Posted on June 2, 2011, Ben Richardson Gearbox’s Randy Pitchford: Reviewers Who Don’t Like Duke Nukem Forever Will Be “Held Accountable”
After more than a decade of delays, the release of the much-ballyhooed Duke Nukem Forever is only a week away. With the weight of huge expectations lying heavy on Duke’s abundantly muscled shoulders, it’s no surprise that his masters at Gearbox Software are going to any lengths — and stooping to any lows — to ensure the game‘s success.
There was the press event at the strip club, which only presaged other cynical, exploitative P.R. stunts: carefully choreographed leaks that showcased all the game’s corny, sexist touches, like the tag-team blow job, the glory hole, and the capture-the-flag mode in which the flag is a woman — if she dares to complain about being treated like an object, players can smack her on the ass to shut the bitch up.
Not content to blow the dog-whistle of misogyny while cowering behind the fig leaf of purported parody, Gearbox C.E.O. Randy Pitchford recently ascended his bully pulpit to indulge in another industry standby: intimidating reviewers with cheap scare tactics. Affecting a tone that was part Baghdad Bob, part Tony Soprano, Pitchford unburdened himself to to Eurogamer:
“First of all it is great, it’s very, very entertaining, it’s very fun. It’s also Duke frickin’ Nukem frickin’ Forever. One could not be a gamer in this world without consuming that and having that experience.” The man doesn’t beat around the bush, though presumably his marketing team would have no compunction turning that phrase into some sort of mouthbreathing double entendre. What Pitchford is doing, in essence, is trying to frame the narrative — all real gamers will be buying Duke Nukem Forever, so the rest of you can check your plush headcrabs and pixel art neck tattoos at the door on the way out.
His next statement underscores this point, while suggesting a laughable corollary: the longer a game takes to come out, the better it is, and the more people should want to play it. “You’re just missing out on an entire, ginormous aspect of video games history if you fail to participate. This game’s gonna ship and we’re all going to be there, so it doesn’t matter what the score is.”
Every time a video game developer says it “doesn’t matter” what kind of review scores their game gets, that’s code for “this game is not very good, and it will probably get mediocre review scores.” Pitchford is trying to have it both ways. If the scores are good, he’ll help himself to the credit. If they’re not, he can point to his Eurogamer interview as a post-dated example of realistic expectations.
Ever since Gamespot editor Jeff Gerstmann was shit-canned for having the temerity to give a “6″ to the thoroughly mediocre Kane & Lynch (whose publishers had inundated Gamespot with ad buys) the high stakes of the Metacritic-powered reviewing game have been apparent. Some developers even depend on attaining a certain average score to be compensated fairly for their work — publishers craft contracts that only pay out certain bonuses if a minumum threshold is met.
This monomaniacal focus on Metacritic explains Pitchford’s willingness to get knee-deep in the numbers. Since most people in the game industry treat the press as an easily-manipulated marketing apparatus, it’s no surprise that he assumes that review scores will depend more on Duke’s burgeoning reputation and less on silly things like critical acumen or journalistic ethics: “It’s a very difficult problem for journalists…there’s going to be very few of them that decide to go perfect…you’re going to see a lot of 8s and 9s, and the number in that range doesn’t matter. Even if some people start to skew in some 7s in there, it’s not going to matter.”
Can you imagine Steven Spielberg saying “not everyone will think this movie is perfect, but a lot of people will think it’s 90% perfect?” Not content to browbeat the media with his own hubristic prognosis, Pitchford went for the jugular: “We know the game’s great. Any journalist that decides…to lowball it is gonna be held accountable by the readers.” It’s at this point that the bespectacled C.E.O. attempts to act the underboss. “Nice publication you’ve got here,” you can imagine him saying, switching the toothpick to the other side of his mouth. “Wouldn’t want anything to…happen to it.” Given the industry’s history of unethically punishing reviewers who award low scores — at the very least, cutting them off from bloated teat of early, privileged access — this barely-coded threat is troubling in the extreme.
There is no objective measure of a game’s quality. To suggest that there is is as laughable as it is duplicitous. Even if there were, it’s certainly not curated by Pitchford, who makes the transparently self-serving claim that “the last time I had a really solid experience like this was Half-Life 2.” Nor is the final verdict determined by the legions of “readers” on the internet. When Duke Nukem Forever is release on June 14th, hundreds of reviewers will write hundreds of subjective reviews, accountable to no authority but their own consciences. The game looks to be a turgid, misogynistic flop — so much so that the revelation that it is actually good would come as a welcome surprise. If it isn’t, though, don’t expect the GameFront review to pull any punches.