The Problem with Australian Gaming Journalism

Disclosure ‐ The opinions represented in this article are not necessarily shared by the rest of the writers within the site or the community.

It’s been a while…

Well, I’m back. Not that I haven’t been active in other areas of the site, but this will be my first dip into the writing scene for quite some time. I need to get a few things off my chest, particularly something that I have been struggling to wrap my head around the past few months (excuse the fact I just used two different anatomy metaphors). I want to discuss the current state of gaming journalism in Australia: The form it takes, its shortcomings (there are MANY), and specifically its inability to elevate itself to the same level of coverage that we can find in Europe and the US. I also want to talk a little bit about our endeavour at OK Games; the luxuries we have, our own limitations, and where I feel the grander Australian audience needs to divert its attention. What can be done?

Lost in numbers

Towards the end of last year, OK Games was approached by an investment company interested in expanding our site and creating a new network of sites that would spur a new ‘era’ of Australian gaming journalism… So to speak. These discussions — while exhilarating — eventually fell through for a few reasons. But ‘what could have been’s are not the main topic of discussion for this article. The point is that these talks revealed a deep-seeded cynicism I have for gaming journalism in Australia, which I hadn’t quite articulated to myself or to others until I was forced to. Sidenote: It’s amazing how many ideas and opinions are formulated in the process of discussion and debate; it’s the reason why I loved our game of the year deliberations which revealed a hidden appreciation for games dear to my heart.

So what’s wrong with gaming coverage in Australia? I believe the issue has a few layers. Firstly, we have been unable to generate enough popular journalist personalities that can dominate and drive forward passion in the area, while those that do break out end up leaving the country. Secondly, the personalities that could potentially engender this level of popularity, interest, and form of ‘new age’ coverage, are buried beneath a ‘numbers game’. That is to say, their success and ability to earn a living are dependent on readership clicks. So it makes sense that trying new, more costly and potentially unappealing ideas of coverage, take a sideline to repetitive but consistent and often easy articles.

We’re behind, guys

Now don’t get me wrong, news is great. Breaking stories, gossip, conflicting opinions, and the ‘hottest stuff’ coming out of the presses is exciting. There is one-hundred percent a place for these stories. However, they’re little more than fluff, and the only reason why a large (but dwindling) number of Australians still garner their news from the Australian sources is because they either feel some form of obligation, or they REALLY value the little pieces of specific information (prices, release dates etc.) In reality, many sites outside of Australia already do the news part better and much more efficiently than we could possibly hope to do, simply due to our location.

But unlike Australia, the rest of the world is moving forward. The gaming journalism landscape has been changing rapidly: Everyone is beginning to realise that the benefit of gaming coverage no longer relies on the ‘objective facts’ of news pieces or long drawn out reviews. I love writing reviews on games, but it’s fair to say that these are too few and far between that they can’t possibly compete with the majority of ‘clickbait’ articles and news stories. Indeed, reviews are rapidly becoming obsolete as the audience now have a plethora of video content to gauge whether or not they want to buy the title. And news stories only achieve viewers, they don’t generally create a loyal and consistent community around the site.

Be daring!

My thinking is that Australian sites feel trapped in the news cycle, much like we did for a time (and we don’t even do this for a living!) The audience is going somewhere else for video and podcast content because Australian sites just haven’t caught up yet. A lot of companies are also weighed down by the notion that they’ve built up an audience in dense and consistent opinion articles, which I don’t think will be tenable for much longer. But it’s a catch-22: Creators aren’t going to take a risk if they aren’t confident it will work, but they can’t be confident because they aren’t sure there is an audience waiting for them. The trapping is devious. Since I began at OK Games early last year, I have done NUMEROUS news stories. Mostly it was just a process of ticking boxes, and it accumulated the majority of views for the site to fill the gaps in between bigger features or reviews. But we’ve stopped that, partly because we don’t get paid, but mainly because it was DESTROYING. OUR. SOULS. Like Lauren articulated in a piece a little while ago about our struggles, we always aimed to imprint our own spice of personality in these stories. But realistically, I feel the people reading them are merely paying attention to the facts. And if you aren’t a regular reader, you probably don’t give two flying shits about a joke or two that we managed to (skilfully) insert into our short news stories.

So, can it be fixed? Honestly, I have no idea. It relies on sites and the people behind them to be willing to expose themselves, try new things, face criticism and pretty much ditch a well-worn path for the unknown rocky cliffside. As with all things in life, I believe the ultimate solution is a strong balance of all forms of media, with an increasing emphasis on the video and auditory forms. At OK Games, after having stumbled through our own period of struggle-town, we have endeavoured to create content WE feel proud of. It’s the luxury of not getting paid, I guess. We do the podcasts and our RePlay content because we enjoy each other’s company, and believe we work well together. We have fun, and we sure as hell aren’t the only ones in our particular situation. There are a tremendous amount of independent sites and groups of amazing people trying to get noticed doing different, more engaging content. We’re desperately trying to catch up to the behemoths of the US and Europe games coverage. Unfortunately, there is only so much we can do. We all have our lives outside of the sites we devote a lot of our free time to, and the audience is yet to throw their support behind the interesting Australian-made content. The best we, and those like us can do, is to keep trying to put ourselves out there, and hope it comes back in a bigger way.

Dance Dance Revolution

I don’t think the current status quo of gaming journalism in Australia will last too much longer. It sounds like I’m calling for a revolution, and in a way I guess I am. So, I suppose the ultimate message of this piece is that we, and everyone else that is trying something different (and trying to get themselves out there), just need to keep on keeping on. Hopefully, people take notice, and even if it’s not any of us that exist right now who succeed, at least we were part of a movement to ‘fix’ what’s wrong with gaming journalism in this country. There’s an untapped market, it just needs to be uncovered.

Twitter @Touchidavos

David is an editor here at OK Games. He loves video games, particularly strong narratives, and cooperative experiences. There aren't many games he doesn't touch, except for MOBA's. Never MOBAS.