The gaming industry is soaring thanks in part to a pandemic that has left many people marooned at home with limited forms of entertainment.
Nintendo (NTDOF) alone made $1.37 billion in operating profit in the quarter ending in June, a staggering 400% spike compared to the same time last year. Indie publisher Devolver Digital’s sales of “Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout” sold more than 7 million copies in August, outperforming some of the most popular games on the market over a one-month launch period.
But the video game industry has long been a multibillion dollar business. Back in 2011, research firm Gartner reported that the gaming industry was worth $74 billion that year, a 10% jump from $67 billion the year before. In May of this year, an analyst at esports and gaming research firm Newzoo predicted that the industry will generate $159.3 billion in 2020.
Still, gaming journalism has long been dominated by more niche publications. For over a decade, outlets like Kotaku, IGN, and Destructoid have published commentary, reviews, and investigative work focused on games and the gaming industry.
That is changing now. With consumers taking an interest in video games like never before, major outlets are finally investing in gaming journalism that speaks to a wider audience.
The Washington Post, Bloomberg, and Wired have each announced investments in gaming coverage in recent months. These publications and others are looking to capitalize on this booming industry with the same rigor they’ve shown in reporting on Hollywood and Silicon Valley. The plan is to investigate the business and culture of the gaming industry with stories that appeal to gamers and non-gamers alike.
“For how much money it generates, it doesn’t get nearly enough attention,” said Mike Hume, editor of The Washington Post’s gaming vertical, Launcher. “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.”
Money in gaming
Launcher, which began publishing last October, was a project at least three years in the making. Hume, who joined the Post as national sports editor in 2014, said his initial pitch was for 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.”
Wired Games, announced last month, is not Wired magazine’s first foray into video game coverage. But Editor-In-Chief Nicholas Thompson said he noticed that there had been less resources devoted to the topic when he returned to Wired in 2017.
“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.’”
Bloomberg has long covered the finances of gaming companies such as Sony (SNE) and Nintendo (NTDOF). Now it also covers the media and culture side of the industry. In April, Bloomberg launched an entertainment vertical called Screentime that includes gaming coverage. Later that month, one of the gaming industry’s leading reporters, Jason Schreier, formerly of Kotaku, said he was joining Bloomberg to cover “business, culture, labor, delays, and lots more!!!”
After an acquisition by private equity and a culture clash between staff and new management, G/O Media’s Kotaku became ripe for poaching. Another one of its top investigative reporters, Cecilia D’Anastasio, decamped to Wired.
“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,” Bloomberg’s senior executive editor for global technology Brad Stone said of Schreier. “He just really complemented our coverage.”
What stories to tell
Schreier’s coverage at Bloomberg so far has included deep dives into labor and culture issues at gaming companies. Bloomberg’s top tech story for August was about Blizzard workers anonymously sharing their salaries in revolt over wage disparities. In fact, four out of five of Bloomberg’s most-viewed tech stories in August were about gaming, Stone said. Topics of those stories include misconduct claims at Ubisoft, console updates at Nintendo and the unfolding legal battle between Apple and Epic.
At Launcher, Mikhail Klimentov and Gene Park also have both reported extensively on Epic’s legal dispute over Apple’s App Store pricing model.
Thompson said he plans to expand Wired’s coverage of how gaming is changing culture — which is already being closely covered by D’Anastasio.
“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.”
For game-specific coverage and conversations, Wired will produce a new series for its YouTube channel — where it has nearly 7 million subscribers — and on Twitch where many gamers congregate. Thompson said staffers will broadcast themselves playing games while chatting with viewers on the Amazon-owned streaming platform as well as hold discussions about games.
“I don’t know if 15 people will watch or 15 million,” Thompson said. “We have super smart people who love games and are really engaging personalities. We’ll see how it works.”
Launcher, despite being under the ownership of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, hasn’t invested in a Twitch channel yet. Park, one of the team’s reporters, has been streaming on his own. But Hume said a dedicated channel could be in Launcher’s future along with an increased presence on messaging app Discord.
“Right now, we’re still walking at this stage of our existence, but I think as we grow we’ll continue to engage more,” Hume said. “We have ongoing conversations with a number of gaming sites. It’s been a very accommodating community so far, a lot of people interested in collective success rather than insane competition.”
Serving two audiences
Hume said his team writes about gaming “in a little more explanatory way” for the Post’s general audience so they understand why it’s “super relevant to your life.” But he still wants Launcher to appeal to the “dedicated hardcore gamers who want to know everything about their favorite games,” which means the writing also has to cater to that audience.
“When we’re covering esports, we never stop to explain what esports is unless we really really have to,” Hume said. “You don’t write an article about what baseball is, like, ‘Baseball is a game with nine people.’”
Stone said he sees Bloomberg’s general audience and people who want to read about gaming stories as one in the same.
“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.
The broadening of gaming into the larger entertainment world can be seen through the story of Polygon. The site launched in 2012 as a gaming-specific media brand under Vox Media, but its coverage scope has since expanded.
“Polygon is an entertainment publication for young people,” said Editor-In-Chief Chris Plante. “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 told CNN Business that this rise in gaming coverage is a “moment” he has been waiting for — not only as a gamer but also as an editor in the industry where he mentors and works with other gaming-focused journalists.
“My deepest fear in the past was: Where the hell do game journalists go after my job? For decades, it was marketing,” Plante said. “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.”