Reviewing The Corruption In the Game Industry

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.

  4 comments for “Reviewing The Corruption In the Game Industry

  1. mburns25
    March 21, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    This is a great topic to bring up because no matter what genre of game anyone plays, it is extremely relevant. As a gamer, yeah I’ve definitely looked up games in order to see if it’s worth purchasing. In most cases, I wait until after the game’s release so I can compare both the gaming site’s “official” reviews in addition to user reviews published all over the internet. Seeing a gaming site’s bias towards a certain game is obvious when comparing reviews amongst them. As a consumer, of course I’m going to check out and research a game before purchasing it; however, it’s an unfortunate reality that gaming sites are guided by their sponsors in the way they review certain games.

  2. William Hurley
    March 26, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    I found your post incredibly insightful, as I had no idea that publishers restricted reviews on commenting upon certain aspects of their games. In hindsight, this makes perfect sense, and I wonder why I never thought of that possibility before.

    Personally, I prefer review sites that give both a “Reviewer Score” and an “Aggregate Score” so that for the first week of purchases, consumers have the reviewer’s rating to guide their purchasing. If they aren’t convinced either way, they can wait until their peers have played the game and provided their own few sentences and X/10 score. This way, two sources of information can be used for purchasing recommendations (because a $60 price tag is nothing to scoff at). As for the somewhat infmaous review from Gamespot on “Kane and Lynch,” the corruption in the reviewer market is somewhat apparent at times, but there still are lesser known reviews that can be found on Youtube or smaller gaming web sites for a less professionally made video, but one that has more believable and honest points about a game.

  3. marnold
    April 3, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this blog! It’s extremely relevant, considering the controversy that has been swirling around metacritic’s scoring system. The games industry, and any reviewing process will always have the plight of reviewers being corrupted and swayed to give the game that they are playing a better score. It will happen, it’s just part of the process. Where we can find solace however is in the reviewers who don’t take the bribes from companies. One notable blog/reviewer that I enjoy reading is VG247, who have taken strides to remove themselves from the corrupted populace. They make note whenever they attend a game related event that They, the blogging group, pay for everything from transportation to food at the event and any other accommodations that are needed for their correspondent at the event. They do this to make sure that their readers know they are getting the truth and full unbiased opinion of the reviewer. I feel that this is how everyone should review, though sadly this isn’t the case.

  4. chocobunnysk
    April 3, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    Great concept to cover, by the way. There’s a reason why I don’t look at official reviews ever. I’m kind of a cheap gamer, so I actually wait for games to be released for a while before taking a look at them, though missing out on preorder bonuses are a tempting loss to reconsider. Often when taking a look at the games, I would often check out the let’s plays and First Impressions(tm) of a game before considering it. The unfortunate side-effect of independent gaming reviews is that, even if you plan to pay out of pocket to get to events and such, game companies who fear these types of people will bar them from playing early betas to avoid criticism.

    Having alternate reviews side-by-side with the official scores is a good idea, since it allows those who played it also to comment on the game and be considered along with the official reviews. The biggest problem about having independent reviewers is that they don’t get the funding required for the most part unless they get massively popular.

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