278: Opinions for Sale or Trade

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Opinions for Sale or Trade

Some people think that videogame review scores are for sale and Destructoid's Reviews Editor Jim Sterling thinks that in the case of "exclusive reviews," they just might be right.

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The biggest things that stick out in my mind are that sites like IGn and Gamespot not only have to fawn to be first but also have to do much of their 'reveiwing' under "controlled conditions". What does this mean? Well in my opinion it's another blatant attepmt at infating your reveiw scores by simply throwing money at games 'journalists'.

The kicker for me was Modern warfare 2. Activision flys people out to reveiw the game in a hotel suite on a closed network. This automatically intertwines the experience of what ammounts to a totally free holidy to the experience of the game. You wouldn't trust a poltician or judge who takes free holidays from an oil tycoon then why trust someone claiming to have an impartial and 'non-bais' opinion that does the same thing with mega-publishers? Smaller games and publishers lack this kind of power and thus i think suffer from actully being reveiwed under real-wolrd conditions rather than in some hotel room fantasy land.

This is not uncommon. Many big AAA gamers are reveiwed this way. Ever wonder where that 9.0 was comming? Well here it is.

One of the most damming things i've heard about the industry was a journalist who admitted that the positivity of prevewis of Street fighter 4 were almost wholey depandant on how much the person had taken advantage of their "Liquid Hospitality" (i.e. the gameing press was literally drunk on it's feet) All this again in an expensive hotel resort.

Capcam holds "yearly press event in Hawaii, complete with complimentary plane tickets and hotel rooms" This is not ethical practie in my view on the part of both capcom and the atendees. The publisher will always have more clout than the actual customers and going on all expenses paid trips to Hawiai of all places is i think just in bad taste.

Being plied with booze, sitting in a hotel room on a free holiday with free flights is not a recipie for a trustworthy reveiw. ALL gamnes should really be reveiwed under the same conditions and the conditions under which the consumer experiences them. I mean free booze, hotel rooms, flights and 'control conditions'? We're a few steps away from MW3 coming with a side of hookers and blow.

There are other, smaller examples of this kind of thing such as IGN giving a baffling 8.5/10 to "The Conduit" (a game that is base-line bad) after having a close realtionship with the developer. Gamespot's Mishandeling of Kane and Lynch (another game i consider to be basically just bad) advertising scandle and thier suspicious reveiw of assasins creed. Whilst all this could just be down to differences of opinion they certainly don't help the perception of a game media who basically don't tell it like it is in the slightest.

Scrumpmonkey will give Modern Warfare 2 a 9.5/10 when Activision pays for his holiday, booze flights and hookers whist playing it.

Ah Jim. I enjoy your Jimquisition over at Dtoid. Welcome to the Escapist.

A big example of this is the Gerstmann incident over on Gamespot about Kane and Lynch. Gerstmann game the game a pretty bad review, because the game itself was pretty bad. But since it was also advertised on the site a lot, its assumed that the Publisher didn't like the review, and put on pressure to fire him. Well whatever happened, he got fired, and his review was replaced with a more favorable review.

Gamespot lost any and all credibility after that day.

I was interested in the subject and immediately browsed over to read the article, until I saw the name Jim Sterling attached to it - who to my mind had always come across as the Armond White of game critics. Needlessly controversial for the sake of being so.

But I admit, the points are there, it's just that the person saying them is suspect in my books in the first place.

There is another factor here and one that is more subtle, peer-pressure.

If you hate/enjoy a game that has been praised/slammed in all the major outlets are you going to trust your own judgement, put your neck on the line, and submit a review to your editor that bucks the trend? Or are you going to play it safe and follow the herd? What if your review risks angering a major advertiser, are you still so sure that you are only one who has been able to truly see that game for what it really is?

I've seen games where an early review has contained a factual error that has been repeated in other reviews by other reviewers (it was about a feature that was "missing" but was actually pretty easy to find in the menus). I don't think people were deliberately copying the early reviews but having read a "fact", they just assumed it was true and didn't look for themselves. And if that holds true for objective things like menu items, what about subjective things like "there are too many cutscenes" or "the pace of the game is a bit too slow". It's very easy to be swayed, and little things can easily pick up momentum.

