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Game Reviewers Face Odd Bribery From Publishers 148

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the stranger-than-fiction dept.
eldavojohn writes "You might be used to the idea that game reviewers receive games free and ahead of time, but Ars opens up a darker side to the mystery box. Like a $200 check from Dante's Inferno, reading, 'by cashing this check you succumb to avarice by hoarding filthy lucre, but by not cashing it, you waste it, and thereby surrender to prodigality.' Or how about a huge-ass sword from Darksiders. Or brass knuckles (illegal in some states) from the makers of Mafia II. Or rancid, rotting meat mixed with spent shell casings, teeth, broken glasses and dog tags from Bulletstorm. NCSoft gave out flight suits and trips to weightlessness. Nintendo apparently likes to send all manner of food, including elaborate cakes shaped as their consoles and games. Squeeballs sent a crate of stuffed animals. iPods from Activision and Zunes from Microsoft seem to be pretty tame bait for reviewers ... but there's one reason why this continues to happen: more news-starved review sites and blogs report on the extras and the publisher's game gets spread around just a wee bit more. Even if it is as freakish as bracelets from an insane asylum spattered with blood." I think we must be doing it wrong around here... we usually can't even get games before the release date, much less get free rotting meat.
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Game Reviewers Face Odd Bribery From Publishers

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  • Threats (Score:3, Funny)

    by grub (11606) * <slashdot@grub.net> on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @10:58AM (#33734538) Homepage Journal

    Publisher: Give our game at least 8/10 or it's Two Girls, One Cup for you.
    Reviewer: And if I refuse?
    Publisher: Three Girls, One Cup.
    • Re:Threats (Score:4, Insightful)

      by zonky (1153039) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @01:39PM (#33736842)
      FFS, i worked on the publishers side of the industry in the late 90's, and its even simplier than this.

      GAME PUBLISHERS.PAY.FOR.ADVERTS.

      MAGAZINES/WEB SITES SELL EYEBALLS

  • by Thanshin (1188877) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @11:02AM (#33734590)

    In these dire times, were I a reviewer, I'd specialize in Dead or Alive spinoff games.

    Just in case they up the ante.

    • by Abstrackt (609015) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @11:09AM (#33734652)

      In these dire times, were I a reviewer, I'd specialize in Dead or Alive spinoff games.

      Just in case they up the ante.

      Yes, because nothing guarantees a good review like sending a woman who can break your neck with her thighs.

      • by V!NCENT (1105021)

        I don't know how you mean that, as in good or bad, but in case of good; I want gamplay, mutherfscker, I couldn't care less about gimmick shit like that.

        Yes gamer of the very first commercial hour (read pong, Wolfenstein3D and PacMan), but games these days are movies.

        Call me frustrated all you want, but games used to be tools to entertain yourself with, like chess, but today games are made to entertain you instead. No wonder multiplayer is so popular these day, but oh well...

        • by Abstrackt (609015)

          I'll get off your lawn in a minute here... I've been a (video) gamer since ET was a new release on the Atari, which means I started about ten years after you I guess, but your comment reads like you're just pining for the good old days when you had to plug your console in uphill both ways. You can still play Pong and PacMan or various other simple games (the one thing you can say Flash has going for it, in fact), and Wolfenstein3D was just a predecessor to the current crop of FPSs.

          Your comment that games t

          • by V!NCENT (1105021)

            Oh I don't mean to be like "Get of my lawn!", but what I mean is things like puzzles. Modern singleplayer games suck, I agree, althought there are exceptions but not many. But take a look at Portal for example; great game. It depends on how well you can think. Now take a look at the interactive Uncharted 2; great addictive game, sure, but it's basicaly a click-through (or button press next next next) movie.

            Oh and I have nothing against a great story movie driver game. Take for example Metal Gear Solid; one

    • by Sulphur (1548251)

      In these dire times, were I a reviewer, I'd specialize in Dead or Alive spinoff games.

      Just in case they up the ante.

      Sounds like the cheerie Siberi-a of journalism.

