This Is Not A Love Song

2000: I’m at E3. As it turns out, it was both my last E3 as a blogger, and my next to last E3 in general (the show went on hiatus shortly thereafter). E3 had just discovered what blogs were (though I don’t think the term itself had taken off yet) and had issued me a media pass based on my site having X number of readers. I was there with a few friends and we cackled occasionally at the irony of my using a silly rant site to wedge myself into the drink tickets usually soaked up by the more respectable chattering classes.

During one interview for an MMO about to release I ran into the head of the company outside their booth. He looks me up and down with a gaze that could make the wombs of virgins barren, and finally manages to spit out one word while staring at my chest: “Media”.

What an ass, I thought to myself all throughout the next hour’s carefully contrived smoke and mirrors show for a game that I didn’t particularly care about and had no intention of playing for a website readership that really didn’t want to read my recap of a game I didn’t care about and had no intention of playing. I’m not good enough for him? Fuck him. I’m just as much a writer as everyone else stumbling around the hall in a vodka-fueled haze, only I occasionally use cooler words.

But, what bothered me the most was that he was right. I wasn’t “media”, this wasn’t my career, I knew very well that all I did was post drunken Facebook rants a decade before Facebook actually existed. People didn’t come to my website looking for reviews or news, that was just a side effect to my daily snark on which GM was screwing which player (literally or figuratively depending on the day). I was, as I would sometimes yell at people at the top of my lungs, most definitely not a journalist. I was a ranter. Which, sadly, really did not catch on as a description. Blogger sounds better at parties.

It was popular, sure, and a lot of it was because I was doing not-journalism better than the supposed journalists. When everyone else just accepted free trips to studios to watch the dog and pony show for an hour and then indulge in preferred vices copiously on the publisher’s PR tab, I would occasionally actually talk to people and post what they had to say. It was new, I didn’t have an editor (actually I was kind of the editor for a lot of folks, though I usually did very little editing to the dismay of people who wanted more Lum and less Not-Lum), I didn’t have a gatekeeper, I just found Truth (or what I thought was truth, which really is the same thing when you’re intoxicated by the presence of an audience) and put it up for everyone to look at.

No one else seemed to be doing that, which alternately confused and astounded me, save some guy in a funny hat named Matt Drudge, who by 2000 was making his own headlines out of upending the journalists reposting spoon-fed press releases. I kind of liked him, even though our politics were a bit dissimilar (I still called myself a conservative in those days, this being pre-9/11, pre-Patriot Act, pre-bailout, pre-1%), because I could see the impish glee in his eyes when talking on a morning news show. I bet some politician probably sneered at him in the green room, too. Funny how that works.

2012: I’m at a cocktail party, feeling about as much like a fish out of water as one can be without gills, at a mansion that could be best described as fin-de-siecle Lifetime special, talking to a college student whose ambition in life is to be a cable news reporter. Not a newspaper reporter – print is dead. Everyone knows that. The real action is on CNN and Fox, but it frustrates her knowing that someone will most likely write what she has to say and whisper it in her ear in place of actual thought. I suggest that maybe she should aspire to be the producer doing the whispering but that doesn’t seem to go over very well. No, the real action is in blogging. That’s where reporting is happening now. That’s why they teach it in schools.

Wait, I interrupt. They teach blogging as coursework now?

Oh, of course, she says. The next day, still somewhat stunned at the thought, I find that yes, journalism schools do actually have you set up a blog as part of coursework.

I don’t think anyone would sneer at a name tag any more.

I am not merciful.

Not in a world where Sean Hannity interviews James O’Keefe about Andrew Breitbart’s legacy. Journalism is dying, and ranting has taken its place, because people are becoming Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus watching the gladiatorial games, demanding blood and circuses. It’s where the money is, it’s where the eyeballs are, it’s where the future is.

It’s not journalism. I am not a journalist, and I never was. I was (and to a lesser degree today still am) an opinion writer, which used to be understood as not the same thing.

Used to be.

