Something pretty compelling is happening right now in the world of gaming. Aliens: Colonial Marines, an official sequel to the beloved James Cameron vehicle seven years in the making, was released to much anticipation thanks to a wealth of hype, previews and predictions. What people received and reviewed, however, was miles away from what Aliens fans had been promised, and developer Gearbox has found itself in the shitstorm of the century.
For days, people wondered what the hell had happened. The answer came in the form of a post on Reddit, followed by an anonymous former Sega employee (edit: this blog has been removed) detailing the who, where, why and what the fuck of this story. We now know, based on credible albeit unknown insiders, that a massive chunk of the game was outsourced by Gearbox to a company known as TimeGate. Accusations of contract breaching, misappropriation of funds and even embezzlement are included in these words. These are, in no uncertain terms, some very serious allegations that have the makings of a legal thriller penned by David Mamet.
So why the fuck is nobody talking about it?
In 2013, news stories last for about as long as the Twitter trends they start. What generates headlines this minute will be considered irrelevant as soon as something else explodes, literally or in a figurative sense. Right now, Seth MacFarlane’s job as host of the 2013 Academy Awards is being debated and criticized. Tomorrow, he’ll go back to being the guy who took over Sunday nights on Fox.
To put this in perspective, Colonial Marines was released to stores on February 12, one week after Dead Space 3, er, alienated (I should be punched in the asshole for saying that) critics and fans alike with its drastic shift in atmosphere. Two weeks later, Dead Space 3 is an afterthought. Mentions of DLC releases aside, the series will likely not meet its target of five million copies and fade into memories of franchises past while talk heats up for the PlayStation 4 and whatever Microsoft decides to christen as its next Xbox. Colonial Marines as a game is likewise quickly being forgotten, but the story behind it has legs…long, luscious, lengthy legs, the kind of legs any self-respecting journalist would demand to see for themselves and kill for an exclusive interview.
Just as I began to type this column, Jason Schreier of Kotaku published this piece and gave us one of the only clear pictures that exists regarding the hellspawn that is Colonial Marines. I am not going to parrot his hard work, so I would simply point you to the article to see for yourself everything available. What grabs my attention and sets off my reporting Spidey sense is why the “biggest names” in gaming journalism have been completely silent on this new development.
A simple browsing of the front pages of IGN and Gamespot will reveal nothing regarding the behind-the-scenes drama of Colonial Marines. Why?! Why would two websites whose combined readership is in the hundreds of millions every month not feel compelled for even a second to use their sources and contacts within the industry to, I dunno, report?
Hell if I know. I reached out to representatives of each site and didn’t get an answer. IGN has not touched the controversy, and the closest I have seen from Gamespot is a fluff piece video about why the Alien games have never lived up to expectations, which you can view here. Not really the investigative production I would expect out of a subsidiary of the same company who broadcasts 60 Minutes.
The one person who did offer perspective was Jim Sterling. Reviews editor at Destructoid and host of the Jimquisition at The Escapist, Sterling took the time to share some thoughts with me regarding Colonial Marines and the lack of coverage regarding this scandal:
I think we have to appreciate the fact I’ve got a particular passion for both Aliens and consumer advocacy in general. I’m a big fan of the Aliens series, across multiple media formats, and through outlets like Jimquisition, I’ve become increasingly interested in issues that directly affect paying customers. For some writers, that’s not their angle. Their job is strictly in covering upcoming games, giving them their final review, and moving on. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that — they don’t claim to be on anybody’s side.
Meanwhile, the Marcus Beers and the Robert Florences, they do, and that’s why they’ve not let go so easily. For those gamers with an interest in that kind of consumer-siding coverage, I’d recommend they not expect sites that never cover things like this to start doing it now. They already have their established niche, and there are others out there filling that gap. There’s room for all types of coverage, and there’s so much of it I’d be surprised to find the gamer that can’t tailor their browsing habits to fill their particular needs.
I emailed Sterling because he was the first among the popular websites I follow who was in a prominent position to bring up the anonymous Sega blogger. While the anonymity automatically calls any legitimacy into question, the simple fact is that people like Sterling and Jason Schreier are doing something that is now a lost art in the world of reporting: investigating. With trusted industry sources who have provided them valuable and factual information in the past, men like them now more closely resemble an old-school mentality than any dottering buffoon on a 24-hour cable news channel and will not be found slouching on a chair between a table of Doritos and a Mountain Dew cardboard cutout.
With such a stark contrast in styles, this begs the question: why do the bigger websites even exist? If their sole purpose is to preview upcoming games and then stamp a number on the final product, what other crap are they shoveling out that needs to be read or viewed? Independent sites like NSFW Gamer now have a lot of the same access to trailers and screenshots that would have been denied to a simple person like me with nothing more than a voice and an opinion years ago.
Take a good look at those sites. Really. Is there anything that draws you in and makes you want to stick around? I am not trying to take away from the talent of any individual writer from each website, but if we have people like Sterling, Schreier, Beer and Florence getting their hands dirty on their own, what’s the point of a massive conglomerate employing others to tell us whether or not we should buy a game when these same reporters are just as well-informed? In fact, a review from a legitimate investigator makes for more of an interesting read; Sterling’s 4.0 score for Final Fantasy XIII, while I disagreed with it, was a nice change of pace against what seemed like blind devotion to a series that has undoubtedly gotten away from where it started.
I don’t know if I have an overlying theme or thesis for this column more than a few observations about the state of gaming journalism in 2013. I don’t have a boss leering over my shoulder and critiquing every word I type, and while I don’t have an extensive benefits package, part of me wonders if I am better off this way. If working for the big guys means possibly having my work post-edited or any social media handle I use put on watch, I think I’m just fine in this sea of tits and games I call home.