  • by El_Muerte_TDS (592157) <elmuerte@drunksnipe r s .com> on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @11:02AM (#33734592) Homepage

    It's not (always) bribery, but just a PR stunt. They don't do these things for better review scores, but for media attention.
    Serious, what good is "rancid, rotting meat mixed with spent shell casings, teeth, broken glasses and dog tags" or "brass knuckles"?
    If it's not cash, or some other thing they can cash in then it's not really bribery.

    • by somersault (912633) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @11:20AM (#33734792) Homepage Journal

      Brass knuckles make it easier to acquire your own cash!

    • It's not (always) bribery, but just a PR stunt. They don't do these things for better review scores, but for media attention.

      Reviews really aren't about the numbers though... They're about the publicity. Yes, sure, folks talk about what score some game got from some site... But the review itself is more than a number. It's generally several pages of description, a bunch of screenshots, opinion bits, memorable quotes from the dialogue... That's all PR. Even if a game gets a bad score, some folks will buy it because of a cool screenshot in a review.

      Serious, what good is "rancid, rotting meat mixed with spent shell casings, teeth, broken glasses and dog tags" or "brass knuckles"?
      If it's not cash, or some other thing they can cash in then it's not really bribery.

      Pretty much all of that could be converted to cash on ebay. People will buy j

    • by delinear (991444)
      Yes, they even say in the summary that the reasoning behind these gifts is not so much bribery to ensure a good score but merely to get the gifts themselves (and therefore, by extension, the games) talked about a little bit more in the media. I guess "bribery" was used in the title because it sounds more salacious than "gifts", although if someone sent me a crate of rotting meat I think I'd be more inclined to call the police.
    • Agreed (Score:4, Informative)

      by HalAtWork (926717) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @11:54AM (#33735276)
      But what is the rest of the coverage besides recycled PR anyway? Personally I just try and get a sense of a game I'm interested in and then stop looking at coverage on it. I just want to see the basic idea of the game and what mechanics it uses, as soon as I'm interested then I cut off coverage because I don't want anything spoiled, not even the introduction. In other media I also avoid trailers because of how much they will spoil the actual movie for example. The way a game starts is meant to draw you in and intrigue you, and if you hear a lot about it beforehand, it doesn't have the same impact when you actually play the game.

      There have been situations with games such as Super Smash Bros Brawl where they drip feed you with information, every day you see a new character, or a new move, or a new item you will be using in the game. By the time the game comes out I'm sick of it already and I don't even want to see it anymore. Or sometimes development time will drag on and paying attention to a game's coverage is like torturing yourself, such as with Dragon Quest IX or Duke Nukem Forever. In that case, coverage will often turn me off of a game, and if I already know I want to play it, what's the point? I've got better things to do.

      Nowadays I just listen to a few podcasts where people don't talk so formally about their experiences and they often talk game theory which is much more interesting to me compared to regurgitated PR. I would recommend A Life Well Wasted [alifewellwasted.com], The Brainy Gamer [feedburner.com], Gamasutra Podcast [libsyn.com], In-Game Chat [ingamechat.net], Irrational Behavior [feedburner.com], Mobcast [feedburner.com], and Retronauts [1up.com]. If you also like those, you might like Geekbox [libsyn.com], RebelFM [libsyn.com], 1up Oddcast [1up.com], Weekend Confirmed [shacknews.com], Player One Podcast, [libsyn.com]Joystiq Podcast [joystiq.com], Gamers with Jobs [gamerswithjobs.com], Drunken Gamers Radio [robotpanic.com], IGN GameScoop [ign.com] and CAGCast [cheapassgamer.com]. Hey, it makes work and commutes go by fast.
      • by Quirkz (1206400)
        Wow. That's a massive list of podcasts. I'm in desperate need of commute fodder, and those sound pretty entertaining. Thanks for the links.
        • by HalAtWork (926717)
          And that's only half the ones I listen to :( If you still need more:

