Big Pic­ture Mode

In­dus­try is­sues given the widescreen treat­ment

EDGE - - SECTIONS - NATHAN BROWN Nathan Brown is Edge’s games ed­i­tor, and you just won’t be­lieve what he writes in E272. It will blow your mind

Nathan Brown on the dan­gers of putting pageviews over read­ers

The web may be rapidly de­scend­ing into a morass of Buz­zFeed-in­spired quizzes and vi­rally head­lined im­age gal­leries, but much of the game me­dia, and its news desks in par­tic­u­lar, con­tinue to work to tra­di­tion. News cov­er­age is played with a straight bat and to a rigidly de­fined tem­plate. First comes the news it­self, based on a press re­lease or an­other web­site’s orig­i­nal re­port­ing. This does the great­est ser­vice to your read­ers, let­ting them know what’s hap­pen­ing and where they can go to read more about it. It’s also by far the quick­est to pro­duce. It won’t, how­ever, get much traf­fic; other peo­ple’s news never does. You need to fol­low up.

At the op­po­site end of the scale is a con­sid­ered, bal­anced re­port with in­put from mul­ti­ple sources. Th­ese might be the most sat­is­fy­ing to read, but they take a rel­a­tive age to pull to­gether. PRs tend to go into lockdown when a story breaks – if it’s bad news, they want noth­ing to do with it; if it’s their own an­nounce­ment, they’d rather let the press re­lease speak for it­self – so you may strug­gle to get the ac­cess you need. That just won’t do when you’re on a 20-minute dead­line. In an era when news cy­cles move at such light­ning pace, your au­di­ence is three or four scan­dals ahead of you by the time you’re ready to go. And how do you pro­duce an eye-catch­ing headline for a story that goes out of its way to be even-handed? Twenty-two Amaz­ing In­dus­try Re­ac­tions To Videogame Drama X (Num­ber 17 Will Make You Cry)?

Lit­tle won­der, then, that the most com­mon fol­low-up to a ma­jor story is the opin­ion piece. While not quite so quick to pro­duce as a PR re­write, all you need is a sin­gle source – your own brain – and the abil­ity to ex­press a view­point in enough ways to fill a word count. The headline prac­ti­cally writes it­self, you hit your dead­line with time to spare, and the clicks and com­ments roll in.

I’ve writ­ten plenty of such pieces in my time, and I’ve never felt en­tirely com­fort­able do­ing them. As my mouse cur­sor hov­ered over the Pub­lish but­ton, I would hes­i­tate,

Which is go­ing to get more traf­fic, the piece that’s even­handed and nails it, or the pa­tro­n­is­ing, one-eyed one?

won­der­ing if I was about to make a quite pro­found arse out of my­self. I’d be torn apart in the com­ments, I thought. I’d for­ever be known as the guy who thought Wrong­headed Thing X about In­dus­try Devel­op­ment Y.

And then I re­alised it doesn’t mat­ter in the slight­est. In fact, given how the In­ter­net works, it might even be bet­ter to be wrong. It’s why Buz­zFeed and its ilk are so fond of im­age gal­leries, and why their head­lines point to a sin­gle im­age that falls roughly two-thirds of the way through the set.

Ad­ver­tis­ing re­mains on­line me­dia’s prin­ci­pal source of rev­enue, and it is still most com­monly sold on pageviews. The more clicks your web­site gets, the greater your ad rev­enue. Now, which is go­ing to get more traf­fic, the piece that’s thought­ful, even­handed and nails it, or the pa­tro­n­is­ing, oneeyed and fac­tu­ally in­ac­cu­rate one that’s guar­an­teed to get read­ers froth­ing be­low the line and on so­cial me­dia? There is no dis­tinc­tion between good and bad clicks for the ad men, no met­ric to dif­fer­en­ti­ate between the reader who leaves happy and the one who de­parts in ab­ject fury. All that mat­ters is that views are ex­pressed in a browser win­dow, share but­tons get clicked, and com­ments are posted. Take which­ever side of the ar­gu­ment you want, just so long as you take a side, and take it quickly.

I’m not say­ing that writ­ers are go­ing out of their way to be wrong. I’m not sure how I’d get out of bed in the morn­ing if I thought that was the case. But there has never been so much scru­tiny on how the videogame press does its job, and with ev­ery in­di­vid­ual er­ror of judge­ment, our col­lec­tive stock falls that much fur­ther. We are among the few priv­i­leged enough to have a plat­form for our views. And it’s vi­tal that priv­i­lege isn’t abused for the sake of mak­ing a few more quid off the ad­ver­tis­ers.

I ap­pre­ci­ate the irony in us­ing a monthly col­umn to call out op-eds. I re­alise, too, that the opin­ion piece pre­dates the In­ter­net by decades, and that there was a time when print me­dia was con­sid­ered too speedy. In 1858, The New York Times said com­mu­niqués by tele­graph were “su­per­fi­cial, sud­den, un­sifted, too fast for the truth”. Per­haps it’s not a ques­tion of pace, then, but pri­or­i­ties. A writer’s first obli­ga­tion isn’t to an­a­lyt­ics or ad­ver­tis­ers, af­ter all, but to read­ers. Stop giv­ing our au­di­ence rea­sons to trust us and soon enough we’ll all be pump­ing out 30-page gal­leries ti­tled Which Mario Kart 8 Char­ac­ter Are You? And then I re­ally will strug­gle to get up in the morn­ings.

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