Forbes doing actual journalism, taking Mass Effect 3 PR-statement apart, panning game reviewers

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Forbes seems to be getting to be a better and better source for gaming commentary, and they are not affraid of naming names and calling it as they see:

In this first article they are taking apart Ray Muzykas recent "apology" as the PR move it actually is: http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2012/03/21/bioware-co-founder-apologizes-to-fans-for-the-mass-effect-3-ending-sort-of/

...

Lots of padding in here praising the BioWare team for their courage to accept criticism, which is odd since that's simply par for the proverbial course when it comes to art. If video games are indeed art than it doesn't take courage to accept or respond to criticism. It's simply what one does. Moreover, Muzyka praises the team's courage to accept constructive feedback. (Thoughts on this in a moment.)

Looking at the content rather than the style, it certainly appears that a new ending may be in the works.

That being said, promising 'clarity' is not the same thing as promising a new batch of options and endings for players. The phrasing is as inscrutable as one would expect from a PR maneuver like this. (Whether the ending of the game was in fact just an elaborate set-up for a really great twist remains theoretical. And as Paul Tassi points out, may also underscore how the quest for profits is killing video games.)

Moving on, Muzyka acknowledges that the fan reaction is important but quickly deflects, holding up Metacritic in BioWare's defense. "However, most folks appear to agree that the game as a whole is exceptional, with more than 75 critics giving it a perfect review score and a review average in the mid-90s."

Unfortunately, the common thread I've heard from angry fans has been that the entire review process is badly broken; that conflict of interest exists at nearly every big gaming publication due to the relationship between game developers and the magazines and websites that review their games.

Have advertising dollars led to a form of journalistic capture at the big gaming reviewers? I have no way of knowing, of course, but this is the impression many gamers have. Pointing to the disparity between user response and reviewer response only serves only to reinforce and accentuate this belief.

...

...

Oh, to be sure, there is such thing as destructive commentary. True ad hominem does exist in the wild. But the notion that artists ought only respond to constructive criticism is delirious. If games are truly art, and the teams who develop them truly artists, why should they be treated with kiddie gloves?

"There is no need to take a "constructive" attitude with talented artists," writes Stephen Bond, "if anything, they find such an attitude more offensive. As H.L. Mencken said: "I do not object to being denounced, but I can't abide being schoolmastered, especially by men I regard as imbeciles." The constructive critic is a crow who takes it upon himself to educate the eagle; one who tries to force his own limitations on those who can soar far higher, unencumbered."

Constructive criticism, Bond argues, is a "mass hallucination." It is "inimical to the purposes of criticism as art. I'll say it again: the point of criticism is not to improve you, but to express me. And each time I digress to offer you helpful suggestions, encouraging remarks and other pep-talk, I am not truly expressing myself. I'm merely being polite, nice, even a bit condescending - in other words, I'm being aesthetically repulsive."

Imagine, for a moment, if the only criticism BioWare had received was of the constructive variety. Imagine it was all polite platitudes, condescending clutter, and helpful suggestions about how to improve the game. Do you think for a moment that we'd be reading a blog post like the one Muzyka just penned?

Not likely. Of course, criticism of art can be as bad as criticism of critics. Plenty of dumb things have been said about Mass Effect 3 and, as is always the case with the internet, many of those dumb things can be found in places like Metacritic user reviews.

But the plethora of positive professional reviews are less helpful by far than much of the 'destructive' commentary BioWare faces. Truth rarely lies in what we want to hear. Dozens of fawning reviewers tripping over one another to offer up their perfect scores hardly encourages BioWare to improve their product. "Look how exceptional our game is! We appreciate your concern and we are listening, but by the way did you notice all these perfect scores we just received? You're delusional, but we care."

(P.S. As a commenter notes, it's also quite possible that many reviewers didn't finish the game or didn't realize how similar all the endings were by the time reviews hit the digital printer.)

Don't get me wrong. A professional reviewer may indeed have expertise and a valuable opinion. Taste matters, but it's important to have standards. Quality isn't cozily embedded in the realm of democratic consensus. "Different strokes for different folks," only gets us so far before we devolve into a sea of mediocrity. But at the same time, if your art is only good enough for the reviewers and nobody else wants to buy it, that's a problem.

As far as Muzyka's apology goes: It's better than nothing, but any apology with a "but" at the end should be taken with a hefty spoonful of sea salt. After all, when has "I'm sorry, honey, but..." ever worked?

...

