This is a sort of open letter regarding @laratlarian's blog post in which he talked about the press, and their ability to understand Divinity: Original Sin.

Blog here:

I have some experience in getting major coverage for a niche indie RPG/RTS on Kickstarter with some success, so here are my two cents on this.

"[T]here are still a lot of journalists out there who think of Divinity:Original Sin as a Diablo clone or a Diablo clone with tactical combat."

So, quite briefly, the problem is with getting journalists to take the time required to properly understand how Divinity: Original Sin -- as Vincke laments in his blog.

So let's get started.

It has been a long time since RPGs of this type have been in the mainstream. Creating a AAA RPG with no hand-holding, even with turn-based combat alone isn't something a lot of publishers would be open to. They wouldn't be open to it precisely because it's too difficult to market. It's too difficult to market precisely because it breaks various trends and design principles, and alienates a large part of the gaming/journalist community.

It isn't a sandbox, it is a story-based RPG, but it doesn't tell you where to go, what to do, or how to complete various objectives. This is a unique selling point, but it's also a curse.

When a developer hands over a game to a journalist, the developer is smiling excitedly. He thinks "go, free! Do as you please! Break our game!" but the journalist is thinking "okay, well, I only have a certain amount of time here, and if I don't work out what this game is about my editor will kill me."

Games journalists love games, but it's still work, and even in the simplest of games they are trying to get as far as possible, and get as broader understanding of the game as possible in a preview type environment. The idea that they should be plunged into it and work it out in their own time is an inherently difficult proposition, because they're often not on their own time.

To get around this, most PR companies will have their developers prepare some basic notes -- even hand out a walkthrough. I got some rather lengthy notes for Blackguards, even though it's a very simple linear turn based RPG. Who needs notes for that? But this is indicative of the culture we're performing in now'days. Instant, reliable, feature-full content. We barely have any time to ENJOY things (but we enjoy our jobs on the whole, etc). I manage to avoid this by working entirely freelance for my own magazine, and we provide fewer previews, but previews with more depth. With so many magazines, that's surely the best way. Anyway.

The unique selling points of Divinity: Original Sin are selling points for a niche audience; to a marketer, or journalist, they are a headache. I have seen journalists complaining that they cannot work out how to get through a part of South Park: The Stick of Truth. There was a thread on a journalist board somewhere, where someone needed help with a puzzle on Thief (a game where the puzzles tell you exactly how to do them...) When journalists get stuck, they get frustrated. Again, perhaps not everyone, and perhaps it's not my place to say it, but often I see games punished because journalists cannot get past a certain point to meet deadlines.

So to some degree journalists want an easy ride when it comes to 'working things out', however they enjoy difficulty - usually. This is perhaps one of the reasons RPGs have become so watered down over the years. To get good scores, you need an easily marketable game that can be assessed very quickly with very little time. Winning factor. Bad design principles.

Copying the YouTube format.

If you want a job at GameSpot or something, you better hope you can write, produce, star in, and edit your own preview or review videos lightning fast. As someone who does this himself, I can tell you it is incredibly difficult. It simply isn't viable to spend over 10 hours in a game world, and then write, edit, produce a video to a deadline. It'd take you 3 solid days to get a good video out. For my Original Sin preview, I decided to mix up a let's play formula and show the basic features because I knew I didn't have time to do it justice as a proper preview, so I didn't try to. Others will half-ass it, to save time. But what do you want, half-assed coverage, or no coverage?

Divinity: Original Sin demands A LOT of time from players (which is a good thing!) but it also demands A LOT of time from press, which is not such a good thing. The press can sometimes be resentful when they get frustrated. It is actually worth remembering that education is an important factor, too. Remaining critical under pressure is something you learn at university, and it's a skill. There will be a lot of people who say to themselves "How the fuck am I supposed to complete this fucking quest with these vague fucking tips?" Those vague tips are humor - humor that is lost on a frustrated, rushed journalist. A good journalist will not face this issue, or at least he'll handle it, so if you read this and get pissed off at me, you might be a bad journalist :-) The calmer you are, the better you probably are at your job :-)

So I am being critical of the press here, and I think that's fair, but it's also fair to say that throwing them in and expecting good results is wrong. They need to be hand-held just to save time. They are not the end consumer. They need to be shown unique features. Few will try and put a bucket on his head, but 100% of journalists who are shown it will react well, and understand such features are part of the humor, and they'll be noted.

Those are my two cents. The press want an easy ride to meet targets, and the marketing managers at publishers know this, that's why games like CRPGs faded out of existence. I mean AAA publishers of course, because there are publisher who cater to a niche, and they know how to do that.

Really, in my opinion, if you are worried about the game appealing to certain types of people who have expressed confusion or laziness, then you are wasting time, money, and energy in appealing to them. Readers are the most vocal and most critical. If someone puts out a shit preview, or review, he will be made aware of that by fans.

The press, now'days, want projects spoonfed to them. There is not so much reportage as there is pandering to advertisers and consumers. We can see this from the amount of Titanfall coverage -- how many other games could have been brought into the spotlight, if we cut only a few superfluous articles about that game?

You gotta give the press what they want, and what they need, otherwise they just won't bother, by in large. As an industry, it serves to make money before it serves to bring new games into the spotlight, and that's something I think about almost every day. There should be a compromise somewhere, but I digress.

Games journalists in major magazines are very specific people. It is an industry where everyone knows everyone. There is, surprisingly, not a huge amount of variation. It is unlikely Mr CRPG fan will be best buddies with Mr FPS fan, and as an extension of that Mr CRPG won't fit the clique, and Mr CRPG might find himself without a job.

Where are the 'we are dying to bring you new games' games journalists? They are the guys on Twitter without a job, because they don't meet the personal standards of Mr Editor.

Aside from RockPaperShotgun I can't think of one single magazine in the UK that dedicates most of its time to actually researching and bringing new games to the limelight, rather than dishing out content from press releases delivered by the same people paying their bills. That's fine, it's an industry, it needs to make money. Maybe I am just a romantic.

Anyway, to end - Original Sin's unique selling points are inherently incompatible with the principles upon which the press, and the marketers, work with.

To make enough noise to sell a CRPG, you need to tell everyone WHAT'S WRONG with current RPGs, and WHY Original Sin will deliver them a more rewarding experience. This industry is rarely critical of itself, and because of that, money speaks louder than words. If you can't get your trailer on at the Super Bowl, and you're unwilling to throw a bit of shit around, then what voice is there? "My game is great, please try it!" Why? People need to know WHY CRPGs should come back. I could give 50 reasons right here, but not without rustling some feathers.

So to me it's relatively simple. The tl;dr is that the press resent the time and effort it takes to produce a proper preview of OS -- a story that is, to their editors, most likely a minor one. But it shouldn't be, because it's good, and it's fresh, and in its design it speaks volumes about modern design principles -- perhaps those principles should be on paper, though, as well as in the game.

Logistically: do not shove tutorials in the game itself left right and center, just get those features missed by press in videos and on paper, and give them tips on what to try, and how to do the trickier things. They are not the end consumer, it doesn't matter if they're not playing how you intended, they're just the messenger, and if they're good at their jobs they'll be able to translate how they played, assisted, into the potential for the end consumer.

The romantic in me says "if they can't be bothered to look at the game properly, then they represent a demographic wherein the nuance will be lost anyway." Can't please everyone.

That's 'wot I think'.

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