Daily Reaction: How Publishers Try to Control the Media

July 24, 2013 Written by Dan Oravasaari


The long wait is finally over: The Daily Reaction crew of Seb and Dan are back at work and complaining about something. Today, a leak outing Microsoft’s plan to bring self-publishing to the Xbox One angered the platform holder because they were shocked that journalism had just happened.

Dan: Earlier today, Game Informer leaked Microsoft’s plans to bring self publishing to the Xbox One. This forced Microsoft to confirm the news, but their response to GI’s leak has caused a bit of a ripple. According to Game Informer’s Andy McNamara:

Even though we reached out to MS hours ago, we of course didn’t get the official statement as MS is reportedly “angry” about our story

MS reached out to a few publications to clarify the situation and it seems that, in a bit of a tantrum, they gave GI the cold shoulder.

The games industry has not always been known for its maturity, but for a publisher of MS’ size to blatantly respond to a situation that is the standard practice for most industries outside of gaming takes things to a new level. Games journalists rarely get a chance to shine in any form like the world media, as other ‘real-world’ publications break topics about the NSA spying on people, and we try to break information about announcements. Similarly, the outside world will not care about MS finally adding self-publishing to the Xbox One, so Microsoft should realize the leak just isn’t that big of a deal and it is people just doing their job.

This ultimately breaks down to a much bigger issue that stems to the reason for a publisher to become hostile towards their media: A lack of control. The games media does not have the power that other publications have – we are split between trying to balance the information we can obtain ourselves and what we can and can’t say through our embargo system. Publishers feel that they can manage the information that goes out to the press and only get out positive information in the time frames they want, but seem to forget we are a free press system still.

The most infamous and publicized event to represent this is the Kane & Lynch review by GameSpot, that launched journalist Jeff Gerstmann into the public spotlight when the publisher’s marketing team took issue with his score. Control over the media is far from a new concept, as the media in general usually relies on bigger powers for information, but they also act as a balancing force to keep those powers in check.

Moments like this may seem small and trivial to the general public, but the pressures of a system that allows retaliation for due diligence will have bigger repercussions for the audience much further down the line.

Seb: This is just depressing, so it’s the perfect topic to kick off DR’s return with. Sadly, this is nothing new – publishers have far too much control over the games press, and they believe they are entitled to it.

The games press mostly regurgitates press releases, covers events publishers hold, previews games at publisher preview sessions and reviews games sent to them by publishers. That’s mostly unavoidable, and not always bad – for example, E3 can be great for the press, and can be even better for the readers.

Publishers do this because it is essentially free advertising – every time we cover a game trailer, that’s thousands upon thousands they’ve saved on YouTube ads. But they seem to think that’s the press’ only purpose, getting upset like spoiled brats every time the press do their job – holding the industry to account.

Honest reviews are vital for obvious reasons – people need to know if a game is terrible, and it helps ensure publishers at least try to make something good. But covering what is wrong with other parts of the industry is just as important – for example, the press’ part in covering why self publishing was so great for the PS4 is one of the main reasons Microsoft has now backtracked and ‘embraced’ it.

In the past, when the press didn’t do as their masters bid them, they would be blacklisted (completely shut out of any press events, interviews etc) – Kotaku was temporarily blacklisted by Sony for leaking Home’s existence, while Activision reportedly blacklisted Gameblog.fr for writing about something viewable on Amazon. Despite both these being legitimate pieces of journalism, publishers contacted them letting them know they were blacklisted.

That doesn’t happen any more. Now, they don’t let sites know. Instead, they simply stop inviting you to as many events, don’t send over as many games, or agree to do as many interviews. It’s just childish, and pathetic.

However, Game Informer is huge, a massively powerful gaming outlet whose coverage can literally impact the sales success of a game (and platform) to a noticeable degree. Microsoft can’t afford to be petulant for too long to GI. Sadly, the same can’t be said for the smaller sites, and even here at a medium sized site we’re aware of missing out or review copies and event privileges suddenly, just after a scoop or a harsh review (according to Metacritic, we are noticeably harsher than the average critic) is published. Because they don’t outright say ‘you’re blacklisted’, we can’t outright say ‘Capcom is trying to blacklist us for being journalists’, but it is something that’s happening.

It’s a sad indictment of all that is wrong with the industry, but as publishers are reliant on the press, it is becoming increasingly clear that they don’t have as much control as they think they do. There will always be some members of the press who don’t just follow what a PR company is telling them to do, and if that number rises it will become harder and harder for publishers to try to exert any authority over them.

We need to draw attention to this every time it happens, as this bad publicity will put pressure on publishers as public support rallies behind GI/etc for covering the truth. Equally, the press cannot shy away from covering things that will make people unhappy – be they publishers or readers. The only thing that matters is the truth, and journalists should strive to uncover it no matter what enemies they make.


