No, Game Journalists Are Not Paid by Publishers for Review Scores

“The industry is absolutely littered with journalists willing to sell themselves and their true beliefs out for a modest price. And this is no different from any other form of journalism, so what you’re trying to make us believe is that somehow games journalism is different.

“Integrity in journalism is the real myth, sadly. It’s nice that you still believe in it, but it doesn’t align with the facts.”
–Game Front commenter Les Hurst

That comment from a recent Game Front article on sales of The Last of Us is not unusual, although perhaps it is more articulate than the average accusation of corruption leveled at those of use who work as members of the media that covers the games industry.

We are, certainly, a media subculture with some very real ethical issues. For example, some major publishers will pay to fly and board reporters when hosting large press events, and taking them up on such an offer can be the only option for many publications if they want to get that coverage. And it’s not unusual for such events to have open bars and free food (almost always sliders) for the attendees.

Nobody is signing contracts saying that accepting flights and hotel rooms from a publisher or drinking their booze requires that we not say anything negative about the games at said events, but there is a perception issue there. That’s why many publications have strict policies against accepting travel and put dollar limits on swag their staffers can accept; we know it looks bad. Things like that may not ethically compromise the journalists involved, but it could damage their credibility to rely so heavily on the goodwill of a publisher.

But perhaps folks are worried about even smaller scale pandering. In speaking about this issue, one of my college buddies pointed out that some folks take issue with the fact that “the enthusiast press relies on the industry for all art, review copies, etc. They control access if you want timeliness.”

But, to get to the heart of this: Do game companies actually give games journalists cash or gifts explicitly intended to be exchanged for kind words about their products or a specific review score?


Can I provide physical evidence of that? Well, I could show you my bank and Paypal statements, but I’m not sure that would convince anybody of much — one LA rental company didn’t think several bank statements were enough proof that I make enough money for a studio in Westlake, after all. So what we’re going to do is look at this logically from several perspectives, giving this issue some real thought. We’ll start with me.

As a freelance journalist, I am usually entirely responsible for making sure I have things to write about. As a result, I am dependent on publishers to provide me with games in order to be effective at my job. It’s true that I need the people in charge of access to games to not hate me so much they refuse to talk to me. But at no point in any of these interactions has anyone representing a game company suggested that my access to these copies was contingent on positive coverage.

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50 Comments on No, Game Journalists Are Not Paid by Publishers for Review Scores


On July 28, 2013 at 11:23 am

My problems with game journalists started cropping up several years ago when we where seeing highly praised reviews for games that well sucked bad like Dragon Age 2, Game Front has been a beacon of light and truthful reviews these past couple years when it feels like all the rest only want to blow smoke up are ass saying how great a game is when its not.


On July 28, 2013 at 11:23 am

Phil, I understand the point you’re making, however unethical stuff does go on behind the scenes. Look at Mass Effect 3 for example. You really think its a coincidence that IGN was so whole heartedly behind EA after one of their own journalists did voice work for the game?

If the issue between Sony and Kotaku hadn’t been made public, do you think Sony still would have backed down? Hell no. They backed down back then the same reason Microsoft is backing down now when it comes to a lot of the Xbox One features. They don’t the general public to know whats going on behind the scenes. They don’t like to have their dirty laundry aired, then again, who does, right?

I’ve seen articles in the past about how when a review sits down to review a game, it’s not uncommon for them to have a list of things they’re not allowed to mention in the review. If they do mention any of those things, then the website is usually punished by the publisher. Either by not getting any information on the next big game or worse yet, not getting an advanced copy of the next AAA game to review.

Have we all forgotten why Jeff Gerstmann and Ryan Davis left Gamespot? That right there is proof enough of the expectations that companies have when it comes to the review process of their games. Just because money doesn’t actually change hands, doesn’t mean Les Hurst is wrong.


On July 28, 2013 at 11:53 am

Why do I find this so incredibly difficult to believe, not only does games that have sequels constantly get good scores but some of the ones that do have sequels with equal or higher scores suffer from the same or worse problems that shoul lower it but when a game comes out with equal problems they are attacked immediately or they just don’t understand the point of what a game is, I won’t list any games specifically because I hate flame wars, but there are games out there that are meant to be parodies and are taken seriously, and yet get hate and aren’t understood for what they are.

Phil Owen

On July 28, 2013 at 11:57 am

as Totilo pointed out in one of the quotes in the article, the situation in 2007 is not the same as in 2013.

But, yeah, some sites are sketchy, and there are some sketchy activities many more of us partake in, like publisher-sponsored E3 parties.

But that’s not the point of this article. The point is that nobody is taking cash for review scores, and while people keep accusing us of doing that we’re not going to be able to have a real conversation about our ethical issues.

Also, Luther, folks being soft on games they’re excited for isn’t really an ethical problem. happens. See:


On July 28, 2013 at 12:31 pm

There are different ways of being “paid off” that don’t involve cash being put directly into journalists accounts from publishers. Mass Effect using an IGN reporter in the game is the best example.


On July 28, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Maybe they don’t get paid for it. As Phil Hornshaw commented on this earlier, it’s not worth it for the publisher. I get that.

But that doesn’t mean they actually write honest reviews. Yes, IGN is still the best example. Remember what happened when ME3 came out? They called everyone an entitled whiner who disliked ME3′s ending.

Did they get paid for it? Not necessarily, but they sure as hell was influenced by EA in some degree.


On July 28, 2013 at 1:38 pm

@Matt: Exactly. This entire article is built on the weird idea that there has to be some sort of shady underbelly with men in suits and shades sneakily bringing briefcases full of 100 dollar bills to the offices of games magazines with a little ‘nudge nudge wink wink’ gesture or some sort of figure like the Cowboy in Mulholland Drive saying you’ll see them once if you give the correct score and twice if you don’t. Nobody’s claiming that this is what happens so it’s a straw man argument. It’s more a case of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”

For instance, Jessica Chobot was not cast in ME3 because of her acting ability or her reputation as a presenter and journalist. She was hired as a way of showing what might happen for other games reporters if they know what side their bread’s buttered on. There’s no point in even trying to deny that because BioWare sure as hell hasn’t. It’s no wonder therefore that every mainstream outlet in existence (aside from GameFront) queued up to vehemently defend the dismal, falsely-advertised ending since they probably felt they had a better chance of earning incentives and rewards down the line for their blind loyalty. Or at the very least, they felt their twice-yearly AEP trips to Canada and California were at risk if they listened to anyone other than what EA wanted them to hear. Either way, it’s a form of payment – either the threat of losing something or the hope of gaining something. It doesn’t have to be a direct transaction with two guys in trilbies swapping envelopes on a park bench. In many cases, the journalists themselves may not even realise they’re being manipulated, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Conversely, in the case of Jeff Gertsmann being fired for having integrity in his reviews and not pedalling the message Gamespot’s sponsors wanted the site just didn’t give a crap who knew they could be bought.

