IGN and Gamespot--Just Scratch the Check, BabyFrom Kotaku
...I was contacted by a former media buyer for various game publishers. This person was irked by the game media’s pretense that previews were pure editorial. But unlike their readers— or for that matter, me— my source had hard proof they were much more than that.
"I was the media buyer who made the purchase,” the source told me, “signed the insertion order, and then followed up to make sure that what we had been promised was in fact delivered.”
What was delivered, my source went on, was editorial placement on the two largest game websites for a sizeable fee.
Gamespot and IGN, in case you're wondering. I strongly encourage you to read the entire article, but here's a brief summary: publishers can purchase prominent placement of stories related to their games on the front page of both sites. In this specific instance, it's the "thumbnails" that appear on the front page, but I doubt that anyone believes it stops there.
Particularly entertaining is IGN's response:
First noting that the practice is “pretty common both in print and online”, Peer Schneider, IGN’s VP of Content Publishing, described their Spotlights as “‘sponsored’ slotting, sometimes called ‘digital reprint.’ This is a practice where advertisers want to make sure coverage of their titles is seen. For example, some magazines sell their cover image (or part of it) to the highest bidder.” Schneider insisted IGN and GameSpy don’t sell their “top story” placement to anyone. “We have, however, designated spots that can be ‘sponsored.’ What this means is that a publisher interested in exposing more users to a title (including games, movies, etc.) can book a one-day sponsorship in what we call ‘spotlights.’” Like Kasavin, Schneider enunciated a principle of strict separation between editorial and ad sales.
I don't know about you, but I've always loved the "Bobby beats dogs so it's okay if I beat dogs, too" defense. Classic. And the "Johnny beats horses--I only beat dogs" defense is also outstanding. How many sides of his mouth does Peer Schneider have?
Here's the deal: if someone is paying for front-page placement, isn't that what us marketing gurus call "advertising?" Shouldn't it say "sponsored" or something? Is that rocket science?
Whether it's "pretty common" or not is irrelevant. This isn't "kind of" dishonest. It's dishonest, period.