In this second article they are first analyzing the "Indoctrination"-theory that has been going around the web, to then consider the bold claim that the endings were left like they were on purpose for the chance to sell more DLC afterwards: http://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2012/03/21/did-the-real-mass-effect-3-ending-go-over-everyones-heads/

...

If it really was what they had in mind, it would be a master storytelling move viewed from one angle, as it's a huge mind-bending twist for players that was too high concept for almost everyone who played. But when you stop and consider it, the decision to handle such a twist the way they did would remain creatively atrocious. I've recently speculated that the "sameness" of the endings is really a plot to sell more DLC, as if there were three different, complete endings, that wouldn't be in the cards. The fact is, even if the last sequence is the indoctrination process, it's still a gut punch to fans to cut out a true ending, and sell it later as DLC, which I now believe has been their intention all along.

In this case, it would be as if Fight Club ended twenty minutes early. Internet conspiracy theorists would try to unravel the mystery of the true identity of Tyler Durden, and lo and behold a short, twenty minute film is released months later (available for the low prices of $5) that contains the lost ending and proves their theory right all along. And this, in short, is why greed in video games is ruining the creative process.

If true, the indoctrination reveal could have easily taken place in-game, and would have made for a mind-blowing moment; perhaps one of the most excellent twists in video game history. But what happened instead is that fans took the ending at face value (I doubt anyone would have guessed it was imaginary the first time they played through it), and were outraged as it was deemed lacking and not up to the series' standards. Even if the brilliant plot twist is present, Bioware has committed an even greater sin than we previously thought.

If $15 ending DLC hits shelves in a month or two that reveals this theory as correct, it will be one of the lowest points in video game history. Had a complete ending been fashioned alongside this plot twist, Mass Effect could have been the greatest story ever told through the medium and fans would have bowed at Bioware's feet, praising them for the best finale they've ever seen. But instead, if the "true" ending really was cut to be sold later as DLC, it's proof that maybe video games aren't art after all. They're just a product to be bought and sold in pieces regardless of the effect such decisions may have on the experience or the story. And if said DLC is free, the way I've previously suggested it should be as an apology to fans? Then it really just should have been in the game in the first place.

At this point, I don't know what I wish to be true. That Bioware just screwed up the finale the old fashioned way, or that they had a brilliant ending, cut it and made what they did show cryptic in order to sell DLC down the line. In my eyes, either situation is equally tragic.

Dexter111:
Snip.

Huh, I never thought of using Forbes for my gaming journalism fix.

This Erik Kain fellow sounds interesting. Thanks for the heads up.

Edited for correctness:
Almost all of the coverage on ME3 is on Erik Kain's BLOG on Forbes. It's his personal space to write about whatever he wants to; these shouldn't be considered actual publications that have gone through editorial review.

"Our first instinct is to defend our work and point to the high ratings offered by critics - but out of respect to our fans, we need to accept the criticism and feedback with humility."

If you have to point out that you're being humble maybe you have bigger problems than that. Seriously, isn't it impossible for YOU to say that YOU'RE being humble? Doesn't that just defeat the purpose of humility?

AC10:
Edited for correctness:
Almost all of the coverage on ME3 is on Erik Kain's BLOG on Forbes. It's his personal space to write about whatever he wants to; these shouldn't be considered actual publications that have gone through editorial review.

Actually, their "gaming" section has been following the issues for weeks
http://www.forbes.com/games/

And they have been one of the very few publications writing analytically about the entire matter, working from the info they already had, incorporating reader feedback and new information as they went along, I think they have about 4-5 writers and they have always tried to get to the actual issues behind the matter instead of belittling those "silly gamers"/their readers and just doing PR for the publisher side of the issue like a lot of the gaming publications seem to be doing, if they go on like this they certainly have a new reader :P.

