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Archive for the ‘Industry Idiots’ Category

Last year at the Game Developer’s Conference, I bumped into one of the best known daily games reporters in the business. Like me, he is also an author. He  knew I had a book that was about to hit, and he kindly suggested that I get in touch with a French publishing representative called Jean-Marc Demoly.  The writer mentioned that Demoly would be publishing one of his books and that Demoly was looking for compelling tomes about videogames that were first published in the United States. The writer looked happy about the prospects, and had good things to say about the publishing professional he had recently met.

After an introduction via email, I got in touch Jean-Marc, and I suggested that he move quickly. After an excerpt appeared in Vanity Fair online, there was a small buzz surrounding All Your Base Are Belong to Us. In fact, another French publisher had made an offer for French rights. Jean-Marc, however, offered substantially more money. But the other company had a track record of publishing literary books and even had worked with my friend, Nick Tosches.

After reading the book, Jean-Marc seemed the most enthusiastic. To my agents, I said, “Let’s go with the house that knows videogames best.” In other words, “Let’s go with Jean-Marc.” My agent was wary because he’d never heard of MCES Publishing. He suggested that we add a line to the contract that stipulated all money be paid upfront. I agreed since I had never heard of the house, either.

Once Jean-Marc received the contract, his emails to me became less frequent, and soon, non-existent. Then, he wouldn’t respond to my notes, either. Via Facebook, I tried to contact the publisher himself. In a short note, he wrote that he wasn’t involved in the company any longer. And he said he didn’t know where Jean-Marc was.

It was completely frustrating, not only because I’d been scammed, but because this happened in the book industry. One of the things I consider when I think about book publishing as compared to print journalism and online journalism is that the people involved in books have often been more collegial, perhaps because there’s more at stake. A book could and should have a long tail. It should sell for years, not for just one month, one day or one hour.

What I didn’t know is that Jean-Marc did the same thing to my well-known writer friend.

Jean-Marc made him an offer.

And then he disappeared.

Who knows how many other authors have been fooled by this man?

Thankfully, my agents were savvy enough to curry interest again with the respected French publisher. They made a deal which, I’m told, should bring me royalties for years to come.

So what is the takeaway here? If even seasoned journalists can be fooled by a gregarious charlatan, how do you protect yourself when your tome is offered for sale around the world? The only thing to say here is to forget charm and enthusiasm when it comes from an unproven entity. Listen to reasoned arguments from your agents. And stick with the company with the proven track record.

-Harold Goldberg

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It’s a bit of a horror story, an American horror story, and I’m not talking about the new television show about to premiere on the FX network. In the past week, what can only be described as terror has struck fear in the hearts and minds of many videogame journalists. Here’s why.

*Yesterday, Future Public Limited Company, a U.K.-based publisher of many of the U.S. enthusiast magazines like Nintendo Power and the Official Xbox Magazine, rocked the investor world by suggesting that it may sell off its U.S. division entirely. Or, the magazines might go digital instead. Or the magazines could go digital and then be offered for sale. Future will explain more on November 24.

*Word is that another lauded but struggling game magazine is about to go bi-monthly, and it may go belly-up before June of next year.

*Russ Frushtick, one of our early members and the witty writer/editor for Multiplayer, the MTV game blog, was let go last week in a round of poor-economy-related layoffs that hit employees across Viacom. Russ’ smart freelancers were hurt by the decision as well.

*Some game magazines and web sites are not paying freelancers in a timely fashion. I spoke with a Critics Circle member who is fed up with payments that come months late. That member, a terrific writer and a knowledgeable gamer, is readying to leave the industry entirely.

*The cutbacks are harming the reputations of well-known videogame websites as well. At GameSpy, which recently went through a slew of firings, new editor Bennett Ring was taken to the woodshed by readers for writing a clueless preview of Blizzard’s latest entry in the lauded Diablo series. He made things worse by lashing back at the onslaught on Twitter. I actually sent him list of videogame books to read. Perhaps this was a move that bordered on the obnoxious. Nonetheless, he chose not to reply, not with vehemence, not with a thank you.

During one of the previous recessions, I wrote an opinion piece for Mediaweek magazine. I said I was glad to see a spate of consumer magazines bite the dust because they were either redundant in the market, poorly written, oddly conceived or just plain twee. And I said recessions end, and when they end, they give rise to new ideas for great new magazines. There was hope then, and there’s hope now.

