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Where is the games industry’s ‘John Peel’?

July 13, 2011

“I just want to hear something I haven’t heard before” – John Peel

Legendary radio DJ John Peel was well loved for his welcoming, honest tone and having a taste in music which was constantly one step ahead of the times. But he’s most widely acknowledged as a man who discovered new bands and artists before they hit the mainstream (and in many cases, being the catalyst for their eventual breakthrough).

If you wanted to know what was going to be cool in six months time, this was your go-to man! He cared little for the politics and dealings of the mainstream music media, he cared far too much about the art. And because he cared so passionately, he made you, and the rest of his listeners, care too.

No such heroes exist in the games media. A majority of it only seems to be able to focus on one thing at a time. i.e., the last game which made a huge profit, or the last company to go under.


Everyone run over there!

So where is our ‘John Peel’ of the games industry? And if he (or she) exists, why are they struggling to be heard under a pile of Triple A FPS sequels?

In the music industry, there are still plenty of avenues to get discovered (Glastonbury now names a stage after Peel, which is specifically for new bands, and all major music publications feature sections on indie artists). This is still seen as a ‘cool thing’, and that’s probably in no small part down to Peel’s enduring legacy.

The same is true for movies. Large scale events in the movie world, such as Cannes, also showcase emerging talent, yet are still regarded as a ‘place to be’ for mainstream actors, directors (and investors!), and remain something which the public are interested in. And the winner of the Palme d’Or is always catapulted to fame as a result.

The large scale media events and publications in the games industry, however, are still dominated by the big budget franchises on their tenth sequel, or on whatever the last million selling iPhone app was. It only ever seems to react to what’s happening, rather than trying to discover it. There’s nobody out there really spotting teams and projects, and giving them coverage, largely because the mass market don’t seem to really care.

So my question is this…

Who will be the games industry’s John Peel, and how will they make news on underground projects interesting to the mainstream? Who can make them care?

Who can make then think…

“I just want to play something I haven’t played before.”

13 Comments leave one →
  1. July 14, 2011 12:31 pm

    I would love to end up as that person. I doubt very much that people know my name well enough (yet! Mwahahaha, etc.) for it to be a reality, but I will say that in covering the daily news for I make a point of trying to dig out interesting stories that many other sites might skim over. I love seeing smaller, independent titles enjoying success and I take the opportunity to celebrate that whenever possible — Gaslamp Games and Zeboyd Games’ recent success on Steam is just one recent example.

    I’m not an investigative type like Klepek over at Giant Bomb — that’s his thing, and he does it well, but the industry isn’t all about scandal and whistle-blowing. There’s certainly space for someone to fill the role of “champion of the underdog” or “champion of the up and coming”, and there are plenty of people out there who are at least starting to move in that direction — like the guys over at Rock, Paper Shotgun, for example, or Ashton Raze and Chris Schilling in the UK press, who take the time to champion titles such as Deadly Premonition in mainstream media.

    You’re right though, having an industry figure as influential as John Peel would be a benefit to the industry as a whole — small developers would see you don’t have to have a huge hit like Activision to be considered a “success” while consumers jaded on endless scores of “me too” triple-A titles will see that there’s a rich world out there just waiting to be discovered.

  2. July 17, 2011 11:47 am

    Well, who is John Peel for the music industry now?

  3. TheRed permalink
    July 17, 2011 11:55 am

    Good post. Came here via Rockpapershotgun, and I’d only discovered them relatively recently – they seem to be about as close as we have, and I am someone who spent much of my teens listening to JP late at night, and then on Home Truths, so don’t say that idly!

    If I could make a living doing so, I’d endeavour to. Hell, my contract ran out at work so I’m now unemployed as of the end of the month, with a baby on the way in September.