The spark for this soapbox? A piece up on Gamasutra today, which should have been clearly noted as opinion, but which is posted as a “feature”, essentially ripping apart Star Wars: Old Republic’s free-to-play model. There’s some opinions I agree with, some I disagree with, but the whole thing is essentially a long rant about how Bioware killed the author’s baby. Said author, Simon Ludgate, is credited as an “MMO consultant”. Does such a thing actually exist? Do people need to pay ranters thousands of dollars to fly out, thoughtfully rub their chin after a demonstration, and say “yes, that is an MMO!” Because that sounds like a nifty gig, if not one with a really long-term future. Oh wait, it means he has a blog. OK, seems legit to me!

The core of his article, that a free to play player in SWTOR seeking to achieve parity with a subscriber, would have to pay $56 a month, is hilariously wrong. It’s poorly sourced, as he even notes himself breezily, before making it the entire subject the rest of his rant. And it’s a really bad rant, full of Internet slang that makes the whole thing look like it was ripped wholesale from a typical official MMO message board, complete with the author saying that Bioware should have instead implemented about 30 pie-in-the-sky features ignoring the fact that SWTOR’s team just went through massive layoffs and may have some limits in what is possible – something an “MMO consultant” with industry experience would, I assure you, be *entirely* too aware of. But of course, if you’re a ranter – er, sorry – blogger – er, wait – journalist, all things are possible, and the only reason Company X hasn’t implemented your shiny pony is because they hate you and are too busy rolling around in their own filthy money which they stole from YOU.

Which is fine. Not everyone can be Matt Taibbi. But Gamasutra hasn’t marked this as an opinion piece, but as a featured article. This is essentially Gamasutra’s editorial position on SWTOR’s monetization scheme – that SWTOR didn’t implement player housing, so it failed.

Am I biased? Of course. I play SWTOR and enjoy it. I know a good portion of the development team, past and present. I hope it succeeds because the Austin development community in general needs more successes. And I’ve been in the trenches myself on similar projects too many times.

Of course I’m biased. I am not a journalist.

And in game writing, neither is anyone else.

  • SynCaine

    You like SW:TOR? So much e-rep lost.

    That said, the real money is in being an MMO shill. It’s like consulting, but instead of telling the truth, you just feverishly defend the game that is paying you to do so.

    -Sent from my gold-plated DF:UW iPhone-

    • Tremayne

      Hey Syncaine, doesn’t Darkfall need to actually re-launch before they have any money to buy you a gold-plated iPhone? I sincerely hope you aren’t relying on promises of credit from Greeks, because on behalf of the rest of Europe I can tell you that ain’t going to work out too well.
      More seriously – I’d like to think that everybody realises that most blogs, “news” pieces and forum posts aren’t worth the paper their written on – and that the people who do uncritically believe anything they see spewed across the interwebs aren’t worth bothering yourself about, so who cares whether those slack-jawed trolls are taken in or not? I read plenty of blogs, both from industry pros and from “unpaid MMO consultants” but I always filter what I’m reading with an awareness of who the writer is, what experience they have and what axes they have to grind. Critical reading is a skill, and it’s going to be at least as essential in the information age as basic literacy has been up until now.

  • Two thoughts: One, yes, social media is very much in college classes. My MBA elective this term is social media marketing. To the extent that this comment may get me class credit.

    Two, re: the demands that SW:TOR implement features instead of changing their business model… yesterday as you saw Turbine re-opened AC2 for AC1 subscribers. In the official thread on the AC1 forums discussing this, scattered among the OMGs and THANK YOU THANK YOUs were a few posts asking if this meant that Turbine was going to upgrade AC1 to AC2’s engine.

    My point is that there is never, ever, any limit to what fans will demand from the games they love.

  • Mike

    SWTOR is a bad game, and it has nothing to do with how they choose to monetize it.

    As for journalism being dead, that started before lumthemad, but it certainly has gotten worse in the last 10 years. Long gone are the days of Walter Cronkite giving America the news. In his place were people like Dan Rather, and unlike his predecessors, he imprinted his political views on the newscasts.

