Friday, August 30, 2013

The Story of the Crazy Video Game Journalist

Interview with a video game developer

Once upon a time, K worked at a video game studio that was remaking a beloved old classic that people were super excited about. To drum up publicity, they invited one of the largest game magazines at the time to get a sneak peak at the game in its alpha phase (about 8 months before launch day). Since consumer interest was really high, the magazine planned to do a high profile 3-page write-up that would give the game tons of exposure. Therefore, in preparation for the writer's arrival, the studio pulled out all the stops to finish a lengthy, legitimate gameplay demo. Developers worked around the clock to complete key features and make the game feel really polished. Sounds pretty standard, right? Here's K's behind-the-scenes account of what really happened...

The Journalist Makes a Strong Impression

Offensive Hitler Teletubby t-shirt

"We had all cleared our schedules for the day and set up camp in our largest conference room with a projector. The editor comes in – a thin-ish, ordinary looking guy – and we all do introductions. Right off the bat, he comes off as kind of a jerk. First off, he's wearing a shockingly offensive t-shirt, which took us all aback (and remember, we're game developers here). He acts bored like he's got better things to do, and proceeds to make snide, passive-aggressive snipes about everything – us, the office, the concept, etc. Just a big sourpuss, a real... body orifice of some kind."

The Journalist Rests His Eyes

Sleeping during a presentation meeting
"The lights are dimmed in the conference room, and we start our well-prepared, made-to-impress demo of the game. Mind you, it wasn't a three-hour presentation, maybe just 45 minutes of going through the first two levels. Within 20 minutes, the guy is asleep. Not like a post-flight nod-off here – we're talking 'made a pillow out of his jacket and took a nap.' Should we wake him up? Maybe he'll pick up most of it through osmosis... So we keep talking, maybe a few decibels louder than before. After several minutes, he opens his eyes again. Wasn't even taking any notes. Yeah, he'd brought his laptop and notepad, but clearly didn't feel they were needed because he never touched them.

The Journalist Is Serious

"We break for lunch and take the editor to a really nice place on the company dime. Our executive producer (aka Mr. Schmooze) has never met anyone he couldn't charm. Attempting to turn things around, Schmooze jokingly says something to the effect of 'So yeah, what do we have to do to get a good write-up from ya?' And without blinking, the journalist says, 'Well, getting me laid tonight wouldn't hurt.' We all laugh, relieved that he's finally engaging with us. But he's not laughing.  Still not laughing. And then it  hits us... this guy is completely serious. Um, what kind of fantasy rock star do you think you are? You're just a surly geek writing for a game mag!

The Journalist Has An Early Night

Bar fight punch in the face
"After that whole awkward asking-for-a-hooker incident, we move onto the afternoon's event where the editor gets to play through the game demo himself. He basically blasts through the game as fast as he can, pausing only to point out areas where the art isn't finished or perfect. To which we respond, 'Yep, like we said, it's still in development...'

"Finally the day ends.  However, the guy's in town for the night – and that means we're obligated to take him out to dinner too. Mr. Schmooze has planned a night of expensive sushi, followed by drinks, to appeal to the editor's tastes, but this guy is not fun at all. All his jokes are in poor taste, he's harassing the waitress, and in general he's making everyone cringe each time he opens his mouth. As soon as dinner is over, a whole bunch of us beg off – normally this would be very rude, but frankly, we didn't care at that point. Poor Mr. Schmooze manages to wrangle a couple of people to go bar-hopping (basically, the ones who want to drink away the whole experience on the company dime).

"But the night ends early anyway: even congenial Mr. Schmooze couldn't stand the guy anymore. As Schmooze said later, 'It was either punch the guy in the face, or dump him at the hotel.' Wisely, he chose the latter.

The Journalist Surprises

Excited adult male video gamer
"The next day, off to the airport our friend goes. We all agree that the event was a train wreck. How does that guy even have a job? Not a hint of professionalism, class, or likeability. Plus, he clearly didn't even like the game.  We brace for the worst – a horrible, negative write-up that will damage our game irreparably before it even hits the stores.

"So when the magazine comes out a month later, we are completely shocked to find that the editor has delivered a glowing, positively excited preview of the game: how our title is doing tons of cutting-edge stuff that will revolutionize the genre, and how passionate and forward-thinking the team is! This is the same interviewer who didn't ask any questions, snored through our presentation, and barely touched the demo. He phoned it in, and then left us with the impression he was going to rip us apart. Yet somehow he picked up every comment, every key feature we mentioned – and managed to expound on them. The article generated loads of interest in our project and got us a ton more press down the road.

"To this day I'm not sure what to make of the whole experience. I guess a guy's basic decency and the quality of his work don't have much to do with each other.  I don't know whether to applaud him for eventually doing his job well, or to think he was a hypocritical, opportunistic hack of a game journalist without a hint of sincerity in his soul.  Probably a healthy mix of both.

"Epilogue: ten months after his visit, with only twelve weeks of work to go on the game, our publisher suddenly closed its doors and cancelled the project. Good times in the game industry just keep rolling on!"


MartinKids said...

What an interesting story! I might share with my hubby. Best wishes with your new blog!

A Gamer's Wife said...

Thanks so much! Hope your hubby likes the story. :)