The pandemic has proven to be a boon for the gaming industry. The industry is benefitting from having such a large percentage of the population sheltering-at-home with little to do. In August, sales of Indie publisher Devolver Digital's "Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout" sold more than 7 million copies. Nintendo earned $1.37 billion in the second quarter 2020, a 400% spike compared to the same time last year. Vegas casino online gaming has become a favored form of entertainment. New gamers are starting to play while veteran gamers are increasing their gaming activities.
The growth of the industry comes as no surprise. The industry has been experiencing steady growth for years and predictions for the next decade were always optimistic. But the COVID-19 pandemic has speeded everything up in the gaming industry and gaming journalism has discovered that it’s a worthwhile endeavor to try to keep up.
Journalism outlets like IGN, Kotaku and Destructoid have been publishing reviews, commentary and investigative work focused on the gaming industry and games for over a decade. And now, with the gaming industry growing, mainstream media outlets are making the decision to invest in gaming journalism so that they too can reach that audience.
Over the last few months three major media organizations, Wired, Bloomberg and The Washington Post have each announced that they are investing in gaming coverage. These outlets will almost certainly be only the first of a long line of mainstream publications to look to capitalize on the booming industry. The publications will investigate the culture and business of the gaming industry with stories that will be directed at both non-gamers and gamers.
Mike Hume, editor of The Washington Post's gaming vertical Launcher said, "For how much money it generates, it doesn't get nearly enough attention. The audience is here for gaming. The value of these stories, the value of having more heavyweight outlets in the mix is going to be great. There's a lot more stories out there that need attention. We're a team of six. We can't get to everything."
Publications that are getting ready to cover gaming have been preparing for some time.
Bloomberg has, in the past, covered the finances of gaming companies such as Nintendo and Sony. Now it is expanding to cover the culture and media side of the industry. Bloomberg launched its entertainment vertical called Screentime in April. Jason Schreier, formerly of Kotaku and one of the gaming industry’s leading reporters, moved to Screentime to cover gaming "business, culture, labor, delays, and lots more!!!"
Bloomberg’s senior executive editor for global technology Brad Stone spoke of Schreier, saying "I saw what kind of fervent following he had and how he was just sort of a natural indigenous member of the video game community, how well he knew it and how much respect he had it in. He just really complemented our coverage."
Wired Games is not the first video game coverage that Wired has attempted. But Editor-In-Chief Nicholas Thompson wanted to up the content. He said that, before he returned to Wired in 2017, the amount of coverage had been dropping and he felt that it was time to devote serious resources to gaming coverage. "I don't know why they stopped it," Thompson said. "There'd be an occasional story but not much. It was something that I thought, 'Well given the importance of it to our culture, our society, it would be great to do more.'"
Cecilia D'Anastasio, one of Kotaku’s star reporters, defected to Wired after a new owner took over Kotaku and the staff and new management failed to get along. That was a feather in the cap for Wired which was able to refocus on gaming with an ace in the hole.
Launcher, which started publishing last year, took three years to lay the groundwork that would take it from the drawing board to the publication. Before being tagged to serve as Launcher’s editor, Hume was the Post’s national sports editor.
Initially, he wanted to create a gaming vertical centered around esports. "But it was pretty apparent that gaming and the gaming industry as a whole was very robust with a number of storylines we could sink our teeth into," Hume said. "The audience around that was even bigger, significantly bigger than esports."
So far, Schreier’s coverage at Bloomberg has included investigations into culture and labor issues at gaming companies including one on Blizzard workers sharing their salaries in frustration over wage disparities, console updates at Nintendo, the developing legal battle between Epic and Applie and misconduct claims at Ubisoft. Launcher’s Gene Park and Mikhail Klimentov have also reported about Epic and Apple’s legal dispute while at Wired, there’s expected to be more coverage of how gaming is changing culture.
"We're not going to do game reviews," Thompson said. "There are a lot of specialty publications that do a fantastic job at that and our jobs are to try to find bigger stories about what games mean and what's happening in games that will matter to the rest of the society."
Wired is preparing a new series which will focus on game specific conversations and coverage. The series will air on its YouTube and Twitch channels. Launcher is also considering a dedicated channel along with expanding its presence on the Discord messaging app.
Hume said that his publication will draw in the Post’s general audience by writing about gaming "in a little more explanatory way." The goal, he said, is for those viewers and readers to understand why it's "super relevant to your life." The main thrust of Launcher, says Hume, is to appeal to the "dedicated hardcore gamers who want to know everything about their favorite games" so the writing must cater to that audience. "When we're covering esports, we never stop to explain what esports is unless we really really have to. You don't write an article about what baseball is, like, 'Baseball is a game with nine people.'"
Bloomberg is taking a different approach. "People interested in business are the same people after work or maybe secretly in the hours when they should be working are either turning on the TV and streaming a show or a movie or playing a video game," Stone said.
Polygon serves as a good example about how gaming can be broadened into the general world of entertainment. When it first launched, in 2012, Polygon was a brand all about gaming. Since then its scope has expanded.
Polygon Editor-In-Chief Chris Plante said, "Polygon is an entertainment publication for young people. Increasingly, we realized that our audience expects us to be on the same wavelength as them. If you're not feeding them all these types of different content they engage with, they just kind of fall off."
Plante has been waiting for this increase in coverage, not only as the gamer that he is but also as an industry representative where he works with and mentors with other journalists focused on gaming.
"My deepest fear in the past was: Where the hell do game journalists go after my job?” Plante said. “For decades, it was marketing. Now what I'm seeing and what rules is there are these prestige publications that have money and resources and do give the next rung in the ladder. So, we have old media standards entering the space. But just as importantly, we also have enthusiast publications like Polygon, Eurogamer, and Kotaku."