And then of course, the readers are encouraged to accept the reviewer’s word as more or less being the word of Christ, whether it be through selective examples (e.g. only choosing comments that back up what the magazine’s said, and only showing negative comments which have the weakest arguments while ignoring the ones that actually make sense and are well-articulated since they might risk challenging the status quo), emotional rhetoric about ‘art’ or playing to personal issues and prejudices of readers to shame them into silence (again ME3 – OPM’s ridiculous attempts to try and claim people who hated the ending were racist and xenophobic was the reason I finally stopped taking them seriously after many prior warnings), and weak defences like “where are the games that do this better?” which aren’t valid responses at all but confuse readers into trying to think of better examples and – if they can’t think of any – stumbling to the mistaken belief that this must mean it’s objectively good. Plus, in the case of a magazine, they’re often highly-priced, giving many readers the incorrect assumption that therefore the opinions in the magazine have more weight. So in that respect, readers are actually paying for a magazine that then buys their own acceptance of their word simply on the grounds that they had to pay for it. It’s a mind-melt but there’s no question that it’s true – the number of times people have played the appeal to authority by taking a magazine’s opinion over someone else’s, even when the other opinion was CLEARLY better-researched and more impartial than that of the magazine writer, just because it WAS in a magazine and they don’t want to accept or can’t comprehend that they’d spent money on something that was either factually wrong or theoretically flawed, is virtually impossible to calculate.

Sorry but there’s simply too many examples of sub-standard games or terrible consumer rights breaches being swept under the rug – not to mention direct attacks on gamers by journalists for finding fault in their verdicts – for me and many others to believe that game reviewers are balanced in any way, with ‘Official’ games magazines being by far the worst examples. Try as hard as you might to convince us otherwise but all I’ve seen so far is a nothing argument from Ron Whitaker saying that he doesn’t believe it happens because he hasn’t encountered it personally (confirmation bias) and this article which makes the point that you yourself are freelance which I think says it all about why you and Ron haven’t been approached. You’re not important enough in the eyes of developers for them to try and approach you. You don’t work for a glossy magazine with the Xbox or Playstation logo on the cover, and you don’t work for a website with particularly well-known writers with recognisable faces. You work for a site that, while respected by readers for holding companies to account and not (always) treating readers like babies who need to be spoonfed industry soundbytes all the time, is either vilified or flat-out ignored by publishers for the very same reason. They haven’t tried to buy your word because they don’t see you as having a word worth buying. It’s sad but it’s true. GameFront, for the very fact that it actually respects its readership and doesn’t pull punches when dealing with the larger companies, is not the sort of outlet publishers feel the need to influence because they know the majority of their potential audience is still reading hackjob gutter rags with safe, corporate, fanboy-orientated propaganda. Those are the people they want to target, not those who have already proven themselves to be too canny to fall for their BS by virtue of simply visiting this site regularly.

Try writing for a more established, mainstream publication under their actual payroll employ and see if your beliefs still hold true. I doubt you’d reach three weeks before an offer was made, either directly or indirectly, for you to ‘tweak’ your opinions to sate the magazine or website’s vested interests in a publisher or developer. Until then, this column is simply no more grounded in facts or reality than the so-called urban legend it’s apparently trying (and failing) to debunk.


On July 28, 2013 at 1:46 pm

*I meant “racist and homophobic,” not “racist and xenophobic.” Two writers at OPM disgustingly and pathetically tried to associate the hatred of the ending on a technical and customer loyalty level with the people who criticised male Shepard’s and mixed race romance options in a totally unrelated backlash. It was embarrassing.


On July 28, 2013 at 1:49 pm

The problem with games reviewers is the conflict of interest. Reviewers want to get friendly with producers to get exclusives yet their job is to provide competent and accurate reviews for gamers.

I will not say money does or does not change hands, you would not be able to prove anything in that case. But as Matt said other blatant tactics are used, exclusive deals, promotional items, even the inclusion of big events. For example Total Biscuit promotion of Planetside 2 during their empire thing last year, he most definitely did not do that of his own good will, plenty of others do things similar just like him.

This mistrust is not unfounded, with so many corrupt reviewers reported on in the past and so many sites obviously giving out bloated unrealistic scores. Personally I do not trust any reviewers and only go to sites like this for gaming news, not reviews or scores.


On July 28, 2013 at 2:02 pm

What about the possibility that the site that employ the reviewer asks for kind words when talking about specific games from specific publishers, or they won’t get the juicy potential advertising from said publisher…

Sure, maybe ‘corruption’ is maybe more a case-by-case basis, less systematic than before, but I won’t be fooled that today, it’s gone…
As long as we don’t see any more ‘Diablo3 90%-like’ for a game that clearly doesn’t deserved it paired with a huge Blizzard advertising on that same game site, I think we can say it’s a step in the right direction…


On July 28, 2013 at 2:58 pm

I know someone who owns a site that does reviews. They gave Black Ops a below “8″ score and was sent a notification stating that if they did not change the site rating to an “8.5″ minimum he would no longer receive any products to test from Activision.!! He replied along the lines of “We at such and such purchase our own products for review”. But its isn’t cash that exchanges it’s advertisement, exclusives and bribery. pure simple


On July 28, 2013 at 3:06 pm

The IGN/ME3 saga is a good example of the problem, but there are certainly others much more recent (and in some cases more blatant) to highlight.

Have a look at Eurogamer Sweden’s Simcity review (easy to find on Metacritic). A perfect hundred, and published on March 4th. The bloody game didn’t go live until the 5th, and was literally non-functional due to server overload for a solid week. Even today, it’s still seriously broken, but at least is limpimg along enough to normally boot.

So, I ask, how the *#ck did Eurogamer play a game that, at the time, didn’t work? Only two answers here, they either A) had a demo copy running on a private EA network and didn’t mention it or B) wrote a canned review of the game sight-unseen based on the beta. Honestly not sure which of the two is ethically slimier.

