This should make you all very happy. I mean, it’s like combining RETROGRADING and Nyogtha into one column.
Anyway, this is something that not only I, but the entire GAMES staff here at Inside Pulse felt needed to be written. You see, so often there is talk and rumors about video game companies and their PR departments extorting or bribing people who review games. You have things like Rockstar Games supposedly saying “NO GTA freebies/interviews/beta copies unless you give such-and-such game a very high score.” Is it true or is it a modern day Urban Legend?
We also hear about companies that will stop being nice to various web sites and magazines if they are honest. And if said site gives a game a low or average score the game publishers/PR reps will shut the site down in terms of contact with them, and in regards to providing them with the materials necessary to report on that companies’ products. Again, does this actually happen, or is it a conspiracy theory?
And the truth in fact, lies somewhere in between. I’ll be honest with you. We here at Inside Pulse Games have alienated certain companies by being honest. We have pissed off a fair share of companies by being honest and giving really average or poor games like Fable the score they deserved. And at the same time there is a LOT of ass kissing by other sites and magazines dealing with video games, by giving games they know are “meh” at best scores the don’t deserve thus getting the unsuspecting public to go out and spend their hard earned money on inferior products. Some examples are Fable, Final Fantasy VIII, and DOOM 3. All three are games that are average, or slightly above/below average at best. Yet all of these games received a lot of hype and praise from the majority of the people in the industry. Slowly but surely however, a few gaming publications were willing to risk it and bite the bullet saying “Wait. Hold up. This game isn’t very good.” And those sites were bashed by the gaming sites heaping praise and 8-10’s scores on those games by calling the naysayers snobs or elitists.
But look what happened. Truth does out. All three of those games are now considered some of the most over-rated of all time. Doom 3 hit bargain price bins in less than a year, and Fable’s creator issued an apology for making a game that nowhere lived up to the hype or promises that were made about the game.
But still, are these other sites REALLY full of people who honestly believe that all games are great and wonderful and who seem to have an opinion totally different from the mainstream consumer, ala Beyond Good and Evil which received critical acclaim (Except from Inside Pulse where it got a 4.5) and a great deal of media attention but bombed heavily when actually released because most gamers thought it was crap?
Or is there truth to the belief that Video Game Journalism is full of writers without morals will to lie to the public to receive “Swag” or kickbacks? In other words, is Video Game Journalism going the way of mainstream media where journalists are merely hype reporters and serve the companies rather than the consumer?
Let’s take a look.
First off, let us talk about “Power Creep”. It’s a good way to explain one aspect of this phenomenon. You see, most sites use a 0-10 average. Inside Pulse is no exception. Yet, whereas we still cling to “5” being an “average” score, a lot of sites have pushed an average game up to a “7.” We see this in most sites and people saying “Ew? A 6.8/7.5? This game can’t be very good.” I’ve seen “Tycho” from Penny Arcade say a 6.8 overall on Game Rankings is a bad score. And I think to myself, “When did people start going from Averaging to using a Median to determine a game’s score and worth?”
But just in case you don’t know the difference…
Median: a value in an ordered set of values below and above which there is an equal number of values or which is the arithmetic mean of the two middle values if there is no one middle number; Relating to or constituting the middle value in a distribution.
It’s not the same as an average, but I wanted to use that as an example because instead of AVERAGING and giving people a constant “5 is an average game score” like readers should be getting, Power Creep has occurred and most gaming sites use a median instead of averaging. This means, because most games at those sites get a score of 7, 7 has become the number for an “Average” game.
And this is bad. Very bad. Because the average gamer will see a 7/10 and say “Hey! Good score!” when in fact 7 has become an average game, meaning it’s just as good as it is BAD. And the thing is, when you ask other sites for their reasoning behind their numbers, they give you convoluted doublespeak. Let’s look at Gamespot for example.
Gamespot is good enough to have a TINY link to what their rating system means on each review. But how many people click on that? Then we have the actual definitions.
GameSpot uses a numerical scale, which ranges from 1 to 10, for rating games. A “10” represents the best score possible (a perfect game), while a “1” represents the absolute worst score possible. The final score we assign to each game is provided to give you an at-a-glance sense of the quality of the game relative to other games on the same platform. However, we encourage our users to read our full reviews to give context to our scores.
Notice nowhere in there do they define what average is. But if they are using a 1-10 scale, a 5.5 must be average, right? WRONG.
Here’s Gamespot’s definition of a 5-5.9, which they label “Mediocre.”
A 5-range score refers to a game that’s “merely average” in the negative
sense. In other words, it’s mediocre. These games tend to have more weaknesses than they should, which dampens their strengths. A much better game probably exists–and it’s one that you should sooner try.