Here's a timeline of almost all articles in regards to the entire "Mass Effect 3 Controversy", the few first ones are a bit unrefined but they are getting better and better with time:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2012/02/24/why-the-exploitation-of-gamers-is-our-own-damn-fault-2/
http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2012/03/06/mass-effect-3s-gay-romance-option-leads-to-user-backlash-on-metacritic/
http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2012/03/08/whats-behind-the-puzzling-vendetta-against-bioware-and-mass-effect-3/
http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2012/03/10/the-problem-with-biowares-mass-effect-3-day-one-dlc-from-ashes/
http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2012/03/11/new-video-shows-mass-effect-3-day-one-dlc-already-on-disc/
http://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2012/03/12/how-bioware-could-find-redemption-using-mass-effect-3/
http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2012/03/12/bioware-and-ea-respond-to-dlc-controversy/
http://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2012/03/13/why-fan-service-is-good-business/
http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2012/03/13/mass-effect-3-and-the-pernicious-myth-of-gamer-entitlement/
http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidthier/2012/03/14/why-fans-are-so-angry-about-the-mass-effect-3-ending/
http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2012/03/15/upset-mass-effect-fans-entitled-gamers-or-responsible-consumers/
http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2012/03/15/paragons-of-protest-retake-mass-effect-raises-money-for-kids/
http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidthier/2012/03/15/did-casey-hudson-leave-the-door-open-for-changes-to-the-ending-to-mass-effect-3/
http://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2012/03/16/mass-effect-wins-fans-over-with-worlds-most-attentive-twitter-account/
http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidthier/2012/03/16/why-the-mass-effect-3-protests-are-good-for-video-games/
http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2012/03/16/story-telling-in-video-games-and-the-mass-effect-3-ending/
http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidthier/2012/03/17/casey-hudson-responds-to-mass-effect-ending-protests-this-is-not-the-last-youll-hear-of-commander-shepard/
http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2012/03/17/former-bioware-designer-brent-knowles-on-day-one-dlc-and-the-mass-effect-of-public-relations/
http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidthier/2012/03/19/fan-makes-ftc-complaint-over-mass-effect-3-ending-but-it-wont-hold-water/
http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidthier/2012/03/21/bioware-founder-steps-into-debate-over-mass-effect-3-ending/
http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2012/03/21/bioware-co-founder-apologizes-to-fans-for-the-mass-effect-3-ending-sort-of/
http://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2012/03/21/did-the-real-mass-effect-3-ending-go-over-everyones-heads/
http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidthier/2012/03/21/mass-effect-3-ending-the-indoctrination-theory-is-the-easy-way-out/

They've certainly been a refreshing breath of air so far and seem to nail a lot of the issues at work.

Damn, I have to start reading Forbes more often.

I don't know... Last time I made an account for a largely economics based website I started getting spam about hot, single 50-somethings in my area. It was regrettable.

Can someone tell me what is a forbes?

Is it something you eat?

DarkRyter:
Can someone tell me what is a forbes?

Is it something you eat?

With ketchup if possible. Otherwise, you'll dishonour yourself, your family and your cow.

Forbes have been responsible for some very good stuff recently, going back a few months now. It's nice.

Yeah, Forbes has surprisingly been one of the most reliable gaming news feeds I read. I wouldn't have expected it the first time I stumbled across it, but was pleasantly surprised. They treat games as just another medium to report on, instead of some super special fancy thing that needs special care like most gaming sites treat it as. And they don't pander. Most of the time, the articles are well researched beforehand.

I cant tell whether this was (yet another fucking) rant on the ME3 ending, a rant on the "games as art" debate again or a rant on more dodgy business practices.

It brings to light things that bothered me about the apology. He's like a politician now, saying something and another thing and covering it up...

I wish for once they said something straight. The ending sucked. Admit the decision wasn't as popular as you hoped it would be and fix it. Damn, is that really so hard?

Do I have to start going to Forbes now for honesty? What has my world come to?

Forbes is finally good for something - awesome. Glad to see they're showing people what actual journalism looks like.

I see....

So if the take YOUR side, they are doing real journalism.

Makes perfect sense.

I've already said everything I care to about ME3, I just had to mention the title of this thread.

that's...
...
insane.
...

in retrospect though, it does make a certain kind of sense; although as the author points out if the indoctrination theory is true then it places Bioware in a sort of catch-22: either the the ending was supposed to be literal and just suck, or they came up with one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, twists ever seen in videogaming and then butchered it in the name of a quick DLC buck.

Also, Forbes, the business magazine that all the rich people apparently read, talking seriously about videogames? That's about the last thing I would have expected.

Good ol' Forbes.

Been following them since you posted some articles last week Dexter. You have probably converted quite a few of us to going to them for news. It's ironic when a business magazine is covering the video game industry better than the gaming outlets. EA/Bioware just has too much pull I suppose and has the media on a leash. Forbes is about the only place you can get a story about Mass Effect 3 that doesn't either play up the PR spin or talk down to the fanbase and can see the both sides fairly.

MrDeckard:
I see....

So if the take YOUR side, they are doing real journalism.

Makes perfect sense.

I've already said everything I care to about ME3, I just had to mention the title of this thread.

