How does the PR industry influence game reviews?
The relationship between the games publishing PR industry and the games journalism media has always been an uneasy one based on mutual needs. Public Relations companies need exposure – whether good or bad – for the product they are tasked to promote; blogs and magazines need to fill column inches with writing that people want to read. Looking at it from a different perspective, it almost seems bizarre – a reviewer’s duty is to negatively criticize a game if it deserves it, despite having been given it for free (in some cases).
The latest debacle involving Duke Nukem Forever‘s PR company letting off steam on Twitter about poor review scores is just the latest in a string of controversies that have brought this strange yet necessary aspect of the industry to the surface. The infamous sacking of Jeff Gerstmann from GameSpot after he awarded a sub-standard score to Kane & Lynch is perhaps the most shocking in recent times. GameSpot have never admitted the link, but the fact that Eidos had purchased a significant amount of advertising from GameSpot for the game, paired with evidence from leaked marketing material suggesting that Eidos had faked review scores, subsequently opened a can of worms that had gamers questioning how biased their sources are.
In a tell-all reveal on Wired, Jim Redner of Redner Group, the PR company responsible for the Twitter outlash (or “brain fart” as he so adequately puts it), explains his actions. Although he does regret the Twitter outburst, he goes on to explain that he has no problem with selecting who does or does not receive a game based on how they will review it. This wholly frank admission is yet another mark on the integrity of the game reviewing process, and yet more proof that Metacritic scores cannot be trusted until a few weeks after release date, as early reviews have been tailored to achieve the highest possible score on release using, in my opinion, wholly unscrupulous methods.
That he also refuses to accept that Duke Nukem Forever is at best mediocre and, at worst, a complete embarrassment for all parties involved, is testament to the short-sightedness and arms-length knowledge that external marketing companies have related to the industry they are supposed to be servicing.
Unfortunately it will take more high-profile blunders to fully expose the extent to which games journalism is held up by puppet strings, and to ascertain who capitulates to the puppeteer’s coercion the most.