I have been around videogames long enough to recall a time when getting a single game onto a mainstream site was an absurdly uphill task.
The amount of indie games covered now is way more than at any time I can remember — it’s only a relatively short while since the majority of indie game coverage found itself relegated to the back pages of magazines, with only a literal handful of studios and games managing to find exposure outside of that.
Over the past ten years, we’ve watched coverage of games, paid and free, now become a normal part of a site or magazine’s videogame coverage. This is pretty fantastic, really.
The coverage we have is not enough, of course. Arguably, it can never be enough, has never been enough. Just right now, with the increasing trend for videogames to be funnelled into marketplaces, the need for better coverage has become really quite urgent.
I’ve chosen my words carefully there, “better” as opposed to simply “more”. More is, also, simply not enough.
The first thing we tend to reach for in these discussions is invariably that larger videogame sites can and should do more to break up the stranglehold on news that big box tends to hold.
I mainly agree with this. Larger sites can and should do more to normalise a broader idea of what videogames are, if only to do justice to the wider audience that videogames has but rarely addresses. I will return to this thought in a moment.
Anyone working for a large site is acutely aware though that simply covering more games is not the answer. The numbers, often, depressingly bear it out. I have little in the way of current data to fall back on but only a short while ago, I was told of pieces on smaller games being lucky to break into double or triple figures sometimes. This leaves us all too often with the idea that there is then little to no point persisting when the work and time involved outweighs the chances of a piece being read.
It is an understandable, if disagreeable, conclusion to come to.
Unpicking this is not a simple task.
We have spent a long time building up a certain audience in videogames, mostly to the exclusion of, well, most people who might have a passing interest in videogames.
We have also built audiences around the big box news cycles. There is an expectation around reading the latest and biggest news from the smallest handful of companies.
When you then throw in the relative toxicity of gaming site communities also, it is quite the unfortunate mix. (Even my favourite haunt has, after many years, finally saw me give up and install a comment blocker so I avoid being exposed to below-the-line awfulness. Videogames does not present itself well to the world outside.)
And so this leaves us with a quandary. We have an audience largely resistant to anything that isn’t within certain confines. The very same audience dominates the discourse around games, shapes the discourse around games. Their vocal disinterest in games as a broad and expansive, welcoming, medium is off-putting to both a number of people in games and to people looking in.
We are largely insular, despite our frequent protestations that games are the highest art form, games are for everyone and a miscellany of other, all too familiar, refrains.
Simply serving up coverage of a broader range of games to the audience we have curated is, well, it’s not solving much. That’s the polite way of putting it. It remains a nice dream that if we just put some words on a videogame out there, the people will come. We have tested this frequently, they do not necessarily come.
However, breaking the news cycle to cover smaller works makes a statement. Which is why I would advocate for sites to write about small games often, even though they may not do the numbers. Even though they may have an audience largely resistant to what they present. It’s why I would argue that it is the right thing to do. It says that yes, videogames are broad, there is so much more out there that you can see.
It is important that when we write about these games they are not punchlines, it is important to meet them on their own terms not, as is all too popular in the video space, to use them as easy objects of ridicule.
It is working to further normalise smaller works as part and parcel of what videogames is.
Though, of course, the problem we then run into is that the people most likely to want to broaden games coverage are those with the least power to do so. Games journalists cannot just accommodate these things unless the site itself is built around it or has a sympathetic editor or someone, somewhere, in the upper echelons willing to enact change.
Exactly how much power do we assume freelancers have?
Exactly how much power do we assume staff writers have?
This is not resignation, it is absolutely possible for sites to be better. Admittedly all too often this has to be present at the site’s genesis. RockPaperShotgun being built to give equal post space to games big and small is one route to a better way. Waypoint’s personality led journalism another. There are options. What a site is now, it does not have to be forever.
This is not an insurmountable problem but it is no small ask of larger sites who have long cultivated a very videogame audience. It is no small ask of sites who run on advertiser money at a time when the well is drying, it is no small ask of those who only have so many hours in the day and time to play or experiment with new things outside the traditional cycle.
But it is right that we ask.
Videogames needs to be a better space! It really is as simple as that. If videogames as a space is to continue to grow we need to steer that growth where we can leave behind as many negative aspects of being in and around videogames as possible. It is imperative that we do and that we tackle this from as many angles as possible.
Normalising broader videogame coverage is just one step of many we need to be taking. It is not a small step, it is not an easy step. It is an important step. Under our current systems we have too many people getting hurt, too many games going undiscovered. Whilst it’s possible (and important) to tease these two things apart, they are both a casualty of our adherence to big box news cycles at the exclusion of most other titles. They are a casualty of our unwillingness to truly broaden the videogames space when we are handed a myriad of opportunities to do so.
There is comfort to be taken from the knowledge that we are slowly working towards making videogames a better space, towards expanding what videogame coverage can be. We can, as always, do so much better than we are. I don’t think we can afford not to for much longer either. Not if we want this space to be more than it is.