The Future Of Kotaku's Video Game Coverage Is The Present

The Future Of Kotaku's Video Game Coverage Is The Present

On the occasion of Kotaku's 10th anniversary earlier this month, I'd like to tell you all about a big change we've been working on since June. If you've been paying really close attention to the site you might have already picked up on it. But probably not. It's been a slow but, I think, essential change.

Short version: While we remain a site that puts gaming first and will continue to tell you about the most interesting games as soon as possible, we are shifting from what has been a heavily pre-release approach to covering video games to one that gives a lot more attention to games after they have been released.

I described this shift in an email that I sent to Kotaku staff on June 16. Here's a key excerpt:

The future of games coverage is in the present. For too long gaming coverage has focused on the vague future, the preview mindset of possibilities and maybes. And when it's involved the present it has been drenched in the dreary falseness of empty interviews, bland producer-speak and executive-hype. It's neither been real enough nor true enough to what is actually happening now. For too long games reporting has involved staring at what is opaque, maybe glimpsing something through it and reporting about that possibility, all the while ignoring so much of what is clearly visible and exciting around us.

I believe there is a better way to cover games, one that puts future-based coverage and executive interviews in proper diminished proportion. We must focus on the games that are being played now and the human beings -- the gamers, mostly -- who are doing interesting things with them.

Millions of people are playing games right now. They are having amazing experiences in these games. They are discovering fascinating, crazy, and/or scandalous things in them. They are celebrating funny discoveries and raging at emerging bullshit. They're doing this on YouTube and Twitch, on Reddit and on forums. They do it here, too, though we've not given them much space to do so. Most of this is missed by the games press, however, because the games press focuses too much on covering games before the real world touches them and too little after games are released. Exhibit A in that is that people are assigned by their editors to play and write about a game before it comes out in order to review it and are just about never assigned to do so afterwards. They abandon writing authoritatively about a game as soon as it is released. This is archaic and an insult to gamers. This is changing at Kotaku as of now.

What This Means

As I alluded to in the June email, and as we began doing in the days that followed, all full-time writers at Kotaku are now assigned games or franchises that they're expected to cover post-release.

To give you an example of how this works, Kotaku writer Mike Fahey was assigned to review Mario Kart 8 back in May, but, since then, Yannick LeJacq has been assigned to keep playing it, keep an eye on the Mario Kart community and continue to file stories he finds interesting.

If this sounds like a no-brainer to you, trust me, it's not. Most gaming news and opinion outlets, including Kotaku, typically drift away from covering even the biggest games within a couple of weeks following those games' release dates. And, sure, we and other gaming outlets covered the Luigi Death Stare meme after the game came out, but it was thanks to Yannick's attention that we covered the Mario Kart 8 hacking scene in July, ran detailed impressions of the game's first major patch in late August, explored the issues with Nintendo's change to the game's online ranking system in September, and continue to follow the game to this day.

Typically, we would have probably only covered the game's downloadable content announcements, because that kind of "news" comes easy, via a press release from Nintendo. Instead, we've offered the kind of stories that a game company wouldn't ask us to cover but feel vital to telling the story of Mario Kart 8 and the community of gamers playing the game. This feels right, and it feels more relevant than simply doing a bulk of Mario Kart 8 coverage prior to release -- covering Nintendo-administered preview demos, E3 announcements and such.

Yannick also keeps tabs on The Sims 4 and Shadow of Mordor, both of which he reviewed and which he's now following closely to see what the stories of those games' post-release lives are.

Kotaku writer Patricia Hernandez keeps up with the Pokémon and Fallout scenes, among other things, resulting in stories about exceptional gamers who are doing exceptional things with games in those series: a guy who hunts shiny Pokémon and a guy who tried to kill everyone in Fallout 3, respectively.

Each writer is essentially "embedded" in up to four or five games or series. They play games they're embedded in regularly. They keep up with the community around those games. The result, as you would have seen last month, for example, is coverage of manysurprisingturns of events in Destiny after it was released and in a slew of funthingsbeing accomplished by players of Diablo III.

We began this change in early summer at a time when few major games were coming out, because we knew we'd need time to figure out how to do this best. When, for example, would we stop following a particular game post-release? After all, even with a dozen or so Kotaku writers handling multiple games, we can't follow everything, certainly not forever. What we're trying is giving any game we review at least a month of continued attention. If the scene around the game seems to dry up, we move on. We've already left The Last of Us: Remastered and Tomodachi Life behind.


