Print media has done a few things right, especially when it comes to exposure. By their very nature, blogs appeal to the non-casual, "hardcore" gamer. A close friend of mine became hopelessly addicted to both World of Warcraft and Planetside, achieving high levels of success in both. He also buys every soccer management game available. He even bought an HDTV just to play his Xbox 360 on it. But just last week, I mentioned 1UP to him, specifically talking about the numerous blogs on the site. He'd never heard of it, nor had he heard of Kotaku, Joystiq or any of the other publications I've discussed here.
Put simply, ranting on a videogame blog is like standing up in a church service and telling people how great God is and what a tricky fellow Lucifer can be. You're preaching to the converted, the faithful few. Your real effort needs to be spent on drawing new listeners to your sermons, which means your message needs to be refined and easy to follow. This is already beginning to happen, but not because the blogs are trying. Instead, it comes from a general fascination with all things "web."
All facets of the entertainment industry are completely turned on to the internet, the powerful word of mouth it generates and its potential to influence a product's success. That is, all facets except the videogame industry, it seems. Online rants that cross forums, websites, blogs and even consumer action groups are typically ignored by publishers and their marketing departments.
This should tell blog operators something. Whatever they're doing, they ain't doing it right. Going back to Au's comments, attacking what you perceive to be a problem is easy. What's hard is building something so good that everyone else has to follow your example simply to stay in the game. Blogs have that potential, but they're not there yet. Traditional printed press outlets have started blogging to make sure they're there when that potential is realized.
As game blogs have become more popular, they've fallen back into the old habits of journalism. What was once a medium that subverted pandering to the industry, large blogs have begun reporting press releases, interviewing developers and relaxing their critical eye, all in an effort to be the first to publish news. This came to a head when Joystiq and Kotaku blogged about an upcoming blog post, which was supposed to contain big news about Nintendo's Wii. Teasers like that are the business of second-rate local news broadcasts: "What does Nintendo have in store for he Wii? Find out ... at 11:00!" And usually, whatever gets reported is less interesting than the actual teaser.
In the case of Joystiq and Kotaku's self-promotion, it was no different. The "big news" was that IBM shipped some CPUs. This was a prime example of two leading blogs fighting for readership to satisfy advertisers. In order to "win," they reverted to the old sensationalism of journalists before them. However, publicly visible comments from their readers caused both Joystiq and Kotaku to acknowledge their mistake quickly.
Amateur blogs tend to avoid this specific pitfall, as they have fewer worries about advertisers and funding. They're about fun, about telling you about cool things you perhaps weren't aware of, about exploring the things we're all interested in as gamers.
Videogame blogs have the power to become the defining voice of a generation. They can communicate the gamers' passions, likes and dislikes to publishers and developers like never before. But in order to keep the industry's ear, blogs will have to exhibit all the good habits of traditional journalism while shedding the bad. Blogs may someday become the new standard of responsible, candid reporting, as long as they use their power for good, not evil.
Hitchhiker is a freelance videogames journalist who spends too much time playing multiplayer games all alone. It does give him a sense of belonging, though, so that's ok. He hangs out at www.alwaysblack.com.