Here’s part 2 of the conversation I had regarding games journalism and #GamerGate with Geoff Henao, a former reviews editor under one of the Modern Method labels and a good friend of Allistair Pinsof, the former writer for Destructoid.
Geoff is mostly neutral/anti-#GamerGate, but wanted to further discuss some issues surrounding the situation.
Geoff: In terms of brand and product placement and all that stuff… some smaller sites you have to pay to play. And you’re right, there should be more transparency in regards to that. But, you know, some sites wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for paid advertising or front-page takeovers. You know, it’s kind of the lesser of two evils. But, you’re right, if someone is being paid for something they should just say ‘Full disclosure, so-and-so sent me this game, and I’m letting you know the background of how I received this game.’
Billy: Right. But actually that’s something Total Biscuit and some other big YouTubers have been pushing for all YouTubers to do – like all of Total Biscuit’s videos say whether or not he’s being endorsed, sponsored or paid by whatever he’s talking about in the video. Just let it be known to the public. I’ve got no problems with that. I think it’s a good thing to do.
A lot of people said #GamerGate just would have ended if all the [gaming] sites said ‘You know what? Sure, here’s a full disclosure policy, carry on.’ I kind of agree with that. I would have just said ‘Okay, I can deal with that.’ [Just] so you know who’s who and what’s what. Just so you know you’re not misled about how certain people go about certain business.
What some people are saying is that it’s a lot more complicated than that because there are certain publishers involved and they don’t want certain things to change.
Geoff: Yeah but… that’s… that’s bigger than the sites themselves. Like, again, sometimes you do have to pay to play, and you have to be on certain studio’s right side. Again, like with Sterling, he got blacklisted by Konami and he still felt it was in his duty to make sure everyone got the right review of a Castlevania game or a Metal Gear Solid game or whatever. So he’ll go out of his way to buy it. Not everyone has that luxury or that money, where they can do that.
Geoff: So it’s kind of like, ‘What do I do here? Do I accept the game and play by the rules a little bit just so I can better inform you? Or do I just not inform you? Or do I put my own money into this that might not get the same kind of reception that would have justified that purchase?’
Billy: You’re absolutely right.
Geoff: There’s a lot of money involved, whether it’s coming from the reviewer’s pockets, the publisher’s pockets, the outlet’s pockets.
Geoff: At the end of the day, it’s money. And… it’s hard, man. It’s hard to always want to be pro-consumer and you just don’t have the resources to ensure that consumers are as educated as they may want to be.
Billy: I completely agree. There’s really no easy answer to all of this. I think that’s just the nature of the beast.
I think you make a good point about renting games. It would be nice if reviews were based on it, or focused on that more… or previews, even. Just rent the game first.
Geoff: Yeah, that’s true… that’s very true.
Billy: A lot of people tend to forget that [renting is] an option. There’s also a lot of DRM these days, so renting isn’t quite as convenient as it used to be.
Geoff: Do you think that gaming sites should change their scores from numerical to ‘Buy It Day One’, ‘Rent It’, ‘Wait For Sale’, etc., etc.? You think that would be better received by the community?
Billy: Oh, heck yeah! Yeah. In fact, that’s one of the first things I mentioned at Cinema Blend: ‘We should do Buy It, Rent It, Skip It’. Keep it simple. That’s what people want to know, whether it’s worth buying, skipping or renting. They just want an honest opinion about what they should do with their money regarding a product.
[On a review score] 7.3… what does that even mean? 7.3 because some of the levels weren’t so great? So it gets a 7.3? In terms of purchasing decisions… what does that mean? I’ve bought some games that scored pretty low just because I liked the game itself. It wasn’t so much the score because the score doesn’t mean anything.
Billy: I don’t know if you know about it, but with Metacritic it sometimes determines if developers get paid bonuses at times.
Geoff: Yeah, I know all about Metacritic.
Billy: [laughs] So it’s a really messed up system. I can see why consumers – it’s sort of like the boiling point. [That’s] what the whole #GamerGate thing is. People are just so pissed.
I like keeping an ear to the ground; what are people saying in the forums? Just staying in tune to the lower-end of the community, in addition to keeping an eye on what’s happening on the executive level, on the retail chain and on the developer’s side. [But] in the grassroots movements, what are people saying about the industry? The products? A lot of them – even across all different [kinds of] websites, different forum boards – a lot of people are all kind of saying the same thing. Not everyone. But a lot. You kind of see the same conversations.
This is what you’re seeing bubble up; that a lot of people just want to have this conversation, and they’re being denied the right to have that conversation. I think that’s what made it worse.
These sites they used to trust are now censoring them and not giving them an opportunity to speak about this kind of thing, and not really opening a dialogue about transparency and ethics and all of that. And a lot of people don’t even know how the industry works.
