** Note: This article will be constantly evolving as long as this site is active. Obviously, these are my opinions and readers are more than welcome to offer their 2 cents for future edits. ***
This will be the first editorial piece for The SuperLuminal, and its subject matter is one of the main reasons I decided to build a site centered around the games industry. In my professional life, I am a contracted online advertising specialist with a strong focus on user friendly campaigns and optimization. In short, against all odds, I work in developing creative solutions to help publishers build profitable sites without pissing off their viewership. This is a near-impossible feat considering the cynicism of both the publishers and their viewers, so I try to inject as much optimism as I can into an otherwise conflict-ridden relationship. I also happen to love games, and the industry behind them parallels my own quite well.
I am willing to call myself a consumer advocate based on a few of my personal beliefs and ethics that dictate how I run my own business. What is a consumer advocate? For the purpose of this article, let’s list some simple traits we’ll use as qualifications:
- A deep understanding of the flaws within their industry and the people holding back innovation (informed cynicism).
- An understanding that the industry must evolve to suit consumers’ fulfillment, satisfaction and financial limitations while still maintaining a healthy market value (balance).
- An ability to offer thoughtful, realistic, creative solutions that benefit all parties (input).
- An ability to educate consumers and inspire proactive consumer behavior (empowerment).
- A strong belief that their industry is salvageable with a potential for continued healthy growth (optimism).
I strongly believe that professional consumer advocates are needed in gaming more than ever. I have friends in their late 30’s who act like compulsive children when it comes to their game and hardware purchases, because they haven’t been given any decent information on how their spending is negatively affecting their experiences in the future. These aren’t the days of cartridges when the only thing on the market was found on shelves in toy stores with limited inventories. Consumers have options now, and the devaluation of their hard earned dollars is a real risk inherent with their own complacency. But most gamers have busy lives beyond their on-screen avatars, so assistance in navigating this territory is sometimes necessary.
So now I present you with a list of people I see as very competent consumer advocates in the games industry. I don’t personally know anyone on this list. No one on this list is without flaws, nor would they claim to be. But I do believe they all exhibit the qualities I described above, and they all have viewerships strong enough to affect the industry in a helpful way.
5. Machinima – ETC Show/T.U.G.S./Inside Gaming Daily
Say what you will about Machinima, the folks over at ETC/TUGS/Inside Gaming Daily do their homework. Don’t be fooled by their sardonic delivery, this group takes their gaming news seriously. While they may attack some of the more obvious themes inherent to the industry, they do so with plenty of research to back them up. Their relentless coverage of No Man’s Sky’s Sean Murray was impressive, pulling press releases, interviews and promotional material in support of their points against him. Not only do they take developers and publishers to task, but they do so in a thought provoking, relatable manner.
This group ranks high in the “informed cynicism” category. They’ve been positive enough to retain contacts all while bringing attention to egregious practices within the industry, which I suppose qualifies for “balance” to some degree. Their viewership is strong, so they are empowering a large number of people with their videos. They engage a casual audience and their work is prolific enough that most gamers on youtube have probably seen at least a few of their videos.
They may not take their role in the industry as seriously as a couple other people on this list, but they are a fun group to watch and they seem to be having a genuinely good time, which is a feat for anyone who has to wade through the compromised swamp that is contemporary gaming. Even if you don’t need the perfect consumer advocate, this channel is pretty consistently fun and informative.
4. Peter “Durante” Thoman
I wanted to place Durante higher on this list, because his work in this realm is easily the most specialized. He’s also a very competent writer, from the few articles he’s written for PCGamer.
Durante “the Mod God” fixes PC ports for console games. He famously fixed Dark Souls for the PC in very short order, making the game look and play many times better. He did it so quickly, in fact, that people were left scratching their heads as to why this guy wasn’t working as a QA Exec in the first place. He, a fan, made a major developer look absolutely foolish using their own product.
After the Dark Souls fix (DSfix for those unfamiliar), he began writing his analysis on PC ports, showing readers how to best optimize the games they wanted to play. He chastises developers on their laziness and compromise within their own productions, and it’s incredibly impressive to those like me with no formal knowledge of how games perform.
The problem with Durante is that his work is so limited. He doesn’t write many articles, and it’s hard to find much information on the guy. It’s no doubt that he is a valuable resource for any game developer out there looking for talent, but so far he seems to be comfortable playing his role as a fan.
Durante is one of the few consumer advocates whose main contribution has not been in speaking, but instead DOING. He made a developer’s true job look simple, and our expectations were raised based on his work.
3. Danny O’Dwyer – NoClip (Formerly Gamespot)
Danny O’Dwyer is probably most well known for his work on The Point for Gamespot. It was/(is?) a great series that played the balancing act very well. Danny is obviously enamored with the art of gaming, and some of his pieces play the nostalgia narrative above all else. His positivity is quite infectious, with a couple of his videos making me look for old games that I loved from years ago. His writing style may work best this way, but he is also very adept at calling a spade a spade.
