Video game journalism

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Video game journalism is a branch of journalism concerned with the reporting and discussion of video games. It is typically based on a core reveal/preview/review cycle. There has been a recent growth in online publications and blogs.



The first magazine to cover the arcade game industry which is still in continuous publication is the subscription only, trade periodical Play Meter magazine, which began publication in 1974 and covered the entire coin-operated entertainment industry, including the video game sector.[1] Consumer-oriented video game journalism began during the golden age of arcade video games, soon after the success of 1978 hit Space Invaders, leading to hundreds of favourable articles and stories about the emerging video game medium being aired on television and printed in newspapers and magazines.[2] In North America, the first regular consumer-oriented column about video games, “Arcade Alley” in Video magazine, began in 1978 and was penned by the late Bill Kunkel along with Arnie Katz and Joyce Worley.[3] Meanwhile in Japan, video games began receiving coverage in personal computer and manga magazines from the late 1970s.[4] Video game designer Yuji Horii was a writer for one such video games column in Weekly Shōnen Jump magazine during the early 1980s.[5]

The first consumer-oriented print magazine dedicated solely to video gaming was Computer and Video Games, which premiered in the U.K. in November 1981. This was two weeks ahead of the U.S. launch of the next oldest video gaming publication, Electronic Games magazine, founded by “Arcade Alley” writers Bill Kunkel and Arnie Katz.[3] The oldest video game publication still in continuous circulation (as of 2012) is Electronic Gaming Monthly, which was founded in 1989. The first newspaper column dedicated solely to video games was The Vid Kid by Rawson Stovall and syndicated nationally by Universal Press Syndicate. The weekly column ran from 1982 to 1992.

The video game crash of 1983 badly hurt the market for Western video game magazines. Computer Gaming World, founded in 1981, stated in 1987 that it was the only survivor of 18 color magazines for computer games in 1984.[6] Meanwhile in Japan, the first magazines entirely dedicated to video games began appearing from 1982, beginning with ASCII's LOGiN, followed by several SoftBank publications and Kadokawa Shoten's Comptiq. The first magazine dedicated to console games, or a specific video game console, was Tokuma Shoten's Family Computer Magazine, which began in 1985 and was focused on Nintendo's Family Computer (also known as Famicom or Nintendo Entertainment System). This magazine later spawned famous imitators such as Famitsu in 1986 and Nintendo Power in 1988.[4]


There are conflicting claims regarding which of the first two electronic video game magazines was the "first to be published regularly" online. Originally starting as a print fanzine in April 1992,[7] Game Zero magazine, claims to have launched a web page in November 1994,[8] with the earliest formal announcement of the page occurring in April 1995. Game Zero's web site was based upon a printed bi-monthly magazine based in Central Ohio with a circulation of 1500 that developed into a CD-ROM based magazine with a circulation of 150,000 at its peak. The website was updated weekly during its active period from 1994-1996.

Another publication, Intelligent Gamer Online ("IG Online") debuted a complete web site in April 1995, commencing regular updates to the site on a daily basis despite its "bi-weekly" name.[9] Intelligent Gamer had been publishing online for years prior to the popularization of the web, originally having been based upon a downloadable "Intelligent Gamer" publication developed by Joe Barlow and Jeremy Horwitz in 1993.[10] This evolved further under Horwitz and Usenet-based publisher Anthony Shubert[11] into "Intelligent Gamer Online" interactive online mini-sites for America Online (AOL) and the Los Angeles Times' TimesLink/Prodigy online services in late 1994 and early 1995. At the time, it was called "the first national videogame magazine found only online."[12]

Game Zero Magazine ceased active publication at the end of 1996 and is maintained as an archive site. Efforts by Horwitz and Shubert, backed by a strong library of built up web content eventually allowed IG Online to be acquired by Sendai Publishing and Ziff Davis Media, the publishers of then-leading United States print publication Electronic Gaming Monthly who transformed the publication into a separate print property in February 1996.[13][14][15]

New media[edit]

Future Publishing exemplifies the old media's decline in the games sector. In 2003 the group saw multi-million GBP profits and strong growth,[16] but by early 2006 were issuing profit warnings[17] and closing unprofitable magazines (none related to gaming).[18] Then, in late November 2006, the publisher reported both a pre-tax loss of £49 million ($96 million USD) and the sale—in order to reduce its level of bank debt—of Italian subsidiary Future Media Italy.[19]

