Game journalist survey: 75% say they won’t cover blockchain game news

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Blockchain gaming is exceptionally unpopular among game journalists, according to a survey of 160 writers by video game PR agency Big Games Machine.

About 75% of respondents said it is unlikely they will cover blockchain gaming news in the next six months to a year. Of course, if they had asked me, I would have said we cover it. They claim to have sent us a survey but I don’t see it in my inbox.

Non-fungible tokens — which use the blockchain’s digital ledger to authenticate unique digital items — have proven to be incredibly divisive among gamers and game developers. Team17 and GSC Gameworld rolled back their plans to do NFTs after gamers loudly complained on social media. And while game journalists might sit above that fray as objective reporters, that’s not what is happening. Instead, game journalists have high animosity for the subject, Big Games Machine said. The game journalists agree with the backlash against NFTs, with only 5% saying it is very likely they will cover blockchain games.

The journalists believe their audiences aren’t interested or receptive to blockchain games coverage.

“Others stated a general lack of interest in covering blockchain games, while others were more passionate in the way they expressed their dislike of blockchain games,” the report said.

In their responses, the game journalists showed their biases toward the status quo.

“I’ve yet to see any legitimate or compelling use for integrating blockchain options in games,” said one game journalist.

Another from the survey said, “Too much all at once. The market is flooded, and we don’t see
much readership on articles about blockchain games.”

Parroting what game developers who oppose NFTs have said, another game journalist said, “Blockchain is a solution in search of a problem. It is being touted as a panacea for issues which do not exist and which offer no actual value to the players.”

Another brought up the “environmentally harmful” nature of the blockchain, even though Ethereum is moving to proof-of-stake verification and Layer 2 chains have reduced the costs of transactions and brought down the environmental side effects of transactions.

Staff and freelance journalists from publications including Eurogamer, Kotaku, CNET and IGN contributed to the survey, with many of them sharing additional context on their answers in the form of comments.

My hot take

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How game journalists find stories.

Of course, my own take is different. I cover blockchain games because one of the lessons of being a business publication covering gaming is that you have to follow the money. Blockchain games may not have been very fun, but they generated billions of dollars in 2021.

That success bred a hype cycle that many skeptics rightfully doubted. In the first half of this year, anywhere from a third to half of all money invested in game companies went to blockchain game companies, according to reports from stat trackers at Drake Star Partners and GameInvest.

I have talked to numerous game developers in the industry, from Chris Kassulke to Rami Ismailwho say that the arguments against blockchain games outweigh the possible advantages. I’ve also talked to large numbers of gaming business leaders — like Gabe Leydon, Kevin Lin, Josh Williams, Justin Kan, Sebastien Borget, Will Wright, Mark Otero, Matt Wolf and more — who believe that blockchain games represent a chance to decentralize power in the game industry and give gamers ownership of the things they buy.

These leaders liken blockchain gaming to the onset of free-to-play mobile and social games a decade ago. Hardcore gamers and many game developers had similar hatred for free-to-play business models — they were scammy and associated with low-quality games and get-rich-quick schemes. But free-to-play games increased the audience for gaming by tenfold, helped it become the dominant form of entertainment, and now they are more than half the revenue of the game business.

The advocates think that could happen again with blockchain games. I’m not here to agree or disagree with that. I’m here to cover what is one of the biggest divisions in the game industry so I can figure out who gets disrupted. I don’t see the role of the game journalist as choosing which form of gaming to write about. We should just cover it, both when the hype cycle gets started and when it winds down and moves on to something new — like the metaverse. We will see if blockchain plays a role in keeping the metaverse open.

I don’t think every blockchain gaming deal is a good one, and I see a lot of scams. We write about them when we can. I’ve seen the consequences of the crypto and NFT bust for the market and the players who want to make money. But our job is to sort between the scams and the potential leaders. It’s also important to understand the variations and subtleties of the technology, like whether it’s bad for the environment or not. We ask them about the ethics of the business and how they can possibly succeed in turning around attitudes. Their answers are that minds will change when the high-quality games — which take years to make — materialize along with the right technologies and business models.

Game journalism is hurting

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Why game journalists ignore pitches.

I’m not here to pick fights with my colleagues, particularly at a very tough time as the recession hits hard. The survey also shows how the business is hurting and journalists are overworked. Sadly, we saw layoffs this week at FanByte, G4 and Future. And we’ve seen longtime leaders leave publications such as Game Informer.