  4. July 17, 2011 12:46 pm

    Thanks for the replies guys. Rock Paper Shot certainly shares John Peels love of the underground scene, and is always a joy to read, but Peel was also known for his eclectic taste in music, and RPS strictly only covers PC. The indie / homebrew dev scene has definitely moved on from desktops now.

    • eagle0600 permalink
      July 17, 2011 1:37 pm

      Not really. A few are moving, but there’s plenty of interesting stuff coming out and being developed on the PC. Kerbal Space Program is a very current example.

      • Alex permalink
        July 18, 2011 3:27 am

        What you’re actually seeing is indie devs moving back to the PC – it still has the greatest freedom, which is the most important aspect for any indie developer, you’d think.

  5. July 17, 2011 1:04 pm

    There used to be the incomparable Robert Florence:

    We at try our best. We could try harder though. Our manifesto only contains one or two “hidden gems”, but there are some reviews that I am proud to have my work sit amongst:

    Obviously we don’t have the influence of John Peele! But Tim Rogers was into Monster Hunter before it exploded in Japan. I would say that guy has the deepest understanding of videogames that you can find.

    There is one website I read that makes a special point of speaking exclusively and with an unambiguously positive bias about obscure stuff. I dislike this sentiment, but I have gotten wonderful recommendations from that website. I don’t recommend them and won’t be linking them though, as their style and tone is execrable.

    I often get called elitist for only being interested in the underground stuff. If I’m honest, there is an occasional pride you get in it – so maybe people are sometimes right to dismiss me. We can love Peele though, because he was never condescending for a second. Robert Florence probably has this very much in mind.

  6. July 17, 2011 1:25 pm

    (And then there’s and gamesetwatch, but I dunno, those guys take a kind of brute-force approach to recommendation in that they don’t often talk about *why* something is good, they just stick it out there)

  7. July 17, 2011 5:07 pm

    Quinns’ discontinued Battle Klaxon column on Gamasutra was basically this, except it was only monthly, and delved into extreme detail for each game rather than just saying “check this out!”.

  8. July 18, 2011 12:23 am

    One of the things you’ve got to take into consideration is that Peely:The Tastemaker is largely a result of him throwing absolutely everything up against the wall on a weekly basis. So you ended up with this weekly mix of good, bad, utterly batty, played at the wrong speed things and so on.

    Didn’t like one record? It’s ok, there’s only somewhere between a few seconds (Napalm Death’s ‘You Suffer’) to a few minutes till the next one. Assuming he’s playing it at the right speed. That lots of tracks were aired *before* even John had listened to them…

    …and, of course, all done on the UK’s biggest mainstream radio station.

    To do “THE FULL PEEL”, you’d have to give one person two hours a week (or whatever) to play games at you on BBC1 or something, some of them for the very first time. So you both experience them at the same time. And sometimes you play them wrongly. That’s just, well, it’s highly impractical because for starters, John and me, listening to a record for the first time at the same time? We get the same experience. Games, not so. And that’s without asking how you do most games justice in a short time period.

    Less precisely, we’re just talking different mediums, different times.

    So, I’d argue that in looking for a John Peel, you’re probably looking for something we don’t want or need anymore in the same way we don’t want or need a Hunter S. Thompson of games journalism or a Citizen Kane of games.

    If it’s a general tastemaker Godhead you’re after, then that’s something entirely different (and I’d also argue why your hasty dismissal of the RPS chappers is off base) but not really what Peely was ever about foremost.

    • July 18, 2011 10:51 am

      I think you might have hit the nail on the head there with the “you’d have to give one person two hours a week (or whatever) to play games at you on BBC1 or something”. It would need to be someone who people already like, have a lot of goodwill for, but most importantly who has massive coverage.

  9. July 20, 2011 4:29 am

    I think we already have it in Rock Paper Shotgun, two other people mentioned Quinn’s and Robert Florence in the comments, both those two have written for rock paper shotgun or are writing for RPS at the moment.


  1. The Sunday Papers | Rock, Paper, Shotgun

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