In mid-2006 Eurogamer's business development manager Pat Garratt wrote a criticism of those in print games journalism who had not adapted to the web, drawing on his own prior experience in print to offer an explanation of both the challenges facing companies like Future Publishing and why he believed they had not overcome them.[20]

This then combined with the move away from mass media outlets towards niche experts to create a growing market for bespoke games writing. This gaming coverage, rather than trying to be objective, acknowledges that it is written from a certain perspective. Some outlets, Game People's social media for example, even use this bias as a unique selling point of their content.


While self-made print fanzines about games have been around since the advent of the first home consoles, it was the inclusion of the internet in the lives of most gamers that gave independent writers a real voice in video game journalism. At first ignored by most major game publishers, it was not until the communities developed an influential and dedicated readership, and increasingly produced professional (or near-professional) writing that the sites gained the attention of these larger companies.

Independent video game websites are generally non-profit, with any revenue going back towards hosting costs and, occasionally, paying its writers. As their name suggests, they are not affiliated with any companies or studios, though bias is inherent in the unregulated model to which they subscribe. While many independent sites take the form of blogs (the vast majority in fact, depending on how low down the ladder you look), the 'user-submitted' model, where readers write stories that are moderated by an editorial team, is also popular.

In recent times some of the larger independent sites have begun to be bought up by larger media companies, most often Ziff Davis Media, who now own a string of independent sites.

In 2013-2014, IGN and GameSpot announced significant layoffs. These blamed at least in part to competition from reviews on sites like YouTube and Twitch.[21][22]

The rise of reviews on video-oriented sites[edit]

According to a 2014 article by Mike Rose in Gamasutra: "Getting covered by a big-name YouTuber is now essentially the dream of many game developers. The publicity someone like TotalBiscuit, NerdCubed or Northernlion can bring you compared to mainstay consumer websites like IGN, GameSpot and Game Informer is becoming increasingly significant. A year ago, I would have advised any developer to get in touch with as many press outlets as possible, as soon as possible. I still advise this now, but with the following caveat: You're doing so to get the attention of YouTubers." Rose interviewed several game developers and publishers and concluded that the importance of big name YouTube coverage was most pronounced for indie games, dwarfing that of the dedicated gaming websites.[23]


The computer and video game media industry is criticised for holding lax journalistic standards.[24] Reviews are the most controversial area, with issues in the following areas:

Conflicts of interest and pressure from game publishers[edit]

A publication reviewing a game when it has received advertising revenue from the game's publishers or has been invited to lavish 'press day' parties is often held in suspicion.[25] Reviews by 'official' console magazines such as Nintendo Power, Official PlayStation Magazine or the Official Xbox Magazine, all of which have direct financial ties to their respective platform holders, usually find themselves in similar positions. Publishers have been known to withhold material and/or advertising money from publications that do not adhere to their wishes (e.g. making the game in question the cover story) or do not show the game in a positive light.

These concerns are not new. In 2012, Eurogamer journalist Robert Florence was fired after posting a critique of advertorial friendliness of some gaming journalism sites.[26][27][28] In 2007 Jeff Gerstmann was fired from Gamespot after posting a review that was deemed too negative by its publisher, which also advertised heavily on the website.[29] Due to non-disclosure agreements, Gerstmann was not able to talk about the topic publicly until 2012.[30] Snippets of a 2001 email from The 3DO Company's president to GamePro read as follows: "[...] do not patronize me by telling me the reader is the customer—your real customer is the one that pays you your revenue. And it is game industry advertisers. [...] I should mention in passing that 3DO has been one of your largest advertisers. Effective immediately, we are going to have to cut that back [...] in conclusion, I think you owe us one because you took us by surprise and threw our review to a wolf. And you accepted his word as God without even checking in with a major advertiser."[29]

The YouTube gaming channels have not been above criticism of their ethics either. According to a July 2014 survey by Mike Rose in Gamasutra approximately a quarter of the high-profile channels receive pay from the game publishers or developers for their coverage, especially those in the form of Let's Play videos.[31]

