As the video game industry dwarfs Hollywood, big studios are constantly developing even bigger games for consumers. Budgets for many of the AAA games today can exceed $50m. And with the rise of the internet and social media developers can easily generate hype for their titles. An extension of this hype is the established industry journalists and their corresponding websites.
With the promise of perks that include exclusive first hand access to unreleased titles, freebies and ,in some cases, have their likeness included in a video game, too many of these entitled critics earn their place by sharing what the naive public would perceive as honest and unbiased reporting.
This could not be further from the truth.
Over the past five years the secret practices that neither the major video game companies nor the “critics” want consumers to know about has been made public.
Let’s begin in 2007 when Jeff Gerstmann a former journalist for GameSpot , a 15 year old video gaming website that covers news, reviews and previews, awarded IO Interactive’s Kayne & Lynch: Dead Men a 6/10. Keep in mind that Gerstmann’s score was not the lowest among the total number of scores given to the third person shooter. Nevertheless shortly after his review went live Gerstmann lost his job. For five years it was rumored that the 6/10 was the ultimate reason why Gerstmann was fired despite denials from GameSpot. It wasn’t until March 15th of this year did Gerstmann confirm that everyone’s suspicions were accurate.
With GameSpot’s home page covered by ads for Kane & Lynch ( a practice on going today on many gaming websites including GameSpot) the game’s publisher Eidos Interactive threatened to yank its advertising money from the website in response to Gerstmann’s straightforward review. On November 2007 after weeks of tension between marketing and editorial Gerstmann was fired, effective immediately. GameStop essentially caved to advertiser pressure despite vehemently claiming the opposite just days after the firing, according to Gerstmann.
The Peace Walker
In 2010 another controversy between a video game publisher and website surfaced. This time it involved a dispute between three parties; the long running Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu, the Tokyo based Konami Corporation and the gaming blog Kotaku. When the PlayStation Portable stealth, action adventure game Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker received a perfect review score from Famitsu ( 40/40 ) eyebrows were raised. As it so happened copies of Famitsu magazines were included in the game as well as the publication’s publisher, Enterbrain president Hirokazu Hamamura, who appeared in advertisements for Peace Walker. After Kotaku Senior Contributing Editor Brian Ashcraft quickly called the magazine out for its apparent conflict of interest both Konami and Famitsu revoked the Japanese iffiliate of the blog’s invitation to the Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker launch event in the region.
As recently as June 2011 Eurogamer found itself blacklisted by a subsidiary of the Grand Theft Auto creators because of the England based website’s unpleasant review of the first-person shooter, Duke Nukem Forever. Eurogamer’s Tom Bramwell called the blacklisting “standard practice”. Clearly indicating that if you don’t play by the rules set by the industry, the video game companies and publishers, if you don’t tell the consumer that “our game deserves their money” even when it doesn’t, then your privileges, your special entitlements will be revoked.
With great power comes great irresponsibility
While the above examples gives us an incite to what’s going on behind the scenes in the industry, there are other factors besides publisher intimidations that have added to the broken state of the business.
Case in point the countless number of insufficient reviews of White Knight Chronicles ( both 1 and 2 ) for the PlayStation 3. Despite the online rpg’s deep and lengthy multiplayer component that warrants its price tag, 99% of the reviews concerning the exclusive never touched this portion of either games. Its mediocre reception from the press is solely based on the game’s unimpressive Story Mode.
A site called The SixthAxis even claimed in its so-called review that access to the online portion of White Knight Chronicles 2 wasn’t available because the required online pass that accompanies newly purchased copies of the game “was not provided”. An incomplete review such as this one is tantamount to a food critic judging a restaurant based solely on the decor of a meal.
Then there’s a game called Syrim which received universal praise from the gaming media. This praise would have been well deserved if the game’s developers and the critics had not mislead the public on the many issues that plagued the game right out of the box. Skyrim is and can be a buggy game on all three platforms it was released on, but more so on Sony’s PS3. After 20-40 hours worth of gameplay a countless number of users have reported drops in framerate, freezing and other technical issues.
There’s evidence that Bethesda, the makers of the open world rpg, were aware of these issues before they shipped the game last December. In an attempt to cover it up before millions of PS3 owners spent $60 on the game, Bethesda never provided the media with review copies of the PS3 version, even when requested, and even after proclaiming that all 3 versions of the game were created equal.
Because of the fanboy driven “console wars”, PlayStation 3 owners with copies of Skyrim who express the problems they experience with the game are usually written off or told ( not by the developers of the game, I should make clear ) they should have bought the game for a different system.
If the media as a whole and not just the video game one investigated the controversy surrounding Skyrim I’m sure CNN’s Anderson Cooper would be one of the first on the story keeping the involved parties honest. Sadly there is no Anderson Cooper in the video game industry. No one to hold developers and video game critics responsible when they fail to inform the public of the whole story, fail to be unbiased.
It’s been said that video game consumers are an irresponsible group and that much is true. As long as they are willing to blindly spend $60-$100 on a game based on the swayed opinions of those who are mere marionettes for certain companies then the mass majority of the video game media won’t change its ways.