And now let’s look at what they write for a 7.0-7.9 which they call “Good.”
A game within this range is good and is likely worth playing by fans of its particular genre or by those otherwise interested. While its strengths
outweigh its weaknesses, a game that falls in this range tends to have
noticeable faults. A low 7 represents the average score on GameSpot, which is suggestive of the fact that the typical game found on store shelves is
actually pretty good.
A LOW 7 (7-7.5) is AVERAGE at Gamespot. Bit of “power creep” there, no? The
typical game is not pretty good, otherwise it wouldn’t be “typical.” Typical implies average and thus Gamespot is doing a very big dis-service to its readers, and other gaming sites as a whole by inflating their scores in this manner, all the while speaking out the other side of their mouth saying,
WE DO NOT INFLATE OUR SCORES: Likewise, as the quality of gaming experiences naturally improves over time, we do not simply rate new games higher than old games. Instead, we adjust our expectations and continually calibrate our numeric rating scale accordingly. What this means, in practice, is that a high score from GameSpot is worth more today than it was worth yesterday. Because standards are constantly increasing, you should always consider the point in time at which a game was reviewed as an important component of its overall rating. In other words, a game that earns a high score today is probably superior in overall quality to a game that earned the same score on our scale several years ago.
Interesting, because this paragraph is completely negated by their definition of a 7-7.5 which they admit is the “typical” game and thus “average.”
Now I’m royally picking on Gamespot because they are the most read gaming site on the web and thus have the best reputation. What I’m saying is that as they are the industry leader, this means they have the most responsibility to bear and thus by using power creep/inflating scores all the while claiming they don’t, they are doing a disservice to readers, and what’s worse, getting gaming companies to say “Gamespot gave us a 7.5/10, you gave us a 5. Your site is not one we want to do business with/give beta/review builds to because we want a high numerical score.”
And thus the other companies inflate their scores as well. And eventually a
7-7.5 becomes the average game thanks to the concept of power creep. Readers end up shilling out 30-50 dollars for an average game. This is not good, and it’s a grey area on whether this is shady or not. Because in truth Gamespot hasn’t inflated their scores, they’re merely f*cked up the scale by saying 0-10 has an average of 7, which I’m sure makes math majors smack their head against their desk at the stupidity of this idea. There isn’t inflating or outright lying to the public as a typical game is getting a typical score, but the truth is, typical is not where average should be on the scale and the vast majority of readers don’t know this.
And please people. Don’t give me the excuse that “In American public schools, 70%=a C and C’s are Average. WeÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢”Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢”Å¾Ã‚Â¢re conditioned.” Trying to use the school grading system in talking about your review scoring doesn’t make any sense. It isn’t just a x10 expansion of the 1-10 scoring system. With the school grading you are looking at an actual percentage of correct versus incorrect answers about a subject matter. There is no correlation that can be drawn between that and a review score. The closest school corollary that can be made is the “A=4, B=3, C=2, D=1, F=0” system which actually supports you the idea of 5 being average.
But is this the fault of the companies? Are actual video game companies making them push the envelope, using bribes or extortions to skew the review scale and dupe readers?
Yes and no. The truth, like most things, lies in the middle. As shown earlier, there is power creep and inflated scores but there’s also a lot of other things that factor in to what really happens.
Slashdot and The Hollywood Reporter both show a really good example of why companies might be considered bullying for higher scores.
These articles show that at least one company (Warner Brothers) uses average review scores to calculate the royalty amount publishers and developers must pay to them. If the game sucks, they must pay more. If the game is high quality, they must pay less, as their excellent work pays for itself.
But here’s the thing. Warner Brothers, like most people outside the industry assumes a 5/10 is average and they request a GOOD rating or 7/10 or 70% for games uses their characters and products. BUT OH LOOK. The game industry’s average is now a 70% instead of a 5/10 or 50%, meaning that Warner Brothers is letting companies pay less royalties for an AVERAGE game when Warner Brothers looks at the score and thinks it is an ABOVE AVERAGE one.
So who is to blame? Warner Brothers for saying, “Games based on Warner Bros. licenses must achieve at least a 70% rating (calculated via GameRankings.com and similar services), or incur an increase in royalty rates”, and, “An escalating royalty rate kicks in to help compensate us for the brand damage… the further away from 70% it gets, the more expensive the royalty rate becomes… If the publisher delivers on what they promised — to produce a great game — it’s not even an issue.”
Is it the Publisher and Developers who now feel added pressure towards making an excellent game and thus put the pressure on the reviewers to give their games a higher score?
