Professional games journalists live their lives trapped between a rock and a hard place.
On the one hand, they have a ethical responsibility to give honest reviews about games for the benefit of their readership.
On the other hand, their wages are paid by game publishers, who sponsor advertising on their websites and in their magazines. Publishers also control access to early previews of games, interviews with the developers and are ultimately provide the content that we, the end users, consume and discuss for hours on end.
As a games journalist, you can’t afford to bite the hand that feeds you, as ex-Gamespot Editorial Director Jeff Gerstmann discovered when publishing his frank review of Kane & Lynch: Dead Men in 2007. Eidos Interactive had spent a considerable marketing budget on Gamespot to push the game at the time and threatened to pull their advertising money following his rating of 6.0/10. Gerstmann was subsequently fired and forced to sign a non-disparagement agreement.
Recognising that journalists are ultimately beholden to their patron overlords, how can we ever trust professional video games reviews? Indeed Doone asks why this isn’t raised more often.
I think the answer lies in the fact that the proliferation of the internet has lead to far more competition between reviewers. Professional journalists have to work hard to retain their readership, especially with an army of amateur bloggers nipping at their heels.
Readers have no hesitation in voicing their displeasure in the Comments section of articles whenever a journalist is too complimentary, too scathing and, in some cases, plain wrong about something. So whilst I take many of the 0/10 user reviews on Metacritic as ‘noise’, the feedback on mainstream games sites can help to keep everyone honest.
Marketers will always try to influence the dialogue about a title – of this we can be sure. But as long as journalists retain their focus on credibility, I will continue to read their work.