To be fair, reviews are biased from the start, a payoff of any kind only makes the bias go farther to one side or the other. As a review is that one person's experience with the game, usually before anything has been patched or cleaned up post-release, reviews really depend on who is playing the game, their personal tastes, their level of skill in that specific genre, etc. Game reviews really have no place, in my opinion. Instead, every game should have a demo that is no less than 45 minutes long for a single-player demo, and either a 5 hour or heavily limited multiplayer demo available for free download on whatever gaming service happens to have the game, and maybe even available at a kiosk in a Gamestop or something. This way, people can play the game for a bit, form their own opinions about it, and decide whether or not they want to buy it. Now, I realise that this would put game reviewers out of a job, but I'm sure that they could easily do something else with the same company. Then again, I'm probably being optimistic.

TL;DR: Go read the fucking thing and quit being an impatient ass.

I just read http://www.ag.ru/

Unbiased and cruel. Usually a bit late, but hell - even Halo 3 and Killzone 2 got torn to sheds.
As for exclusive reviews - check gametrailers, they're in Microsoft's pocket.

Oh, and about Game Informer's exclusive review of Aliens vs. Predator - it's hard to praise a game in which every single component is broken. It has sound and graphics. Gameplay sucks. Multiplayer is broken.

I really enjoyed this, it was a good read. I think for me, I barely believe anything I read with 'exclusive' on it. It's just silly - this happens with music too. When I think of other festivals I used to work on who would liaise with major newspapers/magazines, exclusive was just a quicker way of saying "we wrote this and this magazine completely concurs with how awesome this will be". It's a bit sad really.

I got reeled into a game once because of it's amazing pre-launch review, pre-ordered it and absolutely hated it. Even the basics about atmosphere, character development, controls, weapons, were all slightly incorrect with how the game finally came out. Then out came all the real reviews by real people who also shared the same problems. Surely these problems didn't develop in the last two weeks of the game, and it makes you wonder if the reviewer even bothered to play it at all or just said amongst eating his cake "so give me a brief synopsis *burp* and I'll make it sound super awesome".

Oh, and blatently this:

Scrumpmonkey:
Scrumpmonkey will give Modern Warfare 2 a 9.5/10 when Activision pays for his holiday, booze flights and hookers whist playing it.

I'll give most games a 9.5 for all this - maybe even Fairytale Fights *shudder*

The most novel idea for getting honest reviews were, I think, CRASH and ZZAP!64 magazines in the 80s. They brought in school kids to review the games after hours. It worked because it was cheap labour and the kids were too naive to know they were supposed to be dishonest. Jim Sterling is no Julian Rignall. Try harder to be Julian Rignall, Jim. I don't know who this Armond White fella is so forget him.

More Fun To Compute:
The most novel idea for getting honest reviews were, I think, CRASH and ZZAP!64 magazines in the 80s. They brought in school kids to review the games after hours. It worked because it was cheap labour and the kids were too naive to know they were supposed to be dishonest. Jim Sterling is no Julian Rignall. Try harder to be Julian Rignall, Jim. I don't know who this Armond White fella is so forget him.

Yeah, but kids will like anything.
And if kids like something, they tend to go "ZOMG 10/10!".

I'm willing to bet that at least one thing everyone liked would be shit without nostalgia.

Sebenko:

More Fun To Compute:
The most novel idea for getting honest reviews were, I think, CRASH and ZZAP!64 magazines in the 80s. They brought in school kids to review the games after hours. It worked because it was cheap labour and the kids were too naive to know they were supposed to be dishonest. Jim Sterling is no Julian Rignall. Try harder to be Julian Rignall, Jim. I don't know who this Armond White fella is so forget him.

Yeah, but kids will like anything.
And if kids like something, they tend to go "ZOMG 10/10!".

I'm willing to bet that at least one thing everyone liked would be shit without nostalgia.

Reviewers who actually sometimes like playing games? Never, not on my watch.

