In this post, I decided instead of looking at a specific video game, I decided that I would look at gaming news sites, specifically at their dirty reviewing practices.
Video game news sites. I almost laugh when I say it because it’s terrible (or at least the reviews are anyway). In theory, it’s a great idea. We gamers, have an almost insatiable appetite for previews and interviews with developers for upcoming game we are excited for. We watch their streams during big events and conventions like the PS4 debut, E3, and TGS. Most importantly and disturbingly, we use their reviews as justification to buy games we are on the fence about buying. Gaming sites, like IGN, Kotaku and Gamespot provide a nice outlet for such things. The problem I have, is how those sites (and sites like them) abuse our trust.
Lets get started with their main source of revenue. Just before writing this sentence, I looked at Gamespot’s front page with adblock turned off. Unsurprisingly, they have a fairly large and intrusive banner on the top of this page for Gears of War Judgment. IGN has the same type of banner (in fact, it’s even more annoying because it plays the trailer) for The Hobbit Blu-Ray. I suspect by this time next week though, it will be a banner for Bioshock Infinite (like they have been paid to do for big game titles in the past). Now, Gamespot will eventually review Gears of War Judgment. As a consumer, can you trust that review? Knowing that Gamespot was paid to advertise the game.
I think I know what your thinking, what if they give a game, they are currently running ads for a bad review? Gamespot’s former editorial director, Jeff Gerstmann was fired for allowing a less than positive review of Kayne and Lynch: Dead Men to be put on the site. While Gamespot was running ads for Kayne and Lynch. Firing him from makes sense from a business stand point, by publishing that review, he was essentially biting the hand that feeds them. Which is bad for Gamespot’s business. However, lying to their consumer by saying fake good things about a shitty game is also bad for their business, or at least in my perfect world, it should be more of one.
There is an even deeper problem with game reviews though, censorship. In order to get a game early for a review, the reviewer must reside by restrictions for what they can and cannot mention in the review. This isn’t new or ground breaking, but just this week, Kotaku’s editor, Stephen Totilo, wrote a pretty good article on what types of restrictions publishers have placed on reviewers. Most of the reviews almost seem like common sense (like don’t spoil the plot) and shouldn’t need to be explicitly stated. After all, if you read in a review that Snape kills Dumbledore, would you honestly read a review on that site ever again? Most notable, Totilo calls out Nintendo for placing ridiculous restrictions on what they can and cannot say. He also alludes to previous reports that Konami tried to restrict journalists from mentioning that Metal Gear Solid 4 has several (extremely) long cut scenes.
It kind of gets hard to trust reviews after you know that there is a good chance the reviewer had to leave stuff out. Especially if that stuff isn’t spoilers but glaring issues the reviewer ran into while playing the game. In Toltilo’s defense, he does mention that they do wait (sometimes) if they feel the restrictions are too much and interfere with the reviewer’s opinion or they feel as though something they can’t mention is too important not too. As an example, he sites Kotaku’s review of Super Mario 3D Land. They decided to wait because Nintendo did not want them to mention the fact that the game was twice as long as it seems when you first play it (there are really 16 worlds, not 8 and you can play as Luigi). However this does raise two questions, how do they decided what reviews to run before release and when they do chose publish a review after a game’s release, how different the final opinions of the reviewer compared to those at other sites?
Why does it matter? Because, these sites should be the watchdogs for us consumers. By writing that a bad game (or even a mediocre game) is a good game and convincing us consumers it’s a good game, they are perpetuating a lower bar for future games, over time we will see a larger dip in game quality.