There's a saying which goes, "everyone's a critic." By which we mean, everyone can find something scabrous to say about another person's creative labors. This was true even before the Internet added anonymity to the mix and turned humorous savagery into a national pastime.
But the expression also indicates the plight of professional arts journalism in the Internet era. Everyone can be a critic; we all see the same object and we can, in principle, offer our thoughts on that object to the world. While few have the writing chops or judgment to be a good critic, the traditional barriers to broadcasting your opinions to the world have fallen. Because brick-and-mortar distribution is limited, print publication used to confer authority, testify that the professional critic was a cut above the layman w/r/t aesthetic judgment. No more. Moreso than institutions, it's personality and wit that makes for critical authority in the web era.
However, there is a world of difference between being a critic and being a journalist. Games crit has never been better, but actual games journalism is in a pretty deplorable state. Creating professional-grade coverage of the games industry, unlike mere criticism, takes skills that the average Internet person is not in the position to have: making contacts with industry figures and asking the right questions, tracking down leads, developing stories. And this is one place where the democratization of games coverage has been a bad thing.
What you gain by reading good industry reporting is an appreciation of the sheer contingency of the path from inspiration to retail sale . The truth is that corporate structures and executive personalities inevitably shape the content we receive. Many a game perishes for lack of creative vision, but many games also perish because they fail to catch the eye of the captains of industry. Games developers will tell you: "the difference between a mediocre game and a great one? Six months." The people deciding who gets those six months are the ones responsible for the quality of the games we play.
That is to say: if you want to know why creative triumphs are hard to come by, follow the money. Every innovative, trailblazing game needs a good business model to succeed, and that's why it's interesting to know something about the vicissitudes of the various publishers, and to get an understanding of why they make the choices they do. This is what journalists can provide and critics cannot.
Which makes it all the worse that so much sogenannte industry reporting consists of press-release transcription (I'm looking at you, preternaturally successful blog aggregator). Many of the newsites see industry news as a way to oil the gears of the console wars industrial complex, not as a way to shed light on the workings of the companies involved. (Why would any sane human being huddle over his internet, crying “Let 'em all go to hell, except corporate megalith B!” My only explanation is vestigial tribalism. On the other hand, the console wars is a recession-proof industry: not being able to afford the other consoles is what breeds irrational hatred of them.)
Fortunately, there are a few sites that offer enlightening peeks into the machinery of the games industry. There's Gamasutra, for one (Leigh Alexander has been doing great things over there, including breaking this great story about salary-fixing in Montreal), but my favorite as of late has been the Cut Scene blog over on Variety.com, superintended by the redoubtable Ben Fritz.
What I love about the Cut Scene is that it doesn't leave out the analysis: any website can post a figure or two, but there's a world of difference between citing a statistic and explaining what it means. And beyond this, the Cut Scene abounds in interesting and unique angles: how Rock Band is losing money, and why THQ is different from EA despite their equally dismal earnings reports. There's also some great interviews and an amazingly thorough and often-hilarious expose on the collapse of Brash Entertainment.
I don't know how long the Cut Scene will remain at Variety (Fritz has been working on a temporary basis since the economic downturn claimed his editorial position), but make sure to check it out. The world is an unsafe place for journalists these days.