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Roderick

Clickbait Games Journalism: Polygon vs Kotaku

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I'm through with Polygon. Anyone else feel that way? It used to be that Kotaku was the kinda trashy place for video game gossips 'n stuff, and Polygon this ambitious place for proper journalism. But these last few years I've seen a stunning reversal happening there.

 

Polygon started going nuts whenever a big Pop Culture Show Or Movie Event happened. You can set your watch to it: whenever there'd be a new Marvel film or Game of Thrones episode, the front page would suddenly be awash with thinkpieces and clickbaity articles and spoiler discussions. To the point where it felt the entire editorial board must've assembled to flood the site with them. Some of these pieces were fine. Others were shit. Then there's whatever the hell Ben Kuchera would do. It kept bugging me, but I put up with it because there would also occasionally be these beautiful long-form interview-documentaries about the making of Final Fantasy VII or what have you, and that's the stuff I was there for. Also Brian David Gilbert.

 

 

At the same time, Kotaku got better and better. There's hard-hitting journalism there now, exposing working conditions in the games industry and calling out stupid moves and people. Alongside the K-pop pick of the day. And I've been binging the Tim Rogers E3 videos, and they're just so delicious. Long story short, I am having a better time on Kotaku than on Polygon nowadays. By a mile.

 

Sure, there's still a big difference in what they do. Whenever Polygon manages to be serious and devoted to doing quality stuff, I like them just fine. But I also just deleted them from my bookmarks, because I simply can't stand the desperate clickbait reporting on Marvel movies &c anymore. The breaking point came yesterday. I'd just seen the Spider-Man film (which was awesome), and then I casually visited Polygon and saw an article that said "SPOILER" in the accompanying graphic, but proceeded to spoil the very thing in the clickbaity headline. If I'd seen that shit before watching the movie, I would've been ticked off. That is some stupid bullshit, and it's a direct consequence of their insistence on milking pop culture events for clicks.

 

So fuck 'em. I'll catch Brian on YouTube.

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I agree with most of what you're saying, but I don't feel like Polygon's ratio of clickbait-to-good-stuff has changed that much over the years. It's always been like this. I take it just as part of the sad reality of trying to run a website funded by ads. Ben Kuchera's output is always the worst of it tho, and I wish they'd just get rid of him.

 

I rarely make my way over to Kotaku, but I do like their youtube stuff. Particularly Highlight Reel and anything by Tim Rogers.

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I get that it's also my perception of the thing: I wouldn't be as annoyed by Kotaku doing the same clickbait stuff, because my expectations are very different. Yet, the very reason it's so jarring for Polygon is ironically because I hold them to higher - their own - standards.

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I don't like either site, but I've never been one to visit this kind of big generic gaming site. If I absolutely want to know what's up I''ll check bluesnews. The rest filters through anyway.

 

Waypoint's of course great <3

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(I used to rely solely on Idle Thumbs for my gaming news.)

(I didn't.)

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I've fallen out of using gaming news sites. I feel like I get enough general information about what is available from checking Twitter, ResetEra, and listening to the Beastcast. 

If I get curious about something in particular I'll search it out and that is usually the only time I'll read something on Polygon or Kotaku or Rock Paper Shotgun or PC Gamer or whatever.

If I just want to browse through games-writing I'll check what's up on Critical Distance.

https://www.critical-distance.com/

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I don't often use game websites any more, but I definitely did read long articles on Anthem, Read Dead Redemption 2, Riot Games and others on Kotaku. I also really liked the Kotaku video series that Tim Rogers did on localizing Final Fantasy 7. I'd recommend it, it's very pedantic.

I do remember them being the web's #1 place for Mario shaped birthday cakes and cosplay compilations, but how long ago was that? How old are we on this forum? I'm thinking about 2010, right?

 

I remember Polygon really patting themselves on the back for being SERIOUS JOURNALISM when they first appeared, but the next thing I remember is a guy putting amiibos in his mouth. I think some of Brian David Gilbert's videos are funny in how their concept is so stupid, but I don't feel compelled to be a consistent fan of such a website.

 

I've been checking in on Gamasutra recently. A lot of it is developers writing "How I achieved great success by working hard" to boost their personal brand, but it is about as insider as you can get. So I'm trying it out for now.