    Zip ahead 30 years, and what we have is news programs that may as well be cartoons. People aren’t watching the news, they’re watching for someone to tell them what is right. The “news” has become a fucked up moral compass for idiots. And if you think that MSNBC or CNN isn’t just “Faux News” (get it?) with a blue coat of paint, you’re as big a part of the problem as the dittoheads.

  • Green Armadillo

    I find the SWTOR article disappointing in part because it makes my “rant” on the topic look bad by association.

    “Tabula Rasa Tequila O’Clock” is somewhere in your google search terms this week because your post reminded me of what you wrote four years ago about coverage of TR’s closure. (You are the only relevant hit, if you were wondering.)

    I don’t think the fundamentals have changed since that time – we can’t have the equivalent of the Watergate investigation because there are no requirements for public records and no way to follow the money. In my capacity as freelance unpaid MMO analyst, I’d argue that the current trend of “meh, I’ll play that when it goes F2P” arises from a lack of consumer confidence because we can’t trust the gaming press to get us the info we’d need to make the purchasing decisions up front. Now I just need to find someone willing to upgrade my status to freelance unpaid MMO consultant….

  • UnknownSubject

    You should read “Trust Me, I’m Lying” by Ryan Holiday for an indication of how PR can manipulate blogs mercilessly in the process of turning PR copy into ‘real’ news.

    Too many people in games writing / commentary want to be ‘journalists’ but don’t want to do the work or abide by any kind of formal ethics standards. So we have (and I recognise I may be the only person who cares about this) Jim Rossignol, RPS ‘journalist’ and part owner of a games studio who feels he just has to cover his own studio’s Kickstarter and then follow-up articles about the game.

  • Games journalism is a goddamned joke. And technically now I’m even in the business, but at least I don’t delude myself like a sanctimonious hipster when I mash out some words about a vidyagame.

    The sick truth is that actual ‘real’ journalism is also a joke. The reporters even at the ‘majors’ – BBC, NYT, and god forbid the networks – don’t do any basic research, but look for sources to spoonfeed them ‘facts’ first. This is something I discovered the hard way when I got to interact with much of the world’s ~serious media~ after 9/11, when the reporters looking to cover Benghazi hadn’t even /heard/ of the State Department statements about what took place, much less ~read~ them.

    There is no Santa Claus, there is no vidya games ‘journalism’, and there’s barely any ‘actual’ journalism, either. There’s just advertising and ratings/viewers/pageview-chasing.

    Anyone reading this can feel free to disagree with me, but you’re wrong and dumb. Toodles!

    • I would only add that there never really was much in the way of journalism in the first place. Hearst and Pulitzer would see nothing new today beyond the delivery method. There is still a deadline to be met, competitors to be beaten to the punch, and money to be made. And if some accurate news gets through that, so much the better.

      The only thing that has changed much is that fact checking is easier, so anybody who cares can figure it out.

      • Robin Kestrel

        We have about half a dozen corporations controlling 90% of all news Americans see and hear. We have a 24-hour entertainment-based, celebrity-obsessed news cycle with an audience who, by and a large, are overloaded with information and do not have the time or inclination to actively research things and educate themselves. We see the mainstream media reaching some sort of bland corporate-friendly consensus over which stories will be covered, and how they will be covered. Most people only hear this one “narrative”, even if they get their news from multiple sources. The media then set up two contrasting figures to argue predetermined opposing points within this narrative, giving Joe Viewer the impression that he must be hearing “balanced” news because he is getting “both sides of the story”.

        Sure, these were problems that were always present in journalism, but in a much smaller degree. Now they seem to have become magnified a million-fold, while all the good intentions like responsibility, public trust, and fairness seem hopelessly old-fashioned and naive.

    • Viz

      The handwringing is ridiculous, because games journalism was going to be like this before games journalism was even a thing: games journalists are just sportswriters for the electronic medium. And anyone can deliver a drunken rant at their local sports bar; the only thing a sportswriter adds is a dictaphone.