Is it the journalists themselves that have inflated the grading scale/allowed power creep to come in and/or fall to the passive aggressive threats of these companies saying “Give this game a 7.0 or no more interviews or beta copies?”
Really, it is all three. It’s a never ending circle of abuse, and eventually somewhere it has to end. And it either has to end with the publishers saying “The Media is just being honest, it is not personal. They’re doing a job just like us.” Or the gaming media as a whole has to stand up and say, “Sorry, we’re moving the average game back down to a 5.0 where it belongs because our integrity and honesty are more important than getting an interview with some guy who needs a translator for our questions anyway.” And in the end it is the combination of power creep scores combined with actual stories like this that add credence to the belief VG journalists are willing to give high scores at the company’s behest.
But most gamers fit the stereotype of passive social malformites who spent
most of their lives only seeing naked women via porn magazines or squinting at the scrambled SPICE channel. And I’m sorry, but it is true. It is changing thanks to Sony bringing gaming to the mainstream instead of the niche audience it one has in the 80’s and early to mid 90’s. But for the most part the average gamer is still not someone you would label “assertive.” And this stereotype helps to perpetuate the belief the VG Journalist is probably bullied by the companies like they were in school. (And god help the people who took this paragraph as serious and literal.)
But enough of that. Let’s look at a lot of other examples.
The Inquirer brings up that in the UK, Atari’s PR team was extorting gaming mags saying that if they wanted a preview build of Driver 3, they would have to give the eventual game a 9/10 or be cut off. This article also says Sega and Capcom’s European divisions do the same saying, asking for both an 8/10
for Sonic Heroes and Devil may Cry 2 respectively.
Now to be fair, these examples are all the PR companies doing this, not the
actual publishers and developers themselves. As well, I can tell you from
personal experience that Atari has never once asked Inside Pulse for a high
score, and has sent us beta and review copies for our debug system and has
always been very pleasant to deal with. Not once have they demanded a certain score from us. Sega and Capcom? Those are Bebito’s area, and from what I’ve heard from Bebito, Sega hasn’t either. And Capcom won’t send us anything but news and press releases.
I also want to point out that the article linked to above says, “While there is certainly no confirmation, the possibilities are quite alarming. Next time I’ll think twice before I cash out for a game, based on a review.”
Read that. NO CONFIRMATION. Is that because these allegations are made up? Or are the people afraid to come forward because they don’t want to be
Well, it turns out that slowly but surely, the Atari extortion attempt was
proven “true” as other sites came forward. Sites like Gameindustry.biz, which is as big as it gets. So the Driver 3 was eventually proven to be true and Atari got a lot of heat for it.
But then what? It just died down and things went back to normal. Odd. Was it just a one time thing that burst into a wildfire thanks to the power rumors get on the Internet?
We also have sites like Gameparitsan.com saying they were kicked off Game
Rankings and black listed by EA for their reviews. But at the same time they also say in this Cached Mailbag that, “As for reviewers being bought off, I think that’s probably a stretch. Reviewers probably like their comfort-zone
just as much as consumers do. However, I will definitely keep an ear open to any rumors of corruption and let you know if I find anything. My article on the NCAA Football 2005 cover-athlete scandal should suffice as proof for my honesty.”
So even they feel it is a stretch. And in regards to being kicked off
Gamerankings, well that’s not a matter for this articlew.
Another web site, Loonygames.com takes a look at this matter as well and is also the best article I’ve found about the matter where inside employees of Sony say things like, “Let’s face it: there are more shit games then good games. We need to have game reviews, but whether we need to give them a score is debatable. If you have 6 guys writing a game magazine, they are in no way speaking for the millions of other gamers. No magazine should dictate to the rest of the gaming world what software we should or shouldn’t purchase. Yet, month after month, that is exactly what these magazines do – recommend certain titles over others. Look at the back of any game’s box, and you’ll find a quote from some magazine praising it as ‘the best (insert a genre) ever!!!'”
Hmmm. Sounds pretty accurate and I agree. Whenever I get an angry letter from a reader because they disagreed with my scoring of a game, I say “Hey, a review is an opinion. You don’t have to agree. Look at it as a different point of view from your own and don’t get so wrapped up in the fact someone out there doesn’t share your exact opinion.” And that’s how I feel. Often times when I see a game I hated getting a really high score I am puzzled, but that’s about it.
And let’s look at another quote from Loonygames.com.
