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05/12/2005

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Club

What game are we talking about here? And what was the score?

Club

O nevermind I just found out it was Donkey Konga 2. PA has a comic about it.

peterb

Wow, Jane. What a bunch of apologist, industry-shill claptrap. You, it seems, are part of the problem.

The idea that shilling for the industry is somehow only unethical if you make a change in a review because Nintendo calls you up and demands it is ludicrous. Part of being a professional reviewer is having credibility. Credibility means that the reader has reasonable confidence that you're not so overwhelmed by the "selfless generosity" of the content producers that your reviews self-redact. Gamespy (and Gamespot, and ... you?) self-redact because they know full well which side their bread is buttered on.

Regardless of whether or not Nintendo picks up the phone.

There's not a single game reviewer at the major sites (read: who is sponsored to go to E3) with as much credibility as the lowliest newspaper movie reviewer (well, except me, of course, but I don't really kid myself that I have a significant audience. And I pay for most of my games, specifically to avoid this issue.) Who, exactly, should we blame for this state of affairs, other than the people who choose to publish stories without regard to their credibility? When Roger Ebert says a movie is great, no one -- no one -- things for even a second that he's saying it because he liked the shrimp cocktail at the reception after the premier. Where's the game reviewer with that sort of credibility?

Not writing for Gamespy.

The other aspect of this is that of editing the writer's work. There is, as you point out, absolutely nothing wrong with "editing." The problem is that there is a bright line between copyediting and completely changing the meaning of a piece, and for you to pretend that not crossing this line is challenging, is somehow difficult is completely disingenuous and, dare I say it, dishonest. Anyone with enough language skills to be editing a magazine (even an online one) knows full well the difference between editing for readability on the one hand and changing the adjective "terrible" to the adjective "awesome" on the other. One of those is the rightful province of an editor, and the other is a violation of standard journalistic practices, and requires getting the author's approval. Even if you, as the editor, have screwed up and not allotted enough time for a proper editing cycle.

Your questions about how to fix the problem are insulting. "Oh, how can we ever solve this terrible situation? Reviewing games is so very difficult. Surely, I can't imagine any way to untie this Gordian knot without a revolution."

All that's needed is a commitment to clear writing , a desire to be something other than an industry shill, and the strength of character to keep your actions consistent with that desire. One easy (though not comprehensive) measure that I like to use is noticing what percentage of a site's reviews are devoted to undercovered games (such as excellent shareware, freeware, or those published by indie game studios) as compared to those that are devoted to the same old high-marketing budget garbage.

Some of us have those things. Gamespy doesn't. Gamespot doesn't.

Well, how about it, Jane. Do you have it?

peterb

I've posted a more polished version of the above rant^H^H^H^Hcomment on my weblog.

bowler

Jesus, Peterb, way to display an absolutely arrogant lack of understanding of the industry.

"There's not a single game reviewer at the major sites (read: who is sponsored to go to E3) with as much credibility as the lowliest newspaper movie reviewer"

Why, hey, I can't think of a SINGLE movie reviewer who makes crappy reviews. I'd post their names here, but it's just easier to direct you to rottentomatoes.com. They're easy enough to spot to someone who's got their eyes open.

To compare the gaming print industry to newspapers is to compare apples to elephants. They're not even in the same league. Gaming zines make all of their money (read: ALL) from game company advertisers. Where do newspapers make their money from, Peter? Does a paper's entire budget rely on the film industry adverts? I didn't think so.

To say that Jane's suggestions are insulting is ludicrous. At least she MADE SOME suggestions. You just fling insult after ignorant insult and say that "clear writing" is the answer, as if the original article in question wasn't written in that spirit, giving what he felt was a bad game an appropriate (1.5) score.

Review shareware games. Jesus. Go troll somewhere else. We're all stocked up here.

Nat Lanza

"Oh, these are different industries" is a complete copout. Yeah, they're different industries, but that doesn't mean the entire idea of ethics changes. And are you really going to claim that print reporting *doesn't* have time constraints?

It simply isn't ethical to substantively change an author's words like that without permission. I don't care what industry you're in -- if you're going to put words in someone's mouth, you have an ethical responsibility to clear it with them first.

Arguably it's *worse* in an industry like game criticism which starts off with suspect credibility. If your readers already assume you're on the take and sucking up to publishers, the answer is to work *harder* to have strong ethical standards, not to shrug your shoulders and say "writing is haaaaaaard!" Yeah, editing is hard. That's why we call it 'work'.

