243: Cheating the System

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Cheating the System

The Konami Code and the Game Genie may be relics of another time, but there's one corner of the gaming space where cheating still runs rampant. John Szczepaniak looks at how certain game reviewers are encouraged to cheat, and what the consequences may be.

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Not to mention the fact that reviewers don't pay for their games always skews the "Is it good value for money" question.

I know this is going to sound like a really stupid thought, but how often is it that game developers are willing to pay reviewers to actually take time and play the game properly to ensure it gets a good review (well I don't mean they pay for a positive review, I mean they pay for a review that accurately tells what the game is like)

pdgeorge:
I know this is going to sound like a really stupid thought, but how often is it that game developers are willing to pay reviewers to actually take time and play the game properly to ensure it gets a good review (well I don't mean they pay for a positive review, I mean they pay for a review that accurately tells what the game is like)

I think perhaps a better term than the mind-bogglingly general "good" would be thorough. It's expensive for a developer or magazine publisher to pay the reviewers the extra time and money they need for a thorough review.

It's a bit depressing reading this article when I'm trying to get into that business myself.

This is probably why I don't trust very many reviews anymore. And probably why reviews on The Escapist are a little more accurate, they're generally out after the game is, which I now know is a good sign.
It also explains why reviewers opinions so often change after they've 'reviewed' a game, because they haven't dedicated anywhere near enough time to the game to even know what they really think of it.

Great article, very enlightening.

As someone who has done reviews for old games (for Abandonia) I can imagine how difficult it must be to try and get a review done in a short amount of time, especially for something complex like an RPG.

For example, even one playthrough of Dragon Age (~50 hours?) won't give you the full information you might require to review it, especially given the different origin stories. How can you as a reviewer tell your readers that it offers meaningful choices, if you don't find out the consequences for the multiple decisions you make?

Of the reviews I've done, I'm often helped by the fact that I've played the games a lot in the past, and there's not a restrictive time limit.

I'm beginning to wonder if video games should even be reviewed at all. Certainly, some outlets give better reviews than others. The Escapist and Kotaku offer what is probably the best reviews. These are almost always (especially with the The Escapist)after the game has been released. They give a general sense of the game without being terribly specific, and honestly--they never give me the impression that the reviewer played the game all the way through, so if they didn't, no big deal. But too many outlets try to review games like movie critics review movies, and you just can't do that.

I don't think you have to play a game all the way through to get the gist of its quality. I tend to know if a game is a game I'm going to want to play after about 3 or 4 hours with it. True, when one wants to comment on narrative and character development, one has to finish the game; but I value game play much, much more than story, so no big deal for that.

As for cheating to finish a game review, I can certainly sympathize. You've got to pay the bills, after all.

Darth Rahu:
It's a bit depressing reading this article when I'm trying to get into that business myself.

Seriously. I'm sitting in a copy editing class as I type this.

games have become both longer and more varied

wait... what?

Fappy:

Darth Rahu:
It's a bit depressing reading this article when I'm trying to get into that business myself.

Seriously. I'm sitting in a copy editing class as I type this.

If it helps, you probably won't easily break into the business if you're on the Escapist during your classes...:p

jmoore4ska:

Fappy:

Darth Rahu:
It's a bit depressing reading this article when I'm trying to get into that business myself.

Seriously. I'm sitting in a copy editing class as I type this.

If it helps, you probably won't easily break into the business if you're on the Escapist during your classes...:p

Well the professor is talking about photojournalism when I already have a Photojournalism class. Kind of redundant and off topic if you ask me :P

Interesting read.

Good perspective. Probably why I weigh forum chatter much more heavily when deciding to buy a game or not; I'm more inclined to trust the word of people who are actually playing the product in question, not some strange bastardized speed-run version.

Dang, I didn't know so much of the integrity was sacrificed in these reviews. I mean if levels are a chore to play people should know that.

I was considering freelance writing in addition to my other non-journalism related job to bring in a bit more money. However I've never realised that the industry is this ridiculous, I realised that journalists are under pressure but I don't think I could actually bring myself to ruin games for myself by skipping ahead to later levels.

Wow! Now I see why this happened to me many times: I buy a game praised by reviewers only to find out that it's incredibly frustrating and hard to the point it's not enjoyable at all.

Now I see...

Well that explains a lot...
I stopped reading reviews of most games. Hell The Escapist and one Norwegian site, are the only two places I get games information from these days.
The magazines just got redundant when the internet started giving much the same information, and well the internet got redundant when they started giving 9s to almost every game that had gotten some "screen time," but now I know why.

Wow. That was a heavy read. And yet, so much makes sense now.

If I've learned anything, it's to be selective about which magazine you trust. I was an avid reader of OPS2 (Official Playstation 2 Magazine UK) for about 4 years and I think they only got it wrong twice in regards to their reviews of Enter The Matrix (them: 8 out of 10. Me: Average) and Killzone (them: 9 out of 10. Me: Bucket of shit).