“One source I contacted (who wishes to remain anonymous) works for a
well-known US software house. I suspect his feelings are shared by the large number of developers who feel that the commercial reviewing business is one of the murkier sides of the industry. “My stance is pretty grim, though I have no data to back it up. I think it’s a complete scam. Totally phoney, influenced by money and politics. Do I have any proof? Nope. But I have just seen too many “this game is awesome” claims when I know it sucked.” Certain magazines do seem to open themselves up to criticism – the UK’s own ‘Official Nintendo Magazine’ is notorious for giving dire games reasonable marks, although it’s not quite as creepy as the smiling corporate mask that is ‘Nintendo Power’.”
And this is something I think most people know. If it’s an “official” magazine for one of the three consoles, it will be chock-full of bias and bullshit. Remember 2 years ago when I did my article on English Gaming Journalism while I was over there saying, “How can the UK Official PS1 Magazine be giving all the Tomb Raider games 9’s and 10’s? A perfect score for a TOMB RAIDER GAME? WTF?” And 95% of gamers across would agree that something is up there. It’s also pretty much accepted by people in the industry and even casual readers that OPM, Official Xbox Magazine, Nintendo Power and their international variances are just trumped up PR machines for their respective systems, full of false praise and lacking any real journalistic integrity.
And this is what it comes down to people. A lack of proof. People will line up and say ‘Oh yeah. I know that such and such happened” but when it comes to proof and evidence, there is none. There is rarely ever concrete evidence like what happened to Atari (and even that is pretty flimsy; people just inflated it and accepted what little there was as concrete).
Let me take one more quote from loonygames.com to show an earlier point made about power creep.
“Rich Wyckoff raises another interesting problem with the typical magazine
score: “If you look at a year’s worth (or even a month’s worth) of reviews
from any American magazine, one thing should become immediately obvious:
reviewers are highly reluctant to give below a 75% (or the equivalent) to any game. In the magazines which use a 1-100 or 1-10 scale with decimals, you will also note that there is a large gap below 75%, with the rest of the ratings given usually 35% or less”. Whether this is due to bribery and corruption, or just reviewers ‘being nice’, it really does render use of a percentage (or ten-point) scale pointless. A truly average game should get a score of 50%, but I think any game given 50% (instead of the current ‘average’ of around 75%) would sink without trace given the influence of reviews in today’s market. That said, somebody has to go out there and buy Deer Hunter III. If reviewers are just going to group the vast majority of games together in the same 15 – 25% of the score band, it really does seem a waste of time.”
Again, sites like Gamespy, IGN, Gamespot, and the others that allow score
inflation and set 7-7.5 as average ruin it for the sites that value honesty
over corporate swag and even more so, ruin it for casual and mainstream gamers
Another site with articles about this topic worth looking is Nintedonow.com
with two different articles. The first talks about the “supposed” corruption at IGN and the interesting things they pull there. The second article talks about another publication long considered to have “sold out” to companies years and years ago: EGM. I have a very strong distaste for EGM personally due to having 3 reviews per game, each A SINGLE PARAGRAPH LONG and then a score by each review with no real description of meat about a game. Apparently Nintendonow.com feels the same
And the truth is, I don’t know anyone that doesn’t think EGM is chock full of bias and that the magazine is highly Sony-centric. It’s been considered that way for years, and although it’s the top selling magazine in the US for Video Game Journalism, it also has the least amount of credibility due to these rumours and everyone seeming to want to bash it for a myriad of reasons it may or may not deserve. Is this due to taking kickbacks or swag? No, it’s just due to bad writing and heavily biased journalists. They lack integrity and objectivity. But people still buy them. Why is that? Hmmm. And then, because it is still bought, whose fault really is it that they can do this?
Again, we have lots of stuff that screams bias, or corruption, or being on the take. But no real proof. So does that mean everyone is really good at
maintaining a cover-up, or does it means this is just one big conspiracy
theory perpetrated by a few isolated incidents and the fact the higher profile companies like EGM, Gamespot, and IGN are not journalists in the true sense of the word and allow bias to be publicly seen in their work?
In fact here are two comments about why the video game journalism field is in the state it is in. The Guardian points out that Video Game Journalists are
little more than emotional fanboys without any formal training or
understanding of what journalism is supposed to be. They also give a list of ten articles that highlight gaming journalism at its weirdest. And they’re
right. Even at IP Games, I’m the only formally trained journalist, and I’ll
admit even in Nyogtha, my column about folkore and urban legends, I use
emotion a bit to emphasize my point. But I am always objective in my video
game writing, even if I do put a bit of humour into it, because let’s face it, reviewing can be, and usually is very dry.
But in the end the Guardian commentary is the article link of all article
links to read because it actually highlights the real problem with gaming
journalism: The fact that is consists of people who shouldn’t be journalists, who abuse the tiny insignificant amount of power they have. Gaming Journalism IS/has become a glorified fanclub of people who love gaming and want to talk about it and share their opinions with others. There is no actual journalism, just people who have a lot of passion for gaming and that passion often times overwhelms their journalistic integrity, something many aren’t even aware they SHOULD have.