          Giant Bombcast, GameSpy Debriefings, CO-OP (video podcast, now defunct but still worth watching old eps), Downloadable Content (Penny Arcade podcast), EA Podcast (w/Jeff Green), Evil Avatar Shotgun, Podcast Beyond, Three Red Lights, Nintendo Voice Chat, The Kojima Productions Report, Pixel Revolt, Played, Shackcast, Re-Play Radio, At 1up, 1up Whiteboard, Active Time Babble, In This Thread, Retronauts Bonus Stage, and The Sound Test

          If y
    • by petes_PoV (912422) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @12:16PM (#33735618)
      Giving someone a $2 piece of swag with a review copy of a product is OK, but once the value of "gifts" exceeds some amount then it becomes an inducement. Even more insidious is the implicit threat that if a product does not get a good review, more goodies and early access to future products won't be forthcoming.

      it's widespread among all industries - which is probably why there are so few reviewers who have anything approaching credibility. (not sure about what it's like in your country) In the UK there is a standard for travel reviewers that they should declare who paid for the trip / accommodation that's being reviewed - maybe it's time any product review carried a qualifier as to what benefits or freebies the reviewer received, too.

      As it is the only real indicator of whether a product is worth a dam' is from people who have bought it with their own money. Having someone who had a product dropped in their lap, telling you that it's definitely worth the money (what money?) is so hollow as to be laughable. Hopefully as more bona-fide owners write about their experiences, all these media-tart reviewers will be shown up for what they really are: entertainers.

  • I started a gaming blog an not one company has tried to buy me off.

    Guess they're too focused on the Lame Stream Gaming Media to care about us gamers on main street.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by angiasaa (758006)

      Well, your gaming blog needs to seriously ROCK! If you don't influence enough of the worlds population of gamers into making decisions about game purchases, you're likely never to get a bribe, or even a goody for that matter.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by wbav (223901)
        So here's the thing I've found, people want previews and reviews of games before they come out to figure out if they want to buy it.

        In order to get that, companies would have to send me a game early.

        For that to happen I would have to give people what they want (previews and reviews of games before they come out).

        Yup, that'd be what's known as a circular reference.
        • No, it's just that you have to have patience and build yourself a reputation (a step businesses always seem to want to skip over), and then you get those pre-release privileges, but only for games you like. It goes like this

          Game X comes out. You buy it on release day and post a favorable review.
          Game X part 2 comes out. You buy it on release day and post a favorable review.
          Game X part 3 is about to come out. The manufacturer says "hey, we like this guy's previous reviews". A week before release, you get a re

    • by LatencyKills (1213908) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @11:25AM (#33734862)
      I've been doing game reviews for almost a decade, and while I receive free games in abundance (and Microsoft has been trying to send me a XB360 for several years now, but I only do PC game reviews), I've never received cash or other swag. in fact, most recently, I get Steam download codes or similar, and I don't even get a physical copy of the game anymore.
    • by Quirkz (1206400)
      Well, if you'd be willing to review or discuss my web-based superhero MMO, Twilight Heroes (www.TwilightHeroes.com), on your blog, I'll give you a FREE lifetime membership on your account. Does that count?

      Disclaimer: it's already free to play for everyone, but I figured I had to try. Hopefully, in some small way, this lame attempt at bribery will make your day.

      • by kyrio (1091003)
        I was playing your game for a short while after seeing you talk about it on here a couple of months ago. It was fun for about a week and then it was just boring and repetitive. I hope I can come back to it in a few years and find that it's become more than what it is right now.
        • by Quirkz (1206400)
          Just this weekend we had a massive update that's designed to allow for replayability with a wide variety of options: restrictions, rewards, perming skills and changing classes, a chance to strategically replay quests, and leaderboards so players can compete against each other for different styles of play. It's the main point I'd been aiming for since I started development. That's why my sig changed to say we've gone gamma, because up until this point I would have said the game wasn't "complete enough" and w
          • by kyrio (1091003)
            I have sigs disabled so I didn't notice the change. I'll check it out again and see if I'm still interested.
  • Getting swag (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tridus (79566) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @11:06AM (#33734624) Homepage

    Since you mentioned that you can't get any swag from publishers, here's the answer: get your reviews on metacritic.

    That score determines a lot of things and you're much more likely to be bribed if you can make it look good.