Some of his more critical pieces involve everything from mundane gaming mechanics like inventory management to the dangerous money hungry hype machine that fuels many triple-A publishers.
Danny’s videos are accessible, and that is a major attribute to a widely viewed consumer advocate. His aforementioned writing style and hopeful outlook are quite necessary, because it gives the viewer a stake in the game, which many people assume we are losing. I wouldn’t say he goes out of his way to imbue his viewers to take a strong stand in any direction, but he does leave us with a feeling that we have an option to say no based on some standard we should develop around our own tastes.
My sincere hope is that we’ll find a new, independent Danny get even more critical towards publishers, because I think he’s a very measured voice amongst all those who function on a simple, reactionary level.
2. Jim Sterling — The Jimquisition (Formerly Destructoid/Escapist)
I’ll be completely transparent by saying that Jim was the first person I thought of when I began conceiving this article. I don’t believe Jim himself would argue much with the title of “consumer advocate,” as most of his videos seem to follow that role above all else.
Jim is the perfect kind of grass-roots consumer hero because he’s brash, he’s informed, and he is uncompromising. I daresay that Jim is sacrificing a large amount of income being the personality he is. He doesn’t pull any punches, especially when it comes to “triple-A gaming” and he has several rules for himself that he adheres to in regards to being able to recommend a game to his viewers/readers.
In particular, Jim has been increasingly critical of “fee-to-play” games, “freemium” games, preorder culture, and the corporate greed associated with all of these issues. He is not above name-calling, dragging publishers and developers through the mud, and telling gamers that they’re being played for idiots. Not only can he dish out the vitriol, but he also often offers simple solutions to these problems.
He’s also quite adept at dealing with the average internet troll. He covers his bases very intelligently (for the most part) and very rarely suffers fools. Finally, perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle is that Jim doesn’t have a problem with admitting when he’s wrong. A few years ago, I emailed him about a video he did regarding online advertising. I didn’t email him to prove him wrong on anything, just to clarify how a particular area of the industry worked. To my surprise, he emailed me right back, saying that he didn’t know much about how one of his old employers ran ads with his videos, which is why he was careful not to get into anything he wasn’t well-versed in. Good on you, Jim.
I won’t pretend to be enthused by all of his offerings. His Let’s Plays involving small independent Steam games might do a decent job showing how appalling Valve’s QA department is at doing their job, but not much else in the way of educating his audience. At best, he saves some people from spending 99 cents on a hacky piece of shit, and at worst, he gets involved in a pointless lawsuit with a no-name publisher not worth anyone’s time. I’m not saying he’s wrong, but he isn’t really doing much in the way of empowering an intelligent viewership on those particular fronts.
However, Jim definitely ticks all of the qualifications under “consumer advocate” as far as my standards are concerned. He may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but he can definitely deter you from your next bout with buyer’s remorse.
1. John Bain AKA TotalBiscuit AKA The Cynical Brit – Co-Optional Podcast
TB is a well-known personality in the world of Youtube gaming. He, like Sterling, has fairly strict parameters as to how he conducts his business in order to avoid a conflict of interest between himself and his audience. This is probably difficult for a guy like John, because publishers know the impact his recommendations can have on software sales and they’ve likely offered him large sums of money for his blessing on certain games. As long as I’ve been a TotalBiscuit fan however, I’ve seen no sign of his giving up on his responsibility as a trusted consumer advocate.
John offers an understanding of games as an art as well as the technology behind them. His knowledge on performance is extremely granular, perhaps close to that of Durante. I don’t know much about GPU performance, so his Performance Report video on Far Cry Primal was a little bit over my head, but it did keep me from buying the game in its early release stages.
TB offers level headed recommendations or condemnations of games rather than reviews with a point system. His dry delivery is sometimes not the most engaging, but he is the guy to go to if you’re looking for fair assessments of indie and triple A games alike.
John, amongst all of the advocates discussed so far is the most adult-friendly, as he himself isn’t necessarily going for any big laughs or sentimentality. If you’re looking for a less subjective viewpoint on a game, TB is the one to go to.
The Co-Optional Podcast is one of TB’s larger offerings, where he discusses games media, news, and new and upcoming releases. He does a great job of giving his viewpoint on many games during this podcast, and as long as he is leading the discussion, it typically remains a mature take on the industry at large. This, to me, is a welcome addition to my weekly viewing that is often populated by gamers who often love screaming and acting like 8 year olds.
If information is the most powerful resource that gamers have to direct the industry in the right direction, then TB, as a single entity, is the most powerful consumer advocate on this list.
Feel free to offer your comments and opinions on this list. I’ll make additions and edits based on audience consensus.
In this podcast, I ramble about my experience as an Adman, I say “in regards to” too many times, and I forget the name of Rocket League.