Funny you should bring up IGN's review of GTA4. While they were hardly the only place to make it out to be the gaming equivalent of the second coming of Christ, they were probably one of the first ones I saw. When I finally played that game, it bored the living fuck out of me.

article:
the vast majority of us are normal gamers.

Might this be part of the problem? Not that I'm saying reviewers shouldn't be gamers, but the desire for exclusivity, especially how it's marketed to the readers/consumers, seems less about "we got to write about it first nanananananananana" & more "we got to play it first nananananananananana."

Ha, IGN, wouldn't trust a word written on that website.

Needed to be said, and I have been waiting for it do be said for a long time. Good show man, good show. I totally agree that most (if not all) reviewers are not paid off by those evil publishers, and you did bring up a good point about how suspicious exclusive reviews seem. Good read.

I really enjoyed the read. As a reviewer myself, I find it somewhat obvious when a review inflates a score, because they cannot justify it well. If I spot one of those reviews, I avoid that writer or just discount the score and read the review, which is an easy way to understand their opinion usually.

Only review I ever had a problem with was GTA IV. Prior to release many mainstream gaming sites had an ass load of ads for the game and upon it's release gave it high scores across the board. Meanwhile the gaming community especially veterans of the GTA franchise were disappointed with the lack of freedom and overly serious tone of the game. I recall gametrailers.com giving it a perfect score when the game was far from perfect. I feel that the more a game is advertised ($$) on a site magazine etc the more pressure there is for them give favorable reviews.

I'm actually surprised that someone was able to write about biased reviewers without bringing up that whole Kane & Lynch mess. That subject is a gold mine for the whole "Cloak & Dagger" rumors.

"Nobody is perfect, and it is unrealistic to expect that reviewers can always be unblemished bastions of journalistic brilliance that never make mistakes. I've made my share of mistakes with reviews, and I sometimes think we as an industry can be far too worried about what publishers may think of low scores, or are too scared of our own readers and wish not to offend them by criticizing a major release. "

this is why people think reviews are bought. As a Reviewer your review should be based soley own your opinion of the game. If it is just your opinion, there is no way your review can be "wrong." Its when you start skewing your review for other choices like page hits or reader reactions that you have no business calling yourself a reviewer.

The moment that someone sees a perfect score, chances are people will lower the score because they will nitpick over anything that's flawed. Like Starcraft 2. Or any game that is scored perfect in any magazine like... Famitsu. At times, PR people love to pass money under the table to a major gaming review site or magazine to having raise the score to convince the reader to say this game is awful/bad/decent/great/excellent.

I even think if maybe the PR also pass money to even lower the scores from their competitors.

In the end, if gaming sites believe that their opinion/scores will increase game sales, that varies differently. DJ Hero? Got average scores. Did perform badly on sales. Madden games? Same old, same old. Sells like hotcakes every single year.

And the twist of the knife is that, in the end, it's like a politician getting himself involved in deep corruption schemes to unlawfully pass his bill to increase the distance between stripes in a zebra crossing by half an inch. Oh god, I think I reached some kind of metaphor zenith. What I mean is that pretty much ever study that has, well studied it says that review scores aren't even in the top ten reasons that make people choose to buy a game. So publishers and game mags alike are sullying their reputations, sometimes not even inflating their review score, for meaningless numbers.

I think publishers are starting to catch on that even bad publicity is still publicity, though. Games reviews by Yahtzee now have a link to buy them under the video. 'The game is a colourful metaphor that likens it to one's biological waste of a sexual nature. Buy it!' (If I didn't prefer to buy used games I might use that link a lot, though, since when I'm considering whether to buy a game I tend to look at gameplay videos, read forums, read reviews, and then watch Yahtzee's take on it to see what are the bad things. If I'm still interested after that it's pretty much a safe buy. At least he was the only review who told me that Red Dead Redemption has the same awkward running controls as GTAIV thus saving me a lot of money.)

gphjr14:
Only review I ever had a problem with was GTA IV. Prior to release many mainstream gaming sites had an ass load of ads for the game and upon it's release gave it high scores across the board. Meanwhile the gaming community especially veterans of the GTA franchise were disappointed with the lack of freedom and overly serious tone of the game. I recall gametrailers.com giving it a perfect score when the game was far from perfect. I feel that the more a game is advertised ($$) on a site magazine etc the more pressure there is for them give favorable reviews.

