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Game Reviewers Face Odd Bribery From Publishers 148

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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  • 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.

  • 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 [] 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

    "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 [] 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 [] was terminated for doing so, certain people quit in disgust and joined together to form a new site.

  • 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.
  • Bribery? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Scorch_Mechanic ( 1879132 ) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @11:30AM (#33734924) Journal
    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 reviewers. So you send them a knickknack of some kind. Like, a model replica of the basic pistol-type weapon. Or a fake dinosaur tooth, or whatever. The point of the exercise is to one-up the other weird knickknacks the other publishers send so that your knickknack (and consequently your game) stick in the reviewer's minds. Bribery might be an element to it, but more valuable is the sticking-in-the-reviewer's-mind part. Ever seen professionals auditioning for a part in theatre? They're all basically excellent choices, but they've all got some kind of gimmick to get the director to remember them better than anyone else. That's the objective, anyways. Same idea, different area. Not bribery, not really.
  • Re:Money hat (Score:3, Interesting)

    by XxtraLarGe ( 551297 ) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @11:56AM (#33735318) Journal
    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.
  • As someone who works at a healthcare company, this amuses me. Up till not too long ago, we didn't have a lot of rules on this sort of promotion in our industry. There is some now in terms of doctors and other clinical people, however, I remember my days as a tech, I used to love fixing PCs for the mental health clinics because... they had all the best toys. I think one of em gave me a "Wellbutrin brain" (plush brain with a "Welbutrin" stamp on the bottom).

    Now, we actually sometimes have to send things back to well meaning vendors, we are not even allowed to accept a free pen. Gone are the days when consultants could take us out to lunch on their companies dime. It doesn't even matter that we are tech folks and don't make purchasing decisions.

    In fact, they have even gone so far as to come up with complicated rules as to whether or not we can eat at vendor events that supply free food. Seriously. The company took the fact that gifts could influence a persons decisions related to a product, and went so far to the other side, that we made the rules so complicated that people now think the company is being stupid. Excellent way to develop respect for doing the right thing... by taking it so far that its stupid.


If I had only known, I would have been a locksmith. -- Albert Einstein