PR Company Snafu Should Ignite Discussion on Gaming Journalism Ethics

Should companies reserve review copies based on opinion?

By , Contributor

I just reviewed Duke Nukem Forever. No, you probably don't care, but it was sort of a sedating experience, something that I never suspected I would get to do in my professional career. See, Duke Nukem Forever took 15 long years to come to fruition, a game many suspected would never see daylight on a store shelf, yet here it is. Not only that, I completed and critiqued it. That's unreal.

But, in the face of the game's controversy, even fewer people care. After a flood of negative, low-scoring commentaries, the PR company sending out review units lashed back in a tweet that rocked the gaming world, if only for ten minutes until we had to cover something else. This statement showed up on the Twitter account from The Redner Group, igniting a firestorm over how gaming journalists interact with their media partners:

"too many went too far with their reviews...we r reviewing who gets games next time and who doesn't based on today's venom"

That's right: They were going to determine who received future review copies based on what critics thought of the game. To their credit, publisher 2K Games were quick to disown and can Redner for any future PR work, and rightfully so, although it does bring up an odd divide in the industry.

Video games, unlike any other entertainment product, rely on PR. Gaming journalism (sadly) thrives on it. Journalists are flown out to company HQs to play the latest games on home turf, sometimes even forced into marathon sessions to review a game with developers standing nearby. If you don't take part, you can't compete with the major players because that exclusive window metaphorically smashes your fingers.

Having worked in both home movie media and gaming, the differences are insane. Movie companies hand over films for review early, sometimes on DVD-Rs, and even in quantity if you ask for giveaways. I can review the movies in my home, on my terms, on my own equipment, and still get an exclusive. They're quick to respond to questions, and in general, easier to deal with.

Video game PR... not so much. That's not saying they're all bad. I've dealt with a number of wonderful people and companies as a whole who don't care if you're a small indie site or the one at the top of the Google ranks. The rest? They won't offer you the time of day, and if you didn't like Duke Nukem Forever, they apparently won't send you Duke Nukem Infinity, or whatever else the next one is called.

Dealing with the ins-and-outs of the gaming industry, it's really no wonder it's nigh impossible to be taken seriously. Not only is it an exclusive club, even the "best of the best" are under fire from PR companies for preferential treatment. Unlike film, where a movie trailer is sufficient enough, gaming relies on hands-on previews detailing gameplay aspects, and to keep those doors open for additional previews, you apparently need to enjoy every piece of shovelware the publisher sends out to store shelves. All this does is create false competition, where instead of seeking out actual stories, magazines and websites are brawling over who can get their hands on Halo 4 first.

It's an ugly cycle, one we've been stuck in since, well, forever really. This latest PR snafu, something many insiders say is more common than we'd like to realize, is just a sign of what a mess it is. So, don't hate Redner for doing what they did. I mean, if anything, maybe we should be thanking them for making it public, offering the community a chance to see the inside and debate the repercussions. It was stupid, it was wrong, and it should never happen, but it does, and that's the thing we should all be worried about.

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Matt Paprocki is a 13-year veteran of the video game, movie, and home media scene. He has written thousands of reviews, has been published on a variety of websites, and contributes his thoughts daily on a diverse range of topics.

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