Monday, June 30, 2008

See no evil, play no evil, review no evil

Hey folks,

In the world of media and entertainment, there is always suppose to be a nice line between the creators of new content and the critics of said content. This is how it is suppose to be and in a perfect world its what it should be. Back when video games first started coming out and critics started to review them, this is how things were. However over the last few years, I have been noticing that this policy has been going out the door in the game industry in favor of the new policy game companies buying good reviews.

Currently the video game industry is a multi-billion dollar industry with Sony, Microsoft and even Nintendo bringing in near or over 1 billion dollars each year. What some people may not know is that its the games themselves that bring in a huge chunk of this money, not the systems and or accessories. Every game company, be it first or third party, rely totally on game sales of course and making games lately has become a somewhat costly venture due to the newer systems requiring a lot more tech be put into new games. With this is mind, game studios are scared to invest millions of dollars into a game that could totally flop and thus put them in the red. Because of this, major game companies have been trying their best now to make sure their multi-million dollar games sell well and one way to due this is to buy critics off.

Buying a good review from critics is nothing new of course in the entertainment world, but its something many never thought would occur in the video game industry. In the last few years however, many people both in and outside the industry have been noticing the warning signs of video game critics being bribed into giving good game reviews.

One major example of this was the recent review of Grand Theft Auto 4. IGN had gotten a exclusive early review of the game a few days before the game's release date and their review of the game happened to be a perfect 10 of all things. Now if you read the review of the game, the IGN reviewer had said the game had several faults and even listed them. Yet with all these faults, he still gave the game a perfect 10. Do you think the fact that Rockstar let the IGN people play the game earlier and do a exclusive review only on their site causing mass amounts of people to flood their happens to factor into the 10? How about the fact that Rockstar had paid IGN a nice little sum to have tons of GTA4 advertisements on their site?

There are many other stories along the lines of the IGN one that have happened in the last few years. Ones ranging from the critic over at who got fired for giving a game a horrible review while the game maker's company had payed a large sum of money to promote the game on their site to reviewers admitting that game studios brought them to the studios and wined and dinned them while they got to play that studio's game.

Even recently in Electronic Gaming Monthly I was reading a review of Metal Gear Solid 4 that gave me a sneaking suspicion as to the merit of the review. EGM had three different people review MGS4 and all three gave the game a "A" while a better part of their reviews were spent it picking the game and saying the second half of the game was pretty bad. Now does that sound like a A game review to you? They barely spent anytime really saying how good the game was, yet went on and on about how bad it was yet they still all gave it it a A. During the review though, they did happen to mention that Konami invited them to their studio to let them play the game for as long as they wanted. Seem a little weird doesn't it? I mean don't you think that inviting a bunch of fanboy critics over to a game developer's studio to get to play a game early as well as probably get some free swag won't taint their opinion on the game? Where is that tfine line that separated critics and creators because it really has begun to blur as of late in the game industry due to things like this happening.

Like I said, there are plenty of other examples of things such as this like Bungie all but buying hookers for reviewers who went to their studio to play Halo 3 and review it or how about the fact that Game Informer is owned by Gamestop and gives every game good reviews so they will sell. This trend is definitely happening with the bigger games and studios right now, but who knows when every other game studio might do the same?

Mind you, I am not saying to stop reading all reviews nor think every critic is on the take. What I am saying is that you need to be careful now a days with what you read and who you trust. My advice is to check out what other games the critic has played and see if those reviews matched with your own experiences. Even then, it could still be a trap of course. Thats why my other piece of advice is to go outside the normal gaming review sites and magazines like EGM, IGN, Gamespot and 1up and start finding your own sites. Check out geek blogs, go to new sites like Evil Avatar or Zero-punctuation's page on or even start reading gamer forums as well. There is a lot more you could do of course, but I wanted to get the ball rolling. Don't sit around and let the main sites spoon feed you their payed for by "insert name here" reviews. Go out and seek better reviews, read up on games and see if you would actually like it or even go out on a limb and take a risk by renting a game and trying it out.

This post isn't a call to arms by any means, but more of a indication of what sort of bad juju is going on in the game industry right now. With video games becoming such a major part of our society and culture, its really sad to see game companies take advantage of their fan base. One day this may change and hopefully we never reach a point where no gamer can trust a critic anymore.

Well thats it for now. I could dive deeper into the fact that many game critics have basically lost their way and are becoming frustrated wannabe game designers, but I will save that for another time of course. For now I just wanted to get the point out that don't always trust what you read.

-P. Knight

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