My heart goes out to those who have lost jobs and it’s easy to see why journalists are disappearing and moving into other industries. Most often I see them becoming game makers themselves. I’ve been covering games for 26 years, and I know very few peers who have lasted as long as I have. It’s not an easy life. But I have always had passion for the work, which has brought me into contact with so many people in the game industry — many of whom I’ve talked to over and over again over the years. Gaming is my community, even though I am not skillful playing games.

It’s clear media has changed with the advent of influencers, creators, streamers and the like. About 76% of respondents acknowledged the shared space between influencers and game journalists exists. However, many noted the differences between the two and aired frustrations when influencers are given preferential treatment (codes, access) over journalists, the report said.

With an ever-increasing workload, an amplified pressure on KPIs, and shrinking resources to cover a never-ending list of games, respondents share the reality of working in gaming journalism in 2022, the report said.

“The games industry is growing increasingly competitive, and as a result, we are seeing the media landscape grow and evolve. Since we first conducted this survey in 2018, we have seen the pressures mount on journalists,” said James Kaye, director at Big Games Machine, in a statement. “Unfortunately, the findings from the 2022 survey demonstrate that journalists are working under increased pressure but, despite this, are not given the lead times they need from publishers and PR professionals to review titles. This is problematic, especially given the size of triple-A games and the additional time required to write up these reviews and create additional content formats around them.”

Over half of respondents create video content, and 40% create podcast/audio content, so PR people should ensure their media kits/assets contain plenty of audio and video content when they’re pitching games for review.

Online blogs and websites remain the predominant content medium for our respondents, although it’s interesting to see that over half of them create video content too. It’s not clear whether this content is native to the site(s) they write for or for platforms such as YouTube and Twitch.

Either way, PR people might want to consider including extra video content in their media kits outside of the typical game trailers so time-strapped journalists don’t have to spend extra time gathering footage, the report said.

The lives of game journalists

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Platforms that game journalists review games for.

The report said that 42% of game journalists receive between 11 and 30 pitches daily, and 21% receive over 30 pitches daily. I get more than 500 emails a day, though I can’t say how many of those are pitches.

Journalists aren’t being given enough time from PR and game studios to review games and do their jobs properly. Most respondents aired frustrations with short lead times, and over half said a three-week lead is the minimum needed to review a game properly before a launch, the report said.

The transition from “traditional” media platforms to “multimedia” platforms is well underway. Over 50% of respondents produce video content, and 40% create audio content and/or podcasts, the report said.

PC is the most popular platform for journalists, with over 86% of respondents reviewing games on the platform. This is compared to Nintendo Switch (84%), PlayStation 5 (76%), and Xbox Series X/S (67%).

About 40% of respondents are engaged in podcasting, and BGM expects this to grow with podcasts gathering big audiences and services like Spotify and Apple Music heavily promoting them. PR people and studios should consider how to track podcast coverage and how they can work with journalists to create podcast content such as supplying studio staff for interviews, the report said.

Fewer than 10% of journalists create content for print publications. It’s no secret that gaming magazines are becoming increasingly difficult to find on store shelves. While it’s highly unlikely we’ll ever return to the golden years of gaming magazines, there’s some hope yet in the emergence of independent and specialist print publications such as Wireframe, Switch Player, and, of course, the Lost In Cult’s [lock-on] gaming journals.

Over 80% of respondents said being pitched a game directly from a developer or publisher was “important” or “very important,” highlighting how much they value direct relationships and appreciate the studios that invest time into doing this. That said, 68% of journalists provided the same response for being contacted by PR people.

Also interesting is the influence of other games media on journalists when discovering which games to cover, with 40% of journalists saying it was moderately important. For journalists, seeing a competing publication dedicating a large amount of time and space to a game they weren’t planning on covering may influence them. That’s a polite way of seeing we travel in packs.

Access issues to virtual reality hardware are a potential issue for game reviews, with only 35% of respondents having access to VR platforms.

Tips, guides and walkthroughs are becoming an increasingly popular beat with journalists, mainly due to SEO factors. 34% of respondents are involved with guide/walkthrough work. I can honestly say that GamesBeat’s own revenues are not dependent on SEO factors, and so we don’t cover many of the things that are popular with other game journalists. Our events generate our revenue and help us focus on building a community among the business leaders of gaming.

Our next gaming event is GamesBeat Summit Next 2022 on October 25-26 in San Francisco. You’ll probably learn a thing or two about blockchain games and the metaverse — and traditional games too.

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