Jeff's forum posts

#1 Posted by Jeff (3678 posts) -

@jimbo said:

Corruption doesn't come in brown envelopes, it comes in everyone involved implicitly understanding which side their bread is buttered.

You're welcome to your opinion, but in my experience most people in the editorial department are kept so far out of business discussions that literally have no idea how their own business works. Plenty of rank-and-file editors just keep their head down and stay focused on the task at hand, which has its pros and cons.

#2 Edited by Jeff (3678 posts) -

@jeff: I just want to know why some games writers seem to find the idea of disclosure so unacceptable. One of the reasons I really trust this site is because you have taken the stance that disclosure is the best way to handle things that might look shady. But then we get people like Leigh Alexander who argue that its 100% fine to give undisclosed amounts of money to indie developers on Patreon. You said that you don't think there is a problem with Patreon contributions if there is disclosure, but it seems like when this idea is mentioned to some of these other people, they throw their arms up and get incredulous because how dare you think they are corrupt! Which is sad, because the real idea behind disclosure is preventing that kind of thing in the first place. I don't think a lot of people seem to understand that even the appearance of corruption is something you want to avoid, even if you are 100% on the up and up.

I think this is the tricky part. Generally, I agree with you, disclosure is a great thing that heads-off a lot of potential problems. In a lot of ways, by the way we're video-focused and fairly open with our business, the site itself almost serves as one big piece of disclosure. But at some point you have to question the relevance of a thing and decide if that matters one way or the other.

"Subscribing" to a game maker on Patreon isn't that far off from subscribing to an MMO. Or buying a game with your own money. That's something I've done plenty of times over my career, but does it matter? In some cases, the opposite should matter, shouldn't it? Think about this:

A lifetime subscription to Star Trek Online was $300 at launch. What's worse? If I pay for that out of pocket or if the company making the game provides me with something valued at $300 for free? Does it make a difference if I then get reimbursed by my company for that purchase, since it may have been purchased for coverage purposes? In many ways, buying everything and not accepting anything for free is actually the more "noble" approach. But it's also unrealistic and there's sort of a basic understanding that, by and large, we receive product for review for free.

In this case, by the way, I paid for it out of my own pocket and didn't make my company eat the cost for my own stupidity.

Here's a more insidious example: There are people out there who work in the video game industry and produce products that we cover who pay for their own subscription to our site. I wouldn't be shocked if some of them were reimbursed by their company for the expense. Now, I don't dig through the user logs and I don't know how many or, in most cases, who those people are. But they are literally paying us money for our service. Is that bad? Should there be a note on every page that says "someone who pays us might have made this game, we don't actually know?"

The key is to figure out the line and stick to it. What do you disclose and when? Why do you do it? Why do you not do it? I think every publication (though, in your case, the person you're talking about is a freelancer, I think) needs to decide that for itself. Over-disclosure makes the whole process useless. If I go see a game at an event and happen to eat one of their crappy sandwiches while I'm there, is that relevant? Or do you trust that I, as a professional, can handle the weighty task of reviewing a video game without letting that sandwich get in my way?

Personally, I don't think paying for a game developer's Patreon is very different from buying a game and covering it. It doesn't immediately seem like a thing that MUST be disclosed. At some point the rules need to apply equally to both Activision and the one-person developer making small games in a basement.

One more thing on the "appearance of corruption." You're not wrong, it's something that's worth avoiding. But at some point, it becomes easy to take that too far in a way that no one actually cares about. For example, back at GameSpot we spent a lot of time going over reviews in an effort to make them "bulletproof" to most of the typical forms of message board criticism. We didn't want people to come back and shout about being on the take or how we prefer one console to the other, or whatever else they were yelling about back then. Despite our best efforts, people shouted anyway. When ambiguities in the text no longer existed and gave people easy (yet false) arguments, they simply made them up and started inventing conspiracies. At some point, it was no longer worth spending the extra time in an attempt to shut those knuckleheads down when they were just going to invent crap anyway. Meanwhile our closest competition did all sorts of stuff that made us cringe constantly. And no one in the audience actually cared about it. The people griping about our coverage weren't out there trying to make the media better or searching for corruption. They were just fanboys, angry about a review score. At some point you have to write those people off and carry on, knowing that they'll always be there to make up some wild nonsense about how you do your job. You can disclose all you want, but people like that aren't interested in facts.

#3 Posted by Jeff (3678 posts) -

@amyggen said:

@jeff: Yeah, it was ads for IE, not games. I think the reason why people jumped on the corruption train with that one so fast was because those kind of ads are rarely done in the games press (we're more used to the traditional banner ads) and it was right around the time Polygon got a lot of shit for being "negative" about the PS4 (before release IIRC?). Those kind of "this video is sponsored by..." ads are a lot more normal in sports journalism and the likes.

Yeah, a lot of stuff lined up in a specific way that made those ads look pretty bad.

A lot of sites that rely on ad revenue are finding themselves in an increasingly tough spot. Typical display ads (banners and stuff) don't work very well any more and, if you're running a site that's used by a fairly savvy audience, your adblock percentages are probably very high. FInding new ways to get advertiser messages in your stuff so you can make enough money to survive without going so far that all of your content is hard to watch and/or looks "bad" is the new struggle. I spend a not-insignificant amount of time fielding quesitons from our sales team that start with "hey, I think I know the answer to this question, but I need to at least be able to say that I asked you directly about <ad campaign that would interfere too heavily with the user experience on the site or put us in a weird position>."

