On re/Action and meaningful change in video game journalism

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re/Action wants to be “a reader-funded indie publication about the games industry: its product, its players, and its culture.” That’s taken from their Indiegogo fundraising page. As of the time of this writing they have 6 days to raise $29,984.

I’m concerned that they’re not going to make it.

They’re asking for $41,000 in total. Kill Screen, by comparison, another publication that wanted to walk a path less traveled in video game journalism and which also raised startup money on a crowdfunding site, only asked for $3,500.

re/Action is founded by, from my perspective, untested entities. Mattie Brice is a recognizable figure because she wrote an essay for Kotaku, created an indie game, was part of a feature on Polygon and was on a GDC panel this year, but I’m unaware of any professional experience she has to qualify her as an Editor in Chief. I’ve never heard Andrea Shubert’s name mentioned in any conversations I’ve had with developers, writers, or video game journalists, so she’s an unknown variable to me as a Managing Editor. Kill Screen, on the other hand, was founded by proven veterans.

I keep thinking about the advice I was given in film school about making independent films. Rule number one: Never use your own money. Rule number two: Always get people who’ve made movies before on your crew. Comparing re/Action to Kill Screen could not be more of an apples to oranges comparison, but I’ve been making it in my head by way of not looking at a failure of re/Action to get funded as any sort of referendum on the audience and what kind of writing they do and do not want to read.

Succeed or fail I respect what Brice and Shubert are doing, because it’s brave. And I wish they could raise the money to run re/Action for six months, just to see whether or not they could garner enough of a readership to successfully raise additional funds six months from now and keep the outlet going. It would be nice to see another outlet succeed at what Kill Screen wanted to do, and actually bring more substantive change into paid video game journalism. It feels like “changing game journalism” is more of a marketing pitch nowadays for sites like Polygon and the Penny Arcade Report than it is an actual accomplishment. It would be nice to see some more people deliver on that promise for real.

Read more: On re/Action and meaningful change in video game journalism

The Results of Riot Games’s Priming Experiments

Last week I published a piece on Ars Technica about the player behavior experiments being conducted at Riot Games. Long story short, Riot decided that just banning players for bad behavior wasn’t good enough, so they have tried to include the entire League of Legends community in policing and improving toxic behavior, defined as basically all the horrible things we half-jokingly associate with Call of Duty online play and open Xbox Live chat rooms in general. Riot Games has an entire player behavior team led by a trio of PhDs, and their efforts are demonstrably successful.

All of that was interesting to me in its own right when I heard it at the GDC panel where their lead player behavior guru, Jeffrey Lin, shared some results of the experiments at Riot, but what made me jump out of my seat after the panel session ended, walk up to the podium to introduce myself, and ask Lin for an interview, was the final experiment he talked about which involved the psychological principle of priming.

Priming is giving someone a stimulus to affect their reaction to the following stimulus. I talk to you about old people for an hour and then you leave the room walking slower than you otherwise might have, probably because you’re thinking about old people, and old people move slowly.

Riot Games was kind enough to let myself and Ars Technica use some slides from their GDC presentation. That material is now available in the GDC Vault for anyone who attended the conference this year to view, but that’s not most of you, and when I encounter a GDC panel with excellent visual references I like to share them, like I did with last year’s piece over on G4 about level design in Gears of War 3, which I saw at a GDC 2012 panel.

I want to share with you some of the slides we couldn’t use for the feature, because I think these charts nail home just how cool the priming experiment is.
Read more: The Results of Riot Games’s Priming Experiments

On Polygon’s SimCity Review

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DAMNIT

I was very excited for Brink to be released in May of 2011. I love first person shooters and am almost always disappointed in the lack of team coherency when I play multiplayer FPS games without my friends. I prefer objective-based modes to deathmatch and when no one on the team is speaking on chat or otherwise coordinating there’s no teamwork, and that’s no fun. The AI Squad Commander in Brink was a way to keep teams on task without requiring any direct communication between them. My Brink feature for Gamasutra was about the narrative design I found interesting as a writer, but the Squad Commander is what I really looked forward to as a player.

I talked up the game to friends and convinced a bunch of them to jump into Brink on day one. We arranged to meet in an Xbox Live party chat, spun the discs up…and the game didn’t work. Getting into a server together was sometimes impossible, and when we did get into a match together we often found ourselves fighting bots on the other team rather than human players. Incensed after a few days of this most of my friends turned the game in to GameStop and that was the end of Brink as far as playing with my friends was concerned.

Luckily the Squad Commander worked as advertised, because I stuck with the game for a while and once the server issues settled down Brink was a hell of a lot of fun to play. The game itself was solid. It wasn’t bad design that chased my friends away, it was the horrible server issues at the beginning. And this is the lens through which I am looking at Polygon’s reviews policy. I think I understand what they’re trying to do here. Russ Pitts gave the game a 9.5 based on its design, and maybe that’s a fair score. I haven’t played SimCity (and now am not likely to as I’ll probably be knee-deep in a half dozen other games before SimCity is fixed) but a game is more than design as Joystiq’s Alexander Sliwinski so brilliantly argued in this editorial.

Games are increasingly becoming services and inasmuch as reviews are used by the audience to inform purchases it’s difficult in my mind to justify separating the game from the service, though I remember Brink and wishing my friends could have done just that. Game reviewers aren’t our gaming buddies, however.

Read more: On Polygon’s SimCity Review