There has been a lot on the news of late about games, with GamerGate once again throwing it all into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Now, whilst this has turned into some horrible, sexist and generally ridiculous beast now, one of the first things that made it come to my attention was speaking about ethics in games reviews.
One of the reasons that my review site (Yet Another Review Site) has never made any money, is my annoying sense of ethics and certain morals. For instance, I never accept advertising for gambling sites – this could have earned me a lot of money! I also (more importantly), never accept money for reviews. I have have accepted money for content in the past, but have always maintained editorial control to make sure the content was informative without giving an opinion that looked even remotely like a review or my endorsement.
There is this view from gamers that all reviewers are on the take. The facts are, not many of us are getting anything resembling real incentives to review peoples games. We get the occasional press pack – usually the game plus some bits of merchandise. We normally get the actual game itself – that makes it easier to review – and we are allowed to keep it. It is worth noting, that you are not allowed to sell these, they are covered in “Promo Copy” and places like Game or CEX are not allowed to accept them as an exchange. All in all the incentives are limited and non financial.
There is also some pressure. Some companies have been known to apply pressure for good reviews. This can be tough. You want to remain honest, but also want to still receive games to review – getting black listed can kill a site. However, most reviewers are more than strong enough to tell companies they will get honest reviews, nothing more, nothing less – but as I say, this is tough and has killed many a good indie site. I have even had companies want to review any presentations or talks I may be delivering whilst wearing their product that I wanted to review. I turned them down as I felt it compromised any objectivity I would have had.
Then there are launch parties. When I started these were frequent and amazing fun. You got to meet other people in the industry you love, drink lots and play the game you were going to be reviewing – all with the benefit of producers and developers there to speak with. Sadly, the gaming public have seen this as more bribery and these types of events are getting less and less frequent or extravagant. Again, this sort of event has never impacted my view on a game and I doubt it has for any other reviewers I know!
The truth is, over the last few years, there has been less and less reason to want to review games. Sure you get the games, and some are fun (sooooo many are not), but the public’s opinion has swayed the way the industry works – almost validating the public’s opinion that we are all on the take. The result for us is that we get less traffic and have to defend ourselves constantly from ill-informed opinions.
Don’t get me wrong, it is great to review games and the last 7 or 8 years have been a privilege, but I am glad it is not my source of income as it would be killing me by now. It is hard work to maintain the relationships with companies who are more and more interested in the big sites and care less about blogs and review sites like mine. It is hard reading about how we are all viewed as on the take, whilst trying to work out how to scrape enough money together to pay for hosting.
To the games industry:
- Remember that whilst we are small sites, there are lots of us and we make up a substantial voice – don’t ignore us!
- Try to remember that it is about the games, you all need money – but you are meant to love games as well.
To the public:
- We are not on the take, we get very little financial reward for review games – in many cases nothing at all.
- Almost no sites these days are asking for money to review a game – if they are, question their objectivity!
- Most of us review because we love games, remember that when you are thinking about us.
- For some, it is just a job, respect that as we all need to pay the mortgage.
- Lots of reviewers, journalists and games industry folk now each other and are friends. This does not mean our objectivity is comprised. Grown ups can separate work from friends.
- It’s about games at the end of the day, fun and entertainment – don’t read so much into it.