Alert readers may recall a few weeks back I gave an interview to a blog written by a bunch of – well, let's call them "games journalists" for want of a more accurate term. A straightforward enough business, you might think – ask questions, get replies, publish, done. It didn't work out quite that simply.
While the interview caused a huge hit spike on the site and an unprecedented number of comments (over 100 compared to their usual three or four), this sudden influx of visitors and attention caused great consternation among some of the blog's editors other than the charming and talented young writer who'd done the interview.
Two of them – a pair of particularly lily-livered Future Publishing corporate drones – whined all over Twitter and elsewhere that the (incredibly mild) arguments in the comments were so beastly and upsetting that they were considering deleting the entire site, rather than attract all these awful, horrid people (ie, readers) to it by speaking to such a nasty man.
Long story short, to spare the hurt feelings of the less-popular stories on their blog (which is to say, all of them) the interview has been quietly deleted. So I've retrieved it and posted it below for posterity.
So where the hell have you been since the Future fallout, Stu?
Hanging around outside schools, selling heroin to kids. It's a living.
How did you get into games writing in the first place?
For the free games. I started a fanzine ("Between Planets", for the Atari ST and ZX81) so that I'd keep getting freebies after winning the ST in a competition when I was an unemployed youth who couldn't afford to buy games at £25 a time. If I'd known then what I know now, I'd just have stuck to good old-fashioned piracy.
You’ve been writing for a good two or so decades, compare the writing industry of the ‘90s to today for me.
Well, in the old days we wouldn't have said "two or so", for a start. You're telling me you can't accurately report how long your interview subject's been doing their job to within the nearest DECADE? Tsk. Bloody kids today. As it happens it's been just over 20 years, and the biggest change I've noticed is the way writers identify and align themselves. Nowadays, pretty much every games journo I see considers themselves to be a part of the games industry, which to be honest I find despicable.
When I got into it – and it was certainly the reason I got into it – writers saw themselves as servants of their readers, protecting them from games publishers trying to steal their money with bad games. Nowadays it seems to me very much that they see themselves as servants of the publishers, with a vested interest in trying to get people to buy as many games as possible. Slowly, over that long period of time, games journos have managed to convince themselves that there's something honourable about that. They're wrong.
Part of it is a simple abdication of responsibility – the idea that with demos so widely available and YouTube footage and so on, consumers make their own decisions rather than listening to critics. (And of course there's some truth in that – it probably seems unimaginable now, but when we were making mags in the early 90s the internet essentially didn't exist, so if there wasn't a demo tape or disk or CD sellotaped to the front of a magazine you were pretty much knackered.)
In that scenario it's easy to decide that it's okay just to turn yourself into part of the PR business, and if anyone's stupid enough to trust you rather than doing the work themselves that's their own problem.
The other part is rational self-interest, and that's also something that's changed since I started. Back then, most of the management above editor level at games-mag publishers came up through the ranks of editorial staff. Now the vast majority come through the advertising side, which means there's very little scope for career progress for a writer. If you make it from staff writer to editor the chances are you're not going to climb any higher, and you're still not going to be on a very great salary. The only way to move on is to go into games development or PR, and for either of those you better not have burned too many bridges along the way.
What do you think happened to the style of writing (concept reviews and the like) that had been propagated throughout Amiga Power and earlier [issues of] PC Zone?
I think that – not unrelatedly to the last paragraph – the position of editor became increasingly filled by dull careerists who were less tolerant of such non-standard approaches.
Which media is more conducive to quality games writing, print or Internet?
That depends entirely on the personnel and methodology involved. There's no inherent reason, for example, why online media shouldn't utilise sub-editors, which are one of the keys to creating the sort of coherent character that made mags like Your Sinclair and N64 so loved and which I've never yet come across on a gaming website. But they don't seem to.
The internet has made it possible to do the sort of things that have been largely eradicated from print (see above), but the opportunity has only rarely been grasped, and when it has been it's exponentially harder to find it amid the oceans of garbage you inevitably get when any previously-professional occupation gets democratised.
Barriers to entry are a good thing, within reason. You wouldn't trust some random clueless 15-year-old twat off the internet to do your plumbing, so why would it be good that he's doing your videogames writing?
What’s your opinion on rating systems in reviews? What system is the most useful? Five star, 100 point, etc
If implemented correctly – that is, in such a way that at any given time you're aiming to have roughly the same number of games in each division of the scale – marking out of 10 is probably the least flawed.
Give me the worst aspects of modern games journalism.
As noted above, the belief that you're part of – and therefore responsible to – the games industry rather than your readers.
And the best?
The extraordinary depth that it's possible to go into about a game when not constrained by the physical limitations of finite page-space.
Tell me about your hard-on for Apple.
Apple are made of liquid evil, and should be subjected to a war-crimes trial for the PC version of iTunes alone. But App Store gaming (and also the likes of XBLA, XBLIG and PSN to varying degrees, and previously the DS) is like all the best aspects of the early years of gaming, only with good graphics and instant loading and prices that are somehow lower – MUCH lower – than they were in 1982.
In at least 99 cases out of 100, the best games – the best anything – come from the vision of one person (or a very small team), rather than being made by 500 people spread across half a continent to specifications designed by a marketing department as the result of endless focus testing among cretins. The variety, invention and creativity of iOS gaming is absolutely astonishing, and the accessibility of it – to both creators and consumers – is little short of Utopian.
(There's a bizarre delusion that it's expensive to get into, but the entry-level iPod Touch costs the same as a DS or a PSP, and when you factor in the cost of games it's the cheapest handheld format by a mile.)
For developers, from the moment you first scribble an idea on the back of an envelope to the point where it's fully realised in front of 100 million potential customers can be a matter of two weeks, and you can make literally millions of pounds out of your bedroom. (Which is another area where it kicks the crap out of the 1980s – the creators get to keep the lion's share of the money this time.) It's videogaming almost without limits and almost entirely without middlemen.
Conversely, the self-styled "mainstream" games industry has about 20 middlemen for every person whose job it is to think of game ideas, which is why only about six games ever get made on "grown-up" formats nowadays – Grey Space Marines 12, Yet Another "Edgy" Urban Racing Game Aimed At Prepubescent Boys, Wasn't World War 2 Awesome Part XXVIX, Expensive-Plastic-Instrument 80s-Soft-Metal Tap-Along Party, Dragon Fantasy For Friendless Overweight Shut-Ins 9 – Frarglax's Quest: The Second Wankening and Let's Somehow Turn Football Into The Fucking Krypton Factor 2011.
The criticisms commonly levelled at iPod/iPhone gaming – "Oh, it's all fart apps and Flight Control" – tend to come from the spectacularly ignorant, and/or teenage fanboys terrified of being marginalised as gaming becomes truly mainstream, ie not their exclusive "hardcore" preserve any more.
In fact, in addition to all the original gaming styles of its own, the App Store offers fantastic games in almost any current console genre you could name, only at a hundredth of the price (you can pick up the excellent Resident Evil 4-alike Zombie Infection this week for 59p, for example), as well as many of the genres that have been long abandoned by the "mainstream" industry (such as ultra-intense arcade shooters like Cave's immense Dodonpachi Resurrection).
Basically, if you love videogames, or if you just want to be at the cutting edge of gaming for the next five years, and you don't have an iPod Touch or an iPhone, you're a brainless tool. And you can tell your mum I said so.
Why are you such a twat when it comes to PC gaming?
Because I don't give a shit about orcs.