Also, you're twisting peterb's credibility argument into a quality one -- he isn't saying "there are no crappy movie reviewers", he's saying "we don't assume movie reviewers are being bribed". When I read a bad movie review, my instinct is to think the reviewer is a moron, not that he's been bought by Miramax. I wish that could be true of game reviews, but it isn't.

jane

oh peter. you are so cute when you're mad! are you still angry about what i said about your name generator?

you got me. i'm totally paid off by Sony. i'm actually not a real person, but a highly sophisticated personality matrix, the next-generation Aibo. how astute of you to see through my disguise! i see now it was a vain thought to try to fool you. i am not merely part of the problem. i AM the problem.

did you see tycho's comment on this? shh, don't tell anyone, he's on Nintendo's payroll. he's an apologist shill as well. in fact there are many of us who are paid to try to muddle up your extreme simplification and distillation by waywardly suggesting that things may be more complex, more nuanced than you imagine. you are right to reject us! stick to your black and white views of the world! indie games rule! keep it real! rawr!

peter, i'd like to congratulate you on your unwavering integrity...but oh, it seems you've already done that yourself! my praise is utterly redundant. rock on with your bad self.

minc

All I see is a reasonable, level-headed train of thought that addresses both the core issue of the changed review and the larger issue of the state of gaming journalism as a whole. To ask questions and to doubt both sides' reactionary dogma seems far from "apologist" to me.

meow_mix

"When Roger Ebert says a movie is great, no one -- no one -- things for even a second that he's saying it because he liked the shrimp cocktail at the reception after the premier. Where's the game reviewer with that sort of credibility?

Not writing for Gamespy."

How soon we forget, eh Peter? Just to make sure everyone knows, Mr. B here writes for GameSpy. Of course, since he's so "credible", he chooses to use a nom de plume, rather than his real name. Here are a few enjoyable links!

http://gba.gamespy.com/gameboy-advance/mega-man-battle-network-4-blue-moon/528846p1.html

http://xbox.gamespy.com/xbox/otogi-hiyakki-toubatsue-maki/558585p1.html

People who live in glass houses...

peterb

Meow_mix: Hmm. I've no clue who "Darryl Vassar" is, but I'm not him. All of my reviews are published on my own weblog.

Jane, if you're trying to convince the world that there's something "subtle" and "nuanced" about an editor twisting an author's words to mean the opposite of what he meant, then I guess I'm happy to be so naive and "black and white." But if you need to find reasons to justify promoting and excusing press-release games journalism over playing (and writing about) great indie games ("rawr!"), knock yourself out.

Minc: I appreciate what you're saying, but sometimes the two sides to a given story are the right one and the wrong one. As the old saying goes: if you lie down with dogs, don't be surprised when you wake up with fleas. There's a not-too-subtle distinction between "level-headed" and "flatheaded," and I think that when you start trying to come up with excuses on behalf of an editorial policy that leads to sham "journalism" like this, you've wandered way into the world of the latter. Perhaps I'm simply reading Jane's response as more tepid and lethargic than it really is. Maybe she's _royally pissed off_ about this, and her implication that it may sometimes be reasonable to rewrite an author's work to mean the opposite of what it actually says is OK. But I don't see it. I see someone very confused about what an editor's journalistic responsibilities are.

Let me get more specific. Jane, you ask what Gamespy should do if they disagree with the point of view of their freelancer. Should they let his opinion trump their own?

And the answer is very straightforward: it's Gamespy's web space. It's Gamespy's editorial policy. If they don't like what he says, they're free to ask him to rewrite it. If he refuses to rewrite it, they're free to _not publish it_.

But they are not free to rewrite it to mean the opposite of what it says.

Bowler: What Nat said.

bowler

The funny thing is that the tone from Nat and Peter sounds like you people think we're okay with editorial re-writes, and the fact is that we aren't. We just live in the real world and understand the nuances and politics that created the situation we're in.

""Oh, these are different industries" is a complete copout." You're absolutely right, Nat. Maybe we should consider the similarities between videogaming and say, shipbuilding. Different industries is a copout, right? A complete one at that!

The idea that newspapers or even a movie reviewer is by default more trustworthy than a game reviewer is at its most base a faulty argument. It works entirely on assumption. You've put forth the assumption that movie reviewers are trustworthy and never (if at least hardly ever) "bought out."

And I put forth the Press Junket.

