No, Game Journalists Are Not Paid by Publishers for Review Scores
While these perspectives don’t represent every member of the games-focused media, Totilo and Sterling both assert that they don’t know of any instances of bribery (or attempted bribery). Neither do I.
Accusations of corruption are regularly refuted, but they do persist. I can’t say I understand why other than the fact a lot of people, myself included, can be pretty paranoid in general. That doesn’t necessarily explain it, though.
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).
But Sterling looks at it from a different side. He points a finger at Internet Culture itself, and not just the gamers who read our words.
“We seem to be fond of our extremes, especially on the Internet, where nuance and subtlety have no place anymore,” Sterling said. “It’s why any slight delay in a Kickstarter project is enough to have it called a scam, and why jokes no longer exist, taken as they are completely at face value or perceived as an attempt at trolling. In an age where the middle ground seems to have completely caved in, it’s hardly surprising there are folks out there who now assume The Corruption is spreading its blackened tentacles throughout the game industry.
“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. It is intellectually easy to just write something off as a ‘paid review’ and then not bother thinking about it any harder than that. You no longer have to take on board anything that the review says, entertain the prospect of an opposing viewpoint, or take the effort required to have a discussion.”
Sterling makes the most important point here: ethical problems within the gaming journalism community are not part of a black and white issue. 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.
But saying one of us is “paid off” prevents that discussion from happening. When an accusation like that comes up, it’s easy for journalists to brush off because it simply isn’t true, and so we don’t think about it any further than that. If we, as a larger gaming community, want to actually examine ethical issues that might exist, we will need to see the nuances.
And, ultimately, it’s a team effort.