Videogame Journalism Is Fundementally Biased

So Bethesda has now joined the ranks of developers who are pressuring media outlets who don’t give good reviews of their games (Remember this? And let's not forget the Hydrophobia saga). This sort of behaviour is nothing new, but it’s sad that it seems to be happening more and more.

Publishers have always treated gaming media as a means to sell their products, and much of the media is happy to oblige- free video games, pre release copies and of course, money. Videogames are big business, and the media surrounding them is no exception. Sadly, gaming magazines are dependant on the publishers and developers for their games.

The only way to review a game before it’s released is to contact the publishers and request a review copy. Companies who get pre release copies have a big advantage over those who do not as their reviews are out before the game is, meaning if someone wants to know if the game is worth getting, they will purchase that magazine or go to that website.

Sadly, this gives publishers considerable leverage over reviewers. Give us a bad score? Fine, no more pre releases.

This puts a serious dent in the company’s bottom line, not to mention the assorted perks such as insider news, exclusive previews and so forth.

Long story short, the gaming media is dependant on the good will of the publishers in order to actually have any exclusive material to put them above the competition, or get pre releases to take advantage of launch day hype. Without that good will, these companies would be secondary players, getting scraps of news from second hand sources after the publisher’s pets have had the lion’s share.

The gaming media is fundamentally biased.

To be fair, most reviewers will call a bad game a bad game- especially if the publisher knows its been rushed and there’s no way of hiding the poor quality (Alpha Protocol anyone?) or unfinished nature of the game.

The problem comes from games that have been seriously hyped- games like Fallout: New Vegas. The publishers want these games to succeed more than any other, huge amounts of money have been invested into them so they need to succeed.

In these cases, the publishers regard the gaming media as nothing more than a tool to boost sales. I have experienced this attitude myself.

Way back when I was a fresh faced youth, me and a friend of mine ran a small gaming website as a way to get free videogames. I wrote most of the reviews and articles, he handled the web design and the technical aspects of the site. We did pretty well, and usually got new releases before they hit the shops, as well as free review copies of games to boot. Sadly, one fateful day we published a negative review of Gothic 3, mainly centred on the game’s serious bugs. Within a few days we had received an e-mail from the publishing group’s PR department expressing sorrow that the review “did not meet their expectations”, and that they where considering cutting us from their distribution list.

We checked over the review (this one had been written by my friend, not I), and found that from an English standpoint, it was fine. Grammar as good, punctuation was okay, it was a little lacking in artistic flair, but it got the facts across. We replied that we felt the review was fine, and asked how it ‘Did not meet expectations’.

The reply was something to the effect of the review not accurately portraying the game play and experience of the title, which we of course felt, was complete bull. We didn’t reply and never heard from them again.

On the plus side, not every person is subject to the whims of the publishers. The rise of blogs (Like this one) and YouTube has given many people the power to review games, and indeed folk such as Yahtzee have done very well reviewing games after their release- and doing so in an honest way. I rarely buy gaming magazines for the reviews any more as I know damn well that there is considerable pressure on them to give big titles the thumbs up. This isn’t journalism, this is marketing. Being a single adult, renting my home and not having any major life expenses (I don’t own a car, a pet e.t.c) I can afford to buy a bum game every now and then even on my modest salary. But many gamers out there can’t afford to buy three or four games per month, and it’s a shame that accurate information only surfaces after the fact.

That’s why I try to provide some quality reviews here. I try to separate fact from opinion, and review games as objectively as I can. Sometimes I manage it, sometimes not. Either way, I’m glad you’re reading this and hope you’ll keep abreast of this blog in future. If you already do, then thanks. It’s good to know that someone’s listening, even if they don’t agree.

1 Response to "Videogame Journalism Is Fundementally Biased"

  1. -Garrett- says:

    Wow. I've never actually thought about it, but yeah! I'll definitely keep an eye on this, and you, friend, are subscribed.

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