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)?
I don’t trust mainstream reviews. I rather get recommendations from friends then look at reviews and make a decision.
Of late, because of my awful day job, I don’t have time for anything but “casual” games. When I’m home I have stuff that needs doing around the house.
Minecraft? I can play that for two hours, build a mob grinder or another modular house and be happy while imagining a great monument or another megascale project that won’t get beyond graph paper. Gets to a point in Minecraft where I mine, scoop up loot and farm stuff then think “Godness, there are things which need doing around the house!” When I gave raddidge Harvest Moon as a present she had the same reaction.
Tetris and the like? Absolutely. No investment. Castle Crashers is another game that has little to no investment for characters beyond acquiring weapons and unlocking new characters which are just skins. Fallout New Vegas GOTY is looking at me with puppy dog eyes and I *like* Fallout. But doggone it, I like casual games.
Finally Jay, just import your character already. You’re being ridiculous.
I like it when you yell and froth at the mouth (whether it be in displeasure or excitement). My own personal Yahtzee. 😉
More seriously, I am probably not a good person to ask for these things, as I am still all swoony about you and stuff. Like, if I were to accurately write down my initial reaction to this post, it would go something like “Wow. He totally took all that ranty diffuse frustrating stuff we were talking about today and turned it into a thoughtful self-reflection. Very nice.” – which, you know, probably good to hear but not terribly helpful:). I like it when you do stuff how you do stuff.
Get a room…
(no really that’s cute.)
This is why I’m such a fan of Zero Punctuation (well, also Yahtzee is hilarious). You can count on him to go into every negative feature of a game in great depth. If you watch a Zero Punctuation review and still like the game, then you’re good to go.
My problem with Yahtzee is that I can’t usually tell the difference between his “ha ha ha I’m being funny about not liking games like Fallout New Vegas” reviews and his for real “ha ha ha I’m seriously not liking Call of Duty” reviews.
His “I don’t like this game” becomes a gimmick that obscures whether he is being funny about disliking a game or whether he’s being serious about disliking it. Instead of a 7-10 scale, he’s got a 1-4 scale… except he doesn’t give you the number explaining exactly how much he hated the game. He just disliked it enough to make jokes about the humors.
I enjoy his sense of the humors, of course… but I hate trying to figure out whether a game was a blood game, a bile game, or a phleghm game.
I agree, I don’t watch his to get his impression of a game (though any game he spends time praising must be a very good game). Rather I watch his reviews as a complement to mainstream reviews. Add them together and you get a balanced picture.
Then you have games like ADOM. Have you finished ADOM? I certainly haven’t. Spent a good large fraction of time playing it though…
While I did have my instructions for Ultima IV printed and bound, I haven’t started it since.
I just can’t get into games where I need to interrupt my game by having to look up my commands on a spreadsheet.
Penny Arcade did indeed have a “once bitten” experience; they agreed to let their site be “advertising-integrated” with one of the Prince Of Persia games, and that game turned out to be terribly disappointing, and they decided that it would be better to be honest than to be paid (because getting a rep for honesty is what keeps people coming to the site–and an evergreen audience is as attractive to an advertiser as momentary popularity.)
I’m curious how we reconcile PA’s situation (getting “bitten” for a SWtOR review) with the debacle that was the release of Duke Nuke’em Forever. If I recall correctly they had to get a whole new PR firm because one of the execs let out that all of the vitrolic reviews were going to cost review sites their early access.
Now, frankly, based on the reviews (which did stray into the realm of personal attacks on the developers) I don’t think he was wrong to say “dude, talk about us like that again and you’re in trouble”, but I also think that the knee jerk reaction to fire him showed just how much there is a quid pro quo in the gaming circles to make release copies available early to those who give good reviews. This is a major contrast to movies, for example, where it costs very little to do a press screening and get those reviews into circulation.
Oooh! I was going to talk about this but I couldn’t make it fit!
If I watch a movie, I’m out 2 hours. Maybe a little more, maybe a little less.
If I spend 2 hours on a video game (maybe a little more, maybe a little less), I’ve experienced… what? 5% of the video game?
It’s *MORE* than possible for me to catch a movie on Friday and have a full review for all of you by Friday evening before you make your plans for the night.
I’m not confident that I can do anything near the same with a video game.
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