I don't really have a side in this, I didn't even buy Mass Effect 3 because EAs business practices put me off before the game was even out: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/9.339834-Poll-Are-you-still-getting-Mass-Effect-3

I find the amount of rage in regards to the endings a little ridiculous to be honest, I'd rather they concentrate more on the other issues like Day1-DLC, DLC in general, Origin Exclusivity (DRM in general etc.) that I find more important but I haven't played it yet so I don't know how "bad" it really was, all I'm going on is all the hearsay.

What I do appreciate though is the honesty and the journalistic integrity in these Forbes articles, they actually started off with the general "homophobes bombarding Mass Effect 3 on Metacritic" line like other "gaming" publications (e.g. that pithole that is Destructoid and a few others), but while those haven't much moved from their position for one bit, Forbes has been listening to reader Feedback, they have been analyzing the issues and refining their arguments and in some of their latest articles they get right to the point, they treat their readers as adult, thinking human beings and don't give in to fan/publisher-wank e.g. "MASS EFFECT 3 - GRORIOUS 10/10, GOTY!", but treat it as any other product out there in any other industry.

I've said this a lot lately, but the video game industry is actually the largest entertainment industry in the world by now, they've passed the music industry about 5 years ago and sped by the movie industry about 3 years ago. Not only that, but it also holds the record for the fastest selling entertainment product to reach $1 billion with the latest Call of Duty beating Avatar to the punch.

Some actual, honest-to-god analytical commentary not influenced by advertisement budgets and "Exclusive Interviews/Previews/Reviews" is needed very badly to contrast the PR-puffpieces out there, because Gaming Journalism as it is in its current state is certainly very broken.
I'm just happy this is being discussed at this level instead of "BIOWARE - CAN DO NO WRONG - LOVE!" out there.

Edit: I wrote a long post about the link between Forbes and EA. It's more general than Mass Effect, so I put it in a separate thread:

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/9.355372-Connection-Between-Forbes-and-EA

wooty:
I cant tell whether this was (yet another fucking) rant on the ME3 ending, a rant on the "games as art" debate again or a rant on more dodgy business practices.

A little bit of column A, a little bit of column B (And C).

OT: Pretty ballsy words, there. You'd never hear something like that from IGN or The Escapist. Other than that, I have no more words for the Mass Effect 3 controversy. I'm really over it now.

Yeah, I noticed a while ago that the articles about games on Forbes are pretty good. Surprised me at first that they would write better gaming articles than most gaming websites.

Dexter111:

AC10:
Edited for correctness:
Almost all of the coverage on ME3 is on Erik Kain's BLOG on Forbes. It's his personal space to write about whatever he wants to; these shouldn't be considered actual publications that have gone through editorial review.

Actually, their "gaming" section has been following the issues for weeks
http://www.forbes.com/games/

And they have been one of the very few publications writing analytically about the entire matter, working from the info they already had, incorporating reader feedback and new information as they went along, I think they have about 4-5 writers and they have always tried to get to the actual issues behind the matter instead of belittling those "silly gamers"/their readers and just doing PR for the publisher side of the issue like a lot of the gaming publications seem to be doing, if they go on like this they certainly have a new reader :P.

Here's a timeline of almost all articles in regards to the entire "Mass Effect 3 Controversy", the few first ones are a bit unrefined but they are getting better and better with time:

snipety snip

They've certainly been a refreshing breath of air so far and seem to nail a lot of the issues at work.

Holy shit, when did Forbes do something besides stupid ranking of people? Thanks for all of those, it's freaking amazing

Cyrus Hanley:

Dexter111:
Snip.

Huh, I never thought of using Forbes for my gaming journalism fix.

This Erik Kain fellow sounds interesting. Thanks for the heads up.

I know right? This is fantastic! =D GO TEAM FORBES!

AC10:
Edited for correctness:
Almost all of the coverage on ME3 is on Erik Kain's BLOG on Forbes. It's his personal space to write about whatever he wants to; these shouldn't be considered actual publications that have gone through editorial review.

A lot of the arguments being sited on the opposite side of the battle share the same distinction. Though, I think blogs like this are a better source because they didn't go through an editorial process. While this may not make much of a difference on a non-gaming publication like Forbes, it would for sites like IGN who is blatantly protecting its ad revenue provided by EA.

Dexter111:
I don't really have a side in this

Don't even try to make that out to be your stance because your threads in the past show you very clearly do have a side.

You're just being disingenuous

Dexter111:
-snipity snip-

Thanks for the update Dexter! I admit I didn't realize the Forbes was quite this fantastic. I'll be sure to check up on them more often.