  • Brian ‘Psychochild’ Green

    Sometimes I wonder where I went horribly, horribly wrong in that I, as someone with (you know) actual experience running MMOs, seemed to have had to work like a dog for the consultant gigs I got. Then I hear about these other “MMO consultants” and wonder who they consulted for. The less ego-destroying option is that the title is self-proclaimed. But, I know of others who did draw a fee.

    Personal lamentation aside, I’ll just echo what others have said about game journalism being mostly dead, perhaps in very advance stages of decomposition given how long its been dead. (Penny Arcade Report is a small cluster of living cells in an ocean of cancer, though.) I had my own run-in with shitty “journalism”, where shutting down Near Death Studios somehow warranted a snarky article on a game “news” site. Probably because I’m a C-list celebrity, not someone with a marketing budget to burn on their site.

    Ah, well. Back to working on something I care about in relative silence, I guess.

  • I read the article, and I’m not entirely sure how Gamasutra picks what articles to “feature”, because for a site based on the “business” of gaming they seem to be moving far far away from that idea. Both Ryahl and myself are bloggers, however I wish i could become an MMO Consultant. That would rock.

  • Vetarnias

    By some coincidence, yesterday I was rereading Kieron Gillen’s 2004 piece on “New Games Journalism”. Where are we now, eight years later?

    In Gillen’s piece, the enemies were “all sorts of games writers who don’t give a toss about the craft of what they’re doing, either having completely forgotten why they were doing it in the first place after being stomped by their superiors or never really had a clue in the first place”. In a way, they are still the enemies, and Gillen’s reference to print magazines is lovingly quaint nowadays, but New Games Journalism has come and gone.

    That was predicable. New Journalism was a breeze of fresh air when it began, but it quickly turned into something rote and irritating. Tom Wolfe went on writing more of the same thing, with declining impact, until it became the new mainstream. Hunter Thompson turned into a parody of himself trying to maintain his edge (that, or he was genuinely fucked up). And it failed as journalism because it couldn’t be trusted, in the way Truman Capote is often said to have written “creative nonfiction” – a term that lives in its contradiction yet becomes meaningless outside of itself. New Journalism is everything journalism students want to write, only to realize that it’s been done to death, and that the reputable outlets that remain have reverted to old journalism because it’s endangered as well. Most of what remained of it survived in something as inoffensive as travel writing, dripping with exoticism and whatnot.

    This being said, I like New Games Journalism, because it’s the only type of gaming journalism that doesn’t sound dull and generally avoids pontificating about what is fun and what shouldn’t be. However, Gillen’s two-point dogma gave us the worst of gaming journalism. The first, “the worth of gaming lies in the gamer not the game”, gave us the self-indulgent gamer in all his glory; the second, “write travel journalism to Imaginary Places” is pointless and a bit delusional in its autistic undertone. I can see New Games Journalism working for MMORPGs, where it can tell you something about human interaction (Gillen linked to an article about someone encountering racism in SW:G as an ideal example of New Games Journalism), and I tried my hand at it in my usual sesquipedalian way, but it can’t cover all that needs to be written about games.

    You can’t cover the industry that way, for example, even if you were to chronicle professional conventions down to every decadent detail. But the problem with gaming journalism is that what comes from gamers – and that says a lot – is often more credible than what comes from the so-called press. Has anyone else noticed how professional reviews of games on Metacritic are almost invariably positive, whereas the scores given by gamers are likely to be much lower? And it’s not even Gamer Entitlement – much of it is justified. In practically every other field, the critics will be far more circumspect, but in gaming the worst cheerleaders are the guys who get paid to write reviews. Not too hard to see why, when you notice who keeps the gaming sites afloat.

    We need independent critics, true, but we also need people who, even without outside pressure, can maintain some critical distance from video games, something which New Games Journalism actively discourages. Maybe what we need is precisely people who don’t think much of video games. Even critics of game journalism seem less concerned about holding the field to account in the interest of gamers than about yelling enough to gain admittance to the club. For instance, I used to read someone’s blog called “Game Journalists are Incompetent Fuckwits”, detailing the kind of awful journalism you mention here. Then the author went inactive, seemingly because it was futile and tiresome. Then he posted a few more posts, including one called “Fuck Videogames”, in which nobody escaped criticism – developers, publishers, journalists, gamers, and even himself. A month later, he announced a Kickstarter to fund his video series of game reviewing. Credibility reduced to zero, for me anyway.

