one publisher who is better or worse at this. It's sort of a problem throughout the industry. Developers and publishers are far too concerned about what we are going to think about early code and they shouldn't be. We are very used to working with very early code and we know what's going to happen. We know we are going to get crashes, we know we are going to get blue screens. We know textures are not going to be there but we do this for a living and we can be trusted. [laughs] You can get us the stuff and we'll get you better coverage and our readers will thank you for it.

Kasavin: Frequently from a developer's side, a game doesn't seem to come together until maybe the last 5-10% of the process. You're working so hard on all the systems and putting everything together, but it doesn't seem to gel and even internally, it's kind of a leap of faith. You have vision for what you want to build but you don't really start seeing that come together until a lot of the systems are already in place. I think part of it might be that insecurity on our end. John, you were alluding to this earlier, there are things they can do to give you access in other ways. They can send you concept art, they can give you access to people on the development team, they can let people talk to you directly about whatever- some interesting or funny story or something associated with the development, your readers and listeners and viewers are just as hungry for that as they are for a screen shot sometimes.

Vederman: I think there is just a very delicate balance and that's why there is no easy answer to this. I think part of what leads to the publisher restraint, it goes beyond just the fear of publications reviewing their game before it's done as it were I think there is a lot of competitive pressure to keep their hand close to their vest and not give away everything they are doing, even though the media, essentially is going to want to know everything.

I think we are pretty good about not saying, "hey tell me what the end of the story is going to be" or, "show me every last boss fight before the game comes out" but at the same time the demand for pre-release information is basically unlimited so publishers need to decide what is a reasonable amount of information to put out there before we start ruining the experience that people are going to have or worse yet tipping off the competition which can probably react pretty swiftly in some cases to what our key features are going to be about. That is a really tough challenge and it's going to come down to who is going to find the line fastest and best.

I do agree with the point made earlier that publishers have to make time to work with the media and that it is not good enough to say that all of our time is going into making the game because obviously the marketing of the game and working with the media is important too.

There are these games out there like Gears Of War, I mean their success was basically pre-ordained. Even if that game turned out to be horrible, it was still going to sell pretty well because it got people so excited about just what they had seen thus far. I think with that game, obviously Microsoft was really behind it and they actually let people play it. The coverage of that game went beyond the videos. A lot of the people who previewed it went as far as to say, "We don't know if this game is going to be the best game ever, but from what we've played it was pretty fantastic." Did that help the game? Of course it did. That all just comes back to giving people access to play it, to see it, to hear from the developers, hear about their vision for the game, see it all come together and when it finally does it's just a really great success story.

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Tom Kim

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Tom Kim is the host and executive producer of the Gamasutra Podcast on GDC Radio (http://www.gdcradio.net/gamasutra_podcast), an editorial and commentary show covering important issues facing the game development community and game culture. Tom is a lifelong avid gamer going back to 1978, honing his nascent gaming skills on Sears Tele-Games Pong and some of the earliest PC games on the original Apple ][. He has worked as a graphic designer, art director, interactive designer, game designer and producer. He has over 16 years experience as an art director, creative director, and marketing consultant for companies such as BMW of North America, Bungie Software, Circuit City Stores, Konami of North America, LucasArts Games, Nintendo of America, Proctor & Gamble, Samsung Electronics Worldwide, Sony Online Entertainment, Walgreen Co., and others. Tom graduated from Northwestern University with a B.S. degree in neurobiology, and attended DigiPen Institute of Technology's program in Real-Time Interactive Simulation. He is an active member of the Chicago chapter of the International Game Developers Association. He lives in the 'burbs with his lovely wife and son who can both beat him handily in Wii Sports Boxing.

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