Japanese devs react to E3, next-gen

Creators at Sega, Capcom, Valhalla give impressions of next-gen potential, lament lacking variety of games on display

Japanese devs react to E3

Reactions to last month’s Electronic Entertainment Expo are still filtering in. Today’s additions to the pile are coming from the latest issue of Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu, as translated by Polygon.

The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 were the focus of the show this year, but excitement for those systems varied. Level-5 president Akihiro Hino was excited for both new consoles, but was particularly surprised by the PS4’s $399 price point.

“I think anyone can look at that and think ‘This is cheap!’ Putting cutting-edge PC specs into a game machine that costs just a few hundred dollars really brings across how serious SCE is about this generation,” Hino said. “I think the Xbox One is pretty cheap considering what you get with it as well, but with this PS4 price point, they’ll have to do something to oppose that. Looking at all the new media, it’s easy to see how console gaming is still the main entertainment space people work in. I can’t wait for the next generation to really spread out into households.”

Meanwhile, Valhalla Games’ Tomonobu Itagaki focused in on the enormity of the challenge facing hardware makers in the current market.

“In a world where our customers now have their attention divided by their PCs, their tablets and their smartphones, simply having consoles expand upon what they previously were isn’t going to work any longer,” Itagaki said. “Having a system that just reads controller input, makes a screen image and outputs it to the TV isn’t going to work, no matter how rich the media it’s producing. It seems like every first party is trying to get a feel for what makes a console truly special…”

Capcom’s Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies producer Motohide Eshiro said he was excited to see the Xbox One and PS4 in action, but expressed reservations with what he saw on the software side of things.

“Overseas developers showed off a lot of FPSes and third-person shooters that pursued photorealism and endless detail, but as for the gameplay, I felt there wasn’t much innovative,” Eshiro said. “I feel that I need to keep watching how trends unfold overseas, but continue developing games with an eye for what a Japanese person would see as fun and bring that to the world marketplace.”

Likewise, Sonic the Hedgehog series director Takashi Iizuka was disappointed with the games on display, particularly in how few of them were aimed toward young audiences.

“Games targeted toward the core audience are important, of course, but being at the show made me really feel like I wanted to continue making games that kids would be interested in,” Iizuka said.

Iizuka’s fellow Sega creator Toshihiro Nagoshi makes games like the Yakuza series for that core audience, but he too felt the games on display were lacking.

“The show floor seemed flooded with all of these franchise titles, and as a result nothing left that much of an impression on me,” Nagoshi said. “The Western market has continued to mature in a way, but personally I felt like it’s definitely about to face a transition period.”



Why PS4 is your next console – and the Titanic Errors on Xbox One’s road to ruin


We detail how Sony crushed Microsoft at E3 2013 and why PS4 is your next console in the new issue of Edge magazine.

Our extended Hype section takes in the biggest and most significant new games to emerge from this year’s E3, including Metal Gear Solid 5, The Division, Titanfall, Battlefield 4, Watch Dogs, Dark Souls II, Final Fantasy XV and many more.

Edge #256 cover

Elsewhere, Goichi Suda tells us what James Bond brings to Killer Is Dead, PlayJam reveals the game plan behind its GameStick console, we delve into The Making Of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon and profile the studio behind Thief and Deus Ex, Eidos Montreal.

There’s also insight and opinion from our regular columnists Steven Poole, Leigh Alexander, Brian Howe, Tadhg Kelly, Clint Hocking, Randy Smith and James Leach.

The new Edge magazine goes on sale Thursday July 4. You can buy individual issues or subscribe now in printon iPad and through Zinio.


Xbox chief Don Mattrick leaving Microsoft

Sources have told AllThingsD that Mattrick is close to joining Zynga, possibly to take the role of CEO.

Don Mattrick

Although the news is not yet official, Kara Swisher of AllThingsD is reporting that Don Mattrick, Microsoft’s head of the Interactive Entertainment Business, is on his way out. Citing “multiple sources close to the situation,” AllThingsD says that Mattrick is close to joining social games firm Zynga. In fact, Mattrick may be working in close partnership with Mark Pincus, becoming the new CEO (apparently meaning Pincus would take another executive role at the company).

“While it is not unusual for a founder to give up such power, it certainly underscores Pincus’ commitment to reviving Zynga,” says Swisher.

Although there’s been much talk of management reshuffling and overall restructuring at Microsoft, this move does not appear to be part of that plan. Of course, it’s easy to assume that Mattrick is moving on following the major heat that his Xbox division took after severely fumbling the ball at E3, allowing SCEA boss Jack Tretton to enjoy a massive PR victory. The Xbox One policy reversal may have helped calm the waters, but Microsoft clearly has much PR work to do still in navigating the stormy next-gen seas. Whether Mattrick’s moving on is at all related to the Xbox One reception is unclear at this point.