    No wonder people consider Yahtzee to be one of the better game writers in spite of his excesses and in spite of The Escapist being just as guilty an outlet as Destructoid in the game-fandom department: he did make his own games. Most of the people, except the usual Theory-laden academics, whose writing on games will be read in the future will be the people who did make games. That’s what many of the so-called game journalists don’t understand.

    • Vetarnias

      Addendum: I’ve reread Lum’s post, and I think the problem is precisely that something happened between the Lum of 2000 and the Lum of today: he joined the industry.

      The Lum of 2000, though I wasn’t around to enjoy him, was probably (based on his description of himself) an ordinary player who parlayed online notoriety into attending industry events where he was painfully reminded of his place – an outsider, a blogger, a gamer. But I don’t think the legitimate gaming press in those days, represented by the magazines, was the equivalent of Woodward and Bernstein — PC Gamer, the one magazine from this period that I remember looking at, was publishing the same dreck masquerading as reportage to please their industry advertisers that can now be found on the net. What has changed, however, is that the Lum of 2012 is as embedded in the industry as war reporters are in the military; no wonder that what concerns him nowadays is exactly one kind of game writing: coverage of the industry.

      The Lum of 2012 no longer cares for games as entertainment or even for games as art and not even for games as design; the Lum of 2012, compared to the Lum of just a few years ago, would not even try to find out how bad Darkfall (or any other game) might be. The Lum of 2012 only cares about games as an industry, as a source of employment, as can be noticed by his recent activity on this blog: which studio is laying off people, which publisher is ending which MMORPG, which employer is screwing off its workforce. It is only one aspect of gaming reporting, but it seems the only one which now matters to him. Hence his special attention, before today, for the likes of Michael Pachter; it seems many gamers don’t like Pachter either, but what Lum is worried about is what impact Pachter might have on the industry.

      Now the article he singles out to damn all of the gaming press is one that objects to changes in SW:TOR – singled out not because whether SW:TOR may or may not be a better game as a result of what the author suggests (which I can’t judge because I haven’t played it), but because the author is not enough of an industry insider, while some poor people at BioWare lost their jobs, which means monetize the crap out of it, baby, damn the players, because it’s good for the industry. All that is missing now is some grand proclamation that what is good for the industry is good for gaming. Nothing could be further from the truth; but what is good for the industry, even though it might be as culturally bankrupt as Hollywood, is good for the Lum of 2012. The last thing we need from the gaming press is more industry worship.

      I wish we could get a glimpse of the old Lum on occasion, the one who spent time discussing game design, and what may be required to improve the craft of games — the one, in other words, who cared about games; but he now seems to have resigned himself to collecting a paycheque as a cog in whatever project du jour. It is just as well that he went on semi-hiatus when he did.

      • Tremayne

        Not entirely fair. I think we now have an older and wiser Lum who has an additional perspective as industry insider – which probably makes it harder to rant (however entertainingly) when he actually has some idea that doing this stuff is, you know, kind of difficult and when he personally knows some of the human beings involved behind the scenes. I suspect he’s also kind of circumscribed by contracts of employment which makes it difficult to rant about games he has worked on without it messing with his livelihood… and going hungry is a high price to pay for being an attention-seeking clown, which to be honest is all we bloggers really aspire to be.

        It’s all very well writing blog posts that berate those short-sighted fools at the games companies for not making The One True Game Of My Dreams despite the fact that it’s A) technically not possible and B) something that only three people on the planet wouyld actually pay to play, but I hunger for decent posts from people who actually know something about this stuff. Oh, and Lum – stuff on Facebook doesn’t count if I can’t see it as a non-Facebook person (and likely to stay so because, well, Facebook actually is the sort of evil that butt-hurt SWG fans only dream that SOE is).

  • Gregd

    Isn’t it weird that $200-400 million doesn’t buy you a great MMO?

