OPINION: SPJ Ethics and the Worth of Alternative Games Press

Thursday, April 30th, 2015

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#SPJEthicsWeek is trending on Twitter. What is it about? Well, the SPJ, or Society of Professional Journalists, is celebrating its 13th annual ethics week. The SPJ has its own Code of Ethics, which many journalists and news organizations use as a standard for their profession. The intention of this code is to minimize harm to subjects of stories and be mindful when dealing with cultural differences. It’s an interesting read and, I think, something that’s very relevant to current events. In my opinion, a couple of major tabloid gaming websites have failed to live up to this code. However, their incompetence and cavalier attitude only benefits the emerging and growing alternative video game news website scene.

It’s no secret to anyone that there is a growing cynicism towards video game news sites; particularly mainstream outlets whose authors are seen by critics as being too cozy and homogenous with each other. The recent scandals and revelations of the past few months have opened the curtains to an atmosphere of cronyism which appalled and alienated many gamers like myself.

Large tabloid-style game websites reigned over this environment, peddling garbage non-content with attention-grabbing headlines, such as why the author felt uncomfortable with Hyperdimension Neptunia’s breast physics, only to find there was nothing of worth to be read in the article itself. Wouldn’t you feel angry at having your time wasted? I did.

Alternative Games Press | oprainfall

“Am I bugging you? I’m not touching you…”

Yet these sorts of articles are the bread and butter of tabloid games journalism; where it appears to the reader that anything goes as long as it gets clicks for ad revenue. Actually doing research, disclosing relationships and citing sources seem to be beyond a couple of these sites, but it is the professional and ethical thing to do. On the surface, it also appears that there is a lack of diversity of opinion — with political agendas being shoehorned into reviews — which many gamers find distasteful. Japanese games — and not just the niche ones — are lacking coverage. Or, when they do get covered, they are mocked and reviled because of the author’s ethnocentrism.

A lot of you out there are fed up with this model, and rightfully so. Games journalism, at least to the average person, has become a bad joke, and trust in it has eroded significantly. If you need evidence of this shift, you need only look at the latest ESA infographic for 2015. On page 12 of that presentation, you should find an interesting statistic. Under “Factors influencing decisions to purchase video games,” reviews from magazines and video game websites only get a pitiful 3% of the pie. Ouch! And, if mainstream websites’ reviews are being ignored, what does that say about smaller sites like ours? It’s not just the big guys who might be freaked out over a low number like that.Alternative Games Press | oprainfall

The fact is that many gamers have left dedicated video game websites in favor of YouTubers, be they Let’s Players or people running review shows for hardware and software. And we can’t forget about the elephant in the room, either: Twitch has exploded in popularity over the past couple of years, and that, too, is seen as a primary source for many of us to help decide what we want to buy if we ever feel on the fence. It makes sense to me. The content is immediate and more captivating than just simply reading about it on the screen. The only thing that makes me raise an eyebrow is when a developer uses an endorsement from PewDiePie to sell a product, since he’s mainly an entertainer who acts like a goofy manchild. I have nothing against the guy, though.

I myself have been running a Twitch channel for over 2 years, with the intended goal of bringing more attention to Japanese and indie games that I felt deserved them. Our most recent cast showcased a preview build of VA-11 HALL-A, a niche indie cyberpunk bartending waifu visual novel reminiscent of Hideo Kojima’s Snatcher. But, in spite of being a Twitch streamer, I don’t really see much of an audience even after two years. I can’t ignore the fact that the games I choose to play aren’t going to be seen or played by most who aren’t into the niche stuff, so I really am in the same boat as small video game sites who really want their material to be viewed by a larger audience. I’m not complaining, mind you. Just telling you how it is.

Alternative Games Press | oprainfall

I’m confident that we do produce quality material here at Operation Rainfall. We have internal guidelines for seeking out and reporting the news as we come across newsworthy stories. We always try to go for the original source whenever we’re able to find it; citing them, giving credit and making sure all information is verified and accurate. We just report on the news as it is and don’t try to be reactionary for cheap, easy clicks.

We also have a strong working relationship with various PR contacts and firms who represent publishers. So out of respect and professionalism we don’t publish contact info and when a press release is shared by us, we usually publish it verbatim, with no content doctored, no watermarked images or anything like that. It’s presented as is for you to see, since this is word from the publisher.

Do you remember the Senran Kagura: Estival Versus debacle? We really did try to reach out to Twitch for an official comment, but we got frustrated with waiting for an answer after a few days. It turns out that a Twitch admin reached out to me on Twitter to speak about the issue, and, when it was time to break the story that the decision to ban it was reversed, he asked me not to use his name when he provided me with Twitch’s official comment. I didn’t, and neither did Lewd Gamer, who contacted me and asked me for verification on that story. That was out of respect for our source. Lewd Gamer is one of our rivals when it comes to niche game sites, but I respect them for honoring that request when I helped them verify the statement.

Alternative Games Press | oprainfall

The thing is, even though we have plenty of rival alternative enthusiast game sites that cater to specific audiences, I admire the authors who work for them. I read their content daily, because each site has something different to offer. But we don’t and will never actually collaborate on decisions like who to bring on and who to let go. I keep them at arm’s length for the sake of professionalism, which is how it should be.

These sites are also how I find out about games in the first place. Twitch and YouTube are great and all, but alternative game sites are still #1 for me when it comes to learning about a title’s existence. We need sites like Operation Rainfall and the others to survive. Niche Japanese games need as much coverage as they can get, lest they fade into obscurity in the West and are forgotten, save for the import gamers out there.

So, I implore you, keep reading us, keep reading them too! If you like an article, share it! Retweet it, put it on Facebook, get it out somehow. And we’ll keep working to keep you informed on the kinds of games you want to know about. I’m all for healthy competition in the alternative game news scene.

About Joe Sigadel

Joe is the reporting manager for oprainfall, he is also a broadcaster on Twitch and loves showing off many of the games we report about on his channel. He has also been known to defended Senran Kagura from those who only want to accept it at face value.




  • froyton

    I’d just like to say I am extremely grateful to this site for staying out of the drama (BOTH sides of it) in the past few months. This site has been a breath of fresh air. Keep up the excellent work!

  • Wolfe

    Great article, thank you.
    This site was one of the few to survive my personal purge when the full extent of corruption, collusion, and politically motivated blacklisting came out last year. If there’s any one thing I am certain of is that’s sites like this will continue to grow and attract new readers amongst those of us who genuinely care for this hobby.
    Keep doing the good work.