Sep 14 2011

Why Video Game Journalism is a Sham

Published by at 12:00 pm under Editorials,Video Games

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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11 responses so far

  • Ethan

    I can assure you that Peter Molyneux doesn’t have your name on any kind of list.

  • Ethan

    It’s also pretty cute how this got taken down and then put back up with all the comments erased.

  • James Johns

    Cite the points in GI’s article on Borderlands 2 where they say or imply “go preorder this”. Cite where the author used positive language so excessively that it constitutes “glowing PR and hype.” If you make a point about something, give concrete examples, don’t allude to an article and call it fact.

    Also proofread: “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.” This is grammatically incorrect.

  • Danny

    “Your comment is awaiting moderation.”

    So, it’ll never see the light of day, right? Excuse me with standing against internet censorship.

  • Danny

    “Epic Mickey and Alpha Protocol.”

    …also, Azurik: Rise of Perathia, and Metal of Honor: Airborne, and Batman Begins, and BMX XXX/Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball, and X2: Wolverine’s Revenge, and Dead to Rights II, and Superman Returns, and Kane & Lynch, and Wolfenstein, and Crackdown 2…

  • Danny

    Also, I find it hilarious that you can trash GI for “advertising games” when there’s a SWTOR ad at the bottom of the page. I LOL’d.

  • Danny

    I made two comments about how the user comments on this article have been censored. One was deleted by the moderator, and one is in moderation purgatory. Despite the fact that neither contained any kind of rude, profane, or otherwise inappropriate language. What kind of website does this? This is hilarious.

  • Name

    …Oh, it’s back up again now? Well, the story still hasn’t changed- all this article does is assume the intentions of other journalists (and as far as I know, psychic powers are still impossible) and then accuse them of “cronyism” based on those assumptions.

    Also, the whole “cover stories getting passable reviews” might have something to do with the fact that they tend to choose high-profile projects from AAA developers with at least decent track records. Not that that matters, of course, considering all the facts doesn’t support the argument here.

  • Ethan

    I agree with this article. It’s like the score for a game is already known just by the company who made it, and has nothing to do with the game. Fable 3 was an embarrassment to gaming, and Dragon Age Origins was very return-worthy

  • Zarconeus

    The people in the comments are acting ridiculous. Game Informer has been like that for a while, and a lot of people blindly follow it. They’ll attack anything that dare cause them negative feeling concerning their precious magazine. And yeah, if you read the review, It’s almost nothing but praise. The only flaws they find with the game are played down to the point that they’re only there to say they aren’t too biased.

  • jo

    Good article!, I can only agree. Backroom deals for exclusive rights on game content, and the will to not ruin cosey relationships with developers, has, to some degree, ruined the game review industry.
    And in my own opinion, big names such as PC gamer, IGN etc. can not be trusted to give a truley unbiased review of the product.

    I mentioned PC gamer because there have been many occations where, in my opinion, the bad points of a game were not given sufficiant weight, in comparison to the good points, and so i have been left feeling that i was not given the full picture, so to speak.

    I mentioned IGN because because of exactly the same reason as PC gamer, and also because they gave Ultima IX Ascension a 6.2/10 (This was a game that was incompleatable due to massive gamebreaking bugs and virtually unplayable due to bugs and system requirements when it was first released. no if’s or buts, the thing was a broken mess, and it got a 6.2.)

    I know, just two small, and possibly shallow examples, but this is just the tip of the iceburg and these examples represent many years of feeling betrayed by easily excitable, unworthy and biased game reviewers.


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