Sep 14 2011
Even though I’ve been in this industry for about three years now, I still feel like an outsider looking in. Though Unreality has grown to millions of hits per month, we still don’t carry the sort of name recognition that large scale sites have, and are often ignored as such.
But in a way, that’s a good thing, as I feel like it frees us up to speak our minds, as so many other gaming centered sites having become mere PR puppets for studios and publishers, and in turn have effectively broken the rating system for games.
I’m not the first to write about this, and I certainly won’t be the last, but the current state of game journalism is pretty poor as you may or may not have noticed. I have that screenshot of Game Informer above as an indicator of what I’m talking about. Yes, the information that we’ve gotten from Game Informer about Borderlands 2 is great, but it’s a rigged system, and as such, no one else even had a prayer of getting that type of info under the threat of a legal smackdown.
Game Informer isn’t serving as a journalistic outlet here, rather they’re simply a PR mouthpiece aiming to promote a particular game. The fact that I like or am excited about this game makes no difference, the practice is one that taints the entire industry.
These are backroom deals worked out for the benefit of the writers and the developers. GI gets an exclusive while Gearbox gets free glowing PR and hype. And if you think that any cover game is going to not at least receive a passable review from the magazine? You’re kidding yourself. (Retraction: Game Informer gave cover story games, Epic Mickey and Alpha Protocol, 6.5 scores, which I’m told is not “passable” due to the 7-10 rating system discussed below).
But this happens everywhere, and I feel like game journalists are afraid to give honest opinions of games now. The ratings system for games is supposed to be on a 1 through 10 scale, but for practically any AAA title released, the lowest the score is allowed to go is a 7, as anything below that is an unmitigated disaster.
Always the same story.
Writers and sites know this, so they inflate their scores in order to not piss off the gaming overlords too much. If they do, they might not get free games anymore or might find themselves left off the list when it comes to the next big press event. It’s borderline blackmail.
Every so often, a site will try to do a bit of actual investigative journalism, but finds itself demolished by the company when they do so. I remember recently a site discovered that Borderlands 2 was about to be announced and published that information. In turn, Gearbox called them crazy and threatened to sue them if they didn’t take the news item down.
Sure enough, two days later, they announced the game themselves, and rolled out their carefully crafted Game Informer information campaign while every other site lapped up the crumbs falling from GI’s mouths.
It’s the worst sort of cronyism that has made reviews untrustworthy and investigative stories non-existent. There are definitely some out there trying to get it right, but find themselves facing huge obstacles like an industry that treats those who cover it like peasants who must line up and politely ask for morsels of info, and praise them once they receive it.
I may end up on Peter Molyneux’s shitlist for calling Fable 3 “an embarrassment to video games” and I might not be getting a Christmas Card from Bioware for telling the world I returned Dragon Age Origins to the store, but at least I said what I felt. And if that keeps me on the outside forever? So be it.
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