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Thoughts on game journalism
Interview - posted by VentilatorOfDoom on Mon 5 March 2012, 15:54:03Tags: Larian Studios; Swen Vincke
Larian's Swen Vincke gave an interview to NeoSeeker on how Gaming Journalism is broken.
I feel like that's a misconception, though. Maybe you know things I don't, but, as I've usually understood it, the advertising and the public relations (PR) teams are generally very separate and have little or no influence over each other. We've never had that problem; it's never been brought up. I mean, we're not a massive site, but I think we're big enough we would've seen that by now, because we deal with a lot of big publishers.
More often it's an issue where the writer isn't as critical as they should be, but it's more down to them and PR. It doesn't even have to be a spoken thing, they just don't want to upset PR for whatever reason.
In general it's not that outspoken. Sometimes it is; I've seen examples of it. But it's probably not the norm. Although, and I'm not going to mention the magazine (it's a fairly big one), not sooner than I'd just done an interview with somebody [recently] was the advertising manager talking with us on the phone a couple of hours later about how many pages we'd wanted to buy, etc. So it does happen like that.
Public relations is all about creating the perception around a game, which does cause problems. You see situations where the guys going to review a game are invited to go to Venice, and they're going to spend a half hour with the game and a week in Venice in a five-star hotel. It's going to be extremely hard to be extremely negative about it.
I've seen a PR manager in action for one of my games make a 79 an 81. And it cost him a lot of money; it cost him full page ads over multiple titles, but he managed to, and it had a big impact on the sales of the game.
Scoring is an issue in itself. As an editor, personally, I hate scoring. For awhile we didn't score our games; we brought it in eventually. I understand the need of it, and why it's useful, but it causes so many problems, with readers and PR. Idealistically I would like to eliminate scoring but that's not happening.
It's insane it can have such an impact. I was comparing numbers for Divinity II: The Dragon Knight Saga and Dragon Age II, because it had the same Metacritic rating (82). I went to look at the user scores for both games, and Dragon Age II had 73% user score on GameSpot, 70 on Amazon, and 42 on Metacritic, over thousands of votes. In our case it was much higher; our Metacritic fits more with our user score: 85 on GameSpot, 84 on Metacritic, 90 on Amazon. I know it's because it's purely PR machine work.
And if you look at the trends you see the initial Dragon Age II reviews were very high, and as you go over time...
Afterwards Swen followed up on the interview with a few more thoughts on his blog.
Games journalism obviously is a sensitive topic for a game developer because it’s like a girlfriend asking – do you think there’s something wrong with how I cook? If you’re honest you’re doomed, if not, you can look forward to things like oversalted steak for the rest of your life
Before delving into this, I ‘d like to say that the best thing players can to do when it comes to judging which game they should buy, is to find reviewers that like the games they like, and stay aways as far as they can from sites like Metacritic. I say this because the list of factors that can affect a review is enormous.
First off, you should be extremely wary about day 1 reviews – the probability that something stinks about those reviews is rather high. Just go to metacritic if you’re into the scoring game, look at the critic scores and then look at user scores. Also look at the quantity of reviews on metacritic and check out the dates of the review. For bad games with initially high metacritic ratings, you’ll see a pattern emerging.