I highlight Eurogamer because it’s the most blatant example, but there’s a good half dozen ‘reviews’ of Simcity up on Metacritic published either before, on, or directly following launch day that are basically, well, impossible. It’s be like Edmund’s writing a glowing review for a new car model that didn’t ship with an engine. These ‘reviewers’ were obviously either working on a product that was different than the version released to the general public, or simply made the whole thing up.

This ain’t unique to Simcity, or ME3, or any other AAA title of late. Pick a game and check the Metacritic roundup. Without fail, there’s a grouping of reviews that came out at or immediately following launch which simply don’t track with the actual product that was released to the public. Again, there are only two possibilities. One, the review site in question had a version of the game different than the release version, and for whatever reason decided not to share that information in the review. Two, the site wrote a canned review of the game before it was released, and for whatever reason decided not to share that information in the review.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the problem.

Roy Batty

On July 28, 2013 at 4:44 pm

Interesting how ME3 won’t die. It wasn’t simply IGN that was the problem it was everyone with a few exceptions. GameSpot PCGamer and IGN all gave it glowing reviews this is why I contend that ME3 is like the Titanic of gaming. It should have been called out but wasn’t (i.e. it couldn’t sink). PCGamer was the real shocker to me I had always followed them and they were usually spot on (I have since dropped them). GameSpot had no less than 3 articles trying to CYA by agreeing with EA’s intellectually dishonest “it’s art” argument.

In contrast Duke Nuke’em was roundly panned – one could argue it was panned because the publishers did not throw cash around but the game sucked through and through this lends credence to Phil’s argument – no one is directly (overtly) bribed.

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose – we live in an analog world – people sometimes make mistakes. It seems to me the best policy is to wait before buying, then read reviews from different sources. The response to ME3′s ending took a few weeks to materialize. I remember doing Google searches the fist week or so and found almost nothing – (other than YouTube on the ending) then BANG! it exploded (quite fascinating actually).

Personally I would like to see a forum/debate of all the people who wrote the glowing reviews (of ME3) and also the people who were critical of it. I would like to know the real reason why they loved it so much. I can’t seem to find anyone who approaches the argument reasonably (i.e. not as fanbois – “I hate you because you hate it”).

@Phil – by the very fact that your wrote this article says something – you and your fellow journalists care about your business and you are doing your best to keep journalistic integrity. Sometimes you won’t be able to but this is no reason to give up; please keep up the good work.

“You can please some of the people some of the time all of the people some of the time some of the people all of the time but you can never please all of the people all of the time.” ~ Unknown


On July 28, 2013 at 5:25 pm

Look guys, just because the first wave of reviews sometimes turn into echo chambers doesn’t mean that they were paid off. I think this is less evidence of de-regulation and more a sign that game critics play a lot more crappy games than we do. They don’t go from starcraft 2 to to uncharted 3… there’s six or seven inversions inbetween.

As for Chobot, she probably leveraged her position at IGN for a minor role in a game, but plenty of other major outlets sang that game’s praises just as loud. What is she doing now? is she hobnobbing with triple A industry execs for bigger and better publicity?

No, she quit her job at IGN more than a year ago and wrote an indie horror game. Scandal.


On July 28, 2013 at 6:53 pm

I think that both sides are making important observations here. There are ways to skew a review without pulling out a bag of money – and I think there’s a reason why BioWare (ME3+DA2) comes up as an example.

Jessica Chobot’s involvement in ME3 was like a slap to the face. But it’s just the tip of the iceberg – if you follow BioWare’s PR people on twitter you can see that many journalists have personal relationships with them, ranging from being good acquaintances to what seems to be endearing friendships, promising each other to meet up on Comic Con to party, jumping at a chance to recommend a new type of noodles, sending each other love and kisses. There’s a fine line there that is often being crossed. I think people would raise questions if car reviewers were close friends with people who produce them, talking publicly about jacuzzi baths they’re going to enjoy together. I wouldn’t buy a car based on a review coming from such a person.


On July 28, 2013 at 8:03 pm

It’s all BS to me. Every company creating AAA titles pay off game journalists for good reviews in return of either playing the game first, being the first to upload there trailer exclusively to there site etc. It’s a cheaper means of marketing instead of creating billboards etc.That’s why many great games fall under the radar because these journalist believe that if no one is paying them for there time in playing the game they rate it according to that. Also notice how many commercials are added nowadays just to watch trailers or gameplay its ridiculous. The Last of us gameplay and story was a pure crap, Mass Effect 3′s ending ruined the entire franchise and made the game unplayable a second time. Call of Duty, Battlefield, Grand Theft Auto V, Halo, Gears of War, God of War, Batman Origins, Metal Gear, Mario, Assassins Creed, Forza, Need for speed etc needs to end. I’m sick and tired of this regurgitated crap that has no substance or originality. These games in my opinion deserve low scores just by announcement alone.


On July 28, 2013 at 8:09 pm

What’s funny is that this is the third article written on this subject in a short amount of time, which to me says you’re trying hard to convince us of just how honest journalists are. Honestly, do you think you had more success the third time around. I doubt it.
Why is it that games like ME3, and Diablo3 both got glowing reviews by certain reviewers, got blasted by a good chunk of the public, while smaller less noticeable games didn’t get the same type of scores even though they were much more well received by the real gamers?
It is so ridiculous that reviewers “try” to portray them selves as sooooo honest, to the point of being comical.
Like I said in an earlier article, I bet the NBA would like us to believe that all there refs are honest and don’t get paid off every now and then, or that the players won’t throw a game for money. Yes, no boxer in history has ever taken a dive either. Makes me want to cry at just how honest and upstanding you journalist are. Really, it brings a tear to my eye,…………..from laughing.
Granted you may not be up there with those In government, but the title of “totally incorruptible” shouldn’t be engraved on you halos either.
Like I said, three articles in such a short amount of time shows to me at least, that all of you aren’t so sure as you would like us to believe. Just saying.


On July 28, 2013 at 8:59 pm

It’s fanboyism in reviews, not bribery, that is the real problem.

There’s also those that rush to publish, putting out reviews before they get into the meat of the game in order to be the first to hit the public eye, and don’t get to the parts that really take the shine off the game they are reviewing. Diablo 3 was a big one for this.