    • A book (that I even reviewed on Slashdot [slashdot.org]) has a section on just this sort of thing you can read here [diveintohtml5.org]. It tells you how to use HTML5 microdata to mark up reviews so that search engines and sites (like metacritic) can utilize your HTML to build indexes of reviews.

      Slashdot's always been a little behind the curve but considering what their review form looks like, you'd think it'd be a trivial thing to have the end product wrap the review in microdata so they too are suddenly influencing metacritic and com
    • by antdude (79039)

      I also use http://www.gamerankings.com/ [gamerankings.com] to read various scores, reviews, etc.

  • I think we must be doing it wrong around here... we usually can't even get games before the release date, much less get free rotting meat.

    Even by the extremely low standards of video game journalism [tumblr.com], Slashdot can't get any respect. Maybe you should think about focusing on the writing/editing. Or fix the awful bugs on this site that have been around for... well, decades at this point. (How about a rich text comment field? Let's join 2005!)

    • by delinear (991444)
      Slightly pedantic, but decades plural would suggest the site has existed with said flaws since at least 1990.
      • Slightly pedantic, but decades plural would suggest the site has existed with said flaws since at least 1990.

        More pedantic: Only if you're expressing it as a whole number.

        Slashdot has been around for 1.3 decades.

    • Adding a rich text command field is useless for the half dozen of HTML tags you can insert. Adding more tags would be counter-productive - the existing ones already let you structure your post, which is the important part; enabling style changes for each comment would make the site unreadable.

      So that's not really important. I would prefer if they fixed the CSS for Idle - the comment textarea still doesn't use the whole width.

  • Or rancid, rotting meat mixed with spent shell casings, teeth, broken glasses and dog tags ...

    So, are you trying to say McDonalds, or Taco Bell? (That editorial "food" review is probably not going to get me a new ipod...)

    In comparison, what do slashdot book reviewers get? About the same?

  • The old Chaos Manor (Score:4, Interesting)

    by LWATCDR (28044) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @11:19AM (#33734776) Homepage Journal

    Back in the day when everybody read Byte Chaos Manor was probably the most important place outside of the cover you could be.
    Jerry Pournell wrote what we would the column based on what he used.
    His system was simple. Send me your stuff and I get to keep it all.
    If he didn't like your stuff he would say so or just not write about it.
    If he did like your stuff it was fantastic for you.
    Borland as a company pretty much was born when Jerry Pournell wrote about how great this cheap Pascal compiler called TruboPascal was. Borland to a loan for their first full page ad based just on that column.

    Now that would be considered not legit but at the time no one minded. Truth is that his reviews where brutally honest and very good.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by VGPowerlord (621254)

      His system was simple. Send me your stuff and I get to keep it all.
      If he didn't like your stuff he would say so or just not write about it.
      If he did like your stuff it was fantastic for you.

      ...

      Now that would be considered not legit

      Why? Game companies give review copies to reviewers all the time.

  • by gravos (912628) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @11:21AM (#33734804) Homepage

    I don't play games very often anymore, but I've found the easiest way to get an honest opinion of a game is to do the following:

    • Wait for a few months after the game is released (initial or pre-release reviews are always too positive)
    • Go to a game review aggregator site (metacritic, gamerankings, etc)
    • Start reading from the lowest-scoring review, up

    That works well.

    Reviewers who scored a game low were not compensated by the publisher, almost definitely had to buy the game themselves, and usually point out legitimate flaws instead of glossing over them. It's a great way to innoculate yourself against hype.

    • by vlm (69642)

      I don't play games very often anymore, but I've found the easiest way to get an honest opinion of a game is to do the following:

      * Wait for a few months after the game is released (initial or pre-release reviews are always too positive)
      * Go to a game review aggregator site (metacritic, gamerankings, etc)
      * Start reading from the lowest-scoring review, up

      That works well.

