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You Patreon Me and I Patronize You?

A lot of religious art exists for a simple reason. Artists needed funding and churches were one of the few institutions wealthy enough to underwrite the costs involved in supporting them. Banks and a few other wealthy individuals were also able to pay for these services. In the process, by virtue of the patronage, they dictated the face and definition of art. They decided which techniques were good and acceptable. They controlled what was produced by the artists and its very context. They decided what was beautiful and worthy via their very spending. Churches decided what aspects of the bible were to be lauded and valued and even what Jesus himself looked like. A few clever painters snuck in some of their own little touches, but their input has to be searched for by the most knowledgeable of persons.

Over time, the financing of art changed as Post-War consumerism sought to supplant the role of the church and aristocracy in the business of art. Now we find game coverage to be making a similar transition. Gaming has long been financed by advertisers who, naturally, want to have a say in the product (website) that they associate their brand with. They don’t want you giving 2/10 for games that they or their partners have made. They also do not want their brand mired in controversy like gamergate, which is probably why many sites have never covered the issue. Of course the shining example of advertiser influence came when Jeff Gertzman was fired from Gamespot after his Kayne and Lynch review. Although this incident was the exception, it cast an immediate and permanent shadow on the review process and the role of advertisers and publishers in it. This has led to a long-held suspicion and cynicism about the transparency of the entire process of games reviews. Now, thanks to services such as Patreon, a new stream of financing is set to transform the way games are covered. While many proclaim the “democratization of games journalism” to be the greatest thing to happen in games coverage, my enthusiasm is much more demure.

Yes, advertisers have their influences, but at the end of the day, a publication must have some measure of quality and accountability to maintain its readership. It’s the role of the management team to balance the needs of the financiers with the needs of the consumer. Veering too far in either direction over a long period of time could prove detrimental. Taking a step back, I’m pretty content with how reviews turn out and I have learned to sort sense from nonsense. I know which publishers are going to get a raw deal from certain sites and I know which ones will get the benefit of the doubt. I’ve learnt the “lay of the land” so to speak. However, the topography is about to change in a very dramatic way.

A number of erm…”professional enthusiasts” (PEs for short) are now leaving their respective publications to strike out on their own. I call them PEs because after the recent gamergate fiasco, the phrase “I’m not a journalist” was repeated just as many times as Nixon’s “I’m not a crook” has been parodied. After years of proclaiming “we just want to work at IGN forevs” (I might be paraphrasing), Greg Miller and Colin Moriarty have left IGN. Jim Sterling has struck out on his own, and now Inside Gaming have similarly retreated from Machinima. These changes have come about from financing available in the form of YouTube monetization, sponsorships and most importantly, Patreon. Now on the surface, this seems like the culmination of a long held dream. We, the gamers, are taking the reins away from the corrupting influences of advertisers and endowing a true sense of free speech to our industry. For one thing, reviews may actually become more reliable if you’re willing to wait for them for a bit after the game is released. Given the (broken) state of recent releases, I think a lot of us will be shying away from pre-orders for a while anyway. The need for early reviews is a complicated issue and if your following is large enough, you may be able to get a copy without agreeing to any questionable contracts like the ones handed out to YouTubers by the company promoting Shadows of Mordor. While all of this sounds great, I’m not as easily convinced that it will by smooth sailing ahead.Greed is infinite, and one may choose to still be influenced by promoters despite having a (well) paid viewership. Not having any bosses will certainly make it easier.

They say the true mark of a great politician is the ability to talk for hours and say nothing. More specifically, a good politician manages not to take sides. Taking sides means dividing your supporters. A good politician avoids this at all costs and is as vague and obscure as is possible. Now let’s say you manage to get enough supporters on a service like Patreon. Then what? Are you now truly free to do and say as you please? Of course not. You have simply traded one master for another. You now have to worry about your base in much the same way as politicians must worry about theirs. If you decide that Uncharted 4 is mundane, can you really say that if PlayStation gamers represent the majority of your base? In the words of Bob Dylan, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody”, and in this case, you serve the majority of the persons that give you money. If you go down this route, you risk the creation of an echo-chamber of opinion, where what you “think” may just predictably parrot the opinions of your supporters. Now this may be successful, and it isn’t really wrong, but it does make for some boring and predictable content as far as I’m concerned.

Inside gaming has a very clever way of dealing with the need to pander to many different groups of people. They line up a minimum of 4 people in a room and each person “conveniently” has a different take of a specific issue. One person says that The Last of US is overrated, another says its okay but nothing special and yet another says that it’s a masterpiece. In the process, they give you someone in the group that aligns with your specific opinion and hence, keep you satisfied. It’s not a new model by any means, but it is cleverly implemented. However, I see the choreography of “opinions” and I can’t help but have my intelligence insulted a bit.

I do like the fact that gamers are now financing the voices of our industry. In my mind it’s still better than the alternative. However, I can’t help but wonder how the need to pander to supporters would affect those voices. If you look at the prominent personalities on YouTube, they all seem to be “angry” or “outraged” because that’s what sells to their audience. More successful persons have resorted to shrill screams into a microphone as their way of connecting with their audience. I’ve grown rather bored by their antics. It’s my fear that chasing public opinion would leave us with a boring and homogenized media much in the same way that network television seems bland and uninspired to many. Hopefully, a few will rise to become the HBOs of gaming media coverage.

