João Sanches, Edge's deputy editor
Edge's deputy editor talks about the role, the effects and the future of videogames press.
Inventive and elegant design, mature, analytical and prospective articles : since its creation in 1993, Edge has acquired a prestigious and unequaled reputation in the videogames business. The magazine changed its design and editorial orientation in september 2000, and its Web site was launched in december. Within the scope of our article about videogames press, we have interviewed João Sanches, Edge's deputy editor.
Polygon : In your opinion, what's the purpose of videogames review ? Do you think it can have the same importance as cinema review ? Do you think game reviewers can play a part in the progress of the medium (for exemple, the french "Nouvelle Vague" was partially initiated by former reviewers who had a new vision of cinema, like Truffaut and Godard) ? More precisely, do you think that Edge articles like "But is it art ?" can stimulate videogames creators ?
João Sanches : At its most fundamental, I'd say the purpose of a videogame review is to inform the reader whether that particular game is one he/she should consider obtaining. That is its primary function. And if you compare cinema and videogame reviews on that level alone, then they are essentially the same - people want to know whether the latest film is worth seeing just as they would want you to tell them whether a certain game is worth buying. But videogames have a long way to go before they can claim to obtain the same recognition as mainstream (Hollywood) films, and an even longer road before being able to compete with what I would call "true" cinema on an artistic level. So in that sense, the videogame review is a very distant cousin to the cinema review. And bear in mind I'm focusing solely on the competent videogame reviewers, here -let's not even bother with the majority of so called videogame journalists whose ability as a whole is depressingly, embarrassingly poor.
Having said that, reviewers have a definite - if limited - influence over the medium they report on. Given that positive reviews can, to a certain degree, influence the commercial performance of a particular title (see below) publishers (and their marketing teams) are keen to amass as many good scores as possible as a way of bolstering the advertising campaign. Take Gran Turismo, for instance. Would the realistic driving game have undergone such an explosion in popularity it has experienced since had the videogames press not gone so crazy over Sony's admittedly revolutionary racer ? Of course publishers reacted to the gaming public buying GT, but a lot of the hype was initially generated by the press. Subsequent games were consistently criticised for lacking in number of cars, simplistic handling physics, and other areas GT excelled at. Publishers (and developers) simply reacted by aping the formula that had proved so popular.
But it's important to realise it is a limited influence. In answer to your point about Edge articles having an effect on developers I would say that in an ideal world this would be the case. But we live in a commercial world. As inspiring some of these (and other publications') articles may be, the grim reality is that there's only so much creative freedom publishers will allow their developers to have. Thankfully, occasionally someone will try the same thing in a significantly different way and more often than not, the ensuing commercial success convinces most other publishers that this was a good idea after all. And then the whole cycle begins again.
Do you think videogames press can determine the commercial success of a game ?
Once upon a time, when the market was a lot more niche than it is currently, this was certainly the case. These days, however, as videogaming becomes increasingly popular the influence of the specialist press is less apparent. Hardcore gamers may still pay attention to what certain publications have to say about a particular game, but the majority of people will just go along with the marketing men. You only need to see some of games that top the charts to realise that the vast gaming public doesn't bother to read the reviews. Besides, the standard of most videogame journalism is so poor and corrupt now that I can't say I would blame most people from not bothering to trust magazines/websites/etc. So I'd say that while negative reviews won't necessarily dissuade gamers from purchasing bad games, positive reviews can certainly help increase the sales of good titles - GoldenEye is a perfect example of the latter.
How do you see the future of games press ? Online ? More accessible ? More mature ? More analytical ?...
This is an interesting one. The Internet has certainly killed off the news section in magazines - from a personal perspective, we realised this fairly quickly and have since adapted our "news" section to become more analytical simply than use the straight reporting we would have done in the past. If you want information fast, then the Internet is a wonderful tool. The problem arises when you're looking for reliable information. On the whole, the standard of web journalism is, if anything, even lower than print journalism -the cost and risks are far lower, of course- so finding good sites becomes something of a quest. They do exist, naturally, but you'll have to digest a significant amount of rancid work before you get to them.
But that's not to say I expect magazines to disappear altogether. There's something quite appealing in having a product that's tangible and immediate - you know, something you can hold in your hands and access without having to wait for it to load up on your screen. Something you can read on the toilet, if you so wish. From that perspective, the Internet is still a long way behind magazines. I guess the way I see the situation at the moment and certainly for the next few years is for both of these mediums to complement each other, forming a rather powerful alliance, if you will. For instance, this is what we're trying to achieve with Edge-Online. There's little point in the website completely reiterating what is printed in the magazine or vice versa -the two mediums have to work together and strengthen each other. It's a delicate balance to achieve and maintain, but one I'm prepared to try.
From the sense of standard of journalism obviously things cannot continue the way they are. Videogames journalism has to grow up alongside the user audience. And while some of the magazines do not necessarily need to mature in terms of content (particularly if they are aimed at the younger market), their staff could certainly benefit from doing so. Specifically, there is a lack of professionalism that almost defies belief - the level of corruption among the majority of magazines is astounding. Ludicrously high review scores are handed out in exchange for exclusivity and cover deals, the tone of the magazine is artificially altered to keep readers happy rather than inform them of the truth (however sombre), and other sordid details I won't bother you with here. Let's just say anyone trying to do a decent job of it can find the videogame magazine publishing world extremely depressing.
Of course, any improvement will only come after a change in attitude from the publishers themselves - these need to recognise that a good videogames magazine is as professional as a cinema magazine (to come back to your original comparison), and that the editorial staff deserve to be treated in the same manner (there's an expression in English that is rather apt : if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. And this is largely the state of the videogaming press today). For instance, the idea that videogame journalists spend their entire days playing games is frighteningly and insultingly outdated - of course there are still some cases around but they won't be here for much longer, I assure you. We need people with integrity, capable of reporting the facts without shying away from the truth and, above all, we need them to be honest with their audience. In essence, we need good journalists.
Interview by Pierre Gaultier.
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