The title of this post is a hierarchy, and should thus probably be represented as:
That is my order of preference for getting information about gaming in general and MMOs in particular.
It is easy for me to tell you why reading is in first place, and it isn’t merely because it is something I have become pretty used to over the last 45 years or so.
When you are reading, you are in control.
Yes, the author put it all together and laid it out for you, but you get to pick and choose what you’ll read and when you’ll read it. You can read something in total, you can skim, you can jump to the end, you can walk away and come back to pick up where you left off. Reading seems to me to be the optimal way for me to pick up the information I want about gaming.
And this is reflected in my RSS feed, where I follow more than 200 sources, including blogs, news sites, and forums. Somebody will say that is a lot. It really isn’t. If I skim headlines and mark stories to read later and pick sites with care to avoid too much duplication, my RSS feed is a 10-15 minute daily assignment in the morning before work, with some follow up during the day. And FlipBoard on the iPad makes it so I can also pick up Twitter and Facebook updates (Flipboard actually makes Facebook a manageable and useful source of information! Imagine that!) and do this all while I am still in bed.
There are, of course, issues with with written word. It can be difficult to get across the correct tone when writing. Then there are people who will read a post and call you a hater because you said something negative about the game they love, disregarding anything positive you might have said. And of course, anything that smacks of satire or sarcasm is going to get misunderstood by somebody. But I am sure A Modest Proposal spurred some people to protest vehemently against the idea of eating children in its day.
And, of course, when I am reading… as opposed to skimming headlines… I cannot really do anything else. It requires focus. But I can pick my iPad and move somewhere quiet if focus becomes an issue.
In some ways, listening to somebody else talk about MMOs seems like an ideal middle ground. I can listen to a podcast while I drive or play certain games on my computer, so it gets points for multi-tasking.
I have to pause whatever I am listening to in order to read anything detailed. A paragraph of quest text seems to require the same mental resources as listening to somebody speak, so if I do not pause I will often find that anything said while I was reading was lost. But that only applies to longer blocks of text and any attempt to play a text based game like a MUD. Short messages, quest updates, and random idiots on chat do not take over the language processing portions of my brain long enough to interfere with what I am listening to.
And audio solves much of the tone problem people have with the written word. You can hear is somebody is calm or angry or laughing hysterically as they present something. I also find interviews can be much more effective with audio. Again, the dry written word is hard pressed to express emotion effectively. I recall back to the Jeff Green interview with Jeff Butler about Vanguard on the 11/10/2006 GFW podcast. It was outstanding. A pity you cannot download it any more.
The problems with audio as a format however negate much of the multi-tasking benefit.
First, you are pretty much at the mercy of the show creator when it comes to the flow of content. Unless they spent the time to setup chapters… and almost nobody does that… skipping ahead really is not an option. Sorry, but I am not always interested in your musical interludes or rambling general chit-chat, or any “what are we playing” segment that goes on for more than a minute per person speaking.
Second, as a method of transmitting detailed information, audio just sucks. There is an old saying about people being able to keep five things in their brain, plus or minus three. I am definitely on the minus side of things these days. So if you read out something like the comparison of the Riders of Rohan pre-order options I put in my post yesterday, I would have completely forgotten the basic option by the time you got to the legendary description. Presented as the printed word, I can flip back and forth and refresh my memory. Such an option is not available with audio, unless I read along, in which case I would rather just read.
Finally, there are just a bunch of little annoyances that have turned me off of podcasts over the last couple of years. I am surprisingly unforgiving of poor sound quality. There is the voice of the host, which if I do not like, I am not coming back. (And I say that while freely admit I cannot stand the sound of my own voice either, so welcome to the club.) It is also tough to search podcasts for content and when the owner disables the feed, the podcast is gone forever unless you have saved it locally. Adios all of Massively Online Gamer.
And then there seems to be this need to hit time goals, like it really isn’t a podcast if it doesn’t run at least an hour. Please, please, please, get over that. You are not trying to fill a network time slot.
I will hold up, as an example of my ideal podcast, Planet Money. This is an NPR production that is done just as a podcast. So unlike, say, This American Life in podcast form, which does have to run in a one hour radio time slot, Planet Money only runs as long as it needs to. It opens with a standard segment, does just one story, and runs anywhere from 10 to 25 minutes, rarely exceeding 20.
This is great. I am always ready for the next episode. There is no fat and no padding things out to a specific time. This is a good example of “less is more.” Somebody emulate this with an MMO podcast.
Watching, which usually comes in the form of a video on YouTube, ranks in third place with me for a few reasons. As with audio, you are at the mercy of the presenter when it comes to pace and order of content, though at least with visual cues it is a bit easier to skip ahead.
Of course being a combination of visual and audio, you cannot really pay attention to the presentation and do anything else. You must stop, look, and listen. So it has that going against it along with the fact that I am stuck hooked to the internet while I watch. Books and podcasts can travel, video stays tethered in some way.
But all of that might be acceptable if the average gaming video cast wasn’t a complete mis-use of the medium.
Here is the deal. We are well on our way into the 21st century here. If you have modeled your show on the nightly news from the 1970s, you are doing it wrong. Having a news anchor at a desk was new and cool to my grandparents. If your value ad is a desk, a suit, and a few captions, please consider dialing it back to a podcast. And if you have a hipster in a t-shirt standing instead of a suit and a desk, congratulations, you’ve made it to the 1980s by emulating MTV news.
Yes, I know you want to get on screen and be a star, but unless you are angling to actually move your show to… I don’t know… the Syfy network maybe… let it go as a format.
Not that there isn’t a time and a place for the desk and microphone setup. If you are on the GDC show floor and are going to do an interview with Raph Koster sitting at a desk, great. I’ll get that it isn’t a studio production and frankly the nature of the event will make for some interesting give and take. There is something to the Larry King format I suppose.
When I started on this section, my conclusion was going to be that I do not watch any gaming news coverage done via video. And then I realized that I do watch one regularly.
I watch Zero Punctuation every week.
It is an editorial in the form of a review, so it is news-ish. But here is the thing, it represents an effective use of the online video format. There is enough on screen to make it worthwhile viewing as well as an effective and fast-paced audio track to go along with it. It all works and is viewable in the smallest viewing resolution and never once do we see Ben Croshaw and his hat live and in person.
Okay, we did see him once, in that episode when he was in Washington DC. I think that made a pretty strong case for him not appearing on camera again, a counter-point to his otherwise very effective use of the medium.
Some Sort of Conclusion
So those are my opinions. I have tried not to call anybody out as a negative example… though, I guess by not calling out a single good gaming podcast and exactly one good example for a gaming videocast, you might assume I hate them all. I do not. I am, however, somewhat jaded by what is available.
So aside from reinforcing my love of the power and portability of the written word, I am going to cover up my lack of any sort of a definitive conclusion with another poll.
So what is it for you?