Picking apart the hype of new and classic video games.

You’re doing it right: Gamespot

Last week I was asked to discuss an example of what I considered a strong news website. Given my beat and the abundance of video game information found on the web, I decided to take a look a Gamespot, which ranks 296 in overall online traffic rankings at Alexa.com

While there are many sites dedicated to keeping readers abreast of the video game industry, I feel like Gamespot does the best job of organizing a huge amount of information and making it easy to surf from one subject to another due to its practical layout.

The homepage provides readers with breaking news and recent reviews at the center of the page upon loading and the layout team does a good job of teasing these top stories with images sure to catch an interested reader’s eye quickly. This rapid-fire display of information proves crucial on the release day of high-profile games, when traditional websites and blogs alike must race against one another to put out information quickly and rise in the Google search listings before their competition.
Adding to Gamespot’s release-day edge is their “Launch Center” feature, which basically aggregates every screen shot, trailer, preview, review and any other type of media pertaining to a particular game and puts it all on a single easy to filter page.

A little further down the page you find links to stories most readers will only seek out if they have a specific game in mind or are simply loitering on the site looking for content. These links go to the editors blogs and The Soapbox, a special segment of the site meant to allow game commentators to post opinion pieces and duke it out with other readers in the comments section.

The Soapbox is an interesting feature to me because it seems like a pressure release valve for the more argumentative members of the online community. Rather than trolling a particular game they are into, The Soapbox allows you to assault other readers with a giant wall of text thesis argument and basically get whatever beliefs you hold off your chest and out of forums meant for more constructive or at least informative conversations.

In addition to making itself useful to curious gamers prior to the release of a product, Gamespot does a nice job of making itself useful to a player after the disc is spinning. In a smart move, Gamespot purchased GameFAQS, a site that publishes user-created game guides and offers a strong community of gamers willing to answer questions for free. Once a guide is published, a Gamespot editor will usually cut down a guide to the bare essentials and dress it up in proper grammar and spelling before running it on their own site, maintaining a professional appearance in their prose but peddling the hard work of some kid who happens to be really into Halo:Reach for the benefit of the common gamer.

Finally, the recent inclusion of a Gamespot Marketplace feature offers up an interesting twist on traditional web business models. Rather than linking out to Amazon or another online store to sell content, Gamespot has created its own store that deals in new and used games, a move which increases their utility to their readers considerably.

Of course, this recent addition may have something to do with my one major complaint against the site: editorial ethics. This first came to light during the 2007 Kane and Lynch controversy in which a longtime reviewer was fired for lambasting a completely lambastable game. The problem was that Edios, the company responsible for the game, had paid top dollar for a massive ad campaign on the site.

Unfortunately, this practice of running massive ads for games before they release continues to this day, however in an attempt to contextualize reviews the site has begun to run review scores from competing websites in a small box next to their sponsored review. It isn’t a perfect system and many gamers still scoff at the site, but I believe the additional review scores are probably the only way they could successfully quell rumors of a pay-for-play mentality.

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