Another controversy termed GamerGate began in the autumn of 2014 after an ex-boyfriend of indie-game developer Zoe Quinn made public allegations that she slept with Kotaku journalist Nathan Grayson.[32] Accusations were leveled of a conflict of interest intended to promote her games, while others viewed the accusations as a thinly-veiled attempt to harass a prominent and outspoken female developer. Quinn was targeted by what Vox writer Todd VanDerWerff called "horrifyingly gendered" criticism and harassment.[33] Kotaku investigated and determined that Grayson had never reviewed Quinn's games and had not written anything about Quinn since beginning the relationship. However, other alleged conflicts of interest involving journalists led to policy changes at multiple outlets.[32][33] Because of the polarizing nature of the accusations and the accompanying campaign of harassment, unlike previous controversies over the integrity of the gaming press, GamerGate became highly fragmented and politicized. Reports in mainstream media and politics oriented sites covering mostly the latter aspects,[34] ranging from misogyny[35] to a controversy over the meaning and image of gamer.[36]

Time spent on the game[edit]

Unlike linear media, getting a complete sense of a game can require far longer than the time it takes to play it from start to end. Further to this, games such as role-playing video games can last for hundreds of hours. Computer and video game reviewers therefore tread a fine line between producing timely copy and playing enough of a game to be able to reliably critique it. A famous exposé of underplaying was published by Penny Arcade's Mike Krahulik in September 2006: he dissected a review of Enchanted Arms and among other findings concluded that the reviewer had barely played three hours of the game's fifty before forming his opinion.[37] This conclusion was later refuted by the review's assigning editor, citing proof of the reviewer's completion of the game.[38]

New Games Journalism[edit]

New Games Journalism (NGJ) is a video game journalism term, coined in 2004 by journalist Kieron Gillen, in which personal anecdotes, references to other media, and creative analyses are used to explore game design, play, and culture.[39] It is a model of New Journalism applied to video game journalism. Gillen's NGJ manifesto was first published on the now defunct state forum/website, a community of videogame players often engaged in discussion and analysis of their hobby, from which an anecdotal piece, Bow Nigger,[40] had appeared. Gillen cites the work as a major inspiration for and example of what NGJ should achieve and the piece was later re-published in the UK edition of PC Gamer, a magazine with which Gillen has close professional ties.

Most NGJ articles are not reviews of games in the traditional sense. They can instead be understood as being analogous to travel journalism, where the writer responds to subjective experiences presented to them by the game world, as well as interactions with other players online, real-world events surrounding gameplay, and other personal experiences and anecdotes which create a unique story. The story is not necessarily indicative of the experience any other player will have with the game and will be unlikely to offer any objective value-judgements regarding the game's merits or failings[citation needed]. Instead, attention is focused on the subjective experience of the person[41] playing the game.

Publications of note[edit]


Blogs - Joystiq, Kotaku, Destructoid
Three mass-appeal blogs that rose to prominence at similar times. These sites often report in a more personal, informal style.[42]
Online - IGN, GameSpot, GamesRadar, Eurogamer, Giant Bomb
Seven notable examples of online games journalism. All attempt to cater to a wide audience, contain enormous amounts of information on all the major platforms, offer paid subscriptions (with the exception of GamesRadar and Eurogamer) and have extensive community features.
Video-based - GameTrailers, Giant Bomb
A media website that specializes in video game related content. It provides free access to original programming (such as reviews and previews), game trailers and recorded game play. Many of the video clips are offered in high definition along with standard definition.
Strategy guides, and previews - Prima Games
One of the biggest producers of video game strategy guides, with over 1000 published books, both Official and Unauthorized, publishers of walkthroughs as well as reviews and previews, of console and home computer programs.
GamePro (ceased publication in 2011)
Game Informer
Nintendo Power (ceased publication in 2012)
Official PlayStation Magazine (United States, United Kingdom, Australia)
Official Xbox Magazine
PC Gamer
BioGamer Girl Magazine
Good Game
EP Daily
GameTrailers TV
Ginx TV

Trade publications[edit]

