Editorial: Using Game Journalists as Free Advertising

One of the podcasts I listen to, more specifically the Rebel FM podcast, brought up an interesting issue in a recent episode: do game companies use game journalists as free advertising or public relation agents?  When I heard this, it got me thinking: how often do I buy a game based on a journalist’s opinion or review?  This answer is: a lot.  There are a select few journalists whose opinions I trust, and when they get hyped for a game, I usually do as well.  The podcast  members, who have worked for 1Up and some now work for GameSpy, brought up the fact that they have often been asked to play a game and then tell the company representatives what they thought of the game or what they would change.  Now, I do not feel this is anything morally wrong for the most part, but it most likely helps improve the quality of most of the games we play.  However, they also brought up the point of having a moral obligation to not review a game one has previewed.  This is important, because seeing the differences between early versions of the game and the final product may sway ones review score.

So, my dearest of doves, what do you think on this subject?  Is the fact that game developers use game journalists as free testing or advertising a big deal?  Should a journalist who previews a game review the same game?  Do you even care?  I also feel it is important to note that this is not a post to criticize any game journalists you do not like.  Keep it civil, please!

13 comments

  1. There’s the problem of “Access.” If you’re a game journalist and you bash on a company’s game in a review it’ll probably sell less than it would have otherwise. Unless you’re more or less unknown in which case you’re not getting a pre-release review copy anyway.

    Trash Game A for being a pile of crap that it is. Then when Game B gets announced your outlet doesn’t get an advance copy in a timely manner possibly or maybe at all. If Website A gets previews/reviews of major releases up days before Website B, then Website B probably isn’t long for this Internet.

    There’s also the problem of adverstising. If Website X trashes Game Y in its review will the publisher really want to buy advertising there? Probably not.

    I won’t name names, but it seems to me like Batman Arkham Asylum got massively overhyped by a lot of the big game sites. It was made to sound like it’s The Citizen Kane of Videogames, when it’s actually just a pretty good action/stealth game with a few problems.

    There’s also a site I dislike because their phony elitism. Reading the same HG101 article I did and then doing a podcast on a series and acting like only The Chosen One of Website Z’s opinions are valid is pretty irritating.

    Meh, whatever.

  2. @Evilpaul: What, you mean that you don’t take our word as THE WORD OF GOD, expressing perfectly the WILL OF HEAVEN? I confeses myself shocked, sir. Absolutely shocked.

    Video game reviews are, at the bottom of it all, the opinions of a reviewer. Sometimes, they go beyond opinion because the reviewer supports their statements. Then they pass into the realm of logical argumentation, open to all the slings and arrows of opposition thought. I dislike slings and arrows, and so I make a point never to back up anything I say with pesky ‘facts’ or ‘reasoning’.

    You do highlight a particularly important issue, though. When a journalistic enterprise is operating on a for-profit, and does so at the good pleasure of the companies whose products it is reviewing, there is a clear conflict of interest.

    The problem is very simple and all too commonplace; if Journalist A dislikes a game made by Company B and goes so far as to write as much in his capacity as an informant to the people, then Company B might just prevent Journalist A’s employer from having any more exclusive access to their games. Journalist A will shortly be out of work. More pliable Journalist C will take his place, ready to preach the party line on the goodness of Company B’s games, so as to ensure that the journalistic enterprise isn’t left behind, unable to advance review copies of games that other sites are addressing.

    Luckily, we’re not operating for profit, so we aren’t prey to such things. The rather suspect loop of companies sending advance copies to reviewers and thus obliging the reviewers to them in order to keep their ‘advance reviews’ is an intolerable situation, and I am glad not to be a part of it.

  3. @Lusipurr: I think your first point about games being reviews is spot on. All too often, it seems like people treat reviews like something that can be “wrong” or “right,” then it’s really just a reflection of how much the reviewer enjoyed the game (assuming we take shade advertising dealings out of the equation). While Metacritic and the like are nice for a birds-eye view, it’s usually not enough to give me a good idea whether or not I’ll enjoy a game.

  4. There’s also advertising dollars to consider (GameSpot?).

    -Also I have to say; it never ceases to fuck me off when SE choose to fan the flames of FFVII remake fan hysteria in order to get themselves in the news again.

  5. The best reviewer would make it public about their biases. As such, if I were a reviewer, I would let the world know that I am a Square-Enix fanboy, hate EA, and love Blizzard. This way, the reader can make a more comprehensive choice about my opinions. For example, I know that Lusipurr is a square fanboy, therefore I know that many RPGs that he enjoys, I am more than likely to enjoy.

    The closest companies get to this is by listing a reviewers favorite games.

    Also, It seems appropriate to bring up the fact of games ‘leaking’ content to the public for free publicity. The most recent would be Modern Warfare 2. I can almost guarantee this was intentional.

  6. Deliberately leaking games and viral advertising campaigns really piss me off. I also am ENRAGED when a website/magazine punishes or fires a journalist for stating his opinion about a game. That is an abdication of the whole purpose of the website/magazine!

  7. @Lusipurr: Good, because I have a scathing review of your favorite game, but I’ve just been too scared to post it!

  8. I think you can absolutely trust Lusipurr.com for an impartial Fable 3 review, in fact I imagine that Lusipurr may even write it himself, afterall it’s not every day that a new Molyneux game comes out, and using project baby no less.

  9. But Fable 3 is going to add Natal Functionality! It’s going to be the best and raise the level of RPG’s once again! /sarcasm

  10. @SN & SD – now guys, don’t be so hard on Molyneux. maybe this time the game will be good. maybe he’ll learn from his past mistakes. maybe he’ll deliver on his promises. maybe one day all the races of the world will put aside their petty differences for the sake of peace. maybe one day Ondore will stop lying. maybe one day Nomura will stop drawing buckles on every fucking thing. maybe one day microsoft will have a quality control department that isn’t made up entirely of slothes with down syndrome that have lost their will to live.

    back to the topic at hand: I can’t say I feel to strongly about this. it definitely pisses me off when I hear about some dude who got fired because he had the audacity to tell the truth but I really get worked up about it.

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