On July 29, 2013 at 1:05 am

I quit playing AAA titles, started using Steam to get good indie games and I’m having fun like never before. I cannot think of a real good, creative new IP AAA game that was out recently.


On July 29, 2013 at 1:19 am

Sorry, but fanboyism only covers part of it. I can’t buy it as a total cover all excuse. I mean, look at the reviewers that praised the ending for ME3, call it hard hitting and original, instead of what it really was, incomplete and stupid. Diablo3 had major flaws well into reviewing range, and they still praised it. No, I do agree it isn’t as wide spread as it would seem, fanboyism does take it’s toll, but no, I can’t except that they are all fanboys. Reviewers can protest the people questioning their honesty, but how can you trust someone trying to protect their own, there jobs. Answer: you can’t. It’s like asking refs if other refs are dirty. They won’t admit it to anyone. They will just say “well they make some bad judgement calls”. All you can do is shake your head when you hear that. Same with reviewers, ” they made some fanboy reviews”. Again, got to shake your head when you hear that. They hold up their halos with their horns, and pitchfork anyone who questions their honesty. I believe most are honest, but to say all. Well that’s like saying ” Obama’s got it all under control”. In other words, it just isn’t true.


On July 29, 2013 at 1:28 am

So my comment last night was a little all over the place, and I apologize for that.

I was kinda hoping other people would throw games out there that almost suiously contradict what Phil is trying to say. So let’s move off Mass Effect 3 and talk about why……oh, I don’t know……off the top of my head, the Call of Duty and Battlefield franchise continue to get damn near perfect scores across the board.

In articles talking about new games, the word innovative gets thrown around A LOT. It’s a word you see in a lot of reviews as well. However, as soon as a Call of Duty or Battlefield game comes out, the journalists all of a sudden are saying “inno-what? Are we speaking the same language? I’m not familiar with this word, what does it mean?”

I’m not saying the games don’t deserve good scores. It’s just there is a pattern of these games being held to a different standard than other games. For example, the word innovative, with the exception of the first Modern Warfare game, can anyone tell me how later CoD releases have been innovative? Another couple dirty words that get used a lot when explaining why a game isn’t very good is “linear” and “on rails shooter”.

Yet, when you look at CoD/BF what do you have? 25% of the game is an on-rails experience. You’re either in a tank, a helicopter or a mounted turret of some kind. When you’re not doing that, you’re in a bunker or building going from hallway to hallway or a city or town going from alleyway to alleyway. The majority of the open maps they have are an illusion. There is only one way to progress through the map and deviating from the way way will result in your death. The few times the map actually does legitimately open up. It’s so you can single-handedly defend a position by killing wave after wave of enemies for 15 minutes.

Oh and lets not forget that Battlefield 3 was buggier than a gorilla’s nutsack when it came out.

So to sum up, we have a set of games that has a 6 hour campaign with an extremely lackluster story, that is 25% on-rails shooter, 95% linear hallway of one type or another. Multiplayer that has not seen any real innovation since the original Modern Warfare (that every other FPS game tries to copy including Battlefield).
—–IGN: 9.5/10 + Editors Choice Gamespot: 9.0/10, Giantbomb: 4/5 stars 10/10 All Microsoft owned outlets: 10/10
— Nominated for FPS game of the year by 15 different websites.

Please explain this.

You know what it is? It’s fear. There is not a single major gaming outlet that has the balls to call Activision and EA out on this. That’s because they have a lot of money, and carry a lot of weight. It’s easier to fall in line, raise a stink about the lesser games that they don’t really care about than about their flagship games.

So, no Phil, I don’t believe that money is actually exchanging hands. However, I do believe the relationship between a journalist and the developer/publisher is more based on politics. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. With the developer adding in “if you don’t scratch my back, then we’ll find a way to punish you”. Having journalists (not all, but most) write articles and reviews based on fear and favors is just as bad as if they were writing them because they literally got paid to do it.

For you to try to convince us that “journalists don’t accept bribes for good reviews” is like EA trying to tell us that the new Battlefront game won’t just be Battlefield with a Star Wars skin. We as the consumer nod, smile and with a slight tone of condescension say “right, sure, sure whatever you say”.

If you fall in line with these other journalists, great. I might not always agree with your view, but I respect you enough to always read what you have to say, and take it seriously.


On July 29, 2013 at 1:29 am

*If you don’t fall in line……

CRAP!! I noticed the error right as I pushed submit.

Ron Whitaker

On July 29, 2013 at 5:53 am

@JawaEsteban: I can tell you how Eurogamer got a SimCity review up, or least I think I can. They had advance review copy, and were able to play on the servers prior to the game being available to the general public. At that time, I’m sure the servers held up just fine. Unfortunately, once the game launched, we all saw what happened.

Reviewing multiplayer games is always tough. If you’re playing prior to launch, you either don’t get to play the multiplayer, or you play it with a small subset of people. Most developers go out of their way to make multiplayer available to reviewers, and in many cases, we end up playing against our counterparts from other sites.

However, in some cases (see Phil Hornshaw’s Last of Us review), we simply can’t play the multi before the game launches. In cases like that, we do exactly what we did with Phil’s review – we don’t score it until we get to play the multiplayer.


On July 29, 2013 at 8:35 am

Corruption doesn’t have to consist of dirty bills passed under a table. It’s disappointing to see a piece claiming that it doesn’t exist in games journalism not even mention Gerstmanngate, an incident where corruption quite visibly occurred. (Not only does it discredit the argument, it’s quite puzzling considering the use of the Kane and Lynch image.) “They don’t bribe us outright” isn’t much of an argument- you could have at least tried to address the issues of ads and exclusives.

FWIW, I trust both Game Front and Destructoid, even if an occasional piece- like this one- misses the mark. And perhaps most of games media consists of fearless journalists managed by men of iron integrity- but an ordinary reader has no way of knowing whether you’re run like, say, Gamespot instead. There are legit reasons to be suious of games journalism, and claiming that the widespread mistrust stems from simplemindedness and paranoia is not only wrong but insulting.


On July 29, 2013 at 9:25 am

To be a true critic….you have to be able to rip apart what you love and see it for what it is….the good and bad.

Otherwise you’re just a fawning fan.

Mant game journalists fall into the second category instead of the first.

Mark Burnham

On July 29, 2013 at 1:03 pm

Hey everyone,
Wanted to hop in here and share some thoughts.

