Friday, December 7, 2007

The Friday Airing of Grievances

I have a lot of problems with you people!

Today I'd like to talk about my disgust with the industry in which I work: The wonderful world of videogames.

This past week there was a huge blow up over the firing of some guy I have never heard of who was an editor at GameSpot, a (admittedly popular) website that I never read. The flame up was over whether or not he was fired because of a bad review, ad money being pulled, and the website being strong armed by a publisher.

I have been in this business for 12 years and this story is as old as PONG.

Did it happen? Did the company (EIDOS) "force" GameSpot to fire this guy over a review of a game that has been panned pretty much all over the Net? I doubt it. I have no idea if it did or it didn't but it would shock me if it did. In all my years in this cesspool of an industry I have never been asked, forced, and even hinted to write a review one way or another because of ad revenue. The people I worked for are pros and would never do that. (I am available for pandering though. Email me for opportunities!) But I doubt they did that.

Now, I'm not saying it hasn't happened before. In fact I'm sure it has. You have to understand the maturity level of a lot of the people who are in charge at a lot of these gaming websites. (Not GameSpot in particular, I don't know many of those guys). But in meeting with a lot of other "big wigs" of various websites -- I am AMAZED --absolutely amazed that something like that hasn't happened elsewhere and drawn attention like the GSpot thing has. Don't kid yourself into thinking that there are not websites out there that serve as mouthpieces for the companies that treat them well.

Even more amazing is the reaction of some of the various editors around netland. Do not put your head in the sand. Our industry needs a serious wake up call. How do you expect the people to trust you when you are in bed with the companies you are critiquing? By "in bed" I don't mean giving favorable reviews to advertisers --I mean the websites and mags are dependant on each other for their own survival and it's a huge, huge conflict of interest. No one seems to say much about that.

I recall several years ago when PC Gamer ran a review of Diablo 2 -- it was a very early review of the game (by print standards) and Blizzard had the PCG team review the game at the Blizzard office! They had pictures of all of these happy, smiling, PCG staffers blasting away. It's that kind of thing that leads moderately intelligent people to think that something just isn't right. Was that Diablo 2 PCG review biased? Who knows. It scored a 95% or something and it WAS a great game. But that's not important -- it was the appearance of favoritism that is the problem. If the gaming media wants people to take it seriously -- and believe me when I say -- people do NOT take it seriously --then the media has to divorce itself from the game companies. They have to. There is no other way. The relationship should be about getting product to review, doing previews based on fact and stop acting like you're writing for Teen Beat Heart Throb Magazine. Conduct interviews that aren't the same "So, why is this game super awesome?"

And -- they have to stop taking ad money from game companies. All of it. Find another source of income. I don't care if it's mafia money -- just stop taking cash from the people that you are judging. When THAT happens -- this all goes away.

But ya know, there is one more thing that bugs me about all of this:

Do people actually care? If GameSpot came out tomorrow and said, "Yep. EIDOS asked us to take action and damn it..we fired his ass!" Would readership at GameSpot drop like a rock? I honestly don't know the answer to that question.

And that's a problem.


Brandon said...

I can tell you the answer to your last question: no.

I forget who, but someone did a network traffic graph for post the Gerstmann thing and traffic didn't drop one bit. This is with most people believing that Gerstmann was canned because of his Kane & Lynch review. People like to talk a good game about blackballing this place and not buying that thing, but they rarely go through with it. In the end, we're all just sheep.

todd brakke said...

If you get a chance, listen to the Games for Windows 12/4 Podcast (at 1Up), though, skip the first three minutes. It's an interesting, and frank perspective, on advertising vs. editorial, especially as it pertains to print pubs.

But, I agree. As long as the ad revenue game sites and magazines generate comes disproportionately from game companies that's a recipe for corruption of the editorial process.

Danciy said...

As a representative for an indie gaming company, it never stops amazing me how much more cozy I feel knowing if we've paid our dues to a site/magazine. Advertising, without question, gets us more attention from the actual magazine or site. I don't know if I'd go as far as getting us more favorable reviews, but it certainly garners reviews where we usually wouldn't have much luck.

bill abner said...

I think our industry, from an editorial side, needs a complete overhaul of Black Death proportions.

I'd like to stay though if allowed. :)

Seriously, I just think we need to rethink the way we do business.

IF large websites and mags stopped taking ad money, where would indie places advertise? What is option B?

Danciy said...

A great question, bill. And honestly, something we have to think about regardless if we are paying for advertising with sites/mags, or not. So far, no plan B equates to being on and amongst the sites/mags that gamers are reading! Online and print publications exist and continue to grow for reasons beyond just the game companies themselves. Obviously, gamers utilize the content game publications are sharing. As indie, we can’t really justify spending a ton of money on print advertising-- with the result being a small ad amongst huge two-page, cover-to-cover ads of the big, wealthy gaming companies. However, wouldn't it make sense that IF those sites/mags stopped taking advertising money from game companies, they'd still need games to review? We aren't looking for the benefits of having an ad as much as the benefit of what a thorough review does for our company. I’d hope by some trickle effect that by the time big gaming companies stopped getting preferential treatment that smaller companies would begin to be viewed more like a valid company instead of an unneeded step-child. Perhaps, the current two-paragraph reviews (or non existent ones) would become more detailed and a few words longer.

My option b: I’m contemplating asking my devs to do one of those astounding, growing-in-popularity, accidental porn tapes. ;-)