9.5 is a great way to go, I hate to say 10, ethics you know

With the recent little Eidos kerfuffle making the headlines here, I feel like addressing the issue.

Is the games reviewing industry corrupt? No.

It suffers from the same problems endemic to criticisms of other media forms. Roger Ebert has spoken of going to events, and having publications sign up for quotes to run praising a certain movie. Movies that are expected to show poorly with the critics simply aren't screened early. What both industries here are the victim of is a simple and logical desire of the producers to have people like their product. Loosely speaking, this is their job- making sure the game gets recieved nicely. A high metacritic score is a key component of this, and making sure early reviews are positive is a means to that end. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, and those of you that jump to vilify these people should take a moment to consider your actions.

Apparently, Ubisoft dun liek you giving their premiere games 4's. Pricks.
Apparently, Ubisoft dun liek you giving their premiere games 4's. Pricks.
They either spent the last couple years of their lives working on this product, or are closely working with people who did. Unless you're working on a POS licensed game like Bolt, you're going to be understandably proud of that work. A high score is validation of that time and effort. It's the human condition to strive to excel, even if it means trying to game the tables in your favor a bit.

Of course, usually responsible journalism is there to slap the balance of power right back to where it should be- problems arise when perhaps the journalistic community willingly lets a publisher game the system a bit. Perhaps they think,"Hey is giving Assassin's Creed a low score really worth having Ubisoft completely cut us off from all their events? Honestly, the audience probably really won't even appreciate our earnesty, so why is it worth fighting Ubi over?" This puts us in a bit of a sticky siuation here, as both sides are dependent on the other.
  1. The games press earns their money in part by advertising for games they cover
  2. The games publisher and developer earn their money based in part off of reviews, and get bonuses based off of the Metacritic average
So what you see there is something that could EASILY become a "You rub my back, I'll rub yours" situation, wherein publications run good reviews in exchange for advertising dollar. Mutually beneficial. No losers, except for the consumers. But that's not how it works

Interesting
Interesting
Luckily for us, this tenuous balance of power is usually maintained. The only time we ever hear about it is when an outlet lets it slide too far, and you get a Gerstman situation. Just because that's all we hear about doesn't mean it's the status quo. Every time we hear about it is because something exceptional has happened. Something that breaks the normalcy of the situation. The relationship between publishers and jourmalists is obviously not ideal, as it runs on the much derided "honor system". I won't try to judge this relationship absolutely- I won't even presume to be entirely educated in the subject, after all, I'm not a games journalist. Just a guy who finds the business dynamics fascinating.

Ultimately, it would be easiest for journalists just to hand out high scores like candy to appease publishers, and stay secure in their jobs. And this does happen of course- when you see Play magazine handing out 9.0's to Lair, something's fishy. However, journalists (or "professional enthusiasts" as the 1up folks call it) usually have the integrity enough to avoid this pitfall. We know this simply by observing the review scores. EGM gave Assassin's Creed a 4, and paid the consequences. Jeff gave Zelda an 8.8, despite it not technically being in the "AAA" tier. You've seen big games like Mirror's Edge, which no doubt have had tons of marketing dollar thrown behind them recieve 7's. Observe the symptoms, and you can diagnose the disease. Or lack of, in this case. A few isolated cases do not condemn the whole industry, a fact well worth remembering.

The title comes from the musical crazy of Shawn Elliot- that particular piece kicked off the 12/5/07 GFW Radio, which has some interesting insights into this very topic.
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