The Grey Area of Game Journalism

A bit of an interesting discussion going on right now in terms of ethics with game reviews. It’s been reported that popular YouTube Let’s Players like Total Biscuit and Yogscast have been and are receiving money from developers to promote their titles via videos on their channel, on top of the ad revenue they make normally.

This raises an interesting set of questions as to whether or not this is ethical or a viable option for You tubers and further asks us to define what is game journalism?


Defining Journalism:

Game Journalism is one of those odd terms that sort of appeared with the rise of the Game Industry. Obviously when we talk about journalism in the past, we refer to magazines and print where reporters gather information and wrote stories.

The big part of journalism was that the writers were separate from the industry in the sense that a reporter wasn’t directly working with the company in question. You weren’t going to have someone who works for Ford write articles on car reviews as that would be a conflict of interest. Journalistic integrity was a big deal as the second you got caught for being biased towards someone, your job as a journalist was finished.

Biased Reporting:

But “Game Journalism” was different. Early magazines like Nintendo Power or the Official Sony Playstation Magazine were either owned by or worked directly with their parent companies. This made it hard to get unbiased information about companies and this only became worst when we moved to the Internet age.

When third party magazines did spring up like PC Gamer and EGM things did get a little better. However there was always that seed of doubt that companies were paying for exclusives in one way or the other. The problem was that for many game magazines, they needed financial backing to stay afloat which meant taking ad revenue from game companies. And there was always that threat of giving a game a bad review and having one of your major backers take their money away.

game journalism

Godhand was infamously marked down by IGN so incorrectly that they were forced to do a re-review.

Game companies in a sense were sustaining Game Journalism instead of it being separate and this made many people believe that magazines were biased.

Moving into the digital era, some websites have been accused of being shills for various companies thanks to advertising, free games, interviews and more. Who can forget the controversy when Gamespot fired one of their reviewers because they gave a game a bad review or the rumors of IGN basing review scores on how much a company pays.

And there was of course the famous picture of Geoff Keighley that I put as the main picture for this post as it has become the poster child of what people see is a problem with Game Journalism.

For many fans of the Game Industry, it’s hard to tell who is giving you the right information and who was given certain “perks” to give a game a good review. This is what led to the popularity of the YouTube era with Let’s Plays and personalities like Yahtzee and Total Biscuit becoming internet famous.

Let’s Plays (and Pay):

Thanks to Let’s Plays and general game casting, a lot of gamers quickly became famous. Besides Yahtzee and Total Biscuit, we have the many game casters like Husky with Starcraft 2, Yogscast and so much more.

People liked watching these videos as they provided them with commentary on a game without having to worry about them being paid off as they were just people on YouTube with the only funding being ad based. And that ad revenue has become a big deal with many casters making professional careers on it and game companies asking if they should receive a cut of it.

game journalism

Total Biscuit is one of the more famous examples of a youtuber making a career out of let’s plays.

Again we have something that started out small explode with a lot of people now looking at it seriously. And that takes us back to the topic at hand: Paying for YouTube spots.

Both Yogscast and Total Biscuit have already came out and said that yes they do receive money to spotlight certain games and that they will continue to do so. And this is where things become grey in terms of integrity.

While these two are certainty examples of popular casters, it’s debatable if we can call them journalists for just doing let’s plays. And there is something odd about a designer dedicating part of their budget to make sure that a youtuber looks at their game.

But we can also say that their notoriety at this point is on par or greater than actual game sites and getting good buzz this way can be just as important as a great game review. I do think that it’s important to point out what games they’ve played on their own and which ones they have gotten paid to look at which Total Biscuit said he’ll do from now on.

And I think with this going on it gives me the perfect opportunity to explain how things work on Game-Wisdom.

Game-Wisdom’s Policy:

For me and this site, I try to remain as unbiased as I can. A lot of the games featured on this site have been bought by me. If it’s a console or handheld game, that’s a definite as I don’t have any ties to hardware companies yet.

game journalism

The problems that I had with Moebius were not left out of my review, despite it being a press copy.

For PC games it has been a mixed bag. Some of them I have bought on my own while others have been a press copy. There is a good chance that if a developer came on for the podcast, that I got a press copy from them.

But I can promise you with 100% certainty that buying a game or getting a free copy doesn’t affect my review. Two games: Moebius and Transistor were both press copies and I came away from both having problems that were mentioned in the review.

The only part of buying a game or spending money that I do take into consideration is the price for purchase or in game micro transactions when it comes to someone spending money. If a developer is trying to sell a game for a lot of money or has a lot of micro transactions to deal with, that does get factored into my reviews.

Not Done Yet:

I’m going to wrap things up here as I’ve discussed some of the main points of this debate. However we’re not done talking about the issues of Game Journalism. Stay tuned for another piece talking about the divide of viewership when it comes to Game Journalism.