1. The Jessica Chobot in ME3 thing. If we’re talking about ethically questionable stuff in games journalism in general, this is potentially worth a look. If Chobot considers herself a game journalist, made an appearance in a game, and then proceeded to editorially cover that game, that’s certainly a conflict of interest.

But we’re specifically discussing ‘review scores,’ and Chobot didn’t review ME3 for IGN, Colin Moriarty did. If you have beef with IGN’s coverage of ME3, I highly doubt Chobot’s cameo had anything to do with it. Also note that Chobot wasn’t exclusively a host for IGN at the time, she also did work for G4. It’s not like having her in the game was an ad for IGN. Just my take.

2. @Axetwin: “I’ve seen articles in the past about how when a review sits down to review a game, it’s not uncommon for them to have a list of things they’re not allowed to mention in the review.”

Honestly, ‘review guides’ like the one you’re describing are to help game reviewers avoid spoilers. Publishers don’t want certain parts of their story spoiled in a review. There’s nothing more to it than that, and I understand where they’re coming from.

2. @Axetwin and others: The Jeff Gerstmann thing. Lots of people still bring this one up. I’d just to remind everyone first and foremost this was in 2007. It’s been six years, and I’d like to think that the relationship between publishers, gaming outlets and ad sales teams has improved since then. If anything, we needed the Gerstmann thing, as it was a wakeup call for a lot of people and I hope we’re better off now because of it. I’d liken this to a whistleblower revealing secret corruption that, while highlighting problems, leads to righteous anger and (hopefully) positive change.

Jeff Gerstmann was fired from his job at GameSpot in 2007, because management at the site couldn’t “trust him in the role,” as they put it. Eidos threatened to pull their ad dollars, which is rare but certainly does happen. Instead of saying “cool, later,” management at GameSpot buckled and fired Gerstmann. Who’s to blame here? For me, the inexperienced management team at the site, who didn’t know how to handle the situation. Source here, good thing to check out. What’s the moral here? Publishers only have negative control over publications if that control is given, and this is six years ago. For me, this is more of a warning than it is a sign of the times. Six years ago:

3. IGN’s coverage of ME3. Just because IGN liked the ending of ME3, and gave it a good review, doesn’t mean they were in any way influenced by EA. That may be an unpopular thing to say, but it really is the truth. It means they liked the game, as many gaming outlets did. Game Front was rather critical of the game’s ending, but many others didn’t see it that way. Even Penny Arcade. I don’t begrudge anyone their opinion, and just because someone’s opinion differs from your own doesn’t mean there’s some conspiracy fueling it. We’re paid to be critics, it’s what we do, and when you share your opinions people disagree.

4. “They haven’t tried to buy your word because they don’t see you as having a word worth buying. ”

How’d that work out for GameSpot, attempting to control a writer’s words when ad dollars were on the line? Not very well. Like Sterling pointed out, you just don’t this happening because it actually doesn’t make business sense. It’s a huge, huge risk, and the potential for blowup is massive.

5. “Have a look at Eurogamer Sweden’s Simcity review (easy to find on Metacritic). A perfect hundred, and published on March 4th. The bloody game didn’t go live until the 5th, and was literally non-functional due to server overload for a solid week. ”

What happened is press were indeed given access to a pre-launch set of servers where the issues that cropped up post-launch weren’t present. That’s why you saw Polygon change their score (down) after launch, as issues that weren’t there for reviewers suddenly were when consumers got access. Promise.

6. “@Phil – by the very fact that your wrote this article says something – you and your fellow journalists care about your business and you are doing your best to keep journalistic integrity. Sometimes you won’t be able to but this is no reason to give up; please keep up the good work.”

Thank you! ;) I agree, we do care.

7. “As for Chobot, she probably leveraged her position at IGN for a minor role in a game, but plenty of other major outlets sang that game’s praises just as loud.”

This ^^ That’s kind of where I’m at.

8. “What’s funny is that this is the third article written on this subject in a short amount of time, which to me says you’re trying hard to convince us of just how honest journalists are.”

We decided to write this article in response to some comments on Game Front about sales figures for The Last of Us. I took a personal interest and assigned Phil Owen to write it, because I’m interested in this sort of thing (readers’ perceptions of what we do, and how we can try and dispel any falsehoods, and also open this sort of thing up for discussion). We’re not trying to overly apologize or explain, it’s more we’re trying to engage with you because it seems like something readers are still very concerned about that. That’s all.

9. “It’s fanboyism in reviews, not bribery, that is the real problem.”
I think this is actually an excellent point. Look, games are fun. Sometimes when you’ve been playing a particular franchise for years and years, you’ve got memories with it. It’s a part of your life, literally, as you’ve invested dozens and dozens of hours in it. You develop ‘love’ for things. Does fanboy-ism (let’s define that as a reviewer’s pressing desire to forgive a game for its flaws, because he/she has some sort of nostalgic connection with it) affect review scores? I bet it does in some cases, but that’s a case by case thing.

On the other hand, you can see the opposite happening–game reviewers being especially harsh on certain franchises, since when they fail it’s that much more of a letdown. But should we be pushing to be as impartial as possible? Absolutely.

10. “So to sum up, we have a set of games that has a 6 hour campaign with an extremely lackluster story, that is 25% on-rails shooter, 95% linear hallway of one type or another. Multiplayer that has not seen any real innovation since the original Modern Warfare (that every other FPS game tries to copy including Battlefield).
—–IGN: 9.5/10 + Editors Choice Gamespot: 9.0/10, Giantbomb: 4/5 stars 10/10 All Microsoft owned outlets: 10/10
— Nominated for FPS game of the year by 15 different websites.

Please explain this.”

My explanation is I think they disagreed with your opinion of the game, and (sadly) many other folks did too. The last Call of Duty game made $1 billion in two weeks, and it was the most played Xbox Live game of 2012. I’d agree there was a problem if the game in question was DARK, which is horrible and no one will be buying. But we’re talking about Call of Duty, which has a huge audience.

Phil Owen

On July 29, 2013 at 2:13 pm


I’m pretty sure what I wrote in the article you’re commenting on is in agreement with what you’re saying. Allow me to point a couple sections out.

“We are, certainly, a media subculture with some very real ethical issues. For example, some major publishers will pay to fly and board reporters when hosting large press events, and taking them up on such an offer can be the only option for many publications if they want to get that coverage. And it’s not unusual for such events to have open bars and free food (almost always sliders) for the attendees.”