I hope that OPS2's editor is continuing his practices in his new job as editor of OPM (Official Playstation Magazine UK). Again though, very interesting read.

I've suspected as much for a long time. I'm glad to hear my suspicions confirmed, partially because it gives me credibility, but it also justifies years of my having ignored reviews that come out prior to, or just after a game is released. Honestly, 99.9% of the time, I wait for an intelligent, serious review by a player who has a similar point of view.

Huh....I never knew. Thanks for the informative article.

This article was specifically about British publications, but it really makes you wonder about the state of affairs in North America. There are just way too many games with scores of 8 or 9/10 that were good, but not *great* games, from large corporations. When Gamespot mentioned Kane and Lynch not being all that good, especially in the controls department, Eidos jumped on their throat and the editor-in-chief was fired. There was also a similar issue with GTA4 which was graced with tons of positive reviews and GOTY accolades, the reviewers had been given the game + all the DLC rather than the off-the-shelf copy. When will the rest of the professional editorial world be outed for misleading practices? I pine for the day when all reviewers look at how people enjoy games at the consumer level rather than catering to massive companies looking to inflate their game sales with glossy reviews.

This makes me even more skeptical against gaming magazines, and most of all the scores that they're given. The biggest titles are always rewarded with the biggest scores, but is it because the reviewer played through the whole thing or because he didn't and just made an estimation based on a few hours of gameplay * the hype + hours spent in a four-star hotel paid by the game publisher?

Not really 100% related, but take the Jeff Gerstmann incident as an example.

I've long suspected this to be the case for RPGs. In my experience with large companys with tight deadlines results matter more than approach.

Also, the similarites to the reality of how pornography is reviewed are plentiful. - http://www.mcsweeneys.net/links/pornwriter/ (Link is SFW, unless you work in a monastery or a kindergarten or something.)

I hadn't thought about this until reading it. Makes alot of sense though. Unlike a film, or even a book, it's hard to gauge how long a playthrough will take. Very interesting.

this is EXACTLY why I NEVER trust anyone who gets paid to write "reviews" I trust the gamer community for a recommendation. critic scores are way too bias because ad dollars pressure editors who pressure writers.

Well it's not surprising. The sheer volume would preclude any human from actually playing through every single game completely before reviewing. I work in software engineering (I mainly do Database and Web stuff.), none of the coders I work with actually commit 90% of the languages we know to memory. It's too much to try and remember all the intricacies of something like four or five different languages two of which I actually have a decent command of. What we do best is find information on how to do something and then work it into our project, whatever that is.

While the article really focused more on the fact that games journalists don't have enough time to write truly comprehensive reviews on games, rather than that they cheat to do so, I still found it informative.

Though really, anyone who decides to weather to pick up a game or not based solely on reviews is setting themselves up to be disappointed. Because good and bad are opinions, and just because a reviewer has an opinion, fully reviewed or other wise, dose not mean yours will agree.

I like to find a reviewer that has the same opinions of games that I do. It does take a little effort to watch and read reviews until you find the right reviewer but it is worth it. Then I can watch/read their reviews and know that I am in safe hands.
The Escapist really handles reviews in a fantastic way. They are accurate and honest. I really appreciate their reviews.

Not the least bit surprising; how many games have we all bought that have been hyped up to death with "generic game magazine calls it heart pumping action 9/10"
A very interesting article

I enjoyed this article because it sheds a little light on the unglamorous world of gaming journalism. I'm sure there have been many a person, a wide-eyed naive person, who entered this industry thinking;

Gee, this will be fun! I'll be able to play my favorite games before anybody else and then tell people what I think about them! And I'll get paid for it! Yay!!

But, of course, reality is harsh. I believe this comic from the boys at Penny Arcade portrays it perfectly... (Excuse the expletive in the bottom of the first panel)

image

Sometimes this kind of reality-jarring event can take all the love out of a beautiful diversion and turn it into something jaded. What you used to do for fun with friends slowly becomes 'the job', and soon the entire process becomes meaningless except for the next paycheck - and who hasn't wished to cut a corner or two from due process in order to get to that paycheck. And with games, with codes (or, in this case, debug menus), people can cut corners quite easily, if they choose to.

And how do we, the readers, know exactly when this occurs? I know for a fact that I'm going to try and consciously cross-reference any articles i read in magazines or online review sites from now on, checking the time of release to time of the article publication. Of course, i have no idea of the exact process of game-reviewing (from the reviews skill to said game to the speed of their typing), but I'm sure there will be a marked difference between a game that takes 10 hours to complete compared to one that takes 40 hours to complete.

JohnTomorrow:
I enjoyed this article because it sheds a little light on the unglamorous world of gaming journalism. I'm sure there have been many a person, a wide-eyed naive person, who entered this industry thinking;

Gee, this will be fun! I'll be able to play my favorite games before anybody else and then tell people what I think about them! And I'll get paid for it! Yay!!

