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‘Doing it for the hits’ – a bizarre criticism of games journalism

Every writer who’s ever published a vaguely controversial games-related article – be it a review, preview, editorial or news story – will have seen the same old comment. “Oh,” they say, “they’re only doing it for the hits.”

It’s a strange criticism, not least because – well – yes, that’s how online editorial works.

If people don’t click on your articles, it means you don’t have any readers, and your publication cannot make any money. This is the business of online journalism.

Every single website you’ve ever read is either a hobbyist endeavour that has no desire to go pro – and as such will never be able to deliver the same level of content as its professional counterparts – or it attempts to carefully craft every article to be as desirable to read as possible.

It’s the same in print, though. Think about what goes on the front cover of a magazine, or the front page of a newspaper. Think about how those headlines are crafted, how those contents boxes are positioned. They’re “for the hits” too. They’re to grab your attention, and your coins. No one seems to mind about that, for some reason.

There are a few occasions on which people seem to get really riled up by this. The first is low-scoring reviews for generally high-scoring games. Edge takes a lot of flak around the internet for this. The notion that Edge scores games low just to get attention is hilarious because they’ve been consistently one of the more critical review publications for a long time now: far longer than the magazine has had its own website, let alone published reviews upon it.

Edge almost never mentions reviews on its front cover. You have to delve inside to find the scores. It even attempted to drop scores once, but there was such an outcry that they lobbed them back in just one issue later.

Then there are the editorials. If you so much as dare to voice a dissenting opinion, you’re doing it for the hits. Regardless of whether you’re being honest or not. If you voice an opinion that’s straight down the middle of the road, either no one reads it, or people read it then moan that it’s stating the obvious. Our readers would like us to shut up either way, it would seem.

Or how about news stories? There are some headlines that are dubious enough that I’d agree. Taking a quote out of context to make it sound more controversial than it is, for example. That’s the seedier side of “doing it for the hits”. But the art of a well-crafted headline is a fascinating thing. There are ways to “do it for the hits” that don’t require you do be disingenuous in any way. Is that okay?

The funny thing is that controversy in the online world only works for social traffic. Which amounts to so, so little of the traffic that goes through any website above amateur level. As a guide, BeefJack’s pretty small in the scheme of things, but only around 20% of our pageviews come through the likes of N4G, Digg, Reddit, or subject-specific forums. In the grand scheme of things, controversy works only the tiniest amount. In fact, the best way to “do it for the hits”, we’ve found, is to be as straight-up informative as possible, and to drop the controversy altogether.

We’re all doing it for the hits, then – just not in the way for which we’re continually criticised.

5 responses »

  1. You’re so wrong. This article is clearly published just for the hits.

  2. Short response: I agree that it’s a mistake for anyone to say that some sites are considering hits and some are not. Like you say, it’s ultimately the metric that all sites / editors are trying to increase. But there’s a difference between being the Sun / Mail, and being the Guardian, both of which vie for public attention with different methods. If generating traffic is the most important goal regardless of methods used to do so, why doesn’t Beefjack start an equivalent to page 3? Would you do that if you had the resources, and it was going to generate more traffic? What are things you would and wouldn’t be willing to do for hits? It seems like there is more to be considered than just hits. It seems like the two ends of the spectrum are ‘IGN’ and ‘rockpapershotgun’.

    Longer response: “they’re only doing it for the hits” is different to “we’re all doing it for the hits”. The former suggests an article has only been written for the sake of being controversial – hypothetically a review the genesis of which was “regardless of what I think about game X, which is being well-reviewed, I will write a negative review of it”.

    It would seem unfair to have an issue with an article like “Things That Are Wrong With Portal 2” (I don’t have a gift for writing headlines). There’s nothing wrong with someone slaying sacred cows, whether it be because the reasons are legitimate, or just because they can do so entertainingly (cf. Zero Punctuation). The point of the article, traffic generation aside, is to talk about the downsides of the game, right?

    It’s maybe different in the case of reviews. One reason for this could be that if the motivation for writing a review was to generate traffic in the most efficient way possible, then that motivation could supersede any attempt to give a ‘useful’ opinion. I feel ‘useful’ is a more appropriate adjective than ‘fair’ or ‘balanced’. An article exploring the downside of X does exactly what it says in the title. A review written by someone who feels that X is unsatisfactory and unenjoyable, or in some way fails to do what they think good games should do’, is fine. Zero Punctuation slaying X is amusing.

    I guess the assumption is that a negative review written just for the hits will be different from a ‘legitimate’ negative review. It might be different by being mostly rhetoric and light on argued points. That would make those reviews basically token text and a hit-generating score. If a site was to practice this consistently, why would I want to read them?

    • “That would make those reviews basically token text and a hit-generating score. If a site was to practice this consistently, why would I want to read them?”

      Well yeah, which is pretty much precisely why no publication that’s even remotely serious would ever do this. Journalists and publications absolutely rely on their credibility to continue existing. I can categorically say that I have never, ever heard of an established publication writing a negative review of a good game just to get attention. As a long-term strategy, it’s awful.

      • On the flipside of that- do publications favor people who honestly side with the majority or against it? I don’t doubt that Armond White believes Transformers 2 is more effervescent than Toy Story 3, but it generates a lot of ire and even more traffic (having people white-knight you is exposure too).

  3. The best way to call someone out on doing something just for the hits is to go to their website and comment on it, while also linking to it as much as possible so that everyone can witness the controversy firsthand.


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