SajuukKhar:

Dexter111:
I don't really have a side in this

Don't even try to make that out to be your stance because your threads in the past show you very clearly do have a side.

You're just being disingenuous

That sounds rather funny coming from you :P

If by that you mean on the side of wanting more power and information for the consumer and less power for corporate greed and PR resulting in better overall products and a healthier gaming industry, then yes I certainly do. (and regard Kickstarter as one of the best things to happen to that end)

In the meantime feel free to browse my Post history and see what I've had to say in regards to Battlefield 3 or Star Wars: The Old Republic or every time the Baldur's Gate Trilogy pops up...
Or you could take a look at my Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2 Reviews.

Dexter111:
I don't really have a side in this...

Whoahahahahahahahahaheheheheheeee...heheh... heh.

Sure, man. Whatever you say.

...

And yes, Forbes' coverage of this matter has been consistently insightful, even-handed and of a generally high quality. From a business magazine of all things. Didn't see that one coming.

You know, I hated the fallout 3 ending, but I didn't sue people over it. Seriously, is nobody pissed about the fallout 3 ending that gives you a binary choice, both leading to the loss of your character unless you buy DLC? I mean, seriously.

This ME3 ending has completely wrecked these forums. I can barely find one thread talking about anything else. Seriously guys, try to keep it in one damn thread.

Flailing Escapist:

"Our first instinct is to defend our work and point to the high ratings offered by critics - but out of respect to our fans, we need to accept the criticism and feedback with humility."

If you have to point out that you're being humble maybe you have bigger problems than that. Seriously, isn't it impossible for YOU to say that YOU'RE being humble? Doesn't that just defeat the purpose of humility?

Interesting side note about that. The Amish culture values humility above nearly everything else. As a result there is something of a "race to the bottom" in many Amish communities where the most humble person is the most respected which often leads to them being the least humble person. It gets really screwed up sometimes.

Racecarlock:
You know, I hated the fallout 3 ending, but I didn't sue people over it. Seriously, is nobody pissed about the fallout 3 ending that gives you a binary choice, both leading to the loss of your character unless you buy DLC? I mean, seriously.

This ME3 ending has completely wrecked these forums. I can barely find one thread talking about anything else. Seriously guys, try to keep it in one damn thread.

Fallout 3 wasn't marketed for three entire games and a dozen DLC as an ongoing story where every choice matters. There was a lot of choice in FO3 but it wasn't as much a driving force as the choice in ME. It impacted the game but not to the staggering degree it did in most of the Mass Effect series.

Wow, I mean I did read some of those articles but I thought it was a flash in the pan on Forbs part. It really is sad that a business mag is showing us a (relatively) unbiased opinion on ME3.

Honestly, all I expect from the "new ending" is an epilogue of sorts that lets you see what happened next for your former squadmates, maybe elaborating a bit more on the planet the Normandy landed on. At a guess, you'll play as Liara, as she's the only squad-mate that has a 100% survival rate in the series.

Either that or we'll have another level with Joker limping around :)

If they really crap one out, it'll be like the Normandy Crash Site DLC, where you just wander around, collecting stuff and talking with people.

Ed130:
Wow, I mean I did read some of those articles but I thought it was a flash in the pan on Forbs part. It really is sad that a business mag is showing us a (relatively) unbiased opinion on ME3.

They don't take sponsor money from Game publishers, they'll be much more impartial than gaming websites in general on these matters.

MrDeckard:
I see....

So if the take YOUR side, they are doing real journalism.

Makes perfect sense.

I've already said everything I care to about ME3, I just had to mention the title of this thread.

Forbes isn't taking anyone's side. They even point to the fact that Bioware was handed an easy out with the indoctrination theory and suggests that Bioware jumps on it. It's a fair assessment of things that have happened. If you think it "out to make Bioware look bad" perhaps Bioware aren't the saints you revere them as.

Racecarlock:
You know, I hated the fallout 3 ending, but I didn't sue people over it. Seriously, is nobody pissed about the fallout 3 ending that gives you a binary choice, both leading to the loss of your character unless you buy DLC? I mean, seriously.

Nah, it fit with the game really. Most choices in that game were binary. Plus, Bethesda never specifically promised they wouldn't do that before the game came out. It was shitty but the consumers decided that one was OK and bought the hell out of it. This time, the industry took it one step further to see if we think this is OK since we figured that one was. Metaphorically speaking.

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