There’s been a lot of hoopla in the past week about videogames journalism, ethics, and finger pointing. We’ve discussed these issues over the years on Nitrobeard, but this time, the conversation has become stale. Let’s get one thing perfectly clear: There’s a certain subsect of people in the videogame industry that have the power to sway opinions, spark lively debate, bring about full-blown pandamoneum at the drop of a hat, propogate change, and control which games are deemed a success, and which are considered a failure.
Here’s a hint: It’s not you, me, NeoGAF, GameFAQs, people that write on message boards, people that review games on Metacritic or Amazon’s user review section, or even Joe Schmoe Editor in a sweet corporately-sponsored website writing gig. We’re powerless, and it’ll continue to be that way. The WORST part? It’s all your fault, you caused it, and you continue to cause it, every single day.
Let’s talk specifics for a minute: This past week, a Eurogamer article called out the shilling nature of the videogame press, and even called a few gaming journalists out by name. One of the journalists, having been called out, decided to scream ‘libel’, forcing Eurogamer to edit the article, and ‘part ways’ with the journalist that wrote it. It’s a shit-sandwich situation all around, but the truly baffling thing is the aftermath: There are people claiming that there’s a huge problem with ethics in the videogame business, and there’s others that claim that the problem isn’t important enough to speak on. The truth? They’re both wrong, and both sides are guilty of the same thing. I’ll now write a few paragraphs to each side, so this will work like a thrilling ‘choose your own adventure’ book, only without the random werewolf attacks:
I BELIEVE THERE IS NO CORRUPTION IN THE GAMES INDUSTRY
Are you a fan of games, and just love to talk about them? Are you someone who enjoys reading Metacritic analysis of games before you buy them? Do you love picking up new issues of gaming-centric magazines? Do you love buying the newest title after playing it at a buddy’s house, knowing that it’s the bonafide hotness of the industry? Do you pride yourself on staying up-to-date with the most recent releases for your favorite system by reading websites about games?
If so, you’re completely guilty of being in the pocket of PR. Great move, Einstein.
You love Metacritic, right? It’s easy to use, and you can check at-a-glance if a game is good or not. You’re purchasing things simply because someone rated it highly? If that’s the case, I have a wonderful few acres of swampland you’d probably be interested in. It even comes with these lovely, free vials of snake oil.
Don’t even get me started on you going and buying Mt. Dew because it has Master Chief on the box. You’re a big Halo fan? Well you’re also a huge fan of CORRUPTION. I'm sure Master Chief himself would feel disgraced as you wash away your guilt with the crisp, cool taste of Mt. Dew.
Minecraft t-shirts? Really, you’re going to wear that? You’re a ‘huge fan’, you say? More like a huge WALKING BILLBOARD. Man, and to think, you used to have ETHICS. Companion Cube? You sing that fucking Portal song? Arrow to the knee jokes? Are all of my base REALLY belong to you? Nonsense.
You’re reading your favorite gaming magazine/website? You do know those things exist for ALL the wrong reasons, right? You getting opinions from other, ‘like-minded’ people is as shill as you can POSSIBLY GET.
Anyways, I’m done with you all, what a clueless group. Now, let me get to the most hypocritical subsect in the videogame landscape: the grand-standers that are out to CRACK THE CASE of such a clearly corrupt industry.
I BELIEVE THE GAMING INDUSTRY IS CORRUPT
Are you angered that gaming websites are in the pocket of publishers?! Do you despise the fact that Metacritic is tied to developer’s bonuses? Do you oogle at NPD numbers, contemplating the very future of our entertainment experience based on how many Wiis were sold in a month? Do you feel an overwhelming sense of pride when your ‘chosen system’ gets a hot new exclusive that you can’t get ANYWHERE else? Do you read exclusive previews, hoping for the next bit of gaming goodness from your most anticipated release? Do you debate on who won E3 every year?
If so, you’re completely guilty of being in the pocket of PR. Great move, Einstein.
How many midnight launches have you gone to? You know those midnight launches are funded by the game publishers, correct? The store in question is allotted additional hours from their corporate office, because either a high-enough demand for the product, or official swag giveaways, are going to make up the cost of staying open later in the evening. This is fueled in direct parallel to the amount of advertising revenue and coverage the game has received up to that point. You’ve been sold, even before the product launches. How weak-willed you are, letting marketing direct your decisions!