Valenka3458d ago

Very informative and very well written blog, longcat. It's not a topic I discuss often, but the problem lies therein with the humble dollar sign. Companies would rather pay these media outlets to hype up an experience to generate more revenue than actually craft an experience worth hyping. I can't tell you how many times I've told people in the past that if they spent half as much time, effort and money that they spent on paying off reviewers or blatant advertising and put that toward bettering their product, they'd have a lot of happy consumers and a lot more revenue.

I think, an actual fact, that these "journalists" care more about money than upholding their job description, that's why the gaming industry is going to ruin. Not to mention that gamers don't know who to trust anymore when it comes to reviews, paired with the fact that developers only show you want they want you to see pre-launch, the unbelievable lack of demo releases...there's just so much that goes on behind the scenes that we never see until we spend the $60 on the game and realize it was utter trash all along.

The fact of the matter is, companies should have zero control over anything but themselves. Make your product, let people be completely honest when reviewing or discussing it and try harder next time. That's it.

longcat3458d ago (Edited 3458d ago )

Thanks for the feedback and let me take the opportunity to say that i enjoy your blogs tremendously as well.

I think that the direct relationship between content creator and audience is going to be interesting. Keeping people happy on the internet is no easy task and we still have no guarantee that these people would choose to not be influenced by advertisers and promoters. In fact, the fact that noone (editors/bosses/HR)is looking over their shoulder might make things worse , especially if viewers stop paid support. It may cause more problems than it solves, but at least its going to be an interesting experiment.

Gazondaily3456d ago (Edited 3456d ago )

Very good blog (one of the better ones I've read on here).

This bit kind of struck me as I ended up thinking about me and my site:

"They line up a minimum of 4 people in a room and each person “conveniently” has a different take of a specific issue. One person says that The Last of US is overrated, another says its okay but nothing special and yet another says that it’s a masterpiece. In the process, they give you someone in the group that aligns with your specific opinion and hence, keep you satisfied".

What hit home is the fact that:

1) We are scheduling that VERY TOPIC (TLOU is overrated) for one of our videos


2) We have a mix of different opinions doing exactly what you are saying: (1) that its over-rated and (2) one hardcore fan that says it is a masterpiece

The only difference is, it isn;t scripted as such. I simply have that kind of make-up in the team and we debate for hours (you don't want to see our whatsapp chat log).

But it is true to an extent. I devise these topics based on the make-up of our group but make sure it is balanced so that "in the process...someone in the group...aligns with your specific opinion and hence, keep you satisfied"

You shouldn't really feel your intelligence insulted though by that format, I don't think. Asking quite topical questions and getting a mix of people, as long as those views are genuine, is fine no?

As for being influenced by advertisers and promoters, we're two small for anyone to care and (2) we probably have p***ed off everyone in the industry :P

But yeah, I can see the industry working as you highlighted above.

Really good read and on the money.

BluFish3456d ago

"that's why the gaming industry is going to ruin."

Citation needed.

-Alpha3457d ago

Beautifully written. Its interesting that you think what you think in regards to Youtube personalities. I've noticed also that some personalities tend to be sponsored by publishers, which can come off as ironic since this defeats the novelty of gamers voicing interest over publishers/website media.

blarty3457d ago

Excellent piece - but there is one thing that I've been thinking about with regards to the move away from traditional outlets to youtubing - whilst these outlets do have marketing and pr departments and yes people who help with the advertising, etc. they also have legal departments, so that the outlet doesn't get it's backside sued when said PE says something stupid. I believe that by moving to Patreon, that at least one of these people will put their foot in their mouth and be faced with some kind of legal letter from a publisher or individual.

As some people put it, they believe the problem lies in money, but as much that's a problem, the whole chummy-chummy ness and politicking going on lately is as divisive, and possibly just as destructive

longcat3455d ago

Thanks for commenting and I agree that the lack of guidance could prove to b very prolematic in the future

mixelon3457d ago

This piece is on a totally different level to most stuff posted here.. Good job. :)

I think it could go either way - there are a lot of people who's content is a bit too weird or anti establishment to fit nicely into the bigger gaming sites who I'm happy to see branching out. Some of them aren't particularly explosive, they're just .. odd. It's nice to think they could have a big enough audience to go it alone.

longcat3455d ago

Thanks. I think that extra credits is a good example of what you speak of, and I agree that more of that would be awesome

DefenderOfDoom23454d ago (Edited 3454d ago )

Another great blog, Longcat,
Yeah, i am really bummed out that Inside Gaming left Machinima ! I watched that show every weekday. A lot of the Inside Gaming staff used to work for G4's, Attack of the Show . Hopefully the Inside Gaming staff well have a show on Youtube soon.
As far as a Youtube gaming channel being like HBO . I think Jeff Gertsmann and Giant Bomb comes pretty close . No one that i know of, covers more games thru their "Quick Looks" . Although , I am really going to miss Patrick and "Bombin in the Am" shows, on Mondays and Fridays . What i like about Jeff and Giant Bomb they do not rely complaining about the the video game industry for their entertainment . We have Boogie2988 (Francis) and the Jimquistion for that.
I think the two most important things for Youtube video gaming content makers is to be honest and somewhat entertaining . I loved Jeff Gertsmann back before Youtube was big ,when he was working for Gamespot . He has a great personality and i believe he is honest and does a great Jackie Gleason imitation . Wow i am getting old . Cheers .

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