The idea that the Hollywood Buzz Machine is somehow linked with the ideal of "integrity" and "credibility" is so laughable that you guys should be awarded.

jane

oh, peter. actually, they are absolutely free to rewrite, because that's exactly what they did. will they suffer legal repurcussions? hell no. and why? because that's the way the industry works. what i'm trying to get at is, WHY DOES IT HAPPEN?

what you're saying is, it's simple. GameSpy are fuckers. IGN are fuckers. they are a bunch of unethical, unprofessional fuckers.

i don't accept that. the GameSpy editor who made the call - and it was a bad call, no one's disagreeing with that! - made it NOT because he is fundamentally a bad person. and it's not a special case. as i mentioned, it happens all the fucking time. it's like, okay, one nazi killing jews, that's a bad man. bad bad bad. an entire country? um, that's a major problem...a systemic problem - fascism. it goes way beyond simple individual ethics.

(uh, sorry, Gamespy, i don't mean to compare you to Nazis. it's a rather dramatic illustration but you know what i mean.)

listen, peter, i'm asking, WHY would an editor make such a blatantly bad decision? why do editors do it all the time? why? are they all lazy? (like me, apparently writing's soooo haaaaard. ha. do you know how many deadlines i juggle at once? no? shut up.)

come on, i'm asking you to just try to look beyond Gamespy. seriously. if we want to work in this industry, which we love (and sometimes, hate) sooner or later we are going to run smack into the reality of the way things are. i'm just saying come on, let's figure out a response to that reality that makes sense. is the answer to shut the door on mainstream fluffy crappy games? for me, it's not. i like Jade Empire, okay? i like mainstream games. so if i decide that i do want to talk about mainstream games in an interesting way, and yes, i do want to make money at it, i cannot ignore the reality of what happens and, more importantly, i'd be foolish to refuse to look at WHY it happens the way it does. is it upsetting? hell yeah. do i think i can change it? maybe. i hope so. that's why i started this damn website which is totally not making money and has caused me many angstful late nights doing tech support. but i do it because ultimately i love it, and i'm passionate about it. and i know you can see that.

but i'm also working at an industry magazine. and i enjoy that, immensely. it's fun to learn about how print works, it's fun to work in an office full of other people who're interested in the same things i am. and i have friends who do PR for games. a lot of them came from the games industry. they are working where they are largely because they love games. and i have friends who are game developers, who've worked on mainstream games. and guess what? they love games too. we all love games, so what the fuck are we fighting about?

listen, i want to start something. something real. i want to do something that will make a big impact. and the only way i know how to do it is by gathering as much experience and information as i can, and by staying true to who i am and who i want to be. i want to work with others who are down with that program. but whoever wants to do something big needs to THINK BIG.

you dig?

Foopy

It seems to me like jane and peterb are both making pretty good points here.

Here's my two cents:

It seems like there is quite a "humane" motivation for Gamespy to do what it did. One of the key differences between a film review and a game review is that a game review is generally a buyer's guide, whereas a film review is a personal perspective. This may have something to do with the maturity of the respective industries, but from my perspective as a consumer, I think it mostly has to do with the commercial nature of what's being reviewed.

It seems as though the practical value of a product review is proportional to the investment a consumer must make to experience the work for themselves. It's a risk assessment. The practical value of a McDonald's hamburger review, for instance, is small because someone can just drive to their local McDonald's and try a burger for a dollar and experience it for themselves.

Similarly, not a whole lot is at risk from going to a movie: you pay $5-10, it uses about two hours of your time, and even the worst movies are at least somewhat entertaining. Not many people need to read a review to justify that kind of expenditure, especially when moviegoing is usually a social activity. If the trailer of a movie looks particularly good to me, I'll see it without reading a review first, and I'll read reviews after I see it to read about different perspectives on what I just saw. That is, the value of a movie review is not in its practical utility, but in the perspective it brings to a work. What this means is that it's ulimately OK if Roger Ebert gives a likeable movie 1 star, because not many people are ultimately using Ebert's review to decide whether they want to go to the movie. This is also why Ebert's editor doesn't care if Ebert gave his favorite movie 1 star.

Video games, on the other hand, are a very different kind of commodity. For one thing, they cost about $50 each. That's a lot of money, especially when it means that someone only plays a game they don't like for about 10 minutes. What this means is that a game review can actually serve a very practical purpose: it can help someone decide whether they want to spend a relatively significant portion of their time and money on something. What this ultimately means is that it can be valuable for a game reviewer to base their review on the game's perceived worth to a potential buyer of the game--the "average gamer" or a fan of the genre, for instance--rather than on their own "gut reaction" or personal perspective.