To be honest I don't think that, or at least all of that, was just people in gaming sites with money signs on their eyes. They were probably protecting themselves from a fan onslaught (which is another problem with reviews, probably worth its own article). One of my favourite Penny Arcade strips is one related to the outcry of fans after Gametrailers gave MGS4 a 9. ('You know what nine is, right? It's right next to ten!') They might just be expecting that fans would look over the failures and be angry that they didn't as well, which would have happened.

Jim Sterling:
Truth is, most of us aren't being paid off by game publishers, and the vast majority of us are normal gamers, not sinister conspirators from Hell's obsidian lakes.

It's hard to trust anyone who feels strongly about games to have absolutely no bias. I hardly trust myself to have no bias when it comes to opinions about "this game" or "that game".

The bias was self-enforced when I was young; I preferred NES games over Sega Master System games, SNES games over Sega Genesis games, Dreamcast games over N64 games, Playstation games over Sega Saturn games, and so on. I wasn't the fact that one company was better than the other, but that I played better games on one platform and played some bad ones on the other.

That's not to say that the bias can be overcome, but we all have preconceived notions about what makes a good game or a bad game.

Game reviews are a poor measurement of a game's value. During high school, I remember renting or borrowing almost every game before I bought it. This was due to a three page feature about Shaq-Fu in EGM. I'm sure you can imagine the result.

Shaq-Fu made me distrust game reviews journalists to this day.

Nice article, Jim.

Other people are bringing it up, but I'd like to again mention that the hype train and soft influence (plane tickets to gatherings, booze, parties and the like) are probably more damaging to reviewers than MONEYHATs are. For some reason, many video game reviewers tend to get really caught up in hype, much more than their contemporaries seem to be in the other arts.

I'm not really sure why this is, though I do wonder if it's because the same people who are putting out press releases, previews, and the rest of the news end up doing the reviews.

Ephraim J. Witchwood:
[spoiler=snip]To be fair, reviews are biased from the start, a payoff of any kind only makes the bias go farther to one side or the other. As a review is that one person's experience with the game, usually before anything has been patched or cleaned up post-release, reviews really depend on who is playing the game, their personal tastes, their level of skill in that specific genre, etc. Game reviews really have no place, in my opinion. Instead, every game should have a demo that is no less than 45 minutes long for a single-player demo, and either a 5 hour or heavily limited multiplayer demo available for free download on whatever gaming service happens to have the game, and maybe even available at a kiosk in a Gamestop or something. This way, people can play the game for a bit, form their own opinions about it, and decide whether or not they want to buy it. Now, I realise that this would put game reviewers out of a job, but I'm sure that they could easily do something else with the same company. Then again, I'm probably being optimistic.

TL;DR: Go read the fucking thing and quit being an impatient ass.[spoiler]

fucking yes, where did all the fucking demos go? used to be you got multiple demos coming out from months before release, now you're lucky if you get one at all. seriously what the hell happened there?

The Random One:
And the twist of the knife is that, in the end, it's like a politician getting himself involved in deep corruption schemes to unlawfully pass his bill to increase the distance between stripes in a zebra crossing by half an inch. Oh god, I think I reached some kind of metaphor zenith. What I mean is that pretty much ever study that has, well studied it says that review scores aren't even in the top ten reasons that make people choose to buy a game. So publishers and game mags alike are sullying their reputations, sometimes not even inflating their review score, for meaningless numbers.