All full-time writers at Kotaku are now assigned games or franchises that they're expected to cover post-release.


We're also still working on the mix of games we follow. There are types of games we just don't have the internal expertise to keep up with (sports, primarily). And there are games we love that we're not sure make sense to follow after they're out (should we embed a Kotaku writer in Threes?). We're also still figuring out how to ensure that we're not falling into a trap of just embedding in big corporate games and failing to follow indies (indies assigned to writers include Minecraft -- an indie no longer! -- and Divinity: Original Sin).

Of course, our writers are balancing these assignments out with their various obligations to report news, aggregate cool gaming and gaming culture stories from around the Internet, review games and whatever else in the world Kotaku writers do. It's a lot, but we're up to the challenge!

Why We're Doing This

My email above lays out the case about what I think has been wrong about the future-centric nature of so much gaming coverage. But I'll happily re-state it and re-emphasise why I think this is so important.

Gaming coverage needs to be interesting. What's interesting is what's real, what's actually happening. What's real has the irresistible scent of the truth. You get that from the front page of a newspaper that tells you about what's happening in war and politics. You get that from sports reporting that tell you who did what in a game yesterday and who won as a result. You don't get it from any news and opinion coverage of an entertainment medium that's been successfully co-opted by a cycle of coverage dictated by public relations firms. You don't get it from the bad habits of anyone in the gaming press who still waits for a press release to tell them what's "news" today. Readers sniff that kind of thing out. They look at gaming sites, including Kotaku, and they recognise that much of what's on them just isn't that interesting.

For years, better games reporters and critics have worked to remedy this. They have run increasingly sceptical previews. They have written about the garnish and pomp of gaming showcases. They have criticised the clipped answers of game developers who aren't allowed to stray from their pre-approved talking points. They have implicitly and explicitly labelled pre-release coverage to often be a farce, and yet, too often, they have still done it -- which can be fine -- even when it's too boring and not worth doing it -- which is not fine. And, yeah, we at Kotaku been shying away from previews for some time, even though we still think that we and others can do some good ones, whether they're positive or not.

The truth is that we can't glean a whole lot about a game that we've only played for 10 minutes, whether the game is from a big publisher or from a two-person indie shop. We can seldom get a meaningful interview from most developers before a game comes out, whether it's because PR won't let them talk freely or because, well, they have been immersed in their game for two years, while we've played for only 10 minutes, and so we don't really know what the best questions to ask them would be. We should try to make the most of those situations (and wedo, I hope!), but we should be too busy for a lot of that nonsense.

For the last couple of years, my team and I have been turning down the opportunity to attend preview events more frequently than ever before. We're even sometimes attending preview events and then, to the consternation of the people staffing them, deciding not to write anything up because we just didn't see anything there that we thought was worth your time. We can skip a preview of Call of Duty, frankly. We're more into what happens with Call of Duty after it is released.

As we've been making this shift, I've observed the largely wonderful and exciting rise of YouTubers and Twitch streamers as well as the growth of gaming communities on Reddit. I've been impressed with Nintendo's progressive decision to let Wii U users upload screencaps of any Wii U game to their social network. And I've been even more impressed with Sony and Microsoft's decision to approach parity with the PC by letting PS4 and Xbox One users capture video of any game they play and share that. All of this fits. The message is clear: A game doesn't stop being interesting once it has been released. What happens to games after they come out -- what gamers do with the games they play -- matters. It's exciting. It's interesting. It's part of a game's life. It's something we should be covering not haphazardly but with an institutional intent to make it a priority.


A game doesn't stop being interesting once it has been released. What happens to games after they come out -- what gamers do with the games they play -- matters.


Nearly a decade ago, when I was covering video games for MTV News, I lamented to some games-reporting colleagues that what gaming coverage lacked were stories about people. People are hooked on coverage of politics or sports or music, I argued, because ultimately, those fields are as much about their ostensible subject matter as they are about the unpredictable and innately fascinating human beings caught in its orbit. One of the people with whom I was discussing this pushed back and said that he felt that games were the stars of gaming. Games trump people. I was stubbornly fixed on the idea, though, and I wondered about the people who might feature in gaming coverage. At the time, I figured those people would be game developers. Lovely as many game developers are, however, I think I was wrong. In fact, even back then, I think I knew that wasn't the best answer.