    Isn’t it even weirder that SWTOR will probably make less money over its lifetime than Star Wars Galaxies? SWG probably had 1/5th the budget too.

    • AJT

      Is it even weirder that “Angry Birds Star Wars” will make 100 times the money that either of them did?

  • Damion S

    I so very much wish that I could post our numbers. So I will just say that seeing these numbers, on a daily basis, makes me want to dance a jig. Some days, I do. The transition has been very, VERY successful so far, despite reports to the contrary. Ridiculously so.

    • ajt

      I assume you are talking SWTOR since it went ftp? Good for you. I hope the game is able to turn around. But there is still a huge white elephant in the room with SWTOR. By going ftp you were able to increase the revenue stream beyond subscription. Fantastic! That is step one. But the huge un discussed problem is the massive development costs for the game. LotRo was able to save itself as ftp because earning back the development costs was a reachable goal if they were able to find the right formula to monetize it. But SWTOR’s dev costs were easily an order of magnitude above that. Can those costs be recouped within a reasonable period of time? Especially by a publisher who is notoriously quick on the shutdown button and short on long term patience?

    • Tremayne

      Is the jig for PLAYER numbers or REVENUE numbers? Because happy as I am for there to be lots of people out there enjoying SWTOR’s story, at the end of the day the game needs to make money if it is not to be shut down. Doesn’t matter if that’s from subscriptions or a cash shop, as long as it’s dollars coming in and not just players of the “play for free, moan that anything they’re too cheap to buy is pay2win” variety.

  • ajt

    Lum, you were not simply a blogger, you were a good blogger. And while the name is new, the profession is one of the oldest in this nation. Heck it was a major component that led to the American Revolution. Thomas Payne, Isaiah Thomas, Benjamin Franklin. ever hear those names? Understand what it was they did for a living? They were not “Journalists”. They were opinion writers shouting into the wind, using the newfangled means of mass information sharing known as the printing press. They were not journalists. But because of them we have the 1st Amendment, and modern journalism exists. Don’t sell yourself short for being a blogger. Many such types have changed the world. (Granted many more are complete and utter fools with bad spelling, grammar. and still live in Mom’s basement. But such is the price of freedom. The good stuff stands out.)

  • TPRJones

    “I am not a journalist.” Bullshit. I’m just confused as to why you aren’t a Gaming Journalism Professor somewhere. You did sort of invent the field.

  • John Smith

    Sounds like lum hates himself for setting fire to the ground floor he built when online journalism was in its infancy, and then selling his life and soul to an industry that never gave him half the time, money, or fame he would have gotten by continuing to act like a concerned citizen of the internet. Oh, right. I mean an opinionated retarded that should just shut up and suck corporate cock because how dare a consumer know anything or form an opinion on their own. After all, you have to be a 4 star chef before you can comment on the taste of a shit sandwhich.

    You became what you hated, and it shows a little more every time you post. What was it, 4 years ago when you passively aggressively complained about the corporate politics of ncsoft and implied how shoddily it was run, and here you are now pretending that such bullshit never happens, and how this dumb kid should know better because he’s nothing but a dumb little ranter? Are we still pretending that making videogames IS HARD after a decade of the same game being released over and over, but now they are trying to charge us 30-50 dollars a month in premium cash shop fees rather than a flat rate sub nobody would ever accept?

    You are trapped in limbo. You can no longer do what you use to do for fear of losing your job, your friends, your associates, but you know in your heart that if you could do it all over again, you would turn left instead of right.

    As far as your politics go, I think you are once again being dishonest. We’ve seen time and time again how the gaming industry is leaning left with the rest of the nation’s media. After all, you aren’t going to get ad space if you don’t follow that channel/station/page’s politics. Yet you try to rationalize it and make excuses for it by naming governmental policies that are still supported by both sides, although the right tends to get more of the negative blame for them. I didn’t see obama end iraq sooner than the end date GWB decided upon. I didn’t see obama repealing Guantanamo or the patriot act. I’m pretty sure it was Obama that gave the banks their last bailout.