Yet this particular recession feels different. This isn’t the end of print, as the nervous nellies are proclaiming. But what’s happening is indeed troubling. Smart media observers realize that the publishers and editors of print magazines devoted to the world of gaming have to kick things up many notches in order to stay in business as they vie against competition from websites and blogs. The editing and assigning has to be more thoughtful and more courageous and the stories have to engage readers in ways that they haven’t before. Marketing and sales departments have to be push harder to garner a mix of ads that isn’t videogame related.

The question is, how? The answer must come from the brightest minds at these magazines as they conceive and plan beyond the norm. They stakes are higher than ever before. If they don’t implement groundbreaking new ideas, they won’t survive. And both game journalists and game enthusiasts will be the worse for it. Those magazines themselves? They are, in some inexplicable way, transmogrified in our minds to become our pals. And as Flaubert cautioned, “A friend who dies, it’s something of you who dies.”

–Harold Goldberg

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Despite a deep love for breakthrough technology and videogames, I’m still old school. If I spot a magazine I’ve never before seen, I’ll check it out with an enthusiastic curiosity. So it was as I approached a table far away from the concert at Summerstage in Central Park. I was flying from the visceral excitement of seeing Cults (A new band! One I actually like!). In a giddy almost-Austan-Goolsby-on-Jon-Stewart mood, I saw Moves magazine on the lower left corner on that table. (A new magazine! Maybe the rare one I’ll actually like enough to want to write for!) It turns out that Moves is a New York-based magazine that’s taken inspiration from Complex in that it’s split into two sections. Half is for women and half is for men.

But as I flipped through the glossy pages, I stumbled upon Hannah Simone’s ugly rant on videogames. My heart sank. It was decidedly the rankest, rudest takedown of videogames I had seen from someone without a vested political or corporate interest in slamming the complete industry.

In a nutshell, this very angry woman has been in a three-year relationship with a man who must surely be an addict. He seems not only to play games constantly, according to Simone, he also smokes pot…while he plays games. Simone was livid as she wrote. The vitriol. The cursing. The game playing (and I don’t mean bits and bytes). These partners are immersed in a regrettable cycle from which they can’t break free. She can’t quit him and he can’t quit games. It’s the stuff of which D-grade reality shows are made. She thinks the problem is him, not her. The reader, judging from the many responses from both sexes after I posted a link on Twitter, thinks it’s both of them.

Why do these seemingly dysfunctional folk stay with each other to continue this supposedly videogame-induced, Jersey Shore-type soap opera? Opposites attract, but in this case, opposites detract. Unfortunately, since the argument presented isn’t of the highest quality, we don’t know much about either woman or man, except for a couple of scenes. Simone makes blanket statement after blanket statement about videogames, but she only mentions a couple. She seems to firmly believe that Mature-rated console games are the only kinds of games available. She suggests that all women hide the power cord and threatens to throw the console out the window. “I don’t want to be his mother,” she says. “I want to fuck.”

Simone says that all games are wastes of time. But she hasn’t taken the time to educate herself because she wants to hold onto her beliefs. She just wants and needs to wail and moan, as if she had no choice but to stay with this addicted gamer. So she lets it all out in words, as if writing it out of her body can somehow help her mend this relationship.

Why get so down about this? It’s just one person in a small, quarterly that few have heard of. I guess my problem is less with Simone than with the editors who published the oddly crafted story in a fashion magazine that hits, according to their press kit, 250,000 people each quarter, each with supposedly an average household income of more than $150,000.

If their magazine is geared to both men and women, shouldn’t some guy have responded with his counterpoint? Shouldn’t Simone’s editor have asked her to address the idea that Simone is stereotyping everyone who plays games, men and women, old and young, alike? And who really has the grudge against gaming? Simone? Simone’s editor? The editor in chief who saw fit to make this the magazine’s first story? The publisher? All of them?

Part of the reason I wrote All Your Base Are Belong to Us was to explain to gamers and non-gamers alike how wonderfully artful games can be, how they fit, sometimes perfectly, into our American culture of entrepreneurs and artists. Then comes Simone, yelling from the balcony like a Juliet/banshee that all games are horrible wastes of time. One could utter the same things about fashion and celebrity lust, the stories that make up the bulk of Moves magazine. But I wouldn’t. Because everything written can have a useful purpose, everything can inform – if it’s well crafted and well conceived.

Yet though it’s not written about very much, addiction to games attacks a minority of gamers, and it attacks them as relentlessly as Zeus in God of War 2. If someone I cared about loved games or pot too much to the point of addiction, I wouldn’t embarrass them in print with haranguing. Instead, I’d suggest and then push for a doctor or a counselor. I’d suggest that I come along, too, if that’s what the significant other wanted.