I think publishers are starting to catch on that even bad publicity is still publicity, though. Games reviews by Yahtzee now have a link to buy them under the video. 'The game is a colourful metaphor that likens it to one's biological waste of a sexual nature. Buy it!' (If I didn't prefer to buy used games I might use that link a lot, though, since when I'm considering whether to buy a game I tend to look at gameplay videos, read forums, read reviews, and then watch Yahtzee's take on it to see what are the bad things. If I'm still interested after that it's pretty much a safe buy. At least he was the only review who told me that Red Dead Redemption has the same awkward running controls as GTAIV thus saving me a lot of money.)

gphjr14:
Only review I ever had a problem with was GTA IV. Prior to release many mainstream gaming sites had an ass load of ads for the game and upon it's release gave it high scores across the board. Meanwhile the gaming community especially veterans of the GTA franchise were disappointed with the lack of freedom and overly serious tone of the game. I recall gametrailers.com giving it a perfect score when the game was far from perfect. I feel that the more a game is advertised ($$) on a site magazine etc the more pressure there is for them give favorable reviews.

To be honest I don't think that, or at least all of that, was just people in gaming sites with money signs on their eyes. They were probably protecting themselves from a fan onslaught (which is another problem with reviews, probably worth its own article). One of my favourite Penny Arcade strips is one related to the outcry of fans after Gametrailers gave MGS4 a 9. ('You know what nine is, right? It's right next to ten!') They might just be expecting that fans would look over the failures and be angry that they didn't as well, which would have happened.

I visit Gametrailers quite frequently for trailers but put little stock in their reviews. GT seems to have a problem with people whining over less than a full point difference in scores but its another thing I considered but failed to mention. Games with a lot of hype around them tend to force reviewers to choose between integrity or internet traffic. I recall back in the mid 90s gamerevolution was critical of most games but now that they're in the somewhat big league their review scores don't vary that much from other mainstream videogame sites/magazines. I know Yahtzee's ZP is more for comedy than a consumers guide but most of his views and concerns on games coincides with mine. He held contempt for GTA IV for the same reasons I did, he said Saints Row 2 was better I went out on a limb and got and found myself playing it way more than I did GTA IV.

And I know how hostile people can be when a popular game receives any kind of criticism. I complained about the lack of mission variety, weapons, car handling and things like parachutes and people barked back those weren't necessary, so unnecessary that they were all included in Lost and the Damned and Ballad of Gay Tony. R* knew they should've been in IV but were too worried about graphics and setting up repetitive man dates with "your kezin" every 24 in game hours.

Hi, Jim. Welcome to our site!

Exclusive reviews need to go...And review embargos should go with it. If you're confident in your product, don't hold the reviews back until the day the game comes out. Because by the time most people read the reviews, they'll already have gotten the game.

dickseverywhere:

fucking yes, where did all the fucking demos go? used to be you got multiple demos coming out from months before release, now you're lucky if you get one at all. seriously what the hell happened there?

The Internet for all intents and purposes killed off the print mags, the world's primary source of game demos. Those mags that still exist tend not to run cover discs as production costs will eat into their already tight profit margins even further. Once you factor in that game demos can now be as huge as full games themselves and not everyone has access to unlimited bandwidth DSL/Cable broadband to download them with, you've got game demos stuck in a sort of limbo state until infrastructure catches up with technology.

ZakCanard:

dickseverywhere:

fucking yes, where did all the fucking demos go? used to be you got multiple demos coming out from months before release, now you're lucky if you get one at all. seriously what the hell happened there?

The Internet for all intents and purposes killed off the print mags, the world's primary source of game demos. Those mags that still exist tend not to run cover discs as production costs will eat into their already tight profit margins even further. Once you factor in that game demos can now be as huge as full games themselves and not everyone has access to unlimited bandwidth DSL/Cable broadband to download them with, you've got game demos stuck in a sort of limbo state until infrastructure catches up with technology.

The only print magazines I can think of that come with disks are PC Gamer and Official X-Box Magazine.

I don't like exclusive reviews, because they seem a bit shady. If an official review is really low like AvP was, then I don't mind it so much, but high scoring exclusive reviews are pretty suspect. One of my favorite reviews was for Assassin's Creed 2 on the PC. It was talking about how amazing the game was, but don't buy it because the DRM is just too restrictive. He went on to talk about how great it was, and if it wasn't for the DRM, you should go get it. He basically said that the review was written for the great game it was, not for the DRM it had. Don't buy this game if you support this restrictive DRM.

