Grumpy Gurevitz: Where is the BBC when it comes to games?

Once if you thought BBC and then gaming, you awoke to this wee computer.

I’m part of a BBC ‘Linked In’ group and over the last few weeks there has been an ongoing debate concerning whether the BBC should start covering games across the various media outlets and platforms. Now, I should point out that I am extremely proud of parts of the BBC, but also extremely wary of the size of the organisation and its ability to damage and ‘kill off’ commercial efforts in certain media sectors.

'Oh dear' is a phrase which comes to mind when one sees this screenshot.

Firstly, let us recognise that the BBC do cover games, mostly online. They have reporters cover certain releases through their online ‘News Beat’ section and of course through their show ‘Click’. The coverage is thin, but demonstrates that someone at the BBC is aware that games exist. Indeed we know that the BBC are aware of games, due to their recent entry into the actual game market by commissioning the development and release of the Doctor Who games for the Wii and DS. It was unfortunate the reviews for these games were quite awful, and certainly didn’t help back up the old theory that without the BBC the commercial sector would be free to release crap upon consumers who would otherwise have no choice. Perhaps this case study demonstrates a problem the BBC has with games. It suggests that internally they do not take them as seriously as dramas, films (which they have also invested in), radio and music (which they invest a small fortune in – they fund five to seven orchestras in the UK!). This could explain why they have not given games a larger role within the content and broadcast schedule.

What I would not want to see is a large online or print presence. The gamer readership does not need another major website presence, as we already have everything from Eurogamer, to UKcentric versions of IGN, Gamespot, CVG and Games Radar. Of course, we also have high quality (or so we like to think) specialist sites such as Critical Gamer!

Please. Do not commission a game about these guys. I'm a fan of Top Gear, but let it stay as a TV show. We don't need Top Gear the game, film, toilet paper, political party or newly discovered spacial anomaly

As a case study which can show us the good and bad sides of the BBC, take ‘Top Gear’. This is a great TV show, and has maintained an entire genre when commercial broadcasters have not really invested in it. One could argue that Channel 5’s ‘Fifth Gear’ only exists because Top Gear helped to create the audience in the first place and set their expectations. However, it has also become a huge franchise and cash cow for the BBC, and apart from all the ‘Stig’ xmas toys, it has its own major website and print magazine. Top Gear has also become a platform for the show’s presenters who are now openly joking that it’s anything but a factual show and is instead pure entertainment. A form of entertainment that now seems to regularly go out of its way to offend people just to boost ratings and get some publicity. If the BBC did a ‘Top Gear’ for gamers, it would be wise to steer clear of such behaviour and to avoid that angle. Gaming already has an uphill struggle to be taken seriously and such antics would not help the medium gain broader respect. It is possible to find a middle ground between high brow and lad’s mag!

Now Top Gear’s commercial activities have not ‘killed off’ the traditional magazines and websites, but they must have taken real or potential audience share from them. The question which has to be asked is a simple one; was the BBC’s actions in these media ‘spaces’ required? Was there a public interest and service responsibility for the BBC to take Top Gear beyond the TV show? Perhaps it would have made more sense to create a Radio 5 or 4 spin off, but certainly not web or print, two areas which were – and still are – well supported by the commercial sector.

Hence taking the ‘Top Gear’ case study into account I think it’s clear, at least to grumpy old me, what the BBC should be doing. They should be supporting their viewers’ interest in the medium. That’s us I’m writing about. We pay the license fee and we would like some BBC editorial and reporting to highlight one of our loves, passions and in some cases income sources. It was suggested on the Linked In forum that the BBC should launch a magazine format show, and I agree with this. I would want it ring fenced so the BBC announce that it will never transform into a commercial franchise with website, magazine and app! A show on BBC3 or even BBC2 would be ideal, with a sister show on Radio 5. The radio show could actually involve journalists from established UK websites, which means it would be the BBC’s way of supporting the existing ‘experts’ and media outlets which have underpinned the sector for so long without their help.

Trusted, respected and completely out of its depth when it comes to gaming; BBC news.

The BBC cannot only have game coverage when the Daily Mail or Express start attacking a game, and the BBC news team feel the requirement to jump on the story’s bandwagon. If they had a proper platform and outlet for games it would be able to assess the story as part of an internal editorial review, or have their equivalent of the ‘Robert Preston’ analyst tell the story to the public within its ‘real’ context. Indeed, having someone senior in a BBC culture or business editorial team looking out for games might help the BBC stop from becoming sensationalist when it comes to games coverage. Senior management has to understand that its coverage often offends game players, a group of people who are growing in number and are slowly becoming the ‘mainstream’ license fee payer simply through the spread of the medium along with natural demographic changes (i.e players are growing up, and are still playing).

Recently the BBC have announced a cut back of their online content, driven by having a reduced budget, but justified to the public as focused on areas which are already covered well by the commercial sector. If this happens, we could see a reduction of the BBC output covering games, as a by product of reducing ‘News Beat’ on the web. The BBC needs to take this opportunity to retain the game journalists it does have, and move them from these shrinking areas of the corporation by relocating them into some mainstream channels.

TV has flirted with gaming shows for a long time, with the now long gone ‘GamesMaster’ being the most successful. Yet that was a long time ago, and certainly there is now a place for gaming news, banter and debate on mainstream UK media channels. However no commercial broadcaster is able to justify the creation of such a show, as too many have been format failures and hence advertising failures. Surely, if you needed an example of the type of content the BBC should be producing as part of its core remit this would be it! They cover or have covered gardening, cars, sheepdog skills, cooking, parliament, music, film shows (they have more than one!!!), clothes and many more specialist areas. Some of those really don’t need covering any more, yet their presence in the world of gaming seems to be vacant and void of direction.

Now Charlie (here speaking) knows how to write and present a good videogame show. However there are suspicions that he is not independent, and is under the mind control of a British Development Guru...

The BBC represents public sector broadcasting and content creation at its best. Reconciling that mission statement with the existing world of games and game related media really shouldn’t be hard. Give us a TV and radio show. Continue to invest in gaming titles, with UK developers only, but insist on Nintendo levels of quality (or don’t do it at all). Lastly, do this in such a way that it protects, supports and helps to grow the existing UK gaming media industry.

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Written by Steven G

Steven Gurevitz is the CEO of 2002 Studios Media LTD and a founder of gaming accessory company Asiiya. 2002 Studios started off as a music production company, but produces a range of content from videos to videogames. The company specialises in localizing content for global brands. He also owns the Urban Sound Label, a small niche e-label. He is a freelance music tech writer, having co-written the Music Technology Workbook and is a regular contributor and co-owner CriticalGamer.co.uk. He enjoys FPS, Third person 'free world', narrative driven and portable gaming. He is a freelance music tech writer, having co-written the Music Technology Workbook and is a regular contributor to CriticalGamer.co.uk.

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