The thing I'm most enjoying right now is Waypoint drilling way into political subtext in game design choices. I just want a deep, deep dive on every game.

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I really like Waypoint's tone and writing, but I wish half of their articles weren't actually podcasts. I get that it's so much easier to discuss stuff in a spoken medium, but it makes me less inclined to visit their site. I can't count the times I've visited the site and saw a super interesting looking headline, only to find it's another podcast which I don't want to listen to. (I only listen to podcasts in my car and don't have the patience to put one on while I'm behind my PC or phone.)

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22 hours ago, Roderick said:

I really like Waypoint's tone and writing, but I wish half of their articles weren't actually podcasts. I get that it's so much easier to discuss stuff in a spoken medium, but it makes me less inclined to visit their site. I can't count the times I've visited the site and saw a super interesting looking headline, only to find it's another podcast which I don't want to listen to. (I only listen to podcasts in my car and don't have the patience to put one on while I'm behind my PC or phone.)

 

Yeah, that's a big issue for me, too. At the peak of the site's output, two thirds of the "articles" were either podcasts or those discussion prompts that they've thankfully gotten rid of now. I don't know why they hired some of the best writers in games journalism in order to put them in front of a microphone and have them churn out half-baked gut takes on stuff. Lately it's been really frustrating that their Neon Genesis Evangelion (re)watch has been almost entirely "I like this" "I don't like that" with Austin doing some history lessons in between.

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All media journalism is kind of exhausting me lately. Polygon is especially exhausting because it's mostly inch-deep pieces on whatever new shiny thing is floating around. I should probably just stop engaging with things that exhaust me.

 

Bring back Objective Game Reviews!

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@Roderick, I just had to chime in to say that everything you said is 100% how I feel. I don't know why I've kept Polygon bookmarked, but I've found myself hate reading just about everything they've put out lately. I haven't seen the new Spiderman movie and when I saw that headline I let out an audible "what the fuck Polygon?". Between Ben's super bad takes and trashy articles defending EA's monetization practices in sports games and that "Why I Worship At The Altar Of Crunch" article, it's quite an overwhelming amount of shit.

 

Kotaku's been pretty great though. I could do without the constant "internet reacts" articles but other than that I'm pleased with their output and the hard work they are clearly putting in to produce quality articles.

 

Waypoint doesn't really do it for me with their high ratio of podcast articles and the fact that the slate of articles on their homepage seems to update like once per week. 

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I'm not alone!

 

I'm deffo not burned out on games journalism, I enjoy reading up on stuff. Nintendo Life is a regular visit for me, just to keep tabs on literally every tiny thing Nintendo does. It also helps me in my own line of editorial work, so there's that added bonus.

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I don't know about you guys, but I've found myself wanting more talk on big topics than anyone is doing.

 

For example unionization was not invented yesterday. It's happened lots of times, with many ups and downs! Where's the unbiased pros and cons?
Maybe there's no E3 next year, but what does that mean? How could the ESA watch this happen in such slow motion?

What could a game actually do with a game-streaming service that it can't do on a local machine?

What does a subscription-driven market do to small indie games versus big $60 blockbusters? Who stands to lose out?
Has recent massive broadband penetration changed the way people approach games in India? If China had banned consoles for 14 years, are people playing couch co-op games for the first time there now?

 

When Sekiro came out, there were a bunch of articles about whether or not games "should have easy modes" and it just felt like every editor rolled out of bed, scratched their butt and said "I dunno, this could be news".

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Fair points. Isn't there at least one outlet that covers the bigger angles? WAYPOINT, you're on this!

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I don't know. The thing about these complaints is that the desire for in-depth articles is simply too great for the supply. Like it or not, Video game news is mostly just fan-service type stuff. Hey, did you know this is coming out? Hey, isn't this neat? This is because they have to produce things all the time in order to keep readers (which takes a lot of time), and also because it's difficult to keep inventing deep dives. The thing is, the writers and the sites have already done most of the deep dive pieces that are possible. Sure, it's been 3/5/10 years, but they already wrote it, and re-writing it isn't fulfilling for the writer, and it doesn't really drive clicks for the site, so they don't revisit it. It's been nice that Kotaku has done that series of Schreier articles, but then the rest of their stuff is just the usual. It's always been like this. Partly it's because the industry is a niche, and while it has problems, they tend to be the same problems they've always had (more or less), and with the same kinds of opportunities, etc.


