Video Game Critics Turning Into Attention Whores
Online journalism is relatively new, and as we all know, it doesn't play by the same rules as print journalism. It should, of course, but realistically speaking, it almost can't. And now, the latest negative trend is clearly beginning to affect game reviewers across the 'Net.
Anybody can discover the trend for themselves, if they're even the slightest bit observant. Here's the only example you need- Game X scores a 9.5 from one source, a 9.0 from another, and after maybe a dozen total reviews, it's averaging a 9.2 or something like that. Then, one source gives it a 7.0. ...now, regardless of the source's size, reliability or affiliation, that source can expect a ton of attention for delivering a review score that's in such stark contrast to the standard average. And what does attention translate to on the Internet? Traffic. Visibility. Growth. Money. Typically, this might not be an issue if the savvy reader and consumer would be smart enough to gauge the situation and then respond appropriately. But lately, many gamers are - for whatever reason - treating the lone dissenting critical voice as the lone voice of reason. Their logic operates in reverse. They actually believe that the one reviewer is probably "telling it like it is," and everyone else is just a "fanboy" or "paid off."
The "paid off" thing is rarely an issue - we dealt with that during the GameSpot/Gerstmann/Eidos fiasco - but this ordeal where reviewers who issue greatly differing scores from the norm...well, it's starting to become irritating. Just look at the headlines for the day whenever this happens. Nobody is going to even notice the site that gave GTAIV a 9.5, but everyone will notice the site that gave it a 8. The same goes for just about any major blockbuster release, and as far as we can see, this trend is only going to get worse. With so many "critics" realizing that there's a tried-and-true method of garnering major attention/traffic, the controversial reviews will continue to assault the Internet. We're not about to squash differing opinions and we're not about to say that a big difference of opinion is automatically manufactured or artificial. Sure, it could be legitimate. The critic really might believe Killzone 2 is only worth an 8, or something. And he'll try to prove it.
But that's not what's happening. Instead, we're getting poorly written and completely ignorant reviews that are specifically designed to attract attention. This is going to cause some serious problems, because lest we forget, critics have a responsibility. They have a responsibility to the gamer. Most gamers do their research and aren't willing to drop their hard-earned cash unless they get some professional feedback first, and succumbing to the "gotta get traffic!" trend is only going to hurt the consumer. So all this being said, we leave you with this: be very wary of reviews that give a high-profile game a significantly different overall score than most sources. Critics in other entertainment industries are guilty of this same trend, too, but the vast majority of game reviews are online. And online, we have immense website competition...just be careful, people.
1/21/2009 Ben Dutka