In 2006, I took my first stab at figuring out that it was in fact the people playing games who were doing many of the most interesting things. Witness: The 10 Most Influential Gamers Of All Time.

Move ahead eight years and you'll see the evolution of that idea in various ways on Kotaku, both in the embedding in games that I've been describing above, and in Highlight Reel, a project we started in July that amounts to a thrice-weekly SportsCenter-style narrated compilation of amazing feats recently accomplished by gamers in everything from eSports and speedrunning contests to just regular old screwing around on their consoles at home. This feels like an important thing to have in our mix.

I believe that at least some of the perennial sense of disenfranchisement some gamers feel from the press stems from the correct instinct by all sorts of readers that reporters on the scene spend too much time and energy covering the vacuous hype of pre-release video games, while ceding the fascinating discussions of how a game's life continues after release to message boards and other supposed non-professionals. In that sense, yes, what we're doing that I've been describing here is aimed to better serve anyone who loves and cares about games.

I do worry that some of you may fret that this shift toward more post-release coverage means that we'll cloud Kotaku with stories about what gamers are up to and about how some new patch is affecting a Battlefield game and forgo telling you about the next games you should care about -- or avoid! Don't fret. I believe that people who are fortunate enough to get to play games for a living ought to do their damnedest to find out about what's worth playing and what's not worth playing and let people who don't have as much time know. Kotaku will continue to be a place you can go for news and opinion about the games we think you should and shouldn't play. That will never change.

Where You Come In

We'd like your help with this. Ultimately, we'll need it. Because, unlike our friends at Deadspin who only have to follow five or six sports, and unlike movie critics who cover a non-interactive experience that is rarely going to be subject to requests from fans to please change the ending, we are committed to covering a wide swath of games and the communities around them. We will do the best we can, but, if you hear about something fascinating happening with a game that's out, please let us know. Email [email protected] Email the writer who seems to be covering that game the most.

We want to hear from you whether you're a fan of the game and have noticed something, whether you're a gamer who has done something amazing, whether you're a game developer, a community manager or a public relations person. We want to know about the lives of the games you love or work on weeks and months after the games are out. Of course, we only want to know the interesting stuff.

Oh, and if you're someone who writes about games and have some ideas along these lines that you would like to contribute to Kotaku, please drop me a line.

The Future Of Kotaku's Video Game Coverage Is The Present

Kotaku has changed a lot in the last 10 years, and I'm hopeful that the slow metamorphosis we've been going through this year turns out to be our best change yet. I thank all of you for your continued support, for helping the site to continue to grow (more than 11 million readers last month!) and for going on this journey with me and the team.

Here's to another 10 years and the chance that someday we'll be assigning a Kotaku writer to do post-release coverage of Half-Life 3.


Comments

    I'm glad that this is finally a thing. It has always bugged me that games are most relevant on gaming sites before they come out. Then it's all about chasing the next big thing instead of looking at this shiny piece of awesome in front of us.

    all full-time writers at Kotaku are now assigned games or franchises that they’re expected to cover post-release

    I'm assuming Mark put his hand up for Trials along with Demon's Souls / Dark Souls / Bloodborne? :P

      Kotaku and Kotaku AU are separate entities. I don't think this impacts what Mark will be doing, simply the approach the US content will be taking.

        Although... (rubs chin) it might well explain the awesome "Idiot in Azeroth" series that Mark did ;)

        I, for one, put my hand up to say 'more of those please'. There are many a game that I miss (from genre's I am not particularly interested in for example), but it sure is great to read about a gamers experience of actually playing the game as a gamer just playing the game, not as a reviewer looking to clear the check-boxes of pro's and con's.

        Overall I too see this as a good thing, a nice shift in focus from "what is coming next month" to "what is actually here now, and what's happening with that game from last month". Nice.

        While it's always a bit exciting to read about what's coming up, the important thing really is how the game actually really IS on release and in the months after release, not what the developer says that game XY might be in 2 years when it might come out.

        Last edited 10/10/14 1:27 pm

          That was just because @markserrels is awesome. Any long-format thing he writes is excellent. Even if it's just about spending the day wrapped inside a man-shaped sleeping bag.

