Remote Previews: A tonic for corruption?

Could taking the focus away from preview events tackle some of the perceived issues at hand in games journalism today?

Intro pic shamelessly stolen from ibtimes.com, please get in touch if you want me to remove it

INSIDIOUSLY, REVIEW

In the wake of Doritosgate, the games journalism biz is undergoing a bit of introspection and a lot of muck-slinging around the issue of PR benefits and game events. I’ve been thinking about ways we can make it better whilst still being able to do our jobs.

The crux of it all – I think – is preview and, slightly more insidiously, review events. They give the company almost complete control over who sees their games and what sort of mood they’re in when they see them; and in many cases, whether they can attend at all. (and that’s… well, that’s fine, actually. Not necessarily especially “Good,” but these people are running businesses, after all. Our subversion to their whims is what’s at fault, here.)

I’ve worked with a few publications (some of them pretty big) that do not offer to cover journalists to travel to events, or to pay for their accommodation while they stay. The size of the outlet is no guarantee of financial support or integrity; you don’t get to be successful by giving money away, after all. Many, many places rely on the PR teams for games getting them into position to offer coverage on any given title.

REMOTE PREVIEW

So here’s a partial solution; it’s not perfect, but there might be something there. Devs could offer a remote preview experience, delivered through a platform like Onlive, to allow people to play their games without having to travel halfway across the world or deal with the moral difficulties of accepting travel, accommodation, board and gifts from the very people who they’re supposed to be remaining impartial towards.

Anyone can make an account with the software, but that account would be subject to controls. If a PR team want you to play their preview build, they’d allow you access to it for however long it’s going to be on the system – this could be done with an “always on” option for big publications or trusted freelancers, or on a case-by-case basis for smaller outlets. Control would remain with the creators. Embargoes would still be in place.

There’d be no downloading and no option to distribute the code because it would never be on your PC, thanks to remote play. Everyone would play the games at an equal standard, influenced only by their ability to connect to high-speed internet – so you wouldn’t need a fancy gaming rig to do it. People could play from all over the world for the cost of a server – and not a high-capacity one, mind! – rather than physically shipping them out to take part in events.

ONE-SHOT KEYS

There are a couple of problems, of course. Logins could be hacked into. The system itself could be cracked open and free logins distributed across the web, but operating on one-shot keys authenticated by a PR – you know, a bit like when they let you into a preview event after checking to see that your name’s on the list – could reduce that significantly. We’re talking about hundreds of people to verify here, not hundreds of thousands.

Interviews would not be possible under the remote conditions – or, at least, not as possible – and there’s the risk of people distributing capture footage of their game. But isn’t the games industry perhaps big enough and ugly enough to have some preview footage of their games distributed on the internet that isn’t under their express control? We can, after all, talk about anything we see that isn’t barred by a specific NDA. We can tell people about everything we see, as is our jobs. I’m not entirely sure what the issue with showing people is. Bugs, maybe. I think people can understand that bugs are a thing, now.

For all its faults, this is a solution that would allow cheap distribution of game preview and review builds with little risk of piracy. It would allow more outlets to write about the game – as many as the servers can support, and you could cycle around time-slots if necessary – and be free of the allegations of corruption that are squatting over the industry at present.

“WORK FRIENDS”

There could still be events – run concurrently, if you’d like – to offer a more traditional way of doing things. Truth be told, as an underpaid freelancer living in London, I’d probably still go to the events for the free drinks and the chance to meet some other journalists, which is the closest thing I have to “work friends” in my chosen profession. But I wouldn’t have to. And neither would anyone else. We could choose whether we want to take what essentially amount to bribes and stay impartial, or operate at a distance but get the same experience as everyone else.

It removes us – the press – from the necessary position to be charmed by the PRs, which I imagine wouldn’t please them too much. It is their job, after all. But it would be opt-in, at least. Which is a start.

Would it save publishers money, though? Would the reduced cost and increased coverage not level out against the value of buttering up the people who are going to spread the information about your game throughout the world from a position of trust? I’m not sure. I’m not an accountant. But it bears thinking about, surely.