That was a great read Jim. It does suck how alot of reviews don't exactly seem trustworthy. I've been very suspicious of GameTrailers especially for some time now but eh rather than being one of those neogaf capslock whiners I just chose to ignore their site and sites like theirs where honesty is clearly in question.

If anyone would like my recommendations; GiantBomb, 1up and Jims own Destructoid are very trustworthy places for game reviews and all regularly feature interesting, entertaining and often funny content.

What freaks me out is that Game Informer is owned and published by GameStop.

What sane person buys a magazine filled with game reviews from the people who sell those games?
Isn't that like paying the company to look at their ads?

That said, it's apparently the #1 magazine in Australia now. Sigh.

Scrumpmonkey:
Scrumpmonkey will give Modern Warfare 2 a 9.5/10 when Activision pays for his holiday, booze flights and hookers whist playing it.

I guess I'm a more legitimate reviewer than you then.

If Activision gives me a holiday, flights, booze etc, I'm still not giving Modern Warfare 2 higher than a 6. Of course, I docked a full point from the score because they stole the abbreviation of a significantly better game about giant robots.

But being PROPERLY on-topic...

I'm a reviewer for Gameplanet in NZ (www.gameplanet.co.nz), and I've never done an exclusive review that was promoted as such, or that I was told was exclusive. If someone tells me I can be published early, I'll be excited. If they turn around and tell me what to say in the review or how to rate the game, I'll spread the word that "someone" tried to buy my review. And that I'm conspicuously NOT reviewing a specific game. I won't tell them who tried to buy a review, or what game I was going to review, but I know a lot of people who know that 2 + 2 = 4.

And as for Rise of the Robots, I actually don't think it's that bad a game. As an arcade-style fighting game, it was AWFUL, yes. But that's because it WASN'T an arcade-style fighting game. The problem was that they targeted the wrong market. It had enough issues to keep it from reaching 8/10, but it was a solid 7/10 in my mind. Of course, it was the first 2D beat-em-up style game I played with a realistic feel to the combat (no over-the-top special moves or jumping 8 feet high just to make the gameplay work).

I mostly read reviews from metacritic to avoid sample bias. In any case, IGN, Gametrailers, and The Escapist, are the only sites I really take serious, the key thing with reviews is to read the text next to the number.

obliviondoll:
And as for Rise of the Robots, I actually don't think it's that bad a game. As an arcade-style fighting game, it was AWFUL, yes. But that's because it WASN'T an arcade-style fighting game. The problem was that they targeted the wrong market.

Yes, the jumping backwards into a corner and pressing kick market would have lapped it up if correctly targeted, I'm sure.

obliviondoll:
It had enough issues to keep it from reaching 8/10, but it was a solid 7/10 in my mind.

Shame all the consumers who bought it had to play it outside your mind, where it sucked.

obliviondoll:
Of course, it was the first 2D beat-em-up style game I played with a realistic feel to the combat (no over-the-top special moves or jumping 8 feet high just to make the gameplay work).

Why in God's name would you want a game about robots hitting each other to have a "realistic" feel to the fighting? If you're going to go that route, you need to present your game as such; when your enemy is a powerloader or a mechanical gorilla, you expect things to be over the top. When they're not, you're disappointed; more so when the AI is too stupid to put up a fight and there's exactly one selectable character in singleplayer. If there's one place you'd have a good reason for eight foot jumps, fireballs, transforming attacks and energy waves, it's a game where the fighters are machines. What's the point of a fighting game being about robots if they're just going to wrestle like people?

As for the positive review, I believe that was CU Amiga, who did bullshit reviews for a slightly different reason to most; they were trying to save the platform by rating every major Amiga release absurdly highly, the logic being that sales of crappy games would encourage publishers to resume support, rather than destroy consumer confidence in the reviews (guess which one actually happened). They did things even the dumbest publisher wouldn't ask them to do like reviewing games based on unfinished beta code months or even most of a year before the actual release (Epic and Alien 3, respectively). Never underestimate the ability of a reviewer to do stupid things because he's a fanboy rather than because someone paid him to.

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