Now, given this, it would make sense for an editor to evaluate a writer's review and determine that it isn't presenting the game in a fair light: that a potential buyer of the game, for instance, would most likely get more out of the game than the reviewer thinks they would. In this light, what Gamespy did is at least somewhat understandable: they're merely making their buyer's guide more accurate for the average gamer.

All of this isn't to necessarily say that what Gamespy did is right; it's rather to say that the intent of what Gamespy did is understandable and proper, given the practical purpose of their reviews. The action Gamespy actually took, however, most definitely is wrong.

All that said, here's one possible solution, although it's pretty indirect. The biggest thing that gets me to see a movie aside from word-of-mouth is its trailer. The gaming analog of a movie trailer isn't a screenshot or a quicktime movie, but a demo. These things have become pretty rare over the past several years for understandable reasons, but they're really the best way to get a potential buyer--well, me, at least--to purchase a game. And the less trouble someone has deciding whether they want to buy a game, the less they'll have to rely on a game review to give them potentially inaccurate information.

peterb

I think both Jane and Foopy have made some good points in their last posts. Jane, I still think that your perspective on this is somewhat blinkered. In particular, I think your view that game reviewers belong "inside the industry" is suspect.

Look, using a metaphor that a friend gave me:

Nobody expects that Entertainment Weekly is going to produce incisive movie commentary. They do puff pieces and live on press access. Conversely, the Chicago Sun-Times is known for giving fair, accurate, and useful movie reviews, and could care less if they don't get invited to previews of terrible movies, because they'll see them when they open and pan them at that point.

What I see happening whenever what I'll call "game industry reviewers" talk about this issue is this: the game industry reviewers are Entertainment Weekly, but get pissed off that nobody thinks of them as the Chicago Sun-Times. But what do you expect? If you write puff pieces where your first priority is to keep the subject of your pieces happy, you don't get taken seriously. That's not just game journalism. That's all journalism. You will never escape that.

A secondary issue is that I, personally, as a consumer of movies, find Entertainment Weekly to be insipid and useless, and want my reviews to be more like those in the Sun-Times.

So that's the difference between our revolutions, Jane. You want to work for Entertainment Weekly and make it better. I want to marginalize Entertainment Weekly, and replace it with something better.

May the best vision win.

groby

That's just amazing. No wonder that people doubt bloggers have anything in common with reporters. Reporters at least pretend there's something like journalistic integrity and ethical behavior - we can obviously just say "Ah, time pressure" and waltz all over that.

Yes, it is their right to have a differing opinion. They can pull the piece. They can negotiate with the author to publish the modified version without a by-line. Heck, they could have an editorial insert saying "We disagree with this, and here's why". There are pleny of possibilities that don't involve jettisoning integrity.

Simply changing it and pretending it's still his review is not an option. Note that GameSpy at least did the right thing and pulled it after the author complained. What I find amazing is that Jane chose to defend this behavior.

It is *clearly* unethical. And I don't care about the "realities" of this industry - the need to make money doesn't override ethical behavior.

jane

oh JESUS people.

at what point did i suddenly become an apologist for GameSpy?!? they made the wrong decision! nobody disputes that! what i said was, i understand WHY they did it. that's a completely different thing from ENDORSING it. where i work, that hasn't happened yet since i've been there. in fact we tend to have the opposite problem, that freelancers give scores that we think are too high, and we try to talk them down if we can. because we are not idiots. we understand that score inflation hurts the industry. it hurts developers, who need honest feedback for their games; it hurts PR, because they start thinking they're sales instead of marketing; it hurts the readers, because they can't trust us; and it hurts us, because we lose credibility. we KNOW this.

and hell, i totally support people writing game reviews outside the industry. at what point did i say reviews belong in the industry? no fucking way! anybody who plays can post a review, and i, for one, look forward to fresh, independent content. why the fuck did i start gga in the first place?? so i could talk about games on my own terms! outside the industry!

and that's where we differ, groby. traditional journalism is moribund. haven't you been paying attention? ethics?!? fuck, you have the Republican party paying for advertorials. and the issue that started it all? GameSpy! are they not mainstream games media? but that's the problem. mainstream games media needs a major overhaul. that's why i'm thinking in revolutionary terms here. and, peter, that's the EASY way out?? are you out of your mind? i'm talking about a systematic reformatting of the entire games journalism industry. if you think that's the cop-out answer, your plan must be INCREDIBLY complicated.

although peterb and i might disagree over the details of that revolution, i think we both agree games journalism is broken, and SOMETHING needs fixin.

