Reviewers: Truly Capable or Not?
Reggie Fils-Aime has recently been commented on the bad feedback the Wii U has received from some reviewers by saying, "Reviews of a system or reviews of a game really come down to the quality and capability of the reviewer." Reading this sounds like a major burn to reviewers who fancy themselves as professional journalists, but it really got me to thinking about what Reggie is really saying. Should reviewers be held more accountable for what they publish? For that matter, are reviewers as credible as they believe themselves to be? Or rather, are their reviews being manipulated somehow from a third party?
To answer those questions, we have to look at a variety of gaming venues that have either professional or user based data. Some people would argue that "professional" gaming publications (like IGN and Game Informer) give favorable reviews to questionable games to gain favor with companies. Many people feel that reviewers' opinions are bought. Whether any of this has true merit (which in some cases may be true), there are things to consider about those who call themselves professional video game journalists.
After all, look at the 2012 GMAs. What are the GMAs? They are known as the Game Media Awards which is a yearly award show held in the United Kingdom that present awards for best editors and game journalists. Thing is, though, is that they were voted by Public Relations and sponsored by publishers. This 2012 edition of the event was heavily criticized. The GMAs were called out by many people as an event that rewards with bribes and favors among the fabled "best" of video game journalism. There was even a popular topic of tweeting hashtags to promote games with the promise of winning prizes (like a PS3).
Robert Florence, who is now formerly of Eurogamer, presented a well thought out article criticizing the GMAs. In general, he analyzed the relationship between video game journalists and PR. He got in trouble, however, when he mentioned a certain journalist named Lauren Wainwright over her tweet for Tomb Raider. Wainwright threatened legal action which led to Eurogamer censoring that part of Florence's article and then led to Florence stepping down from Eurogamer.
What we have here is an example of censorship of good journalism that brings up real problems with the video game industry. I find that anytime issues in the industry that are covered in publications are out right defaced by ignorant gamers or PR trying to silence the writer. Whether you work on a big website or magazine, you should know your rights. Just because some PR representative or fellow gamer doesn't like your opinion or analysis of something in the industry, it should not warrant your article to being censored. If you're being a troll, however, then you shouldn't even be writing in the first place. I ask, who are the real professionals then? Are they those writers who actually bring up good topics and ideas or those who hide behind red tape and PR to get the best perks around?
The most infamous of so-called "professional" game journalism can be reflected in the image of Geoff Keighley being surrounded by Doritos and Mountain Dew. I am very vocal in saying that Geoff Keighley (a.k.a. King Dorito) continually shows gamers that he is out of touch with the video game community as a whole, which is evidenced further by the much despised Spike Video Game Awards and his consistency with ad placements. Geoff Keighley continually belittles the industry with his media-like demeanor. You can clearly see it in an interview he had with Angry Joe in 2010, his constant pushing and interruptions in interviews with industry members on the Bonus Round, and how snarky he is with his recent video of claiming to know what it takes to be in video game journalism.
All of this encompasses what is wrong with video game journalism that is considered "professional". How are people supposed to take a writer's words to heart when things like this happen? How are we supposed to know when certain journalists are being honest? How do we know if they truly explore every detail of a game or system and don't just glance over it? I think that people in the same boat as Screw Attack, Angry Joe, Blistered Thumbs, and even Game Trailers offer gamers the side of honest work and detailed reviews. These guys put out content so that they can make sure your hard earned money is well spent. They don't bead around the bush with what is good, annoying, or bad in a game. I think that these are sources that have good track records in their reviews. Unfortunately, the other "professional" video game journalism crowd can be questioned about their validity with their reviews.
What about user based reviews? Well, everything is subjective when it comes to the common blogger posting his or her review of a game. This is usually seen through a user's actual purchase or rental. The thing about user reviews are that some users can be making reviews just to spite people hating on a game or that they mention the bare minimum of a game and hardly mention key elements.
Taking our very own N4G, for example, your work must go through an approval process before your reviews, news, and articles can be seen by the public. This is a safe way of making sure that fanboys and trolls don't pollute the site with deliberately bad articles. It also helps people improve their own writing if they are really determined to give good, insightful articles. Other sites should follow suit considering the large amount of lackluster and terribly written reviews on aggregate websites.
Many gamers would simply leave things at their own discretion; however, I have noticed that gamers like to pick apart opinions and say that reviewers are wrong for one thing or another. The thing about reviews is that they are personal opinions. An opinion cannot be wrong, but I have found that if a person didn't actually experience something, then they are lying about their supposed experiences and have an opinion that is falsified. You can easily go to Metacritic to see the user based scores and see how abused the system is there. In essence, the false opinions of those who lie are wrong and it is very easy to see who does that.
As someone who has done a handful of reviews, I would like to think that I hit the mark with whatever I review. I by no means consider myself a journalist, though. I'm just an ordinary guy who likes to share his passion of video games with his fellow gamers. I do receive criticism from time to time, but those few people seem to be gamers who have a chip on their shoulder. Others actually offer good separate opinions to my own. I own up to my mistakes and opinions, but I do not support writers who think themselves over the general public opinion. This usually covers reviewers who like to "rebel against the majority" or "fight against the popular games". More often than not, this also covers gamers who want to troll or prove some point that doesn't make any sense.
Looking back to what Reggie said, I agree with him. I do think that reviewers need to be held more accountable for the content they publish. With the many problems of bribery and behind closed door deals, it is very hard for gamers to put their trust in video game journalism anymore. We have very few champions of the people we can rely on. There are very few sources we can place our trust with. At the end of the day, it all boils down to which reviewers you believe and what you think of a game. Remember to always vote with your wallet and if you're unsure of a game, check out the reviewers you trust. Then you can spend your money on games that deserve it.