      Somewhat earlier in the release cycle, I've found torrent seeder/peer counts and especially torrent site comments help separate the wheat from the chaff. P2P sharers are brutally honest, especially if the software isn't even worth stealing or simply doesn't do what its supposed to. I have in fact purchased and paid for software on this basis.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      I wait an depend on my social network.
      People who no me know what I like and visa versa. TI's the best way to predict enjoyment of any product.

    • by delinear (991444)
      Personally I feel you can't beat a demo, but failing that find a few reviewers who seem to share your likes and dislikes (an easy way to do this is to read some of their past reviews for games you loved/hated and see if they gave the same reasoning) and follow them. They won't always agree with each other or with you, but if you find four or five you can average out the reviews. The metacritic method is also good as a last resort, but even if you read in reverse order you're not guaranteeing that the review
      • Personally I feel you can't trust a demo

        FTFY. I can't count how many times the game as a whole sucked much more than the few moments they put on the demo.

        Personally, I like Zero Punctuation [escapistmagazine.com] reviews.

    • by alvinrod (889928)
      Another reason to wait is that a lot of games tend to be fairly buggy on release and this can siphon off a lot of joy. I bought Civilization V and while it's not a bad game and I haven't had to deal with crashes, the game balance is horribly off and it doesn't feel as polished as Civ IV with both expansions. I like the direction the game has taken, but it needs a lot of polish and the AI really needs to fixed. The computer is horrible at combat and seems to do other odd things such as acting perfectly frien
    • You can do this with many products. The high-scoring long reviews of a mobile phone are probably written by fanbois, the short ones which list the defects are the ones written by people who know what matters.

    • by tzhuge (1031302)

      I do something similar, but different. I think low outlier review scores often has to do with reviewers using a point deduction scheme, which isn't all that indicative of how fun a game is.

      What I do instead is I go to metacritic and note both the aggregate score for critics reviews and the aggregate score for user reviews. Critics reviews can be paid for, or sometimes nitpicky, whereas user reviews can be a gut reaction, based on superficial impressions, and susceptible to 'fanboi/hater' extremes. However,

    • Aggregator sites like Metacritic and Gamerankings don't really work unless you just use them to find reviews to look at (you mention reading the reviews which is great, but many don't). These sites misinterpret scores, they have the task of taking all of the different scoring methods and getting the average score, but not every site uses the same ranking method. For example, at 1up they use a letter grade, from A to F, with C being "Good", B being "Great", and A being "Excellent". Metacritic however thin
      • would you say a "Good" game should be given a 50% score?

        Yes. You mention it in your post, but the trend of only using the very upmost part of the scale is stupid. A game that really sucks might still get 40%. Not that score matters that much (read the review instead).

        When reviewers give 100% [psillustrated.com] you just can't take it seriously. 100% is divine perfection, or should at least be reserved for a real-life Matrix. The reviewer even guzzles "The only trick now is to see how they can top themselves with the next game". Yes, that would be a trick indeed, Spinal Tap jokes as

    • by Abstrackt (609015)
      I do something similar, except I just read the top five and bottom five first. If that's not enough to make an informed decision I keep going until I feel confident the game is worth buying or passing or until I run out of reviews to read.
    • You ever notice on Metacritic how the higher the marketing budget of the game, the greater the positive disparity between Metascore and user score?
      But in contrast small indie games or low budget releases are usually scored evenly.
      Of course it could just be a combination of hype backlash, bribery and reviewers suffering from an unusual vulnerability to marketing ploys.

      Some examples of high budget games with huge score disparities.
      http://www.metacritic.com/game/pc/call-of-duty-movdern-warfare-2 [metacritic.com]
      http [metacritic.com]
  • Money hat (Score:3, Interesting)

    by HalAtWork (926717) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @11:22AM (#33734808)
    Many reviewers just refuse them and don't let it influence their decision. There aren't just tchotchkes knick-knacks and gewgaws, but actual games given in order to review them, and some places keep them, but many don't. At Joystiq [joystiq.com] for example, they pay for trips on their own dime to attend previews, demos and conferences. They also give away reviewed games in contests, and refuse any extras. At 1up.com:

    "We do not accept any gifts--such as video iPods, World Series tickets, cash (in the form of contest prizes)...all of which were actually offered to us at one point. But we are allowed to keep cheap, promotional items, so you'll see game posters or XXXXXXXL T-shirts around our offices. We also keep the games that the companies send us, but EGM's rule is to put one away for the office library copy, and the rest get evenly distributed to staffers who will actually play them (absolutely no trading them in or eBaying them for profit or gain of any sort)."

