Sunday, 16 February 2014

The new games media is worth every penny

Did you read about the games reviewer who gave a game a score and people didn't agree with it and accused said reviewer of being, "paid off by the publisher"? All the time, right? Because saying something contrary to what you believe means someone must have paid them off. Even though they haven't really been. Yes, we've all read Rob Florence's mildly infamous article where he hinted at, but was  too pussy to name the actual journos who were too cosy with the publishers -in between bouts of telling everyone how he invented talking about a video game and putting it on the internet. And I'm constantly referring to the hacks and editors who work deals with publishers, exchanging good reviews for exclusives,  and flog all their review code and PR swag. But as far as I know, no actual money has ever been paid by a publisher direct to a reviewer  for covering one of their games (unless you were already working  for said publisher). However some review sites have taken what used to be a comment section accusation and made it into a business model by charging publishers for reviewing their game.

Recently, indie game developer, Peter Norberg, as an experiment, approached a number of , pay-to-review, sites (some of which you can find on the Appy Nation Hall of Infamy) to see what you actually get for your money. Unsurprisingly, most of the sites that took Norberg's money didn't even put in the basic effort to use the screen pics and release date info (or "assets" to use the industry lingo) that was provided. Maybe that happened because any website asking for money to review a game  is is clearly A FUCKING SCAM. If you have just made a game and intend to self publish for the first time, seriously, you're not supposed to pay some crappy site, or any fucking site,  for the honour of reviewing it for shits sake!

"They spelt "Flappy" with seven Xs"

Don't do it, Ever. I know the temptation is high, especially when you're not a "name" and it's easy for your game to get buried under the sheer amount of new titles being released but there are plenty, decent sites like Pocket Gamer or Rock, Paper, Shotgun that only require you send them a copy of the game to review, you know, like game reviewers are fucking supposed to. And ultimately, you're only going to screw yourself in the long run by upsetting the publisher/reviewer symbiotic relationship of content and coverage.

The game is the "content", it's a product made to be bought so the developer can make a profit that warrants producing more games. The game review is the coverage,the means in which people find out about the content. Both rely on each other, with no games press a publisher has no real way to communicate to the  masses of their products and without a constant supply of preview assets, release dates and game to review, the games reviewer has no content to to fill their site/magazine with. Both publisher and reviewer need each other to prosper. Sometimes the line between the two gets a bit blurry, with hacks showing off their pr shit, like it's a present or and the open secret that is the "early, exclusive review". As well as the passive aggressive way pr people will suddenly stop inviting you to press events if you give their below average game a below average score. But asking for money from the publisher to review a game will not only destroy what little legitimacy the games press has, but the newbie, self publisher will end up in with the same problem of lack of awareness.

Publishers see news, previews and reviews of their games as promotion, nothing more. Unless there's a way to swindle dev teams out of bonuses, big publishers don't give a toss about review scores for the most part. So if paying the games media to review a game becomes industry standard (and lets be honest, I never underestimate the depths the games industry can lower to) then the indie publisher will back to square one. Because if outright paying for coverage becomes a thing,  the AAA publishers will do what they normally do, use their superior marketing budget to gazump everyone and have their games pushed ahead of everyone else. And the little indie game will back to square one. Lost in a storm of similar games, all fighting to get noticed amongst the big names.

 Norberg concludes his look into paying for reviews by advising that like minded indie devs should make sure they get value for money when buying a review. No, don't do that. You want loads of media outlets to review your game? Then make a interesting/original/fun game that everyone will want to talk about. Sorry if that's news to you (and it had to come from a blog at the arse end of the industry) but if you end up being responsible for whatever undeserved success the pay-to-review sites (who I would interested to see if any pay their writers) get, then you will have helped nightmare scenario. The complete corporate takeover of games media.

 Don't believe me? Look at what's happening to Youtube. The mass flagging that took place with the new Content id, wasn't just about stopping the misuse of copyrighted material. It's also the beginning of the corporate takeover, especially of gaming content. We now know both Microsoft and EA have been paying youtubers to promote their games. And publishers, like Sega are seemingly working Youtube's copyright system to their own advantage, deleting popular Shining Force videos so their Shining Force ads take preference in google and youtube searches. Or trying to censor bad reviews.

 Outside of Japan and Korea video games has never truly been given a fair shake. Sure there's been brave attempts and a couple of channels, but nothing that cements video games as a mainstay of TV. So gaming jumped on to the internet way before other genres/subjects did (long before Netflix started the, "everything will be viewed online now" revolution) and it was a user lead jump. Youtube  was fresh soil for so many gamers. Some of them good, most of them bad, but  all independent of the traditional games media structure. For the most part, none of them relied on publishers or any kind of relationship with PR people. But then some of those youtubers started making money and no way were the big publishers missing out on that. Which is why honest reviews are being flagged for no proper reason, other than because Sega et al just can. And Youtube will be a wasteland of lowest common denominator advertorial, like Machinima is becoming and IGN already is. Or corporate whores, like PewDiePie or the unfuckable KSI who have back door deals with publishers to produce glorified adverts while keeping the conceit of being a salt of the earth, humble little youtuber, while Youtube pushes them to the front page every time because Google has to have it's pound of flesh too.

If you feed this journalism equivalent of a smash and grab, not only are you wasting money that could of spent on your game's marketing (or simply pay the bills) you are only fucking yourself and the industry in the long term. If you have even the slightest regard for the games industry, then don't fucking do it. Indie and mobile games are supposed to be the future of video games, not a nail in the coffin of creativity.

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