Straying from the Mission: A Critique of Joystiq

During its short life, the Gaming Intelligence Agency (1998-2002) built up a steady following among console games. It was a pretty solid news and reviews website with a narrow focus: they only covered console RPG, puzzle, and adventure games.

When the Xbox launched in late 2001, they curiously opted to review only a single launch title, Azurik: Rise of Perathia (which they gave the same drubbing it got everywhere – I maintain it was actually a decent game, but that’s another story). I wrote them a letter asking why they had not reviewed Munch’s Oddysee, which was a puzzle/adventure game. They replied that it was an action game, and therefore they wouldn’t be reviewing it. I responded, pointing out that they had recently reviewed Metal Gear Solid 2, and wasn’t that an action game? No, they said. It’s an adventure game.

I quickly figured out that their unorthodox genre classification system was really just a way to avoid reviewing Xbox games, since the site had an open dislike of the platform. This irked me. They had every right to run a site that only covered Sony and Nintendo systems, but that wasn’t their mission statement: they promised to cover ALL applicable console games, and let their personal vendettas interfere with that mission, at a cost to their readers.

I tell this story because I’ve recently encountered a similar issue at Joystiq. Joystiq is a much more professional operation than the GIA, and I think they generally do a very good job of running a news blog. But recently, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend: the dismissal of the PC as an equal gaming platform to console.

In his E3 coverage of Battlefield 3, Joystiq writer Alexander Sliwinski opened with a curious few paragraphs, reproduced below.

“Imagine you’re invited over to friend’s place to watch Willy Wonka i.e. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. You know Willy Wonka, you really enjoy it and you’re totally ready to sing along to “Pure Imagination” (in your head) with Gene Wilder for the umpteenth time. But, when you show up, it’s the Johnny Depp version. It’s still great, but you don’t really know it as well. That was my Battlefield 3 E3 preview experience.

Gorgeous. Battlefield 3 on PC with the Frostbite 2 engine is a stunner (as you can see here). How will it look on consoles? Good question, since DICE still isn’t showing the Xbox 360 or PS3 versions. After playing Battlefield: Bad Company 2 on consoles for nearly a year straight, I was ready to compare and contrast BF3 to the latest installments in the series, but that will have to wait for another time.”

After running through a short preview, he concluded “It’s good to see Battlefield 3 shaping up and looking so hot on PC, but it’s time we started getting an idea of the console experience.”

It’s clear that Sliwinski is not meaning to denigrate the PC as a gaming platform, but his dogged insistence that what we REALLY need is info on the console version is curious. The PC is the lead platform for Battlefield 3. It is being developed on the PC, to take advantage of the PC, to target a PC audience. Later it will be ported to consoles, but the PC is the focus, and will surely be the best incarnation of the game. So why is Joystiq focusing on the console version? Is this a console-only news site?

No. Joystiq’s mission is to be “the definitive source for news and information on the video game industry.” They promise “video game news and commentary, the latest game videos and screenshots, reviews and previews, all presented with as much excitement, enthusiasm, insight and fun as the laws of physics allow.” Nowhere does it say anything about the console/PC divide: this site will cover ALL video games, presumably without bias for an individual platform.

But they don’t. Shortly after Sliwinski’s post, reviews editor Justin McElroy noted that  Joystiq had “gotten in the habit of letting the ongoing Sherlock Holmes game series fall into our proverbial blindspots, perhaps because of the lackluster production values or PC-centric game design.” [emphasis added] Shortly thereafter, Randy Nelson reviewed Duke Nukem Forever, a game in development for the PC for over a decade. He reviewed the Xbox 360 port.

As with the GIA, I think Joystiq is entitled to run a console-focused site if they want to (though I don’t think they should – I’ll address that in a later post). But it’s not what their mission is. When they promise comprehensive coverage of video games but suppress PC coverage, they do a disfavor to the industry, to their readers, and to themselves.

Article by Dylan

Dylan Holmes is a 20-something from Seattle. By day he works as public librarian; by night he tries to balance voracious media consumption with some modicum of a social life. His accomplishments include being the author of one book (A Mind Forever Voyaging: A History of Storytelling in Video Games); inventing numerous Arnold Palmer variants; and being able to balance on an exercise ball indefinitely. His failures are too numerous to list.


  1. While I generally agree with you, it’s debatable whether their console bias violates their mission statement or simply reflects the status quo of their audience.
    In the end, why not just go read another gaming mag, maybe a PC centric one?

    1. This is much more of a personal argument (i.e. Joystiq’s owners would dismiss it out of hand) but I think the makeup of their audience isn’t very important in this case for two reasons:

      1. They aren’t a brothel. Their job isn’t just to bring pleasure to their readers and feed their desires: it is to enlighten and educate them. Maybe some of these people are console-only gamers because they don’t realize all the cool stuff that’s going on on PC. Doesn’t matter. If they had an actual mission statement – if they took what they did seriously as a journalistic endeavor rather than a commercial one – it wouldn’t matter who their audience was, they’d just do it.

      2. It’s self-selecting: if they do primarly console coverage, obviously their audience will mostly be console games. Opening it up expands the potential audience.

      As for why I don’t just go somewhere else, my answer is

      A. I do: I read RPS to get the PC coverage Joystiq misses, and
      B. I strongly believe in an comprehensive gaming news site that combines a bit of opinion/flair with straight news reporting. There isn’t one that I know of: Joystiq is the closest thing we’ve got.

    1. Your link reminds me that I’ve never checked out the dark mod, namely because I don’t have Doom 3. I really should pick up the game just for the mod.

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