The importance of previews

This week’s New York Comic-Con means I won’t be able to do a video with Andrea this week for the video game journalism mentorship. We’re still working through her take on the fish piracy story, but I wanted to try and put something up for those of you not in the program, but following along.

Given that this week is packed with preview events, I figured it would be a good idea to walk people through my advice on covering a preview.

In some ways, the gameplay is the least important aspect of a preview. I treat it like I do anything that involves going to cover something, it’s important color, something that can help inform the story and put the reader in the experience, but it’s not the story.

Previews are inherently news events, events created by developers and publishers to impart new information about a game to reporters, typically with a strong time peg. As with interviews and other news events, you should go to these events prepared with not only an understanding of what has already been reported on the game, but also what angles you might explore.

While a reporter may come away from an event with an opinion about the current state of a game and its future potential, they should also leave with a solid idea of what new information came to light during the event through gameplay and interviews. The news story or stories that come out of these events should clearly explain to readers what new information came to light, what the game’s current state is and what you personally found interesting. Interviews at the event that push deeper into those new elements, or other interesting angles, will go a long way in helping preview coverage stand out.

The best sort of story from one of these events has a solid hook or angle that pursues and explains that new information and provides color and light opinion through immersive gameplay explanation. The right balance will lean more heavily toward the news, but remembers to place the reader in the game at some point.

Here are a couple of examples of straight preview events that lead to interesting stories:

Max Payne is a character study shaped by addiction and violence

A video game about mass surveillance in the age of big brother and little brothers

The point is that as a reporter you’re not there to write the story public relations or developers want you to write, you’re there to find what’s interesting, to report it out and then to write it for an audience of passionate gamers who want more than anything else to be intellectually stimulated, engrossed, informed.

The notion of writing a preview that tells you what the buttons do, what the graphics look like, what the new game mechanic is, is and should be dead. Those are all bits and pieces that can and should be weaved into your bigger story: How did the game make you feel? What is important about this game? What sets it apart?

Previews aren’t dead, but previews as early reviews are. Game coverage shouldn’t stop with a game’s release, but it shouldn’t start with it either.

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