And interestingly enough, one of Gamespot’s writers comments and says that yes, the gaming industry needs writers with actual talents and ethics, something is woefully lacking. And I agree. And even though I criticized Gamespot for being part of the problem above with their Power Creep style scores, here’s proof that some that work for that site want to become part of the solution and make gaming journalism credible and respectable. There is no absolute good or bad here people.
So what we’re seeing is that a lot of the time we are pointing a finger at
gaming companies for trying to corrupt writers, often times it is the gaming journalists themselves that are often corrupt,
I’m going to link to four more articles and then move on to Inside Pulse’s own experience with this phenomenon.
1. Slashdot’s article is about the affect free stuff and swag have on the
video game journalist, who we have already established is unprofessional. It is also of importance because it is one reviewer admitting his own unethical practices with a very important quote of, “If you let yourself be taken in by the free food, games, flights, and gala of a modern-day junket, your reputation is at stake.”
2. We have Games Are Fun with an article I must admit disheartens me as they admit PR companies do give swag and freebies to get reviewers to give higher scores to mediocre games, and then turns around and says basically, “But it’s
okay. It’s just how things work.”, and then claims the conspiracy theories
about PR companies and Gaming Publishers bribing gaming sites/mags must stop. It’s a decent article, but the writer comes off as either innately naive or seems to miss out that in other forms of criticism, whether it be food or movies or books, the sort of “politics with PR firms” doesn’t happen.
3. Gamers With Jobs talks about Objectivity versus Subjectivity.
4. Biting the Hand talks about how the press, specifically Video Game Journalists use their “power” unprofessionally.
So after 9 pages, what have we learned? That yes, there is some corruption in the industry. Is it blanketed over everything and in all aspects? No. That’s blowing things far out of proportion. Is it the video game companies
themselves? No. It’s almost always their PR firm doing gray-area passive
aggressive tactics, or it is usually the fact most people in Video Game
Journalism editorialize/show a lot of bias/ rather than act like ethical
Now. Here’s what is worth talking about. My own experiences.
Since Inside Pulse has started, I have had a lot of great relationships with companies. Silicon Knights, Atlus, Nippon Ichi, Square-Enix (even though I generally heap scorn on their Final Fantasy games, which I feel are over-rated), Nintendo, TDK, High Voltage, Atari, Bandai, Dreamcatcher, and the list goes on. They all send IP Beta Copies and Reviewables and so on and so forth. And never once has any of these companies I have named, along with many others, stopped talking to us for a bad review score. Hell Microsoft still talked to us after we trashed Fable. Square-Enix wanted me to review FFTA, knowing full well I generally don’t like FF games, and when it got a 6/10 from me, they didn’t complain because they knew Inside Pulse refuses to power creep scores up to 7/10 as average. We’re still at 5/10 and they knew it.
All except one company. Activision. And it’s not really Activision, but
Activision’s PR company.
Everything was well and good with them. At First. But as they started getting scores in the 4-7 range, the PR company started complaining. Pointing out how their games would get 10-15% less than other sites and how they felt they couldn’t work with a company who wasn’t willing to bring their scores up to the same level of power creep as other sites. And we refused. And there was constant tension.
Then came DOOM 3. As a lot of people behind the scenes at IP can tell you,
that was the end of our relationship with Activision. We had to have three
different people review the game. First was Eric S, who tore the game apart. Activision bitched so Widro was like “Well, maybe someone else should do it.” Lee Baxley volunteered, and after playing it, the game was torn apart as well. Finally, even though it is well known I am not a fan of FPS, I agreed to review it and the game got a 6/10. An above average score where I said the game was a throwaway. It was pretty, but lacked any real substance or reason to play it after you beat it once. There was nothing truly bad about the game, but it wasn’t good either.
In fact, these reviews going outside the power creep and inflated ratings that perpetuate gaming journalism is what spawned our Tribunals, which is where three of the IP staff members do a quick review of the game to counter our original one. Because we were sick of Activision trying passive aggressive tactics to get us to raise their game scores. Threatening to pull reviewables and beta builds and interviews.
And Look what we all said about Doom 3. it got a 3.5, a 4.5, and a 6.0. Ouch. But here’s the thing. We were honest. Those scores and comments were from Eric and Lee’s original reviews. We refused to pump up the score like a lot of sites, even though Activision had given us the swag and reviewable copies.