“There are almost certainly people among us who are compromised in some way by relationships with people who represent things they cover — and who wouldn’t want to, say, offend their friends by saying something overly negative about projects those friends are involved with. Or maybe there’s some unconscious loyalty to a brand or genre we feel nostalgic for and have difficulty being critical about — a very real concern for an “enthusiast” press like ours. Those are discussions worth having, certainly. ”

I think you’re pointing out things that are very real issues, but you’re also speaking in absolutes, which is a problem. We are not all the same, and we don’t all face the same ethical issues, and we don’t all love Battlefield 3. Saying that every single one of us lives in fear of offending EA and Activision, as you just did, prevents us from being able to have a real talk about real issues.


On July 29, 2013 at 2:54 pm

@ Mark – I get what you’re saying with the “their opinion is different from mine” view. However, these same journalists are real quick to voice their “concerns” in first looks and even reviews of other games…..particularly sequels for not being innovative enough. For not taking enough risks with their game to try new things or if the game feels too shallow. Yet when it comes to the Modern Warfare franchise, no such concerns are ever brought up.

Again, you might want to chalk it up to opinion. However, here’s the thing…..and this is something I rarely ever say; the paragraph of mine that you quoted, was mostly fact, not opinion. It’s not opinion that the single player levels have an extremely linear design to them. It’s not opinion that the multiplayer has seen no real fundamental changes since the original Modern Warfare game almost 7 years ago.

The number 1 biggest reason why gamers are real quick to play the “this review was bought” card, is because most gaming journalists lack consistency in their writing. One week they’re saying a specific game is too similar to its predecessor and the next they have no problem with a game that is aesthetically identical to its predecessor.

So Call of Duty made 1 billion in its first two weeks. Great, you know what other franchise has a HUGE audience and also made LOTS of money? Twilight. The least successful opening weekend in the US alone was just shy of 65 million dollars. Breaking Dawn part 2 saw the most successful world wide box office sales of 832.6 million dollars. And on that bombshell, I say goodnight…


On July 29, 2013 at 5:26 pm

@ Ron and Mark,

I appreciate the info, guys. That is the majority suion around the Simcity community (Simtrop, Simpeg etc. etc.), although to my knowledge Maxis have never officially admitted it to the general public. Lucy Bradshaw doesn’t exactly have a sterling record as a fountain of honesty at this point. Several other sites eventually did though, (such as Polygon), and certainly better late than never.

Ron, I’m in complete agreement with you on how a game with a multiplayer component should be reviewed. Until it actually gets tested in a live environment, you don’t score it. Seems incredibly obvious, but unfortunately some of your counterparts on other sites don’t feel that way.

I draw a distinction between games that have a multiplayer component (Halo, Command & Conquer, heck even Unreal Tournament) versus this new breed that requires multiplayer to simply function (Diablo 3, Simcity). For the former, although I still think it should be disclosed if the multiplayer was tested in an artificial environment, it’s not an enormous problem if that detail isn’t mentioned. The game will still work just fine while the dev/pub work out the bugs.

However, my opinion is that failing to disclose that a game that requires the multiplayer component to FUNCTION was tested and reviewed in a completely artificial environment is a breach of journalistic integrity. It doesn’t have to be harped upon by the publication, just a simple sentence along the lines of “Disclaimer: The version of BLANK we reviewed was tested on a private network, and should not be used as an indication of the multiplayer experience for the general public.” or something similar. To go back to my car analogy, what Eurogamer did is equivalent to Edmunds reviewing a car based on driving it in a VR simulator and passing it off as a road test. That is journalistically unacceptable, at least in my opinion.

It seems to me that a lot of this is happening because the desire to be first is overshadowing the desire to be right. Obviously, this is not an issue limited to games journalism, as CNN recently demonstrated, but it still needs to be addressed.

Mel's Myth

On July 30, 2013 at 3:13 am

Journalists telling us that journalists don’t get approached to give good reviews. Well, I guess that’s me satisfied. I mean, it’s not like you’d have a reason to lie, or even to just turn a blind eye due to your personal stake in the industry. With such balanced opinions as these I’m sure the many, many examples of quite blatant bias, favouritism and whitewashing in virtually all areas of the major games press will be quickly seen as coincidence.

Here’s what amuses me most. GameFront has spent years now trying to convince everyone that there is widespread, inherent sexism in the games industry as opposed to a smattering of exceptional examples that for the most part weren’t sexist to begin with, but managed to annoy a handful of ‘feminists’ who are themselves sexists – as well as completely apposite to the concept of liberty and liberalism – if you bother to read up on any of their own work instead of blindly exploiting half-stories (at best) to cynically raise your non-existent political stock. Not to mention you only seem to think sexism exists from male to female which is in itself a ridiculously sexist view to have, and one that doesn’t correlate with readily-available evidence. (By the way, where are YOUR female staff members, GameFront? Pot, meet kettle.)

And yet we have here a practice that is entirely provable and in many cases is not even disguised, plus has been going on in the music and film industry for years, and yet we’re supposed to believe that this is NOT a major problem within games journalism? A man gets fired for an honest review, a female IGN personality is hired to voice act in a major release, Sony’s security problems don’t get reported in the Official Playstation Magazine, people get called ‘babies’ for having valid opinions and actually wanting to get what they paid for, writers get tours round company headquarters to keep them sweet etc…all of this takes place and you don’t see the conflict of interest, or you write it off as being a few disconnected events here and there. And yet some party with a lapdancer or two Swedish models talking about each other’s looks while playing Payday is, in spite of the fact that these women are liberated to do this if they so choose, evidence of industry-wide misogyny despite the fact that the very reason they were considered news in the first place is because it’s NOT a widespread problem.

You need to get your priorities sorted and stop trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes. If you’re too weak to tackle the real issues within the industry, the ones that effect everyone and don’t just offend a few that seek to be offended for the sake of something to complain about, then so be it. But don’t try to convince us that corruption – no matter how small-scale you think it is – isn’t a problem yet sexism is, because you’re not going to win that argument.

