While some of us have been rolling dice and rocking out, the video game blogosphere has gotten to erupt with a scandal that has many taking a critical look at the state of online video game journalism.
In brief, a GameSpot editor was fired. The tipping point seemed to be that he rated a certain game a 6 out of 10. However, the company behind said game also happened to be providing GameSpot with lots of advertising dollars, and the site itself was filled with ads for this certain, now low-rated game. Fuel for the fire came when the video review and text review of the game disappeared.
There’s more to it than that, of course. But it was enough to raise some serious questions about how impartial these sites can really be. Destructoid and Joystiq, some of the bigger video game blogs out there, have fired back full force. (Joystiq in particular is doing a lot of coverage on the issue.) And as many have pointed out, it probably wouldn’t have gotten so many gamers in an uproar if Penny-Arcade hadn’t done a comic about it.
What’s interesting about the whole situation is that the tiers of online journalism are really coming to light. You’ve got:
- Established journalism, AKA the mainstream media. These are the big outlets that reach a huge (but untargeted) audience. While they have plenty of other scandals, there doesn’t tend to be enough clout behind the video game publishers to influence reviews.
- The big online places. These are the ones with exclusive deals that are usually subsets of larger corporations, but are definitely targeted towards gamers. GameSpot and IGN are the two I usually think of in this category. They rely on advertisers’ dollars, and this can easily put the editorial and marketing departments into direct conflict.
- The big blogs. Only recently have these types of sites gained a foothold in industry. However, they’re now fairly influential, and their rankings factor into aggregated averages provided by places like MetaCritic. That means that blogs have a big impact on sales of a game. These places, despite relying somewhat on advertisers, seem to keep editorial freedom since they’re making a lot of the decisions themselves. Joystiq, Destructoid, and Shacknews are some examples of these.
- The little guys. Now that anyone can start a blog, anyone can review and reach a fair number of people. Unlike all the other types, they don’t receive review copies. I’d wager this means that most of the reviews are going to be positive, with some reviews about utter disappointment. We’re like this: almost everything we review we had to buy with our own moneys.
What does this all mean for you, the potential game customer? It means it’s not easy to find opinions to trust. The bigger sites will be able to review everything, but have a greater chance of editorial pressures. The little guys only review what they can afford to review. There’s some decent area in the middle, but even then, it can feel like their tastes are way different than yours, or that they happened to give it to the guy who hates that kind of game.
The internet may have made finding game reviews easier, but it sure hasn’t made it easier to find useful reviews.