Now, since we all know a lot of sites use 7-7.5 as an average rating. Doom 3 on Gamerankings has an average rating of 8.8. Now. That means it is 1-1.5
points higher than AVERAGE. And I gave it what? A 6.0. Which using a non
inflated scale is 1 point above average. Hmmm. And Activision knew this fro
the start. But after that. We never heard a word from them again. Not even a press release. Just a total shut off, like they had hinted.
Until last week, when a certain video game company’s PR firm contacted the head of our site Widro and the following conversation happened: (FYI, we removed the actual screen name of the PR Rep)
Video Game PR Rep (1:43:43 PM): Mr. Widro
insidepulse (1:43:51 PM) : hello!
Video Game PR Rep (1:44:04 PM): How’s it going (FIRST NAME here)?
insidepulse (1:44:26 PM): of course i remember :-) going very well, busy as
usual, but we’re all excited for psp :-D
Video Game PR Rep (1:45:03 PM): I saw your Spidey review. A bit harsh :-). I need a correction
Video Game PR Rep (1:45:13 PM): “Was Traveller’s Tales able to capture the wide open feel of the console game with the limitations of the handheld?”
Video Game PR Rep (1:45:26 PM): Vicarious Visions is the developer
insidepulse (1:45:40 PM): i liked the game! i just felt let down a bit after the console version being so awesome
insidepulse (1:45:46 PM): fixing now! sorry for that error
Video Game PR Rep(1:46:26 PM): I hear you. Somethings you can’t do on a hand held. Just not enough juice to stream a city like a console can
insidepulse (1:46:51 PM): i hear ya… that error is fixed… i think we’ll
Video Game PR Rep(1:47:39 PM): I also know you guys have a “different” review scale than most sites. I just have to explain that when you’re review goes up on Gamerankings and is 15% lower than the average :-)
Video Game PR Rep (1:47:51 PM): *your
insidepulse (1:48:13 PM): haha yes but you should see all the attention it
gets us… gotta carve a niche somewhere!
I’m not going to comment. I’m going to let you the reader pull your own
assumptions out of this, because anything I say will be tainted by personal
However, it didn’t end there. Bebito, the co-head of IP Games, along with
myself (although to be honest Bebito does nearly all of it, as I’ve been
focused just on doing my folklore/urban legends column, and also reviews. No real admin/actual running things. That’s all Big Daddy Cool.) felt that this was this certain video game company’s PR firm trying to passively aggressively hint we should allow power creep into our ratings for the zillionth time. And so Bebito and I were like, “Why not point blank ask why they stopped talking to us for so long?”
Now what follows is the exact conversation that occured between the PR rep and our own Bebito Jackson.
BobEblaze80 (4:52 PM): Greetings Neil. I got your name forwarded to me from
Jon Widro. My name is Bebito. I manage Previews and Features on Inside Pulse games. How are you?
Video Game PR Rep (4:52 PM): Good and you?
BobEblaze80 (4:53 PM): I’m doing alright. Rainy day over here in NJ. Can’t
wait for the summer.
BobEblaze80 (4:54 PM): I was emailing you because I know in the past the staff of InsidePulse/411 had a good relationship with VIDEO GAME COMPANY. And my fellow staff and I wanted to know what we could do to re-foster that.
Video Game PR Rep (5:01 PM): To be honest, you’re review scale is the issue. You’re part of GameRankings and your reviews are always well below the average score (Spider-Man PSP is 10% lower than any other score and 16% below the average). Not much incentive for us to go to VIDEO GAME COMPANY and request exclusives for your site like we used to do. I’ve had many talks with Chris about this, but it didn’t do any good.
Video Game PR Rep (5:04 PM): I always told Chris that it’s not my business to tell you have to score. Widro tells me that it draws a lot of attention which is good for the site. I’m sure you can see what I think of it :-)
Video Game PR Rep(5:04 PM): *how
BobEblaze80 (5:05 PM): So it’s our review scale? That’s odd. Yes we score
games differently than most sites, but our audience understands that and ends up looking at the content rather than just a number. We’ve actually gotten good feedback from most companies with Atlus, Silcon Nights, Microsoft and Nintendo having all emailed saying they prefer it.
BobEblaze80 (5:11 PM): Believe me, I see where your company might be coming
BobEblaze80 (5:11 PM): But we don’t score low just for the sake of scoring
low. It’s just the nature of our system. And we focus on content over scores.
BobEblaze80 (5:11 PM): We’ve maintained good relationships with many
publishers with them knowing this and still supporting InsidePulse. We are
simply sincere in wanting to get information about VIDEO GAME COMPANY’s games out to as large an audience as we have here at Inside Pulse games, right along the other companies we’re in good standing in so that we can produce timely and honest reviews and previews of your products.