So for me, it's just more of the same. Sometimes there is a great article on whatever site, and I"ll check it out. Mostly it's small little nothings, meant to generate clicks and provide a small piece of fandom. Sometimes Polygon is better, sometimes Kotaku, sometimes RPS, etc. Waypoint always puts their most interesting ideas into a podcast I'll never listen to. It would be nice to have deep-dive articles every day, but not even the Washington Post or the New York Times has that. And they're covering everything.  

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15 hours ago, Dragonfliet said:

Like it or not, Video game news is mostly just fan-service type stuff. Hey, did you know this is coming out? Hey, isn't this neat?

 

I wouldn't poo-poo that, it's useful stuff. There's ~700 games coming out on Steam every month, someone's gotta wade through all the crap to find the things worth paying attention to.

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Yeah it's true, even if you have a staff of 4 writers, maybe one of them can spend 10 days making something in-depth... but that never gets as much traffic as 5 posts about what's free on Xbox Game Pass this week.

So if a website operates in that way, they will run out of money. It's not like the government is giving them subsidies to keep the lights on.

 

I guess the other option is people who are funded by subscription and Patreon backers, like Noclip and Cloth Map... which are actually doing their best to make interesting things!

So I am glad that they're using that avenue to cover topics that nobody would click on. That seems like they're delivering on the promise of a medium that isn't based on ads.

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On 7/11/2019 at 1:11 AM, Henke said:

 

I wouldn't poo-poo that, it's useful stuff. There's ~700 games coming out on Steam every month, someone's gotta wade through all the crap to find the things worth paying attention to.

Oh, no, I don't think I'm being down on it. It's not particularly thoughtful, or full of insight, but it's useful and/or fun stuff.It's there to serve a population of people who care about games (and the subculture surrounding them), which means that it's mostly stuff that serves that need, with occasional in-depth stuff. 

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As a writer, I get really frustrated when people use the term "clickbait." It's been thrown around so much that it now refers to anything from attention-grabbing headlines that don't match the actual article to hot take write-ups covering the latest cultural obsession to any kind of coverage that falls outside what you want from a publication. There are whole swaths of commenters who call any discussion of sexism or racism clickbait because they see it all as fake, puffed up controversy. It's just not a great word for having a nuanced conversation.

 

I get it though, it sucks to see every outlet in the world circle the drain of TV recaps and opinions on Marvel movies. When my Twitter timeline fills up with reminders to avoid Twitch and Amazon to support striking workers, I really don't want to see Polygon post a "Check out these Prime Day deals!" article that's just a list of affiliated links. People already pointed out how this stuff is necessary to pay the bills, but that just points to how shitty and broken the system is. Even if it subsidizes some good writing, the ratio seems pretty bad at this point. I usually recommend going to smaller publications, but at this stage I don't even know where people post the good stuff. Blogs are kind of uncool at the moment, a lot of the critics I know either stream or make videos now. Which is fine, but just not the same as good writing. I don't know.

 

Also: Perception is a really weird issue when it comes to this. Kotaku have been punching way above their reputation for a long time, but when people come across their longform stuff, they are often surprised or see it as a very recent shift. They have been especially good this year though. Cecilia D'Anastasio's coverage of workplace issues at Riot Games deserves all the shout outs I can give.

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We discussed the term a bit here.

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Maybe we should use this thread to post games-writing that we found worthwhile.

I'm sure such a thread exists here, but... idk seems like a good solution.

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I like it! Please do. I am sure to miss just about anything good otherwise.

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A few posts up I listed a bunch of stuff that I'd like to be reading about. I noticed today that one of those articles actually did get written!
An article on the ESA acting in slow-motion, watching E3 crumble as they get distracted by in-fighting and sloppy management:

https://variety.com/2019/gaming/features/entertainment-software-association-mike-gallagher-e3-1203211280/

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