Monday, August 27, 2012

Careful Consumption: Video Games, Corporate Greed and Power to the People

Now, I don't want to start pointing fingers or making unfounded claims, I'm merely following through a pattern of reasoning that seems valid to me. My point is this: that bias, small as it may be, is likely powerful enough to make or break a game and thus even an entire company could boom or bust based on a general opinion shift in the consumer market. So how can a company go about protecting themselves against a negative bias generated by the press? Two ways, either they make a great game, or they take the more reliable option: financially persuade the press that the game deserves a better score than initial impressions suggest.

Granted, that's a pretty strong claim and I'm not claiming to have any solid evidence that would guarantee the truth of it but in the interest of your own company and thus you and your co-workers' livelihoods, wouldn't you at least consider it? Despite the lack of solid evidence however, there's noticeably been plenty of big budget games recently that have failed in the eyes of the consumer and yet they maintain great MetaCritic scores. It doesn't take Sherlock Holmes level powers of induction to come to the conclusion that certain publishers might be buying review scores from certain publications.

Subjectivity being what it is however, who's to say those reviewers didn't just have differing opinions to the general consumer base? We're certainly not in a position to refute someone's opinion if that's what it truly is. But here's the issue, what value does a review have to a consumer if the reviewer has a regularly inconsistent opinion with that consumer? Now of course, not everyone is going to agree on everything, that's human nature but when a review tells you a game is great, you buy it, it sucks, how likely are you to trust that publication again? How likely are you to trust games journalism at all when most of the major publications all laud praise on to a game you consider puerile garbage?

Parallel to feeling let down by the review, you're also likely to find yourself with a negative opinion of the developer and/or publisher. So the total damage of buying reviews now comes to: consumer distrust of a games review publication and perhaps even the entirety of games journalism, combined with: consumer distrust of the developer/publisher. It doesn't stop there however, as Swen Vincke mentioned in an interview with Sean Ridgeley of

"Say you have a bad RPG that's getting initial 85 or 90 Metacritic rating, and people buy it and say 'I don't like RPGs'. You've basically done a disservice to the entire RPG developing and publishing community."

And to make matters worse, this can be broadened further to someone buying a game for the first time, they decide they're going to try a game based on its deceptively high metascore, that person is now likely to think 'if this is among the best games available, games aren't for me'.

Who would have thought bribery and fabrication would damage an entire industry? Tssh. One might want to argue that it's all simply the inevitable result of a capitalist economy and that there are no individuals who truly deserve the blame; everyone's just looking out for themselves: developers have to keep on the good side of publishers, publishers need the game to sell in order to make a return and thus continue to fund games in the future and games journalism have to keep on the good side of both of them in order to get those early review copies or be invited to press conferences.

That doesn't mean though, that we as consumers have to accept that the system is flawed and live with it. We really do have the power to change things. All that's needed is for us to find reviewers that we each trust to be honest and fair and show them support, buy games with more caution, don't get caught up in the hype. Search out reviews from lesser-known sources, even if they're just user reviews, check to see if they compare with the mainstream press. Even Reddit, the gelatinous blob of diluted opinion that it is, has become aware of the trend of buying the latest triple-A title, shouting from the rooftops about how god-awful it is and swearing to never buy from *insert publisher/developer of choice here* and then 12 months down the line they're buying the latest release any way and the cycle starts again. This is one instance in which we really do have power as a collective, vote with your wallet.

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