Do you read previews for games? You do know that gaming websites were allotted press-only builds of a videogame by the game’s producers in order to get that coverage, right? You do know that those are usually sent with ‘bullet point’ sheets of facts that can be used to sway the commentary in one way or another, right? You do realize that a majority of magazines published in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s lived and died by this practice, right? The more exclusive the content, the more magazines would sell. Now, this is all well and good, until you realize something: In order for a magazine to SELL....people have to BUY it, right? That’s you. You bought it. You’ve perpetuated this terrible practice, and literally rewards magazines for being in cahoots with PR firms and publishers. While solid, integrity-fueled editorial pieces were written in magazines like Games For Windows Magazines (Jeff Green, holla!), you went out and bought PC Gamer because of the exclusive interview/coverage/preview, and in-turn, helped kill the better magazine, and are a huge reason for the magazine business dying in its entirety.
‘Magazines dont have the latest news anymore, the news is too old, I get my news online’, you say. How weak-willed you are, letting exclusive content and immediate fulfillment sway your pocketbook! You killed an entire industry with that careless, shill-minded attitude!
Do you get excited about a new game based on the new gameplay trailer? These are made in connection with the marketing team in order to showcase a game in an appealing light. They’re controlling the message, man! How weak-willed you are to fall for that!
Do you discuss videogames on message boards, or (gasp) make podcasts about them? You’re part of the problem, too! You’re essentially giving FREE advertising to a product, and even if you’re scathing in your criticism, we all know that controversy creates cash, don’t we? How weak-willed you are, being a SHILL for this industry! God, if you were any more in the pocket of PR, I’d swear you’d contract a disease.
Do you own a device that plays videogames? Oh man, and you’re calling the journalists shills? You DO know that companies make videogames for those things, right? They make BILLIONS of dollars a year because of people like you. You know what that money goes towards? You guessed it! Marketing! Man, they’ve got you hook, line, and sinker. You fell for it, I bet you feel like such a fool!
THE ANSWER IS NOT A SIMPLE ONE
Look, by now you probably realized that this article is satire. While there’s a problem with marketing, sales, ethics, and how it relates to the perception of gaming as a business, it happens. It HAS happened, it will continue TO happen, and it will never STOP happening, as this has affected every side of the press since the dawn of journalism. Money controls the message, and the message is clear: We’re all guilty of directly causing the current bloated nature of the gaming industry. It’s not one person, or even one group of people. It’s all of us. We’re all to blame.
We reward websites for getting exclusive coverage. We gaggle about the newest gameplay trailers, we try to create grand narratives about insider information (a recent example is Dr. Ray and Dr. Greg leaving Bioware), and we cause this sort of demeanor, a negative momentum that folds in on itself. Do you hate what Kotaku stands for? Don’t go there. Do you hate that marketing buys exclusive editorial content? Don’t read it. Easy, right? Do you hate that advertising affects game sales, or controls the editorial message?
Well, don’t buy video games. Ever again.
That seems a bit drastic, I’ll admit. Just know, though, that it’s the only way we can stop this ‘corruption’. If marketing didn’t work, marketing teams wouldn’t strongarm the press to cover games. This allows the journalist to feel they’re a part of an exclusive council, covering a product before the general population. But, if games aren’t covered, they won’t sell. Of course, if games didn’t sell, games wouldn’t be made. This is a business, and should be treated as such, not a bizarre, fetishized ‘boys club’ that allows exclusive access to ‘privileged information’, and revolves around ‘insider scoops’. At the end of the day, why should gaming journalists have ethics and respect, when gaming consumers have anything but?
Good job, internet detective, on finding out some he-said-she-said where a journalist double-backed on themselves, or was ‘paid off’ by a sponsor. Great job on finding out that your favorite site may have padded a review based on a pre-release event. You really showed them, I bet it’ll never happen again thanks to your handiwork!
Now that the case is cracked, let’s talk about more important things. Have you seen the new trailer for _____________? I’m getting it day one!
I hear there’s a free pre-order shirt and everything.