Video Game PR Rep (5:21 PM): Please don’t tell me about your audience and your site. Don’t forget that I started your releationship with Microsoft and VIDEO GAME COMPANY. I’ve been a HUGE supporter of your site for a few years now. Can you really see it from my point of view? I can’t go to id Software and request an interview for you regarding Doom 3 Xbox when you guys gave the PC version a 60% and the average score is 88%. They’d laugh at me and then have me fired.
BobEblaze80 (5:24 PM): Ok. So you’re saying if our ratings were higher, that would mean exclusives and demos and beta builds, but if the scores remain where they are, nothing, right?
Video Game PR Rep(5:35 PM): What I’m saying is that i have to justify what I’m doing. We don’t give out demos / beta build for our games and interviews, contests, invites to preview events have to be parceled out for the best impact.
BobEblaze80 (5:49 PM): So, best impact being the sites and publications that will give out higher ratings for your products? I truly wish there were another way to gain VIDEO GAME COMPANY’S support. We’re willing to give increased coverage through previews, features, etc. But if I’m getting the idea of what it really comes down to; a score. Even if the actual review is truthful and appropiately positive… then I think I get the picture.
BobEblaze80 (6:02 PM): I am sorry that you feel VIDEO GAME COMPANY is a company that would rather reward people who lie for kickbacks rather than respect honesty and it’s a shame no other company does this.
Video Game PR Rep (6:07 PM): I’m done with you. Have Widro get in touch if Inside Pulse has a request
Again, I’m not going to comment and let my personal feelings get in the way, because that can influence you the reader, and that’s not responsible on my part. But there are two sides to every story. And I’d rather have you the reader say either “OMG! That company really does try to force higher scores for reviewables and swag” or “Man, Bebito came off like a jerk.” if that is how you feel.
And then finally, there was this contact by this certain video game company’s PR guy to Widro. Note the times of the conversation as it was happening WHILE Bebito and the PR guy were talking.
Video Game PR Rep (5:44:13 PM): you have a sec for a call?
insidepulse (5:44:28 PM) : not at this time, but maybe in a bit
insidepulse (5:44:32 PM): is something wrong?
Video Game PR Rep (5:45:30 PM): Talking to your new editor and he’s not getting the impact that Game Rankings has on things now. I don’t want to spend my afternoon justifying what I do to him.
insidepulse (5:46:05 PM): heh… ok i’ll talk to him…
Video Game PR Rep (5:46:21 PM): Thanks
I will say that of importance is the PR rep’s comment of “the impact that Game Rankings has on things now” referring back to my beginning commentary about Warner Brother has all but forced PR companies to elicit power creep/inflated ratings. It’s become a money thing.
Finally, in turns out Widro received an angry call from this PR Rep
about our practices and refusal to budge as he posted this on our Inside Pulse staff forums when Bebito originally planned to just up and post their
transcript on the games section of Inside Pulse.
Widro: please let me know what you plan on posting before you post it, i got an unpleasant call from THE PR REP today and saved us from blacklisting for now…
Now I have NO IDEA what was talked about in that conversation, and as it is
not recorded only Widro and the PR Rep know the truth and again, in deference to the journalistic ethics I’ve been talking about, I won’t be a hypocrite (even though this is a column/editorial and thus I could and be validated) and try and guess or make up what might have been said. If Widro, as head of all of Inside Pulse, wants to go into detail, he can.
And again, this is the only company we’ve had experience with this sort of
thing happening since Bebito and I took over the games section
However here’s a conversation I had with Chris Pankonin, the previous head of
Darquefyr (12:31:15 PM): Arrgh. 8 pages into my whole “Is there actually
corruption in VG Journalism” thing.
ChrisPank23 (12:32:18 PM): is that the group project, or your own personal
Darquefyr (12:32:40 PM): Personal. because I’m actually citing proof and
quotes and showing it’s not just the companies but everything involved that
has a bit of corruption, if you want to assign that label to it.
ChrisPank23 (12:33:39 PM): you know, I understand why you can be upset, but
can you really BLAME companies for wanting their games to get positive
reviews? They’re trying to sell games, its up to the sites to see through the
ChrisPank23 (12:34:08 PM): like ol’ VIDEO GAME PR REP, his entire gainful
employment is to convince people to give games positive reviews, its a PR
Darquefyr (12:34:11 PM): I say that.
ChrisPank23 (12:34:18 PM): I don’t blame companies at all
ChrisPank23 (12:34:37 PM): for wanting to bribe peopple
Darquefyr (12:34:38 PM): And that the problem Chris. Companies need to respect ethics and journalistic integrity.