    You need to start being honest with yourself. You were a much more pleasant person to read about when you were. Not because you said cuss words or reported on gossip, but you broke the illusion that game masters and developers were infallible gods, something community coordinators and pr front men go at lengths to manufacture. You helped keep communities honest, where as now forums and in game communities are heavily policed in order to protect the corporate interest. What use to be legitimate complaints or concerns are edited and deleted and the community is told they are nothing but ‘trolls’. There is no alternative sites to go to now for real news and updates, it’s all carefully controlled because companies don’t want another lum the mad to come along and tell people things can be different. And it’s not just the so called bloggers using this new language, it’s the corporations themselves. It’s marketing, it’s community management, it’s support. Everyone is talking like a retard now. You could have helped usher in a golden age of both video game reporting and mmos in general, but you didn’t. You sold out, and the sad thing is that your price wasn’t even that high.

    But, whatever. That’s like, my opinion man.

    • UnknownSubject

      Your opinion isn’t games journalism. Neither was Lum’s back in the day.

      That’s part of the problem. People are confusing journalism with “opinions I agree with”.

      • Toastrider

        But that’s how journalists see themselves half the time, nowadays.

        I was reading an opinion piece a while ago and the writer was talking about how he was an ‘activist journalist’. What the fuck does that even -mean-? It’s great to be an activist, but by doing so you are not practicing the disconnect required of good journalism, in my opinion; a journalist’s duty should be ‘just the facts, ma’am’.

        Too many journalists aren’t content to be the town crier. I suspect a large number want to be -making- the news, not just reporting it.

    • Vetarnias

      Though I think the political aspect is irrelevant, the rest of your commentary is spot-on. Reading Broken Toys in recent months, I can’t even know if Lum is still playing games, something I’d expect a person interested in game design to do. Perhaps he still is, but he isn’t telling us, perhaps because he’s afraid of ruffling the feathers of someone he may later have to crawl in front of for employment. So I’m not even expecting any relevant discussion of the craft of game design on this blog anymore.

      I’m currently rereading one of the columns he wrote at in 2010 (which, by the way, just looks like journalism to me!), fittingly about SW:TOR. He was already denouncing the unsustainable model of the game, which required a million subscribers to just break even. Now, in this blog entry, he likes to say that the Gamasutra piece is wrong, but he never says *how* it is wrong — for that matter, “player housing” is not even mentioned in the article, only guild bases and ship decoration. (And even then, *why not* guild bases and ship decoration? How is that any different from monocles in EVE?) If SW:TOR was unsustainable with a subscription model, how can it be sustainable in F2P without screwing over the player base, 9 out of 10 of which would probably never consider spending money in the first place? In which case, the onus is on Lum to demonstrate how it wouldn’t cost $56/month to play what used to cost the price of the game plus $15/month under a subscription, and at no time does he bother to do so.

      And if SW:TOR is unsustainable, just let it collapse; we’ll all be better off – except, naturally, the poor little industry.

  • Richard Bartle

    Yes, such a thing as an “MMO Consultant” does exist. I’ve been one for close to a decade. I’m usually brought in to do one of the following:
    1) Tell everyone to do the bad thing they know they’re going to have to do, but are unwilling to do without someone objective telling them to do it.
    2) Comment on milestone builds. This is usually because the production schedule has a “run past independent consultant” checkbox on it. Almost (but not quite) always, they will listen earnestly to what I tell them then ignore whatever I say.
    3) Produce an action plan after some star designer has realised his design isn’t working and left for pastures new, leaving the MMO heading for the rocks.
    4) Participate in design meetings at the pre-production stage. This is my favourite, but it doesn’t happen as much nowadays as it used to.
    5) Assess the design flaws of an existing MMO that is shedding users like confetti. This is usually a combination of 1) and 2): they know what to do, I tell them what to do, then they don’t do it.
    6) Bring them up to speed about current MMO design trends. The past 3 gigs I’ve had have been like this – basically explaining their options for Free to Play. The management high-ups who will make the decision as to what form of F2P to use never attend these meetings.

    For this, I charge $2,500 a day on-site, somewhat less if I can do it from home.