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The Frightening Future of Game Previews?

In the grand tradition of online chat, I’ve got to throw a big WTF out there to the two biggest game sites, GameSpot and IGN. For years we’ve all (yes, myself included) trusted the big sites to provide thorough and worthwhile news and opinion, even if we didn’t always treat it as unbiased scripture. There’s a reason those sites have full-time staffs, and there’s a reason they regularly sign advertising deals in excess of $10,000 with a single publisher: These guys know videogames, and they have the visitors to show for it.
So it’s with a heavy and somewhat pissed-off heart that I feel like those sites have gotten so desperate for traffic that their integrity is starting to disintegrate when it comes to game previews and “first impressions.” Case in point: the recent Tokyo Game Show and Microsoft’s X06.
We all wanted to know what was going on at Tokyo Game Show, and those sites kept fantastic Webcasts and real-time blogs during the press conferences to keep us up to speed. They even posted the video trailers, good and bad, so we had a chance to see what they were seeing 3,000 miles (or more) away. So, having watched the videos, I logged onto GameSpot one morning to do a bit more reading about the trailers I’d seen earlier. “Oh, great,” I thought, “a Ninja Gaiden Sigma ‘first impressions’ article for PS3. This ought to be good; I can hear more about how the graphics and gameplay are coming along.”
Instead, the article was essentially a Cliff’s Notes verbal walkthrough of the video trailer.
No, let me re-phrase that: WTF?
The same video we had all seen the previous day, and that was highlighted on GameSpot’s homepage for those who hadn’t seen it, was the subject of a full-length feature describing what happened. Hmmm, let’s see here: if I’m on dial-up access, I’m probably not visiting the image-intense GameSpot in the first place. And, if I’m blind and could benefit from the recap of a video I couldn’t see, well, I’m not exactly going to be reading that article either, am I? So what’s the purpose of that “first impressions” article?
Hold that thought.
Yesterday IGN pulled the same stunt, but with Microsoft’s X06 European press event. Again, both sites had great real-time blogs of the press conference, and both sites posted video from the show. Yet there we were later in the day, reading upwards of five “first impressions” articles that rehashed in verbal form the trailers we’d all previously seen or were about to watch. Again, WTF.
For starters, giving us a verbal recap of a video trailer for a gorgeous next-gen game is about as compelling as someone recounting a round of Jeopardy!. Or telling someone about the time you discovered an ingrown hair in your belly button. Thanks but no thanks. It’s just one of those things you have to see for yourself (or not). And, lo and behold, we can see those videos for ourselves, so why bother recapping them in the first place?
Second, when those verbal recaps talk about the gorgeous graphics, they don’t ever acknowledge the fact that the trailers are all CG “target videos” and not representative of how the game actually looks. Anyone remember the “Madden NFL” target video? How about the Superman Returns: The Videogame one (the actual game looks like ass)? Yes, Halo Wars will assuredly look great, but there’s no chance the actual gameplay will look that nice. So, if you’re going to write these asinine articles, at the very least don’t comment on the video trailer’s graphics.
And while we’re on it, publishers, please don’t ever again release a target video trailer. Trying to drum-up hype in that manner is about as above-the-board as me posting on with a picture of Matt Damon, then saying “this is a target photo of how I’d like to look.” Not exactly ethical or realistic, is it? Activision’s already gotten in trouble once for that tactic; learn from their mistake and knock that crap off.
But back to the first-impressions articles. The reason GameSpot and IGN do this is undoubtedly to pad their content coffers. I can hear the publishers now: “Video is not enough! We need a massive number of articles, no matter how pointless, to show how busy we are in the grand penis-measuring contest that is online traffic. The people must have their content, and we must boost our impressions to reap advertising revenue!”
As a visitor to those sites, let me reassure the publishers that the videos are sufficient to ensure I keep coming back. In fact, those pointless verbal recaps of videos I’ve already seen actually have the opposite effect. If, on the other hand, these “previews” are the wave of the future, consider me officially out of this game. As editor for a second- or third-tier site, I suppose I should appreciate the absurdity of those articles, because they just serve to drive even more people away from the big sites and toward the smaller ones. But the gamer in me looks to those sites for exclusive content, and that part of me certainly hopes the future is a lot brighter than being tard-fed some Cliff’s Notes about a video trailer. I would hope the GameSpots and IGNs of the world would have a bit more integrity and common sense than that.
— Jonas Allen

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