FTC Hitting Reviews in the Wardrobe

Earlier this week, the Federal Trade Commission handed down a ruling that forces bloggers and reviewers to disclose any payments or bonuses they receive from any company they deal with. Bloggers and writers in the game community have long been accused of wearing “money hats.” Anytime a review goes up someone is “paying” for it. Sadly, while this is certainly not the case for the majority of reviewers, there is a substantial problem when it comes to conflicts of interest.

In traditional journalism, review copies of any product must be returned to the company that provides them. This prevents even the slightest conflict in the reviewer and prevents them from having any warm feelings toward the company for the perk. Now that the internet has overtaken print media when it comes to reviews, namely because of the immediacy of the internet and the ability to put reviews out right away, or well in advance, the FTC rulings governing review copies has fallen by the wayside. It is not uncommon for companies to send little perks with review copies. Microsoft gave reviewers free laptops so they could review Windows Vista. Sony gave out plasma TVs, HDMI cables and a free PS3 for reviews of some of the launch titles for the PS3. Some companies simply send along dress socks, mouse pads or tee shirts. Regardless of how “innocent” these gifts are, you can’t help but wonder why Heavenly Sword received a 9 while the guy is blogging in his Sony hat while wearing a shirt with Nariko’s face.

Being a reviewer, I realize that this industry is built on trust. The people that read reviews do so because they trust the opinion of the person writing the review. The one thing that separates us from your best friend is context. We play a LOT of games, from every genre, games that go from the best the industry has to offer to the very worst; someone has to review all those “Imagine” and “Petz” titles on the DS. We have to maintain that level of trust or risk alienating ourselves from readers permanently. If I tell you Raven Squad is the best FPS you will ever play, and you take my advice and buy it, the only reason you’ll read what I have to say again is to know what games to avoid; I will have lost all credibility and all of your trust.

The business aspect of games makes the job of the review that much more important. When EGN lost its coverage of Mortal Kombat games, Sony sports games and anything Ubisoft, they were being punished because they didn’t cower to the pressure they received. The problem is the companies themselves threatening to pull coverage if a game isn’t scored a certain way. This is all done at the corporate level, far above the head of the guy being forced to review Daisy Fuentes’ Pilates on the Wii. Even Eidos threatened magazines if they didn’t give Batman: Arkham Asylum at least an 8.5 review. Now, that game deserved every accolade it received, but the pressure put on companies to score it high ruins any type of integrity those scores had.

The “score” as a monument to games used to be a fairly simple prospect. You’d glance through Nintendo Power, see a ranking, maybe read the whole review, and then go about your day. Now, because of the instant feedback provided by the internet, scores determine what games get made, how much money a development team gets and what companies stay afloat and which ones close. The recent closure of developer Grin was directly related to the poundings it took on games like Wanted: Weapons of Fate, Terminator: Salvation and Bionic Commando. The low scores lead to refusal of payments from game companies, poor sales and ultimately the closing of the company. While Grin may have deserved to close due to its lack of solid quality, the idea that the metascores had an effect on payments to the company is disturbing.

Back in 2007, David Jaffe put out Calling All Cars, a multiplayer game that received a rather scathing review from Joystiq. His rant against that review caused a rather large dust up in the community. While Jaffe’s criticism was certainly valid, he made a multiplayer game and they loved the multiplayer, it highlighted the pressure reviewers get from the people they deal with, as well as the pressure developers get from their financial backers to get high scores. Ubisoft also committed the same type of saber rattling when IGN scored Assassin’s Creed lower than the company wanted. The idea of condensing a work of art into a single digit, a digit that can determine the fate of an entire company in some cases, has caused the people that work hard to construct an honest review to be caught between a rock and a hard place.

We, as a community, need to move away from the idea of “the score.” Every site and every reviewer has a different take and a subjective view on what a 9 or a 10 is. Play Magazine refuses to score games, an idea I find admirable, but it finally caved in and now has a “Parting Shot” that summarizes a game in a few short words. What gamers need to do is refuse to accept a simple number to determine quality in a game. We need to start reading a review, finding out what appeals to us, what the weaknesses are and if those things matter to us. We can’t be in such a hurry, we can’t allow ourselves to find reading difficult and instead must actually research the titles that pique our interest instead of trusting an arbitrary number. On that note, I give this article a 10, and I didn’t receive a single gift.

Article from Gamersyndrome.com

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5 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. This was an excellent article and I totally agree that we need to get away from “the score”; reviews are meant to be and should be honest and not skewed or biased by the fact that the writer is getting paid by the company they are reviewing for.

  2. I don’t know if it’s just a coincidence, but i’ve seen it with my own eyes – IGN sitting on a VIP table with Blizzard, at Blizzcon.. Gamespot.. Jeff Gerstmann. Need i say more?

  3. Maybe they are all just good buddies? 😉 .. although IGN runs what I deem a ridiculous number of gamer sites.. I have no doubt that Blizzard does a huge amount of advertising there.

  4. Any review I’ve written is honest, often to the point of questionable legality. I’ve been paid to write reviews before, but I make it crystal clear that I give -my- opinions, not yours.

  5. now that the dust has settled somewhat I wonder how wise the timing on this really was, last few magazine reviews I read seemed pretty non-commital, how does that get games sold? While I appreciate honesty in the end it is all opinion, what someone hates I might love and vice versa, would rather see a rating system like they do for movies. Game sales down, hmmmm wonder why?

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