one could actually make the argument that blogs have far more potential for ethics and authenticity, because we're not beholden to advertisers. we don't have to fund it by very much beyond google adsense. and there are so many possibilities for choices and viewpoints out there. you can find sucha multitude of opinions. mainstream media tried to present two sides to every story. bloggers present thousands. that's why some of the most interesting game writing, in my opinion, is in blogs right now. take a look at the links on your right. that's where it's at.

but you know, i have to make a living. blogs just aren't doing it for me. and groby, if you don't care about the realities in this business, well, i envy you. you go on living in your dream world. awesome. i wish i could. but i have bills to pay. and that means facing reality.

finally, i don't know why there isn't room for both EW and Chicago Sun-Times. i consume both. the more the merrier i say. perspective! shit, we could all use some.

groby

The point is not if you're an apologist. The point is that your article misrepresents the problem - to quote: "And ultimately, the question is, does the editor have control over the voice ..."

That's not the question. The question is, has the editor the right to post his (differing) opinion under the freelancers name. The answer is a clear, unequivocal NO. And no, this wouldn't be any different if the freelancer and the editor agreed - you simply cannot misrepresent authorship if you care about any kind of integrity.

And since we're talking about growing up: Part of that is realizing that there are certain principles that you need to stick with, no matter what the result. Part of those principles, for me, is that ethics do matter, and that money doesn't take precedence over integrity. It's not exactly a "dream world" to live in - it's simply that the alternative is a world I wouldn't want to live in.

Foopy

"but you know, i have to make a living. blogs just aren't doing it for me. and groby, if you don't care about the realities in this business, well, i envy you. you go on living in your dream world. awesome. i wish i could. but i have bills to pay. and that means facing reality."

What about Penny Arcade? They're one of the great indie, blog-like links on your right, and they're making a living off it, too. I doubt that they had a revolution in mind when they began PA, but they've pretty much started one, between the industry and press recognition they've received, the Penny Arcade Expo, and Child's Play.

Well, whatever. Good luck in your quest. I'm pretty satisfied reading sites like GGA, Penny Arcade, Laundry Sessions, and even GameSpot (albeit with a massive chunk of salt) for my gaming industry news and commentary.

turandot

I'd have to be with groby, at least insofar as his/her argument that the editors had other options readily available, and the fact that they still chose to run a rewritten article under the original byline.

The message behind that decision: we want to pay for the byline, not the content. I'm inclined to think this is the case, given that I and other gamers I know tend to put more weight on the byline than the site that the review is on. That said, even viewed under that rationale, it's still a pretty riduculous decision, not to mention a legally risky one. Last I checked, using someone's name for a purpose other than what they themselves had agreed to have it used for was an appropriation of identity, which can often lead to lawsuits.

So yeah, if I had to guess, the decision to pull the review was Gamespy's, and probably their legal department's, not an editorial one.

As for the answer, I have a pretty simple one: Gamespy needs to fire whoever made that decision, whether publicly or privately.

For you see it would not even be about sending a message that such unethical behavior is not to be tolerated, or a message that editors at gaming news sites are hired for the same professional reasons as any other editor anywhere is hired (i.e., actually having some integrity as appropriate to their profession).

It's about not retaining anyone who'd make such a bad editorial decision in the first place. That's how you change gaming journalism, and make it better.

SombraDeSoledad

Traditional journalism has its problems. That doesn't mean that those of us working in it just abandon ethics. There's a reason Jayson Blair and Rick Bragg are scandals--because we're trying not to just say "well, I can understand why that is" and abandon our principles.

What, they couldn't pay the bills unless Donkey Konga 2 got reviewed? Were the unwashed hordes going to beat down their door if it took an extra day to hear about the game? Give me a break.

You've presented a false dichotomy in your "both sides" where one of them is ethics and the other is time. But ethics should rate over time in journalism, as we should have seen in coverage leading to the Iraqi war.

A revolution is the easy way out because it lets you have a big goal and vague steps to reach it. You want to make a "big impact," but what are you doing about it? What's your process, other than just working and hoping you'll figure it out? Whereas incorporating real ethical protocols and copy editing into gaming would require concrete steps and hard work.

magicback

While a game review is not a stock recommendation, if the readers are to put trust in the review, there has to be a level of integrity regardless of constraints.

While things could be understandable....what's been happening for a long time is doing a disservice to the industry.

The common action when it comes to this kind of situation is to start a formal business association and then put in place the structure to define the code of conduct and inforce them on its members.

Just as "Buy, Sell, Hold" means nothing to me now, a game score means nothing to be also.

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