    The rules are different at different outlets but you'll find most try to think about this subject and let their audience know how it affects or doesn't affect them. Giant Bomb [giantbomb.com] are headed up by people who left after a related incident at their previous employer. One of the founders fought to defend their review against a publisher and editor who wanted them to give it a more glowing review, and their previous job [wikipedia.org] was terminated for doing so, certain people quit in disgust and joined together to form a new site.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by XxtraLarGe (551297)
      I used to write game reviews. I was provided the games by the site, and got to keep them in lieu of payment. On occasion, I would buy a game and review it too, but more often than not, I received the games for free. I'm not sure if the guy who owned the web site got them for free or if he bought them, but there was never any pressure for me to give a game a positive review.
  • Are they giving away Time Machines with Duke Nukem Forever?
  • Bribery? (Score:2, Interesting)

    Really? I always attributed it to outright silliness (or perhaps pride) on the publisher's part. I mean, imagine you just made some kind of hardcore cover-based shooter with, oh I don't know dinosaurs as handguns. Work with me here. This hypothetical dino-gun game is your pride and joy, and you want to make a good impression on a small subset of important reviewers. You don't want to bribe them, exactly, but you want them to know that you think highly of your game, and of their capacity as high-power review
  • by geekoid (135745)

    "much less get free rotting meat"

    That will go down in history of /, as the most regrettable thing ever posted.

    Prepare for waves of rotten meat.

  • When you're looking at reviews, you can almost always ignore the Five Star and One Star reviews. Five stars usually don't provide insight (giddy cheerleading) and one star reviews are usually hyperbolic reactions to problems.

    • by petes_PoV (912422)
      If only that worked in the computer / games world. ISTM reviews start at 3 stars, just for providing a cardboard box. If there's anything in it, the product automatically gets 4 stars, and if they have an advertisement in the magazine or website then 5 stars is a shoo in. I have seen mini-reviews of products that the reviewer admitted didn't even work get a 3* rating on the basis of what the product description said (and an assurance from the supplier that the example they got "must have been a flook"). it'
  • by bickerdyke (670000) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @12:18PM (#33735640)

    There used to be a time when those gimmicks would be included in the retail box of the games.

    Infocom comes to mind.

    ok,no rotting meat, but a blood splattered bracelet would SO be in Infocoms style.

  • I've thought a few times that I ought to get into the review business, just for the free games. That there are other bits of entertaining swag just makes it more appealing. I think I'd be willing to write a few short essays in exchange for a lot of free entertainment. Heck, I'd probably write an entire thesis to get one of those gigantic swords.

    What happens is I can never decide whether I should sell out completely to get the most stuff, or I should try to maintain integrity and relish the occasional oppo

  • I wish the article really went more into depth. IMHO Publishers these days are not all that what they are cracked up to be , bunch of marketing whores. Look at the fiasco with CIV5 from 2k almost unplayable on most non english windows systems and the crash issues with most nvidia cards. http://forums.2kgames.com/forums/showthread.php?t=88969 [2kgames.com]

    Every major gaming magazine has given it almost 8/10 , while actually (as I long time civ player) I don't think it is all that great except for the perty graphics. Dumbe

  • Or brass knuckles (illegal in some states)

    Brass knuckles are never sold as brass knuckles anymore. They're sold as paperweights so that they're legal everywhere.

  • Is this a surprise?

    The crazy stuff is sent because it generates hype. Bloggers rush to post about every little thing they receive and routinely gush about how awesome it is that they have it in with the publishers. Publishers bombard publications with all kinds of assorted gifts and marketing crap to foster this sense of good will, they give them special behind-the-scenes access, they offer exclusive interviews. This is all done in an effort to foster this sense of goodwill on the part of reviewers. There's

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