Have you ever read a review that you really didn't agree with? How about a cover story that seemed completely unnecessary and overloaded with praise for features that seemed... lacking? Has a magazine and/or website ever seemed biased towards a specific group or console? Most of the time this results from a difference in opinion; different gamers breed different tastes, after all. Nine times out of ten, when someone accuses a publication of unjustified bias, it's based on false presumptions.
But, one time out of ten, they're absolutely right.
By: Karl Castaneda
When David Jaffe, of Sony - Santa Monica fame, accused game journalism of being lackluster this past November, I was with him 50%. On one hand, he's definitely right that game journalism doesn't have a Rolling Stone (or even an Entertainment Weekly, to be quite honest). But there's a reason for it: the game industry is too closed off to allow the full coverage you get from the aforementioned two magazines. So you see, the media is stuck between a rock and a hard place: they want great coverage, but they're limited only to what publishers want consumers to know.
And you know what? Up until recently, I thought that this was the only problem with game journalism. How wrong I was...
You all probably don't know who Dan Hsu is, but you definitely know what magazine he runs: Electronic Gaming Monthly. Your personal thoughts of the periodical aside, Hsu's always been a pretty level-headed guy and a solid game journalist, which is probably why he was so disgusted with the parasite he lifted the veil off of in his latest op-ed, entitled Editorial Integrity. In it, Hsu described the following:
"I was a little suspicious of the cover choices one of our competitors was making, so I checked in with a contact of mine from a major game publisher. "Yes," he confirmed. "We can pretty much get whatever cover we want from that magazine. All it takes is for us to meet with the publisher, promise that we'll buy some ads, and discuss the details from there." So...that magazine's cover stories are for sale. Great.
Recently, some publicists for another game company were lamenting the fact that they couldn't get any coverage on a certain, very high-profile website out there, because they weren't advertising with that site. To get stories written up on their games, they'd have to start spending the bucks. More editorial coverage for sale. Wonderful."
Yeah, I was pissed, but I wasn't that surprised.
A couple months ago, a friend of mine recieved a certain movie tie-in game that wasn't doing very well among the game media, especially on its DS version (which was what he was reviewing). It was a crappy game and he scored it accordingly. Much to his (and my) surprise, he received an email from the very developer he had just finished criticizing. In the letter, there was a plea to change the score, for if this game did not meet with at least a 70% on Game Rankings, they would lose their support from the publisher.
Naturally, my friend rejected this idea since it was, you know, wrong (and because it was a developer and not a publisher, the outlet wouldn't have to worry about a backlash), but unfortunately for you guys, this kind of thing happens pretty often. Remember GameSpy's Donkey Konga 2 incident? If you don't, a freelance journalist doing a review for GameSpy (guess which game it was!) blew the door open on GS's review practices when he publicly stated that they had changed the game's score from it's original one and a half stars to a full three stars. Hm... I wonder why...
By now you're probably wondering how all of this can happen. Why are these self-proclaimed "dignified journalists" behaving in a manner so unbecoming and insulting to the field they represent? Well, I'm going to let you guys in on a little fact: being a publication without support sucks. Nobody buys your ad space, leaving you with virtually zero cash to pay your employees, purchase games and peripherals to aid coverage, and even keep up with the maintenance bills. So put yourself in Joe Reviewer's situation. They can be either be heroes and have the bank foreclose on their house or they can bite their pride and keep food on their family's table. This doesn't make it right, but in a world where mags go under every day, do they have much choice?
Hsu says in his article that EGM's big enough to speak out against this problem and not worry about the consequences, but I think it's time he wakes up and looks at the real world. If he really had taken off the kid gloves, he wouldn't keep everything anonymous. He'd have said exactly what needed to be said. But he didn't because there would be serious consequences. People would lose their jobs; EGM would find an assload of trouble on their doorstep, that's for sure. No one, and I mean no one, has the balls to tell EA to go take its money hat and shove it up their collective ass. Sure, not every outlet out there is crooked; a lot of them are honest folk; but to think that they've got complete control over what they print is ludicrous.
R.I.P. Game Journalism?
There are a lot of future game journalists on this forum. Zach, Matt, Josh, Mike, you guys know who you are. What will you do when you get to your dreams only to find out that you're writing someone else's opinion; what will you do when your keyboard is just the middleman between a faxed-in review and the gaming public? Will you stand up and fight or will you keep your job? It's a tough question.
But maybe, just maybe, someone will climb the ranks high enough where they can be the Rolling Stone of video games. Maybe someone's magazine can be so rich in content that they'll always have a readership, publisher support or not, since their company name is so well-known among the mainstream that they can survive based on ads by non-game products. Maybe someone can give the finger to the pusher-man one day. And when that day comes, future reviewers of America, will you defend the ideal that made you a journalist in the first place, or will you be so jaded that you'll shrug off such a revolution? It's your choice.
But if you ask me, game journalism ain't dead yet, mutha fucka.