But, of course, reality is harsh. I believe this comic from the boys at Penny Arcade portrays it perfectly... (Excuse the expletive in the bottom of the first panel)

Sometimes this kind of reality-jarring event can take all the love out of a beautiful diversion and turn it into something jaded. What you used to do for fun with friends slowly becomes 'the job', and soon the entire process becomes meaningless except for the next paycheck - and who hasn't wished to cut a corner or two from due process in order to get to that paycheck. And with games, with codes (or, in this case, debug menus), people can cut corners quite easily, if they choose to.

And how do we, the readers, know exactly when this occurs? I know for a fact that I'm going to try and consciously cross-reference any articles i read in magazines or online review sites from now on, checking the time of release to time of the article publication. Of course, i have no idea of the exact process of game-reviewing (from the reviews skill to said game to the speed of their typing), but I'm sure there will be a marked difference between a game that takes 10 hours to complete compared to one that takes 40 hours to complete.

You pretty much encapsulated my feelings on this subject and I, spookily, thought of this exact same comic while reading. Since I was a little lad I've always at the back of my mind wondered about becoming some form of games journalist or tester thinking I'd shake up the industry with my incorruptible moral core and my resistance to the pressure brought down by the big corporations. From the looks of this article it was even more of a pipe dream than I thought.

It's hard to take the moral high ground when you can't afford to not get the pay check they're giving you and it's likewise pretty hard to tell the full, no holds barred truth when you've only got a couple of hours to play a 20 hour game. That's not even taking into account how your review will fare if you refuse to use the debug tools the publisher gave you. The constant stress of only being able to review based on the opening levels would be extremely confronting.

The non gaming press suffers much like this too with pre made PR and newswires making the temptation just to sit back and soak up prepackaged PR all the greater for publications not interested much but profit. Gaming 'journalism' was bound to be worse since every man and his dog are writing reveiws these days (just check the user reveiws section).

I remeber hearing about how positivity of the preveiws on Street Figher 4 depended alsmot soley on how much the person had had to drink. Capcom had done the same trick, they flew the big publications into a hotel, let them test under controled conditions and gave them free booze. Sometimes a reveiw is obviously phoned it, i remember some time ago on Gamespot there was some fun poked at a reveiw of an RPG which had criticised it for "No Multiplayer".

We can laugh but most publications are rife with this sort of thing, its impossible to tell if the game is actually bad or if the reveiwer has been having a bad day or just is not into the genre. Small buget games suffer more than most whist big buget gets a free ride.

Now onto IGN who only got their Modern Warfare 2 reveiw out first (and don't underestimate the pressure to be first) becuase they agreed to reveiw the game under controlled conditions at a hotel. All this does is infate the score of usually pretty generic and souless "Blockbuster" games whist squeezing out new studios or any game published without the funds to do this kind of manipulation.

The problem with the game media industry (or, any media industry, really) is that it is a profit organization. You need to get your article out by the deadline or heads roll. You need to be up to date fast fast fast, and sometimes people cant keep up with that kind of pace.

My own personal take on journalism is the scrappy reporter, dressed in a brown trench-coat and fedora, clasping a notepad or dicta-phone, driving around in his beat up hatchback, inhaling cigarette smoke like oxygen and smashing out brilliant prose from his beaten up laptop, if he even has one. He would race from one current event to another, lead by insider intel feeding him scraps of info for favors he'd repay later by doing an expose on their landlords sexual habits, and create the scandal that would sell more copies then the next guy. He'd write it up in his dingy apartment, ceiling fan whirling above him lazily, creating circles in the cigarette smoke which permeated the room, before sending it off to his editor for the morning edition and collapsing into bed, alone, for no woman could ever fully understand the intensity of his life.

...But life isn't so romantic. As Scrumpmonkey said, pre-made PR and newswires make the old, headline-hunting reporter a thing of the past. Killing yourself to get the scoop usually either actually kills you (like some foreign correspondents out there), or is useless, as the fat prick you sit next to in the office spent all day looking up the info on the internet.

And why is that a problem? Why shouldn't accept the offer to come to a swanky hotel, possibly plied to the gills with booze, before being shown the game? What other option would there be afterwards but to give it a decent score? If he was honest, he would never get treated like that again - and lets face it, we all like to be pampered, especially when we're paid to do so.

Don't hate the poor journo who just wants a good time and a decent buck. I wouldn't be surprised if some of these guys just make minimum wage. The only reason we stamp and snort is because our quality assurance is voided by a shoddy review - but then, if you're going to go with just one review then i think you need to review your own spending habits. I don't buy a car until I've had at least three people give me their opinion on it, and one of them isn't always the salesman.

While I love MW2 and Bioshock 2, both day of release reviews I read seemed to be sorely lacking in coverage and details and it's nice to have my long time suspicions confirmed.

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