Too Old For This S@$t: Professional Game Reviews

I don’t mind being lied to as long as I know it’s a lie.

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Nintendo Power BannerWhen I started this column I promised myself I’d avoid waxing nostalgic about the “good old days,” that I’d make my arguments based on facts as opposed to rose-colored recollections of yesteryear. While I’m still going to strive for that, I find myself thinking one thing very frequently these days: I miss Nintendo Power.

Like, REALLY miss it. I miss it as much as a stereotype misses the thing that they stereotypically love and would stereotypically do anything for if deprived of it. As a kid and a teenager, I can remember rushing home from school in order to read it before my brother. I absolutely DEVOURED each issue. The reviews, the sneak peeks of new games, the letters and accompanying fan art, the tips…all of it went through my eye-mouths and into my brain-stomach. Once I was finished I would usually go through it again, and only THEN would I give it to my brother to read. I was sort of a dick like that.

As much as I loved it, I knew Nintendo Power was shilling for Nintendo. Innocent though I was, it didn’t take much brain power to figure out that maybe the official Nintendo magazine might not be the most unbiased source for information. At least they were obvious shills, though, and I could take that into account while I was reading. Today, however, things are different. Nintendo Power is pretty much dead, killed by the rise of the internet and the rise of online gaming sites. Despite claims of being unbiased and independent, I feel as if these websites are lying to me as much as Nintendo Power did, but without the chutzpah to actually be upfront about it.

Lest you think I’m being hypocritical in assaulting gaming websites as a writer on a gaming website, let me specify that I’m talking about professional websites. That is, websites that pay their writers and generate revenue either by featuring ads or charging people for their content. While GameCola features ads, I can assure you that none of us are being paid—at least, that’s what Paul has been telling me all these years. Should anyone find the case to be otherwise, I will humbly apologize and then reap an unholy vengeance upon the beards of the senior staff (and hopefully post a video of it on the site).

Anyway, getting back to my previous point, no professional gaming site out there is truly unbiased or independent. When your livelihood depends on generating viewership for a website, you are dependent on sources giving you information and on readers for clicking through. If you fail to capture either of these things, you’re done. recently announced they’d be “winding down,” and while they didn’t cite any specifics as to why, it’s easy enough to guess. The economics of internet reporting are a turbulent thing, and the prize for first goes to those that can generate the highest amount on viewership for their site. The prize for second, third, fourth, and all the way down to last place is a healthy “GTFO” and a leftover packet of ramen flavoring for dinner.

In this dog-eat-dog situation, professional writers and websites have few roads open to them in order to reliably bring in income. Headlines can be sensationalized so as to trigger knee-jerk responses in readers who click out of extreme excitement, disapproval, or curiosity. Headlines from other sites can be stolen without attributing. Bribes can be taken for good reviews, and as there is no real oversight for the review process—it’s impossible to know whether the reviewer is on the take until the game actually comes out and people get a chance to actually play it. Honestly, in the fast-paced environment of Internet publishing, writers would be stupid to NOT do these things. Failure is always just around the corner and I imagine eating is something they like to do. It’s still distasteful to me, though, and nowadays whenever I read an article on a professional website I end up feel used and dirty.

This brings me back to Nintendo Power. Yes, they were doing to the exact same things I’ve just described, namely hyperbolizing and being paid to review games, but at least they were obvious about it. I don’t mind being lied to as long as I know it’s a lie, but when you have a professional reviewer claiming to give me a true and honest report, it automatically registers as BS with me. Additionally, with Nintendo Power I at least got tons of pictures and other features that mitigated the fact that reporting was suspect. The best one can hope for nowadays is a few pictures plus a link to YET ANOTHER VIDEO GAME WEBCOMIC or a podcast featuring a bunch of random internet dinks spouting opinions that would make you smack them in the face if they were actually right there in front of you.

Of course, that’s not to say every professional gaming site and reporter is bad. Some of them truly work their butts off securing contacts, developing superior writing skills, and keeping deadlines, but it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. The Penny Arcade Report generally does pretty good work, but they also have the Penny Arcade online juggernaut behind them. They can afford to be honest, as their partnership with the main site ensures their exposures to millions of readers without having to spend tons of money or sensationalize. Additionally, this position gives them leverage with many within the game industry, so it’s easy for them to score exclusive demos, interviews, and news.

When I want reliable info on the quality of game, I find myself heading to the Metacritic user reviews or to the GameFAQs review boards. The reviews there don’t have the writing quality or polish of professional reviews, but there’s some compelling evidence out there that one can get pretty good results by crowdsourcing questions (and I find that I usually do). Sure, I get the occasional troll or blatantly paid-for review this way, but at least I’m not basing my decision to spend time and money on a game based on what a few prominent, yet ultimately compromised, reviewers have to say.

I’m probably being overly harsh here; I know it sucks out there for writers and reporters of any calling out there. The Internet has done a lot of wonderful things for society, but it’s also made it so that we can get a thousand viewpoints for free with the click of a button, something that makes trying to make a living by writing and reviewing extremely tough. But I care deeply about video games, and the thought that someone might lie to me about them for money is absolutely abhorrent to me, so much so that I’d rather cut the possibility of it happening out altogether. These are just my two cents, so feel free to take everything said here with a grain of salt. Either way, I don’t really care how you see me. I’m not doing this for the money.
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From 2008 to 2015

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