The word is that the news could be officially announced today after the markets close. We’ll keep you posted.



Opinion: Sony killed it at E3, but their Vita news was a huge letdown

PS Vita

To Vita owners watching Sony’s press conference at this year’s E3, the brief stage time probably felt like another nail in the coffin. Sony showed a handful of games, games that, aside from the God of War Collection, had already been announced in one way or another. Jack Tretton described the Vita as the ultimate companion device to PS4 with Remote Play, and spoke of a future game library bolstered by indie developers. Then, they moved on to PS3 and PS4.

For all the murdering they did on the PS4 front, the Vita presence at the most high-profile part of Sony’s E3 was upsetting. Where was the price drop? Why haven’t they addressed memory card prices? Where were all the games? Where was the confident and bold Sony that showed its hand during the PS4 section?

This was a chance for Sony to boldly proclaim their plans to get the Vita into people’s hands, but they acted more like nothing was wrong. The same Sony that has been learning to listen to its customers, that’s pushing indie development heavily, that skipped DRM, that influenced Microsoft’s next-gen strategy, and that announced a PS4 price people seem pretty happy about, is treating the Vita like it’s the PS3 in 2006.

The Vita NEEDS a price drop

Vita and memory card

In terms of sheer design, build quality, and technical prowess, the Vita is probably a steal at $250-$300. The problem is that value is a nebulous thing. Sony hasn’t shaken the notion that Vita “has no games,” nor has it proved that the Vita is a worthwhile $250 companion device to the PS4. A glorified Wii U controller isn’t worth $250 anyway.

What’s worse is that Sony still hasn’t responded to the criticisms of hidden costs with the Vita. Want a decent memory card? Get ready to pony up $60-$100. Want to embrace an all-digital future? Have fun as the Vita’s largest and priciest storage solution is a mere 32 GBs. Even if you manage your larger game files on the Vita, you have to get past Sony’s terrible decision to tie save files to the game data. If you want to get that 3 GB Uncharted save off your Vita you have to transfer it to a PS3 or PC or lose your save file with it.

If Sony is married to the $250 price point, then they need to incentivize the hell out of it. A 32 GB card in the box with a year of PlayStation Plus would be a good start. Updating the firmware to allow easier save file management would be nice too. Bigger memory card options should be there as well, with more reasonable prices that come closer to non-proprietary storage mediums. Simply getting the handheld under $200, then announcing it at a high-profile conference, would have been a nice shot in the arm too.

The Vita NEEDS to shake the “no games” issue

Hotline Miami 2

The Vita has games. It also has a lot of games in the pipeline. The problem is that the high profile games so far have been force-fed disasters. Call of Duty on a handheld would have been cool if it was a legitimate entry in the series and not some half-assed reskin of Resistance: Burning Skies. Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation was closer to a proper Vita experience, but it was still a mediocre AC game. Uncharted: Golden Abyss, while probably the best of big franchises thrown on a little platform, still felt like a B-tier experience. Gravity Rush and Soul Sacrifice are average-to-phenomenal depending on who you ask. Persona 4: Golden seems to be the platform’s true must-have, yet it really only has a niche appeal. In fact, most of the Vita’s truly great games are bizarre niche titles like Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward, Frobisher Says, or Thomas Was Alone.

The solution, it seems, is to celebrate the weird and the unique, and instead of advertising the Vita as a device that puts familiar experiences in your hands, it should be a device with experiences you can’t get anywhere else. Furthermore, it’s the only handheld where you’ll be able to play amazing indie games like Hotline Miami, Spelunky, Limbo, Terraria, and Runner 2.

Is that what Sony touted at E3, though? Not at all. The highlights were Final Fantasy X/X-2 and the God of War Collection. Great, familiar titles for sure, but not anything that’s setting the Vita on fire. What’s worse, a sub-par port of the Jak & Daxter Collection was just quietly released. What’s to say these other collections won’t suffer the same fate?

The thing of it is, Sony had an impressive showing of Vita games on the show floor. They had dozens of kiosks with playable games that were either briefly mentioned or forgotten entirely at their press conference. Why didn’t they follow through during their high-profile conference?

One of the highlights of the PS4 presentation was when Sony showed off a spread of independent games headed to the next-gen console. They could have easily done the same thing with the indie titles headed to Vita. Imagine if Hotline Miami 2 had been announced on stage for Vita. Considering the developer Dennaton Games is hopeful about bringing it to the Vita, there’s little reason Sony couldn’t lock that down.

“UPDATE” Hotline Miami is available for download on PSN for PS Vita.

The bottom line is this: A lot of what’s said at these conferences has a lasting impression. The platforms and games speak for themselves in the end, but there’s something potent about these conferences. They tend to lay the groundwork for what’s ahead, hinting at where the company’s focus is. If that’s what Sony was going for with their E3 press conference, then the Vita still feels like an afterthought.