In fact, it’s at times like this I wonder just how much of your ME3 ending coverage was genuine thought and how much was a populist editorial decision to swim against the tide. Because we all agreed with it and were pleased to see it represented against such a defensive, biased media we all ignored the possibility that there may be some larger reason for you doing it. I think it’s time that question was asked, because the more I read GameFront, the less I see a games news/reviews/editorials site and the more I see a site with self-serving agendas they wish to shove down their readers’ throats, regardless of what the evidence says and regardless of how many people they alienate – which is exactly what drove me away from the more mainstream sources to begin with.

Ron Whitaker

On July 30, 2013 at 5:50 am

@JawaEsteban: I think you’re right that the urge to be first causes problems, and in fact our policy on reviews has always been that we’ll publish our review once it’s ready, and not to meet some artificial date. Even if that means we get the review up after release, that’s fine. In short, we’d rather be right than first.
That’s doubly more important when you’re a site that’s listed on Metacritic, as they only allow you to submit one score for a game. Want to go back and change it later? Sorry, can’t do that.

Furthermore, we want our game reviews to be useful to you, our readers. You might not always agree with our review scores, as we’ve seen before. But you can always count on us to play all facets of the game, to play through the game, and to tell you exactly what we think. In turn, you’re welcome to tell us (and the rest of the community) what you think in the comments.

Ron Whitaker

On July 30, 2013 at 6:21 am

Just wanted to re-iterate something I think is misunderstood here. Pointing to the Jeff Gertmann thing as sign that corruption is real is kind of disingenuous. Gerstmann got pressured (by the website he wrote for) to change a score, and rather than cave, he took a stand. That’s the system working as it should. That’s a journalist standing up and exposing what’s going on. That’s exactly what Jim Sterling mentions in the quote in this article.

Sure Jeff Gerstmann was well known before that all went down, but now that he stood up and exposed that? He’s an icon; a legend. He’s a focal point in gaming history. If other games journalists had an opportunity to do what he did, so you really think a majority of them would pass on it?

Phil Owen

On July 30, 2013 at 7:54 am

Not totally sure how to respond to this comment since you’re accusing me of saying things that are not in the article.


On July 30, 2013 at 8:50 am

@Mark Burnham- “The Jeff Gerstmann thing… It’s been six years, and I’d like to think that the relationship between publishers, gaming outlets and ad sales teams has improved since then… Publishers only have negative control over publications if that control is given, and this is six years ago.”

There are two issues for a reader to be concerned about. The first is whether conflict of interest still exists in games journalism- and I don’t see that things now are very different from things six years ago. The same perverse incentives exist, and AFAICT there’s no way to avoid them beyond being a publication that doesn’t care about exclusives and relies only on subscriptions and/or non-game-related ads for revenue. That doesn’t sound like any of the major outlets!

The second is whether conflict of interest drives actual content. From a reader’s perspective, there’s no way of knowing this- all we can do is rely on our ability to judge the quality of a publication’s work. We don’t know how things are managed at a given organization.

Since conflicts of interest continue to exist and it’s difficult for readers to judge the integrity of a publication, I think it’s unsurprising (and reasonable) that mistrust of the industry exists. This is why I find the article problematic- its analysis seems to boil down to “Why do people distrust us? I guess they’re just dumb!” This sort of breezy dismissal of the issue does nothing to encourage faith in the industry.

@Ron Whitaker- “That’s the system working as it should. That’s a journalist standing up and exposing what’s going on… If other games journalists had an opportunity to do what he did, so you really think a majority of them would pass on it?”

With respect, I have to strongly disagree. Someone losing their job for performing honest journalism doesn’t strike me as a system working remotely as it should!

As for whistleblowing keeping future misconduct in check… I’d like to believe this would always apply, but I doubt it. Gamespot handled the Gerstmann affair hamhandedly, leaving little doubt his firing was connected to failure to toe the marketing department’s line. It’s not hard to imagine an alternate scenario where they were smarter about letting him go, leaving him with nothing to blow the whistle on but his personal suions. And Gerstmann is unusual among whistleblowers for landing so adroitly on his feet; I’m sure not everyone would be confident of either finding alternative employment or founding their own startup the way he did.


On July 30, 2013 at 9:08 am

@Phil Owen

I honestly apologize if I’ve put words in your mouth. But you wrote three pages on the subject without addressing ads, “access” or the Gerstmann firing, then write that accusations of corruption persist, but “I can’t say I understand why other than the fact a lot of people, myself included, can be pretty paranoid in general.” You then quote Sterling, who says “It’s a very stripped-down, simplified answer for a lot of people that, so long as nobody stops and really thinks about how utterly ludicrous it sounds, makes just enough cohesive sense to be an attractive idea.”

This is what I meant when I said you seem to be claiming corruption doesn’t exist in the industry (I apologize, this was unfair!- but you do seem to be giving the issue short shrift) and that you blame mistrust of the industry on paranoia and simplemindedness. The above quotes seem to me to place blame for that mistrust on your readership falling victim to seductive oversimplifications. I’m not sure how else to interpret them.

Phil Owen

On July 30, 2013 at 9:23 am

Between the two things you mentioned are these two paragraphs:

“Totilo places the blame on the media itself, to some degree anyway. “There’s a lot of legit distrust by readers of the gaming press, due to a lot of slipshod reporting and writing about games,” he said.

It does feel like only recently (in the past few years, to be specific) have we managed to garner any sort of notable collective credibility as a group of so-called journalists, due in no small part to the lack of quality which Totilo described above, which was the norm for far longer than not. Even as legitimacy creeps into our space, it’s hard to not be wary. That’s something journalists do understand, as I know I personally decided to be an entertainment journalist in the more casual new media because I wanted to do it better than the people I was reading 10 years ago (I’m 26 now).”

Meanwhile, yes, there are many paranoid people in the world. Note that I did not say “EVERY GAMER WHO DOESN’T UNCONDITIONALLY TRUST US IS PARANOID.”

And you’re kidding yourself if you think Sterling is wrong about the tendency for people on the internet to speak in extremes. It’s a thing that has managed to seep into the real world, even, as I doubt you could go see any movie in a crowded theater and not hear “That was the worst/best movie I have ever seen in my whole life.” We love hyperbole, even if we don’t realize it. You yourself interpreted “there are paranoid people who exist” — an undeniably true statement that most likely is not directed at you personally — as an utter dismissal on my part of every person who thinks games journalism has an ethics problem.