ChrisPank23 (12:34:58 PM): no they don’t, journalists need to respect
journalistic integrity, game companies aren’t journalists
Darquefyr (12:34:59 PM): Because when/if they bribe someone, it’s the consumer that loses
Darquefyr (12:35:19 PM): yes but they can’t get mad/threaten when a journalist is honest. Game Journalists are critics just like movie or food or book critics.
ChrisPank23 (12:35:37 PM): right, so they’re the ones that need to attempt to remain impartial
ChrisPank23 (12:36:05 PM): whereas, you invest hundreds of thousands of
dollars into production of a game, and if it sucks, you need to advertise it even more, otherwise you’ll lose money and go out of buisness
Darquefyr (12:36:28 PM): That’s exactly the point. Game Journalists need to
have higher morals and ethics. Wheras game companies need to stop extoriting and bullying and if they make a bad game, accept that they messed up
Darquefyr (12:36:51 PM): The problem is most game journalists are emotional
overzealous fan boys and have no formal journalistic training
Darquefyr (12:36:57 PM): And that’s the point of my article
ChrisPank23 (12:37:03 PM): you’re going to stand by your product, thats
buisness 101, the DEVELOPERS are the ones that would need to be ashamed
ChrisPank23 (12:37:13 PM): EA would have to sell dogshit, if they invested in
ChrisPank23 (12:37:31 PM): whereas the company that made said dogshit, are the ones in trouble because they’ll have to answer back to EA when the dogshit doesn’t sell :-)
Darquefyr (12:38:09 PM): Yep. Which is why every aspect needs to be cleaned
up. Developers have to start make better games in terms of gameplay. PR
companies and Publishers need to realize that the GAME has to sell themselves. And Gaming journalists need to stop being fanboys who jiz themselves when a company says hi or sends them a freebie
ChrisPank23 (12:39:26 PM): 1) Absolutely agree 2)It won’t happen, especially since 75-95% of gaming journalists are trying to sell something too (advertising and whatnot), and need that crap to prosper – but I also agree 3) PR Companies only job is to sell games
Darquefyr (12:40:17 PM): It’s just a total lack of ethics and morals on all
sides of the fence
ChrisPank23 (12:40:38 PM): absolutely
Darquefyr (12:41:03 PM): It’s like government. You know it’s corrupt. You’re not sure how much and where it started, but you know there’s a level there and most people turn a blind eye to it
ChrisPank23 (12:43:08 PM): yeah, but thats much more serious than the gaming industry
ChrisPank23 (12:43:17 PM): video games are a buisness, like anything else
Darquefyr (12:43:30 PM): Oh I agree
ChrisPank23 (12:43:34 PM): but it should be interesting though, I’ll read your column
Darquefyr (12:43:39 PM): rock
Heh. And well, there’s a bit of my feeling about the whole thing, eh? Yes, I do feel every aspect is to blame when corruption is involved, because no one says “no more.” The question is not “Is there this sort of thing going on?”, as there is always some corruption every place if you look for it,
but “How much is going on?”
And the answer is, “I don’t know.” Like I said, our experience with the company and the PR rep above is the only “proof” we have, as no other company does this sort of thing, or even hints at it. At least to us. Does it happen to other sites and in other countries? I want to say yes, but all I can do is speculate. And speculation is what allowed the rumour mill to spead “OMGWTF! Reviews are bought and sold like kidneys on the black market!” across the Internet.
All I can do is say read the 15 pages that this article is. Read all the links I’ve given, saying both “Yes there is” and “No there isn’t” and then make an informed decision on your own. But if there IS corruption and extortion and bribery, then it’s up to the sites to say “No more.” And to get rid of the inflated rating scales, it’s up to the reviewers to not be bullied or bribed, it is up to the developers to make better games, it is up to the publishers to get a more ethical PR firm to represent them, it is up to the PR firms to stop trying underhanded passive aggressive tactics in an attempt to get higher scores, it is up to corporations to stop basing royalty payments on a number value instead of content, and most of all, MOST IMPORTANTLY it is up to the reader to stop reading sites and magazines that reek of bias. If it smells corrupt or on the take to you, it just might be, and why take the chance of being lied to? If you stop reading, they’ll have no choice but to change their tactics and become honest again and deflate their scores. Because if you don’t, it’ll just be you the consumer being screwed over in the end as your hard earned money will be going to mediocre games instead of good ones.
Okay, no cooking or plugs today. I hope you guys understand. This was long.
And I just want to get off the computer now. Besides, I have reviews of Narc and Shining Tears to finish and I’d like a break before more tappa-tappa-tappa
on my keyboard.