Geoff: Well, just playing devil’s advocate, but again, what if people just didn’t read reviews? What if they just bought games that looked good? Like, I think a lot of this has to do with how much gaming has grown. Like, I’ve been playing games since I was three. Sonic 3 & Knuckles is hands-down my favorite game. Whether it was because I was a kid or it was just the state of gaming, at the time, but I didn’t need to read a review when I was little. You know what I mean?
Billy: No, dude, you’re absolutely right. Sonic 3 & Knuckles is one of my favorites of all time; to this day I can still pick up and play that game.
Geoff: That’s what I’m saying, though. Like, when we were younger we didn’t need reviews. I’m pretty confident that a lot of kids that kind of grew up with gaming their entire lives, versus us – who were a little bit older before we got into it – they don’t need these reviews.
I think we’re putting too much importance and emphasis on reviews. Why not just play the game? Like, if anything, there should be a bigger push towards demos. Like, remember when PS1 and PS2 were out, there were nothing but demos coming out.
Billy: Yeah… like the Toys ‘R Us demo discs?
Geoff: Yeah dude. Like when the first PlayStation came out – OPM and US PlayStation Magazine, they’d have monthly demo discs.
Billy: Yeah man, I used to get the Official Xbox Magazine that came with the demo disc.
Geoff: That’s what I’m saying. Try and push for developers to push for demos instead of putting so much pressure on these writers to try and do their job to appease their bosses; to finish their deadlines; to meet whatever requirements the developers and publishers are asking of them. Why not just put it into the consumer’s hands?
Billy: You bring up some good points. I think in terms of reviews – I think it’s the older crowd who’s mostly involved with reading reviews now. Like, when I was younger I would just see pictures in the magazine and say ‘I want that game.’
Billy: Now it’s like, you’ve got a budget. You have to think about bills and all that stuff; I just can’t buy anything I want now.
Billy: So it’s like, do I really want to buy this right now? I read up on a lot of games a lot more than before. Before you could just save up the allowance and buy it because you could. And in turn, media still plays a big role in that.
Geoff: That’s true. Good point.
Billy: As for the demos… everybody wants more demos. Gamers really want more demos. It turns out that there was an internal survey  that publishers don’t want demos because they feel that when people play it – I can’t remember the exact percentage – but it was a pretty high percentage that after people played demos they wouldn’t buy the full game.
Billy: And a lot of that is because if you play a small slice of a game that kind of sucks, you’re not going to pay $60 for the full thing.
In a way, today’s preview culture kind of hammers in: this is the good parts of the game you want to see, this is the good parts of the game you want to play. We are seeing the rise of alphas ‘come in and play-test this alpha.’
Geoff: Yeah, we are.
Billy: But they’re limited alphas and they do it in a way where certain big YouTubers are able to gain access to this information and put it out there, but they’re still under the same rules of ‘Don’t show bugs, don’t show glitches, don’t show goofy stuff. Show ’em the fun stuff. Talk up the good parts.’ So [alphas] are like demos, but only certain people get to see them and you only get to see the good parts.
Billy: I think that’s kind of disingenuous because the consumers don’t get the full effect; they don’t get to play it themselves. They don’t get to see if it’s something they want.
Geoff: That’s a good point.
Billy: According to the statistics, the gaming industry is going to be worth $93 billion by the end of this year . So there’s a lot of money at stake. A lot of people making a lot of money from shady stuff.
In the case of #GamerGate, I think people just want people from the core sector – the people who are passionate about games and writing about games – they just want it as honest as they can get it. I’m not going to say that they’re going to root out all the corruption, but they just want to get it as honest as they can get it. They want to get people back on track where it’s not about [doing]… the dirty stuff [that’s affecting the industry] behind the scenes.
I don’t think they’re going to be able to get rid of all of that, but I can see where people are trying to fight – you know, like what we were talking about – great games, fun games, people who are passionate about writing about them in an honest way. As I mentioned, as I get older I read a lot more reviews because you have to be budget-conscious about some of this stuff.
I think we’re seeing a shift where we’re seeing people want to see the maturity of the industry, on the media side, to catch up to where we are now… just being a bit more discerned about this kind of stuff.
Geoff: That’s what I was saying earlier, when writers were trying to do that and trying to make it serious, people have lashed out at them. Like, there’s a side of #GamerGate that’s hating on Anita Sarkeesian and other writers like her, who are trying to bring a more literary approach to it. Oh man, I can’t stand for that.
Like people are trying to do for video games what people have done to book and to film. Like, where’s the line drawn?
From what I’ve seen, a lot of people supporting #GamerGate, they want maturity in video game writing but when that’s been expressed in the past, they’ve lashed out at it. People that support #GamerGate, like where are they drawing the line in exactly what it is they want?
Billy: Yeah. I think that’s an excellent point really. I think there’s room for everybody. I think, what they don’t want is one-sided biases, where there’s just one side hammering a point home. I think a lot of people just want that variety.