The Sad State of Game Journalism

I was reading a post by Syncaine over at Hardcore Casual about the Worlds Most Accurate Darkfall Review. He is referring to a fine piece of game journalism, a review of Darkfall conducted by a contributing writer (one Ed Zitron) and fully supported by the editorial staff at Eurogamer.

It’s a pretty full-on assassination piece. Zitron spends the whole review completely ripping Darkfall to shreds. From the graphics and gameplay choices to even the grammatically incorrect quest text. It seems he has nothing nice to say at all about Darkfall Online. It was given a score of 2 out of 10.

And that would be okay, if he had actually played the game, and that was his honest (unbiased) assessment of Darkfall Online.

So how do we know that Ed Zitron/Eurogamer didn’t spend time reviewing Darkfall?

You see, a month or so earlier, Eurogamer asked Aventurine for a couple of accounts so that they could do a review of Darkfall. Perhaps that was their mistake. If they had only bought an account anonymously, they might not have screwed up their reputation.

That the reviewer was known to Aventurine allowed them to check the server logs for those accounts. A post by Tasos on the official Darkfall forums states that the first account had only three minutes of play time. The second had a bit more, two hours over thirteen sessions. (That averages to 9.2 minutes per session — we do the math so you don’t have to.) And to further complicate the issue, most of that two hours according to Tasos was spent in the character creator.

That doesn’t really seem long enough to conduct a review does it?

Unless it’s just a review of the character creator, that might be enough for a First Looks piece. But I think it’s unfair of Eurogamer to call this a review. It doesn’t serve their readers at all well.

In fact, it seems there is a trend with the larger gaming sites to not serve their readership fair and unbiased reviews. It must be a couple of years now, but you might remember when Jeff Gerstmann, a well respected computer game journalist (and reviewer) was sacked by Gamespot because he wrote an unfavorable review for a game that was making Gamespot a bundle in advertising revenue.

That incident whipped up a storm that revealed that the big game publishers regularly threatened to pull advertising if their new big release didn’t score well in a review.

Perhaps Darkfall didn’t have a big enough advertising budget for Eurogamer.

Now I’m not saying here, despite the snarky comments, that the review Ed Zitron performed would not have been the same if he had spent twenty hours instead of two playing the game. He might well have hated every minute of that twenty hours. However, I think the game deserved to be properly reviewed considering that there have been some favorable reviews published already, and that there seems to be a core set of players who enjoy the experience of Darkfall Online, despite some of the issues it has.

I really wonder if we can really trust the big gaming sites to do the right thing by the readers. If I’m considering whether or not to buy that new release game, I’m going to want all the facts and not a little bit of opinion from the review. I do want to know if the reviewer liked the game, what made him grouchy, and what made him laugh.

In the past, certain bugs have completely turned me off a game. If a reviewer can’t mention those negatives and score accordingly, for fear of losing ad revenue, I might end up wasting nearly a hundred Aussie dollars on that game.

On the flip side, if a reviewer doesn’t play the game, but picks up all the negative comments online and merges them into a ‘review’ with a low score, I might end up passing on a game that I would otherwise enjoy immensely.

How about you. What do you think about this?

How much do you rely on the big gaming sites reviews when you’re buying a new game?

Let me know your thoughts in the comment section.

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  1. Pingback: Don't Fear the Mutant » Eurogamer vs Aventurine - FIGHT!

  2. Shawn

    Biased reviews based on ad revenue is not exclusive to the gaming world. It’s a sad state of affairs for all forms of media, indeed. This is why some gaming news sites stay away from reviews altogether.

  3. Ethic

    Well, who can you trust? Did he have his own account he used instead? Are the logs free of all glitches? The only reviews I trust are from people I know. Random internet review at for-profit website? Not going to trust it much. Review in magazine with advertising? Not going to trust it much.

    If I was interested in playing a game, I’d either just buy it and try it (most likely route) or else I’d wait until some of my friends played it and see what they think.

  4. Stropp (Post author)

    Yep. Sadly that is often the case. I figure the old ‘multitude of counsellors’ proverb applies here. Look for as many reviews as possible, compare what they are saying, and lend the most weight to those that have proven themselves.

    I used to be a buy and try sort of guy, and still can fall that way sometimes, especially with MMORPGs, but after some expensive burns over the years I try to do a bit of research now.

  5. DM Osbon

    ALL reviews should be taken with a ‘pinch of salt’ – there’s just too many variables to consider behind why a review is scored low or why a reviewer didn’t like what they ‘played’.

    I don’t mean this to excuse reviewers for poor writiing or bias but if you have any common sense you can make a more qualified decision by looking at more than 1 review.

  6. Brian

    I will sometimes check review sites for console or single-player PC games. More and more I base my purchasing decisions on demos, blogs, and podcasts. I bought Plants vs. Zombies based on the Gamers with Jobs Conference Call.

    After Vanguard I stopped trying ever MMO that came out. Now, I always do research before hand either via reading or open betas. With my experiences with Warhammer and AoC, I’m considering implementing Van Hemlock’s three month rule.

  7. Stropp (Post author)

    @DM Osbon — true, and sad, fortunately there is more information than ever before on the web. Even if there is bias (or worse) using lots of sources can smooth that bias out.

    @Brian — That’s one of the things I like about blogs. You know they’re personal viewpoints and can take that into account. It’s possibly also one of the bad things about blogs. I know I’ve started playing a MMORPG and raved about it, only to find myself bored a few weeks later, and that can hurt early adopters. The advantage of a blog is that the topic continues and the reader can see that, unlike a ‘professional’ review which remains static forever.

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