Twice in one week is pretty good for me.
There are a lot of unethical things that transpire in video game journalism, which are all likely extremely old hat to the established professionals, and why I've rarely, if ever, seen anyone write about them in the video game media. Things like the early Metascore manipulation I wrote about last week on Bitmob, and which I reprinted below.
In my earlier draft of that piece I had identified the four reviews that were the basis for the pre-embargo Metascore. A professional writer/editor contacted me to express concern that I was implicating them in wrongdoing, and how would he feel if someone had done the same thing to his outlet without contacting him first?
I didn't see the point in contacting any of those four outlets before I published the initial draft of the column. It's worth noting that what something looks like on Bitmob originally, versus how the edited version appears are often very different, so ostensibly the outlet would have struck the screenshot if they had a problem with it. But one doesn't have to be a genius to exercise some deductive reasoning here:
- Review code can only be given out by publishers
- Publishers don't give out review code without embargoes
- Community sites depend on relationships with publishers to get review code and to be able to post reviews in a timely fashion alongside the professional outlets.
- Therefore, it is extremely unlikely that a community site which has established a close enough relationship with a publisher to get review code is not going to jeopardize that relationship by publishing reviews pre-embargo without permission.
- Ergo: every site that publishes pre-embargo is almost certainly doing so with the publisher's permission.
I need to begin this week's column with a little inside baseball. Sometimes public relations or marketing firms for video-game publishers impose embargoes on the video-game press, before which no information about a game can be published. Screenshots, movies, press releases, or reviews can all be embargoed, and it’s in the best interests of an outlet to respect the embargo and protect their relationship with the publisher.
However, sometimes outlets are given permission to ignore embargoes when it comes to publishing their reviews.
The usual narrative goes like this: A PR or marketing person representing a publisher will call up a journalism outlet and say something along the lines of “Hey, we were just checking in on how your review of 'Super AAA Title X' was going…are you liking the game?” The outlet then has two choices: They can either play ball or politely decline. If they play ball and note that they're thinking about giving the game a good score, the publisher may allow them to break embargo and publish the review early.
Why would marketing want that? Simple: They're hoping for a skewed Metacritic score before a game's release.
PAX East takes place in just a couple of days, and the keynote speaker is Jane McGonigal. I’m mostly familiar with McGonigal through her TED lecture “Gaming can make a better world,” in which she argues that if we could tap into the time and energy that gamers demonstrate through their devotion to games, we could do a lot of good in the world.
When I saw her TED lecture, I thought that the picture of gamers she was presenting bore absolutely no reality to what I’ve experienced from human beings while gaming online, but McGonigal is an idealist. To wit, she wrote a book whose title includes the words “Reality Is Broken.” That idealism has likely played a huge part in her achievements, so I don’t make the comment by way of poking fun of her.
I do enjoy seeing idealism clash with reality to see what happens next, however, and so when I heard the tale of the GDC session “No Freaking Respect: Social Game Devs Rant Back,” I couldn’t help but laugh. McGonigal ran headfirst into an experience which is emblematic of the reality of modern gaming culture: the exploit.