If we took more of those shortcuts we'd probably bring in way more money and be able to hire more people and so on and so forth. But at some point, once you've made all those compromises, is the site even still worth visiting?

#4 Edited by Jeff (3678 posts) -

I don't know if it happens specifically in the Cruicible, but if you go idle for a set period of time, the game will kick you out of the Tower or any of the mission environments and pop some kind of "Are you still there?" message. I assume the Crucible has the same check.

At one point I thought about rubber banding my controller, joining a Crucible playlist, and going away until I had earned all the marks and rep I'd need to buy stuff.

#5 Posted by Jeff (3678 posts) -

@amyggen said:

@excast said:

Didn't Microsoft do a fair amount of funding when it came to the launch hype surrounding Polygon? That always struck me as rather strange. I'm not sure if it rose to the level of corruption, but it's certainly not a great way to build a good reputation.

Sponsoring something isn't corruption. It was never shady because it was out in the open. The word "corruption" has lost all meaning in this discussion if you have to say that you're "not sure if it rose to the level of corruption". I'll answer it for you: It didn't, not even close.

To take it one step further, those ads were for Internet Explorer and the whole sponsorship probably came from a division so far away from the games group that it might as well have been a different company. MS was pushing IE heavy that year. I think we were running IE ads around that time, too. I know GameSpot was.

#6 Edited by Jeff (3678 posts) -

I was never able to nail down which ones were doing it and which stood against it, but I've had PR people tell me that they were able to essentially "buy" the cover spot in magazines published in the UK. That always struck me as pretty nasty. That was Xbox/PS2-era stuff. I feel like, depending on who you talk to, the UK magazine scene sounded like it was pretty flagrant back in the day.

By all accounts, Game Informer does not sell its cover.

We'd also hear about smaller sites bending to pressure from companies from time to time. Since smaller sites rely on the free game gravy train in order to post any coverage at all (they, unlike us, wouldn't be able to afford to buy everything if push came to shove) publishers could say things like "we're never going to send you another video card/game/whatever ever again if you don't fix this" and get things to change. It's a big part of why Metacritic now has a "your first score is set in stone forever" policy. This was back in the 90s and early 2000s, but sometimes I wonder if "smaller sites" haven't just been replaced by "fledgling YouTube channels" these days. Both cases involve small-to-solo operations from people who, in some cases, just heard it was a great way to get free games.

I also think there's probably an important distinction to be made between Capital-C Corruption and Dumb Moves From People Who Should Probably Know Better. I was lucky enough to work under smart people like Ron Dulin when I first got to GameSpot, and his no-bullshit attitude about dealing with the companies who made games shaped who I am today. But everyone makes mistakes. At one point (again, this is probably PS1/N64 era) Midway contacted us and asked if they could interview us about their upcoming lineup. It was for some video they were presenting to shareholders. We ended up agreeing for some dumb reason. This was right around the time that a lot of us were getting way into NFL Blitz, so, overall, we were genuinely pretty postiive about some of the games on their schedule. But imagine how that looks! There we were, probably up on some big screen, at some company event, being shown talking about these games that we liked. Eventually that made it onto a tape and got distributed somehow. We shouldn't have agreed to that. Even though we felt we were being honest about those games, it looked pretty gross. I felt like a real idiot over that one.

I also go back and forth on the "let us put your logo in our game" discussion. We used to do it for awhile back at GameSpot. One of the Rush games has the logo hidden in there as an unlockable car or something. At some point we very definitively stopped. Over the last few years, we've loosened up on this one, but it's not something I take lightly. It's the sort of thing that I would definitely say prevents us from reviewing a game. But perhaps we could review it and post a disclosure about whatever asset is being used. We've certainly posted disclosures on reviews before.

Lastly, since someone brought up the Official mags, I'm not 100% sure how they operated. But having spoken with people who have worked in editorial at official pubs before, they sound like they were on the up and up. But that's at the Associate/Senior Editor level. No idea if the suits at the top were doing weird stuff or not. You should ask Giancarlo about it, I think he did stuff for OPM and he also had a brief stint at Nintendo Power.

#7 Posted by Jeff (3678 posts) -

I want to say that iTunes couldn't handle SSL connections for podcast feeds, but I just gave it a fresh shot in the most recent version and it at least claims that it's transmitting securely. I'll bring it up.

#8 Posted by Jeff (3678 posts) -

@adamwd said:

For a personality driven site, it still makes no sense to me that they removed something that added a lot of personality.

They often misrepresented the tone of the review and confused people. It happened the most on games getting three stars, since you occasionally end up with a "positive game with significant flaws" three-star game or a "bad game that has a couple of bright spots" sort of three-star game. Also the original artist went and got a real job, making it hard for us to get new images that fit the style of the old ones. The combination of misrepresentation and logistics made them kind of a hassle.

#9 Posted by Jeff (3678 posts) -

@me3639 said:

My only disappointment, years ago i sent a couple of emails to mods and such, since this was such a community driven site it would have been great for more interaction in the forums from the GB staff. And this is the subject they feel vested to communicate and take the time. {shakes head}

It's something I wish we were better about. At some point we find ourselves with choices like "should I get ready to shoot another video or spend time on the message boards." I find myself leaning towards getting more stuff up on the site, but I should probably try to find a better balance. But yeah, you're not wrong that we haven't been out here posting a lot and that we should do better.

#10 Posted by Jeff (3678 posts) -

There's nothing wrong with rice on a burrito. Nothing.