It’s corny; it’s cliché. But it’s ultimately true: Life is a balance. Everything in moderation can make for an extraordinary compelling life. There’s little logic in Simone’s story and no balance, just the boom-goes-the-dynamite beginning of what appears to be the end. That’s sad, and it has very little to do with videogames.

 

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Adam Moss, the editor in chief of New York magazine, is one of the greatest Manhattan editors – ever.

He hires the best and the brightest, and he was my first editor when I came to New York City.  He gets writers in the sense that he lets them shine while getting what he wants out of them. He’s brilliant.

But New York doesn’t get videogames.

Over and over, I’ve seen errors in the rare game pieces in the magazine.

This week, in the ‘must-read’ Approval Matrix, someone called Dead Space 2 something really weird.

Some lazy writer called it Space Demo 2.

Nooo! How could that happen? New York is one of the world’s best magazines. It has some of the best editors. How could no one catch the error before the magazine went to press?

It’s because no one there really cares about videogames.

Shouldn’t they get with the program and start to care?

Space Demo 2 is really an embarrassing, unconscionable mistake for an award-winning magazine to make. Especially when it’s run by one of the great magazine editors in New York City.

-Harold Goldberg

 

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Minding my own business, I was quietly searching for videogames that will be coming out later in the year. I’ve always thought that GameSpy has had the most comprehensive, up-to-date game release schedule.

But for the upcoming Jurassic Park game, some lackadaisical writer at GameSpy wrote: “This episodic game series is based on the John Crichton novel and blockbuster movie series following an ill-fated attempt to bring dinosaurs back from extinction.”

John Crichton? As someone who often interviewed Michael Crichton, I’m royally ticked off.

All the writer needed to do to avoid the embarrassing error was to Google Jurassic Park.

I guess Thomas Edison was right: “There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking.”

Sheesh.

-Harold Goldberg

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Last week’s NYGCC panel tackled a ton of interesting topics, but there was one point in particular that resonated with me: Evan Narcisse’s comment that this year, we saw a lot of good games, but not a lot of great games. It was a solid year, Evan said, but we saw too many sequels and more than a handful of publishers decided to “play it safe.”

While I’m inclined to agree with Evan, Metacritic tells a different tale. In fact, according to the site’s game review aggregations, twenty-one games of 2010 scored 90 or higher, which seems to indicate that they were all pretty great.

Most of other the panelists and audience members agreed with Evan, as do I – this year was speckled with more good games than great ones. So how do we explain the Metacritic discrepancy? What if maybe, in retrospect, some of the 8s and 9s we gave out this year really weren’t all that accurate? What if some of those scores were inflated? What if, after spending 10-20 hours with a given game, our brains were too immersed in wonder to give accurate scores?

Take Super Mario Galaxy 2. It’s the highest game on the list, ranked 97 overall. In fact, it’s the one of the best-rated games of all time according to Metacritic – beating out BioShock, Baldur’s Gate II, Half-Life II, and a host of other classic titles that often come up in conversation when gamers discuss the greatest games in history.

But do people really think Super Mario Galaxy 2 is one of the best videogames ever? Sure, it was a lot of fun to play, but looking back, does it even come close to achieving the kind of transcendent experience that StarCraft (88 on Metacritic) or Metal Gear Solid 2 (96) can offer? Hell, I can barely even remember which levels were in Super Mario Galaxy 2 and which were in the first.

To me, Super Mario Galaxy 2 was just another good game released this year – not a great game, but a good one. Several years from now, I can’t imagine anyone replaying it and thinking “wow, this is one of the best games of all time.” Could it be that when some reviewers played through Super Mario Galaxy 2, they were enamored by the game’s charm – which is pretty damned alluring – and had trouble staying distant enough to grade it fairly? It’s happened to me, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Look, it’s okay to enjoy playing games – we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t love gaming. But as game reviewers, we have a responsibility to be honest and critical with our scores – there’s a big difference between a fun game and a great game. And if every fun game is worth an 8 or a 9, how do we grade the great ones?

It’s essential to try to balance immersion with critique – to stay fair while also staying fans. If we want to be able to talk about games on any sort of critical level, we have to stop tacking high scores on every fun game that comes along. We have to recognize what games are great – and what games just seem to be. We have to reward innovation and lambaste lazy design.

Let’s make scores mean something.

-Jason Schreier

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The Crying Invoice is simply brilliant.

 

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