David Jaffe is a man who’s carved out a pretty important piece of video game history, having his hand in phenomenal game series like Twisted Metal and God of War. So, on some level, I respect the man, if for no other reason than that he’s kind of a big deal in the industry.
But sometimes, he just flat out makes it impossible for anyone to take him seriously.
For example, just yesterday he posted a little piece on his blog entitled “My Proposed- but very likely half baked- Way To Fix Game Journalism/Criticism.” It’s sort of a response to a fantastically written article by Ben Kuchera that describes some of the pitfalls of online journalism. In it, Kuchera explains how ad revenue works on the Internet, and why most gaming sites are so filled with top ten lists and sexy cosplay galleries. Essentially, it’s hard to pay a game journalist a living wage, and these scummy, dirtbag articles are a time-tested way to get clicks, in turn generating revenue to pay writers, graphic designers and so forth.
Jaffe offered a solution. He basically wants to set up a pool of well-regarded game journalists and have the “game community” select one — a single journalist to stand as the shining beacon of light in an industry full of “top ten sexy ass shots in gaming” lists. There would be a Kickstarter to raise money to pay that journalist for a year ($125k salary, plus an additional $50k for expenses), and that person would be allowed to write whatever they wanted for the entire duration of that year. Without having to worry about ad revenue or page views, this person would provide meaningful criticism and analysis without having to write the sort of filler content that drives ad revenue.
Now, I can’t help but point out just how completely asinine this proposal is. I mean, how does the “game community” pick a journalist? Through a vote? Doesn’t Jaffe realize that this is the same community that’s causing the problem by constantly clicking on articles about boobs over those with anything legitimately intelligent to say? Does anyone really think those guys are capable of picking out an outfit that matches, let alone a journalist that represents all that is good in the world of game criticism?
Or maybe by “game community,” he means developers and publishers. But those are people who have a direct stake in the person picked. Do you really want the suits at companies like EA determining what makes for good game journalism?
Secondly, there’s absolutely nothing motivating that person to continue writing anything, as they’ve already collected the paycheck. That person could spend the entire year living on some tropical island, sipping Mai Tais on the beach all day and watching reggae cover bands all night.
The only penalty would be that they wouldn’t be eligible to be voted into the running the following year. (And that they’d probably be generally hated by the gaming community. Then again, from my experience, writing anything with half a measure of intelligence is just a far less lucrative way to become well hated in this community.)
Of course, I'm not saying that any of us would actually do this, but it's tough to deny that the temptation to get lazy would definitely be there.
Thirdly, even if this person ends up being the best thing to ever happen to game journalism, the content they write is still probably not going to generate a fraction of the attention as poorly written opinion pieces with blatantly obnoxious titles and pictures of scantily clad females in them. This plan may change the life of a single journalist, but that’s all it would ever change.
Additionally, I think he hugely underestimates the game journalism industry. Sure, not everything we do is brilliant (and I admit to writing a few things that have made me wince during my career in order to ensure I would be able to continue eating), but a good majority of us actually want to do good work. Reports of us being paid off to write positive reviews are insanely exaggerated. I know a lot of people in this industry, and I don’t know a single person who’s been offered a bribe by a publisher. Yeah, we get cool stuff in the mail sometimes, but I don’t think any of us is truly willing to compromise our integrity over a plush Mario doll or an Uncharted poster. (Tangential side note: Nintendo once sent me a box of Cheerios. No, I’m not making that up.)
He offers an additional solution too, and this one’s even worse: “And given that I've offered over and over to pay a subscription to great gaming sites, they never seem to want to offer subscriptions/paywalls, this seems like a possible good solve.”
Does anyone else out there want to have to pay a fee to look at your favorite gaming sites? I sure as hell don’t, and I say that as a person who would directly benefit from such a move, as I make a living writing for these sites.
Finally, he closes his article with an apology, in case the typical game journalist makes more than $125,000 per year, and they find his offer to be insulting. He says “125k seems like a good salary to me is all,” and then adds a smiley face as proof that he’s being sincere.
I hate to break it to you, Dave, but games journalists make considerably less than that. (Very few of us break $25k. It’s sad but true.) Then again, David Jaffe has a net worth of $4.75 million (according to Celebrity Net Worth), so it’s understandable that he’s a little bit confused about how money works for those of us without the good fortune to have become millionaires.
Keep making games, David Jaffe. You’ve done some great work. But you might want to cut back on the "coming up with crazy game journalism schemes" thing. It’s not really your forte.