Since the dawn of time, journalists, or in this instance; reviewers are every company’s worst nightmare. A product that they have spent thousands creating, marketing and distributing in the hope of it becoming the next big seller can be ruined by one guy sat in front of his computer who types something along the lines of “avoid at all costs!”. Those four words could ruin several years of hard work. With so much at stake it would seem obvious that certain measures would be put in place before anyone gets to read the newest exclusive review or interview.
Combine this with the fact that a front cover of a magazine saying “First Modern Warfare 2 Review” would actually benefit the publication and would likely see a significant sales increase for that issue, sometimes it is more than plausible that both parties could reach an agreement that would benefit them both. Of course this is not only restricted to the video games media and the same can be applied to movies and music too. Stick Tom Cruise on the front of a movie magazine, complete with an exclusive interview and sales will rocket. The question is: Does this make this make it harder to be completely honest reviewing a product when the PR people have been so accommodating?The harsh reality is that the problem is much bigger than we can ever imagine and works both ways, especially when it appears that world leaders seek the approval of the Murdoch’s and Dacres of this world and end up representing the media rather than the people that elected them, but I’m not here to talk politics with you all.
My main inspiration for writing this piece was a recent review for PES 2010 which began with “Hopelessly dated and creaking in so many respects”, and yet achieved a whopping 8.7 out of ten. I couldn’t help but think there is more going on especially considering how much money the two big football games generate at this time of year and how desperate the media are to get their hands on them in the race in the early review stakes.
Magazines as a whole are built on advertising revenue; the more copies they sell determines the more they can charge for advertising to generate more income, which more often than not could lead to a conflict of interest somewhere along a very blurry line. Many of you will remember the alleged Gamespot Scandal a few years ago, where Eidos were running a huge advertising campaign for Kane & Lynch: Dead Men on the Gamespot site, so much so that the entire site seemed to have a Kane & Lynch theme attached to it.
The game was finally reviewed after a big build up, but expectations were not met, especially in the mind of Jeff Gerstmann, slapped the game with a poor score of 6 out of 10. Jeff was then mysteriously sacked from his position and it was reported that some of the negative comments were removed from the review.
Here at This Is My Joystick we are a young independent site and luckily free from such shackles but even a small site such as ours, has received offers from people offering freebies and interviews in return for a review. Even though it has never been suggested that a positive review would need to be given, I guess it is human nature that when someone is really nice to you it’s hard to say bad things in return. The reality for us here is that honesty is always the best policy, and we would be betraying everything we stand for to make such deals.
In fact, one of my favourite films is Almost Famous, and the Phillip Seymour Hoffman character, Lester Bangs, offers advice to a young music journalist:
“You cannot make friends with the rock stars. That’s what’s important. If you’re a rock journalist, first, you will never get paid much, but you will get free records from the record company. And they’ll buy you drinks, you’ll meet girls, they’ll try to fly you places for free, offer you drugs… I know. It sounds great, but they are not your friends. These are people who want you to write sanctimonious stories about the genius of the rock stars, and they will ruin rock and roll and strangle everything we love about it.”
Although this is about music journalism, it translates across any media and for me this captures the essence of what we do and why we do it. The guys over at Sarcastic Gamer had a similar problem and their article, ”It’s a review, not a handjob” sums it up perfectly.
Very often though, the people from the game developers/publishers marketing machine use the oldest trick in the book to turn bad reviews into good ones by using out of context quotes from top magazine and website reviews. For example a mediocre review that said “Would be the best game of the year, if it wasn’t such a pile of crap” becomes “best game of the year” on the promotional posters.
Thankfully it’s not all bad news as the internet has made it possible for anyone and everyone to give their opinions on anything, and have it beamed around the world.
I don’t have any answers for you all, but maybe Benjamin Franklin had a point when he said “Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see”, especially when thousands are being spent on making sure you purchase that must-have game. As for reviewers, I believe Dirty Harry said it best with “opinions are like assholes, everybody has one”, let’s never change those opinions in search for a quick buck.