Phil Owen

On July 30, 2013 at 9:34 am

Just to be clear, there was never any intent for this column to cover the entirety of the game journalism ethics discussion. I wrote this with the specific purpose of addressing the notion that we critics are literally paid cash by publishers in exchange for high scores. Meanwhile, I fully acknowledge in the piece that we have very real problems that we aren’t talking about because by far the most common ethical violation we are accused of is taking bribes. Since we are not taking bribes, I wrote the above 1700 words to try to end that whole thing so we can have some Real Talk about accepting flights and hotel rooms paid for by a publisher and getting drunk on publisher dime and being too bro-y with the people we cover, amongst other things that I didn’t mention in the article because covering the full scope of such potentially compromising activities is not the point here.


On July 30, 2013 at 10:04 am

Give it up guys. You’re as convincing as a mother telling her young child that liver tastes good, that they’ll love it. Some with buy into the lie, while most will spit it out for the bad taste it leaves in their mouth. Honestly, how many people do you think you’ve swayed to the dark side? We don’t care if you have cookies. I seriously doubt that there is anything you could say to sway most people.
Because this sort of thing is usually based off ones opinion, it’s hard to prove one way or the other what really was going on in that persons head. As well if that persons opinion is so far apart from our own that it’s really hard to understand their reasoning and logic. Usually we let it go, but when it comes to a big title, that has a lot of money an power behind it, and it gets reviews that are so undeserved that jaws drop in utter dismay. Well that’s when the guns come out.
Fanboyism only goes so far as a workable excuse. To see something so utterly flawed, get such glowing reviews, well. I had a roommate once who couldn’t tell the truth. He would tell stories of things he did, ( some of which included me) and we would all just smile and nod. I was actually interested to find out what I did next. Well that how a number of reviews sound only no ones smiling and nodding. It was pure BS when my roommate said it, and it’s pure BS when I read it online telling me how this ending is art or whatever.
No facts, just opinion (on all sides), and your not going to change anyone’s. In fact, the more you talk about it, the more desperate you appear. Just my opinion.


On July 30, 2013 at 10:50 am

@Phil Owen-

That’s fair. It seems your position is, “There are ethical problems in the industry but the specific problem of bribery doesn’t exist, and some criticisms of the journalism stem from oversimplifications”- that seems perfectly reasonable. When I read the piece I got the impression its position was, “The problem of bribery doesn’t exist, other ethical problems in the industry are too trivially unimportant to mention, and most criticisms of the journalism are ignorant and wrongheaded”. I misinterpreted the thrust of your argument.

Phil Owen

On July 30, 2013 at 11:04 am

That’s it exactly. There are lots of things to talk about here. Many layers. We have ethics problems — and I promise that I am going to follow up on that, because I’m big on self-reflection — but we are not compromised in the one very specific way that we are accused of more often than anything else. And, yes, this article does attack the readers a bit, and deservedly so as said accusations generally involve somebody referring to a review they agree with as “honest” and ones they don’t as “bought and paid for” despite there being no evidence of such a thing.

But right now we’re still kind of a sketchy bunch, even if we’re less sketchy as a whole than we used to be, and being a bit of a skeptic is never a bad thing. I’m just trying to make sure we all keep our heads as we try to make sense of what is really going on here.

Ron Whitaker

On July 30, 2013 at 12:19 pm

@Nine: I guess “system working as it should” wasn’t the best phrase for what I meant. What I mean is that in the “game journos get paid for every review” world that some people seem to believe exists, Gertsmann walking away was a journalist reacting just as he should have. He didn’t want to be a party to that, and so he left.

That’s what I meant – it was a good thing that he left, because it exposed the issue.


On July 30, 2013 at 10:49 pm

Please, stop saying the gaming industry has improved since the days when Kotaku went up against Sony or when Jeff Gershman got fired when the Gamespot asked him to violate his ethics. Because the inustry hasn’t changed and the only thing that has improved is how companies go about doing this.

The Eurogamer scandal was less than a year ago. Robert Florence stepping down after having his article forcibly edited, a group of journalists questioning the harm in using their own twitters to promote games to win a console, one such journalist taking advantage of UK laws to threaten to sue Eurogamer for wanting to print the truth. The perfectly exemplifies that gaming industry has NOT improved one iota in the past 7 years.

The real problem here is I think a lot of gaming journalists don’t really see themselves as a “real journalist”, so therefore they’re not expected to adhere to the same type of ethical objectivity a “real journalist” needs to abide by. I also think that a lot these media companies agree and that’s why they don’t have a problem asking these journalists to violate the kind of ethics a legitimate journalist should have.

*disclaimer* I am in no way trying to imply that I think gaming journalists are not real journalists. In fact, I think the opposite.

James Harding

On July 31, 2013 at 4:52 am

I recommend MrBTongue’s editorial ‘Mostly Not Broken,’ which can be found at . He doesn’t bury his head in the sand like some of the writers here are doing, but he defends the industry as a whole and suggest we all have to play a part in order to it to improve.


On July 31, 2013 at 7:49 am

says the journo

Phil Owen

On July 31, 2013 at 8:16 am

So in order for there to be “one iota” of change there can be not even one ethically suspect occurrence ever again?

Red Menace

On August 4, 2013 at 1:02 am

I write for a major market paper, and while I can’t speak for game journalists, in the profession on a whole, integrity is taken very seriously. At my paper, we are required by our publisher to return any gift we receive and accepting something like meals, even while covering a dinner event where everyone but you is eating, is extremely frowned upon. We have a whole department devoted to dealing with that stuff.

But even if it wasn’t mandated, I still wouldn’t do it, because not having integrity in this industry is a death sentence. You live and die by the trust your readership has in you and any conflict of interest could be the end of your career. Plus, we already get enough “kickbacks” just doing our jobs by going interesting places, seeing interesting things and meeting interesting people.

Gaming journalism is a sweet gig, I wouldn’t want to screw it up over getting caught taking what are essentially bribes and I imagine that is the view of most gaming journalists.


On August 4, 2013 at 3:02 am

Agree with the comments saying this article is bs, mostly because I’m not blind. Payment comes in many forms.


On December 2, 2013 at 11:37 am

ur not a real journalist. get over yourself, nobody.


On March 7, 2014 at 11:29 am

According to Gamefront :D

Not anonymous

On March 11, 2014 at 12:19 pm

Yes, some game Journalists Are Paid by Publishers for Review Scores.
I like how they use capital letters in all the words to make the statement sound more true than it needs to be.