Gaming’s Foreign Media Masters

Editor’s note: The following article is an opinion editorial piece. It does not necessarily reflect the views of VGMWatch.com’s staff team.

Perhaps this concern is just mine. But I doubt it. I’m no blanket big business hater. I understand the role many of them play in helping our country (they can ail it at times as well). However, I am growing increasingly concerned over the feasting of the game media of which non-gaming media corporations are taking part.

MTV Viacom. Most know them as a major media conglomerate. We know their spotty track record in quality media from CBS to MTV content. They’ve recently gobbled up GameTrailers.com. Yes, they’ve made good in-roads at producing fancy coats of paint and expanding its mainstream appeal. And that’s all good. But the executives that ultimately make the decisions for this property are not known gamers or even gamer-centric in their concerns.
Their main concern with a property like GameTrailers.com is demographic expansion into the young male electronic media consumer.

News Corp. They’ve consumed the massive IGN Network and its GameSpy.com sibling. In case you haven’t noticed, IGN/GameSpy pulls a lot of weight in the game media. They have the power to shape opinions via editorial content (some would say in their news articles as well). And they do. Should we be comfortable knowing such a massive, dominating Internet source of gaming information is also owned by a non-gaming centric corporation? News Corp, like Viacom, has concerns about grabbing the young 18-24 male demographic. They see the gaming media as just another pawn in their expansion into that demographic and the Web 2.0 (consider their MySpace purchase).

AOL. They’re not quite the best company for keeping consumer needs first and foremost as we’ve seen with their ISP services. But aside from that, there’s more to look at here. They’ve consumed Joystiq.com (a leading game blog) and GameDaily.com (an up and coming voice in the game media). It doesn’t matter what “gamer guys” they place in content editor roles, the real business decisions are carried out by a company that’s simply not focused on what gamers care about most.

I’m not saying the concept of a major non-gaming focused company swallowing a game media outlet is completely negative in and of itself. After all, it is a promising sign of mainstream interest in gamers (at least in a bottom line business sense). However, it becomes an issue of concern when much of the game media landscape is radically transformed from a diverse array of independent gaming-focused companies to mass media conglomerates. And again, let’s be honest. The three companies listed as examples don’t quite have a stellar track record in deep, quality media information. Trends show they tend to focus on superficial Hollywoodization elements. Style over substance. “Babes” over serious issues concerning this industry.

Though not a perfect analogy by any means, consider the “Walmart effect” on independent quality craftsmanship. Many people believe that having the retail industry almost completely owned by corporations like Sears, Target and Walmart has all but eliminated the era of fine quality trade focused stores (and customer service as well). There was a time when independent quality-driven stores were the dominant force in the retail industry. Take shoes for example. Customers could expect to find shoemaker (or at least shoe focused) stores that would treat the consumer with utmost quality and patience. They knew their craft. And it showed in the product. The mainstream of that market has been radically changed with the advent of retail giants. Now the trade has become a pawn to further increase the big tent profits of corporations who could care less about that particular craft. And maybe in the end, that “jack of all trades, master of none” revolution was exactly what mass consumers needed. But the shoe enthusiast (regardless if he exists or not) has been largely neglected in the grand scheme of mainstream shoe service.
And that is the root of this modest analogy. The true gaming enthusiast must be vigilant about the game media market’s status, lest he/she is left in the dust for the potential mainstream mass audience that considers gaming information an afterthought.

That’s the path many of these non-gaming focused conglomerates are heading towards. Has anyone seen Viacom’s Spike VGA Awards show lately?

There’s a place for outside gaijin* media conglomerates in the game industry. But while the glitz of their flashy lights may be alluring, we must remember our roots. Gaming enthusiasts are best served by gaming-focused companies. In quality. In substance. Ultimately, the balance of the game media’s voice will be determined by the game consumers. Will they sit idly by and let the industry’s information gatekeepers slowly be diluted in the name of big tent mass media? Or will they seek to keep a healthy, balanced presence of both gaming-centric and mass media companies in the industry? Time will tell.

Call me crazy. And perhaps some would call this the ramblings of a delusional ol’ purist gamer. But I believe there’s at least an element of truth to it all.

*The term gaijin is a Japanese word for “outsider” that has stealthily slipped into America’s lexicon.

David Gornoski is the Site Director of VGMWatch.com. In addition, he serves as Editorial Director for the E-mpire Network.