Print - Game Developer Magazine
Online - Gamasutra
The largest games trade magazine (circ 35 000), and its associated website. A focus on North America.
Print/Online - MCV
UK trade publication (circ 10 000). Unusually, it is published weekly.
Online -
Popular trade website for Europe.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Play Meter". Retrieved 1 March 2012. 
  2. ^ "Players Guide To Electronic Science Fiction Games". Electronic Games 1 (2): 35–45 [36]. March 1982. Retrieved 1 February 2012. 
  3. ^ a b Kohler, Chris (September 6, 2011). "Bill Kunkel, Original Gaming Journalist, Dies at 61". Wired. Retrieved 1 March 2012. 
  4. ^ a b Gifford, Kevin (April 27, 2008). "'Game Mag Weaseling': Japan Mag Roundup 2008". GameSetWatch. Retrieved 1 March 2012. 
  5. ^ Fujii, Daiji (2003). "Entrepreneurial Choices of Strategic Options in Japan's RPG Development" (PDF). p. 13. Archived from the original on 2008-12-30. Retrieved 2006-08-12. 
  6. ^ Sipe, Russell (December 1987). "Editorial". Computer Gaming World. p. 4. 
  7. ^ "On-line reprint of main article from first issue with reprint notice at foot of page". April 1992. Retrieved 2008-04-25. 
  8. ^ "Earliest Game Zero website reference notice found in Usenet". 8 January 1995. Retrieved 2007-01-20.  (needs better citation)
  9. ^ "IGO web launch and GZ's formal web launches mentioned". 8 April 1995. Retrieved 2007-01-20. 
  10. ^ "Earliest Intelligent Gamer reference found in Usenet". 13 January 1994. Retrieved 2007-08-23. 
  11. ^ "Game Master Journal #34". 9 November 1993. Retrieved 2007-08-23. 
  12. ^ "The first national videogame magazine found ONLY online, via Prodigy and TimesLink". 3 March 1995. Retrieved 2007-08-23. 
  13. ^ "IGF announcement of Sendai Publishing agreement". 7 January 1996. Retrieved 2007-01-20. 
  14. ^ "IGF staff member indicates the magazine is coming soon". 18 February 1996. Retrieved 2007-01-20. 
  15. ^ "IGF staff member announces sighting of first print issue on stands". 22 February 1996. Retrieved 2007-01-20. 
  16. ^ "Future reports strong results for 2003". 10 March 2003. Archived from the original on 2007-03-27. Retrieved 2006-10-03. 
  17. ^ "Future slips to three-year low on profit warning". 10 March 2006. Archived from the original on 2007-11-12. Retrieved 2006-10-03. 
  18. ^ "Future Publishing confirms magazine closures, but games titles safe". 20 September 2006. Archived from the original on 2007-03-27. Retrieved 2006-10-03. 
  19. ^ "Future posts pre-tax loss of £49m". 29 November 2006. Archived from the original on 2007-11-12. Retrieved 2006-11-29. 
  20. ^ "Paper Trails". 18 August 2006. Archived from the original on 2007-03-27. Retrieved 2006-10-03. 
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^ "Ethics in Video Game Journalism". Online Journalism Review. 4 April 2003. Retrieved 2006-10-08. 
  25. ^ Mike Musgrove (2007-07-03). "An Inside Play To Sway Video Gamers". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-07-07. 
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^ a b
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^ a b Jilani, Zaid (8 September 2014). "“I want a straight white male gaming convention”: Inside the culture war raging in the video gaming world". Salon. Retrieved 12 September 2014. 
  33. ^ a b VanDerWerff, Todd (6 September 2014). "#GamerGate: Here's why everybody in the video game world is fighting". Vox. Retrieved 12 September 2014. 
  34. ^
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^ "I review a review". Penny Arcade. 2006-10-06. Retrieved 2006-10-14. 
  38. ^ "More on the Escapist, PA, and Cameron Lewis". 2007-07-30. Retrieved 2007-07-30. 
  39. ^ Gillen, Kieron. "The NGJ Manifesto". Retrieved 2006-12-30. 
  40. ^ "Bow Nigger". Retrieved 2009-02-05. 
  41. ^ Robertson, Andy. "The Game People Philosophy". Retrieved 2007-01-30. 
  42. ^ Simon Carless (12 April 2007). "The Future Of Fair, Balanced Game Editorial". GameSetWatch. Retrieved 2007-04-12. 

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