Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Bark/Byte: Mucus Factory

I'm back at work today, despite still coughing like a badly-tuned two-stroke engine and my nose continuing to pump out mucus on an industrial scale, breaking some convention of the Kyoto Protocol, no doubt. Predictably, I get into the office to find myself surrounded by other people who are ill, and I start thinking that I was better off working from home... so I bail out of the office at lunchtime and I'm back at the flat, sitting next to the electric heater. I figured if I'm going to spend more time coughing than writing software proposals, I might as well do it in the warm, rather than getting chilled to the bone by the office air conditioning...

It's been quite a hectic week already in the world of games journalism. At the centre of the current media storm are Eidos, publishers of every teenage gamer's favourite pair of breasts and bald pate. Their latest game, IO's sociopath-em-up, Kane and Lynch, hasn't been doing very well in the old reviews department, so Eidos, understandably, wanting to protect their investment, have gone to town with the advertising, throwing large amounts of money at the official website and on advertising campaigns on games review sites, such as Gamespot. All of this is pretty par for the course, you would think, except there's a bit of a kicker.

All the advertising quotes on the website appear to be from previews, rather than reviews, and have been married (rather misleadingly) to five stars. Which has especially pissed off gaming blog Kotaku, because Eidos have made it look like they game the game five stars when, in fact, they don't even review games at all.

Now, I've seen plenty of quotes on game boxes that come from previews instead of reviews, so that's arguably fair enough, but actually having the chutzpah to (apparently) put those preview quotes against a five star score because the rest of the review scores suck, well, that's a wee bit naughty, to say the least. This would all be a mildly amusing sideshow if it weren't all happening off the back of the sacking of Gamespot's long-serving Editor, Jeff Gerstmann. Gerstmann gave Kane and Lynch a 6/10, apparently just after Eidos had given Gamespot a six-figure advertising campaign, and it has been alleged that Eidos threatened to withdraw future advertising revenue from the site unless they got rid of him.

I don't know if this is true, but regardless of whether it is or not, both Eidos and Gamespot have shot themselves in the foot with a 155mm howitzer, from a public relations point of view. Games journalists and publisher PRs have a bit of a symbiotic, perhaps even parasitic, relationship: they both need each other to be able to do their job, yet both have a bit of a conflict of interest. The journalist wants to protect their integrity, yet needs to maintain a good relationship with the publisher to keep getting review code and exclusives, while the PR needs to protect their revenue and game by getting lots of positive press coverage (and hopefully) a good review score. A lot of this is done by making sure the people who review games have an interest in the title and the genre (for example, you wouldn't want me to review a point-and-click adventure, because I have absolutely zero interest in the genre), but this clearly doesn't matter a damn if the game is just plain average, or worse, spews slurry out of its ass like a nuclear-powered muck-spreader.

So, in this case, Eidos has scored a pyrrhic victory: they've got rid of the troublesome reviewer who gave their game a bad review just as they sold a huge advertising campaign to that site, but not only has the review score itself not been changed to something more generous, they've generated so much bad press, they've no doubt harmed sales more than if they'd just left the review alone and accepted it as a fair dinkum score. Gamespot are similarly screwed: regardless of the facts of the whole episode, they've given out the impression that they're susceptible to pressure from publishers, calling into question the editorial integrity of the entire site. That's going to lose them readers, and therefore, revenue.

An ugly episode all round, really.
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