Friday, January 14, 2005

More On Trip's Scarlet Letter

When I first read the letter from Hawkins to Rousseau, I was first struck by just how goofy and pathetic Hawkins sounded--how could somebody be so out of touch that they would think a magazine that rated games by using smiley faces was going to "set the tone" for the "hardcore?" So my initial reaction was to make fun of him, which I greatly enjoyed. I encourage you to try it at home.

The more serious question, obviously, is whether game reviews get bought. I don't think it's an unfair question, because gaming journalism is in its relative infancy, and some of the gaming magazines are basically glorified fanzines with advertising. And I believe that in any enterprise involving humans, there will be a few scumbags. It's just good math.

However, I strongly believe that the "bought review" is rare. There is a self-correcting mechanism in game reviews. We all see and play the same game. So if somebody says a pig is the homecoming queen, all its going to do is humiliate the person who tried to put a party dress on a pig.

A few more crowns for the porcine, and that writer (and magazine) lose whatever credibility they had. And there's a financial reason against this happening as well: advertising revenue is distributed to the degree that one inflated score wouldn't be worth much. It would have to be systematic, spread across multiple advertisers, and if that happened, it would be totally obvious.

I think a far more plausible scenario, and one that I'm sure happens all the time, is when reviewers get to know developers--and like them. It's human nature. So if a reviewer really identifies with the guys who are making a game, he might kick up the score by 10%. I don't even think it's necessarily consciously done, but it's probably an inevitable consequence of the relationships in the gaming industry. And the inverse is probably true as well--a game will get marked down 10% or so because the developers just aren't liked.

I don't think that's a big deal--at least, it's not to me. I just wish that reviewers would tell us if they have any bias in favor or against the game coming in. I do have bias at times, and I always try to tell you up front.

I've also noticed one other thing about game reviews--individually, they might be well off, but in aggregate, they're pretty solid. That's why I use when I'm trying to get information on a game that I'm sitting on the fence about buying.

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