Erik recently wrote an article about the conflicts of interest in gaming journalism. Of course, he touched on such things as the ad dollars that come in for the bigger gaming sites, the mixture of the personal and professional when it comes to the relationships that get established between the PR guys from the company and the journalists, and, of course, the issue of *ACCESS*.
I mean, if a corporation only sees you as cheerfully as your last review of one of their games, it’s not surprising to hear it finally confirmed that, yes, Jeff Gerstman *WAS* fired for his review of Kane and Lynch: Dead Men. Of course he was! It was an open secret!
But then we hear about the current Mass Effect 3 ending debacle. (If you haven’t heard about it, no spoilers, but there is a large group of folks who were dissatisfied with the ending.) Part of the problem is that all of the Day 1 Reviews of the game were downright fulsome in their praise of the game. Perfect scores, nigh-perfect scores, “yes you should get this game” reviews, and so on. Well, you may remember my experience here. I’ll quote from the first line of the post: “This was going to be my post where I recommended Mass Effect 3 based on 3-5 hours’ worth of, I was imagining, absolutely *AWESOME* gameplay.”
As such, I guess I really can’t hold the nigh-perfect reviews of Mass Effect 3 against the folks who made them. Were it not for the facial import issue, I would have been one of them.
There’s a second dynamic, though. It’s difficult to explain. I’ll use Penny Arcade as an example (only because they’re representative, not because they’re unique). Gabe reviewed Mass Effect 3’s controversial ending here (warning, spoilers) and, suffice to say, he didn’t see the problem that a vocal chunk of everybody else had with it. This being the internet, someone tweeted him asking him… well… *SOMETHING* about it. The tweet tweeted to Gabe has, as far as I can tell, been hidden/erased. I just have Gabe’s response:
“we are not on Bioware’s payroll. I wish I could tell you what this news post cost me:http://bit.ly/yXDhC2
@JamesH14248026” (the news post in question is a news post about a particularly unsatisfactory interaction he had with Star Wars: The Old Republic.)
Now, my first response to Gabe saying this was not “sure, that’s evidence of your editorial independence!” but “I wonder if that bad experience resulted in him being once bitten…” (also, that would explain the story on the PA Report explaining, as to a small child, that the ending of the game was something that people should enjoy, it’d also explain the comic strip where they made fun of people who wanted a more satisfactory ending as being people who wanted Wrex to bring them a piece of cake) and the counter-arguments in my head were arguments like “oh, but if anybody’s on our side (for whatever definitions of “our” you want to use), it’d be the Penny Arcade guys!”
Which then made me start thinking about me and two recommendations that I’ve made in the last year or so. Deux Ex and LA Noire. When I started playing each of them, I was amazed at the technical advancements they pulled off, the interesting gameplay, and the emotional engagement I felt when playing… but, eventually, I stopped playing them and never picked them back up. In the case of Deus Ex, it was my first boss fight. I had built a pretty awesome hacker character who was pretty awesome at stealth. What happened in the cut scene before the boss fight? I was walking (WALKING! NOT CROUCHING!!! WALKING!!!) down the middle of a well-lit hallway when the baddie came up behind me and hit me. Me! The stealthiest guy in the game!
(Here’s a brief aside: I don’t think I would have cared for a second if I was walking down an air duct or under the floor tiles when they switched to a cut scene that showed the baddie walking down the hallway, wrinkle his nose like he smelled something, then punch through the wall/floor and pick you up like a mother cat picks up a kitten before *THROWING* your character into the boss fight. It wasn’t necessarily the boss fight that irritated me (though, lord, it wasn’t fun) but because the setup to it didn’t care about anything that I had done to that point in the game. Interestingly the developer has apologized for the boss fights.)
In the case of LA Noire, I found myself getting stressed out by playing. I felt like I had to do everything right (I was a cop, after all) and so I couldn’t do stuff like drive up the sidewalk or through a city park like I would in GTA IV. So instead of going from mission to mission and listening to the flavor conversation, I found myself following traffic laws, slowly, going from mission to mission, listening to flavor conversation, *THEN* sitting in awkward silence next to my partner for another two-three minutes. Oh, and there was that one mission where I had to interview a husband whose wife’s body had been found and I had to walk past a tricycle to get to the house. I don’t need to feel dread and pity and pathos while I try to enjoy my evenings or weekends. I get enough of that during the week.
So I’m now looking at two games that I recommended but didn’t finish. Indeed, I was stressed out by them (though for two very different stressful experiences) and never picked them back up. Looking back now, I feel bad about that… and so I ask “well, now what?”
SO! Instead of recommending video games, we’re now going to have two different types of video gaming posts. The first kind of posts will be a “first impressions” kind of post. This is for games that come out on Tuesday and I’ve played them for 4 hours by the time Wednesday night rolls around and I’m writing a post for Thursday.
The recommendation posts, if there is one, will come after I have finished the game. (There will, from time to time, be exceptions to this such as, oh, games like Popcap Games kinda games where I know after 2-3 hours exactly what’s going on with Zuma or Chuzzle or what have you. In those cases, I will be *CERTAIN* to point out that I haven’t beaten them yet but, hey, I’ve got the gist.)
All that to say, I can totally see how the gaming journalists messed up… and that sort of makes me want to make sure that I don’t.
When it comes to particular reviews, are there any notes that you want to see me hit? Anything that helps you appreciate a review more (so I can see if I can include those things) or tells you when you can stop reading (so I know to avoid those things)?