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Bribery in games journalism and the problems we face

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Games journalism is a very intricate concept now isn’t it? Maybe to an outsider that doesn’t involve themselves with this work, it doesn’t seem so confusing. Well, believe me, it’s a lot more tricky and annoying than you’d think it is. To prove this to you I thought I’d take the time out of my day to look at a few problems that face us. Not just general bribery, but parts of the business that may not be the best in moral terms, but extremely tempting for a small timer.

Let’s be fair, I’m no Greg Miller. In terms of writing, I am tiny, there are little to no people who recognise my work. Still, that makes it all the better for me to talk about this, doesn’t it? I mean, who better to hear from than someone that isn’t tied down by a major gaming corporation. Because that’s one of the problems we face. It’s not a point on my list, but what the company says go’s when it comes to a persons writing. This cannot be anymore truer than in the gaming industry.

Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days

Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days may be best remembered for making me watch two naked fifty year old men run around China with no intention of putting any clothes on. But it also may be remembered for causing a bit of controversy upon its release. It all started when Gamespot was running advertisements for the game. A review published by Jeff Gerstmann (brilliant writer) stated that the game was, well, I’ll explain.

Throughout his review, which you can read here, Gerstmann was very critical of the game. That’s more than fair, no matter who or what you’re reviewing you must be critical. Only problem with this is that Gamespot were running adverts for the game on this review. Normally this shouldn’t be a problem, but when you’re paying people to write nice things about your game and they don’t, well…

Gerstmann shortly left the company after the controversy broke and it wasn’t until five years later he confirmed it was because of his review. Apparently it wasn’t the fault of editors, but those higher up the food chain who believed it to be bad for business. Let’s be fair, it is bad for business, but Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days is a bad game. Just because you’re getting huge loads of money from the company that made it doesn’t mean you should be hush about it. All it really comes down to is how much money to sell out on your ethics.

Ethics are always a problem

Personally, I’ve had a vaguely similar problem. Not the fact that I was bribed, God no, who would honestly bribe me? But no, a very long while ago I did a preview for a game I honestly can’t remember the name of. I also don’t have the review itself because the website no longer exists. Long story short I felt obliged to give the game a good review because I felt it would help me in the long term.

This is an extremely difficult decision to make. You can do what I now do which is when a smaller company makes a good game, show them your review. I’ve had some nice things said about me from the guys that made Postal 2Ballistic Overkill and Coffin Dodgers. Lovely people. See, when it comes to games journalism, you always want to be credited and recognised for your work. I do anyways, the recognition is just as important as the review.

Think about it like this. You’re struggling to reach a larger audience and you’ve recently played a mediocre game. You can either up the score and hope you get a retweet from the devs and a pat on the back, or not. You’d be surprised at how tempting it is just to feel the gratification off of your work. It’s not a practice I would condone though, I wouldn’t recommend changing your score to get a virtual thank you.

Machinima and Ryse

But it’s not just smaller reviewers, is it? No, of course it’s not. Sometimes it’s even the larger publishers who can fall foul to this type of bribery. A short version of the story is that Machinima’s contracted YouTuber’s were asked to make paid advertisements supporting Ryse: Son of Rome. Not only is it easy money for the YouTuber, but also for Machinima. A win/win, right?

Well it would have been if they hadn’t been called out on it. Apparently Machinima asked content creators for “two or three points about Ryse that you enjoy, along with positive comments on Microsoft”. Do you see the obvious problem here? If you offer someone enough money to say something they don’t agree with, they’ll do it. Hell, give me a quid and I’ll say Gene Wilder is a shit actor. I don’t agree with it, but for most journalists like myself, any cash opportunity can’t be taken for granted.

Personally I think it’s a practice that shouldn’t be condoned in any regard. Not because it’s unethical, but because Ryse: Son of Rome was a genuinely terrible game. I mean, I have no problem selling my ethics for something like Peggle, but I draw the line at that shit. What a waste of money and time.

Conclusion

It all comes down to how much it costs to buy your ethics. In all seriousness I honestly don’t think I could sell out for a company. Wait until those words come and bite me on the arse in three years time. That’s not the point though. If I did do something where it was obvious that I was being paid to say nice things, then I would expect to be called out on it.

However I should say, it is completely plausible that someone could be paid and genuinely like a game. It does look very suspicious, but it’s not impossible, is it? Well, it may look impossible but it’s more than likely going to happen at some point. I can see the good points in Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days. Not Ryse: Son of Rome though. Like I said, total garbage.