            True that mate. I really enjoy his long articles (multiple days) that you can really get your teeth into, you can almost smell Mark's sweat and hear his fingers on the controller/keyboard :P

    This is good stuff. This ties in well, I think with the request that people reviewing DLC have played the game as well (as with the recent case with the Watch_Dogs DLC).

    This is a good move, nice to see Kotaku making a change here. I'd much rather this approach than the IGN/Gamespot "print every little thing the publisher ever says pre-release, do a review then forget about the game completely" way of doing things.

    Really good move. As much as I sometimes bitch about some of your articles here the majority is done better in a seemingly transparent and bias free way than the other big gaming sites and that's the reason why I read your articles and take the time to comment on them. Sites like IGN/Gamespot are becoming unreadable because they just seem to parrot the latest marketing or pick up random things to complain about for one game while ignoring blatant issues in another. They also lack the personal articles kotaku has.

    I think this is a great step too, games don't just become boring after they've been out a couple of weeks and I think you should keep putting up flashback pieces to older consoles/generation games like Tim Rogers article today about his life with the Nintendo 64. Those type of articles make for interesting reads and interesting discussions from readers.

    Last edited 10/10/14 1:28 pm

      I think you should keep putting up flashback pieces to older consoles/generation games like Tim Rogers article today about his life with the Nintendo 64

      I agree with this, everyone loves to have a bit of a reminisce and chat about old things they loved.

    Very happy with this direction change, and I look forward to paying more attention to non-AU articles in the future! :)

    I like it. I want to know what I should be playing right now, not what I should be playing 6 months or 3 years from now.

    Good stuff. Kotaku is a community. IGN is a news vendor. Very different things.

    Full disclosure, I work in PR. Never for a publisher or developer, but I like to pretend I know how the system works.

    This sounds amazing... But.

    I just hope Kotaku won't suffer because of it. The pre-game hype, love it or hate it, is what generates the most excitement and for the gaming companies helps determine how commercially successful the games will be. Sale equals success equals more people can work in the industry making progressively better games.

    Hype is good, and yet there does seem to be disconnect between the gaming desire and the actual gaming experience. The focus needs to shift, but within reason.

    Focusing entirely on post launch might disenfranchise some readers who rely on Kotaku to cut through the bluster. This is the website and the community I trust to discuss the merits of a game through its life cycle, I hope this voice, and how it weighs on pre-launch won't be lost, with changes Stephen outlined above.

    Mind you, if it means more @markserrels long form pieces, who am I to complain.

    I think Kotaku hasn't been very good at journalism for a long time now, and I think the "what's happening in game X's community" articles have been some of the best of what it IS producing. I think this refocusing on Kotaku's unique strengths is probably both a strong step to retaining its relevance, and also a good way to reach a compromise between its short-term commercial pushes towards clickbaiting and the long-term damage that's been doing to its brand.

    Ctrl F "gamers"
    I guess they're not dead just yet. ;)

    This shift in coverage is a good thing, I think. I bet Gearbox shudder at the thought.
    At the very least it should stop some stinkers getting through unscathed. It should hopefully tell those companies who place review embargoes where to shove it.
    And maybe it'll stop those games that get 10/10 due to hype but turn out to be not quite deserving of the perfect score *cough cough Skyrim*

    Excellent, now drop the moral social justice warrior shit and the stupid non-articles by @lukeplunkett (less so recently, but still happening) and @patriciahernandez (Almost always) and we have a good thing going. Alternatively, a feature that will let us filter out posts by specific Authors or "Journalists" would be awesome.

    Last edited 10/10/14 8:47 pm

      Social Justice content is the new black. It's in, it gets the page views, and it pleases a very loud and rather powerful audience.
      It's not going away any time soon, because it's a "good" thing.
      What could be wrong about defending the little guys?

        "because it's a 'good' thing."

        I hope you are joking, it is thinly veiled xenophobia. They ARE NOT defending the "little guys". They are incredibly selfish people who circle jerk each other and label anyone who opposes them as "Rapists". They literally feed off people who are actually suffering for attention.

          Bro I think my entire post changes "voice" when you remove or keep the quotation marks around "good".

          Trust me, I know about the evil that lurks behind the mask.
          (besides I think the second sentence should be dripping with enough cynicism to suggest my true opinion.)

          Last edited 16/10/14 6:58 am

      Being able to filter out the site's growing side-obsession with anime would be nice too.

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