Tuesday, April 26, 2016

State of Gaming Reviews?

The hot-topic for this blog over the past few years has been the ever-changing world of video game reviews. And pre-orders. Because pre-orders suck. With #GamerGate the journalism/game developer relationship was placed under a microscope and scrutinized. Are reviewers getting perks for giving a game a good score? Are they being told to favor one developer over another for a bigger kickback?

While #GamerGate has transformed into a misogynistic trend to hate on anyone who isn't a straight, white male in the game industry, it has brought more attention to gaming journalism. While there's no indication that #GamerGate has actually changed anything, sites like Kotaku have altered how they review their content to be more in-line with how games are released today, no longer favoring a point system. Points are arbitrary in reviews. Though in Kotaku's defense, this was a long time coming - long before #GamerGate. No influence there.

Everyone has their own methods for looking at a product and there is no authority on monitoring the numbers so they are the same across the board. You may think the latest Call of Duty is an 8 but the next reviewer in their number system would only score it a 4. It leads to a lot of disparity between the reviewer, the developer, and the readers.

But do the developers have a right to fight back if their product gets a bad score?

A game that was recently released, Ashes of the Singularity, is gaining buzz, for the wrong reasons, from Brad Wardell, the CEO of Stardock, creators of the game. Ashes is getting fair reviews, roughly a 6 on Metacritic. A number of gaming review outlets are meshing with their opinions that the game is a good template, but the content is not there. Just "okay." Not great.

Wardell called out one reviewer in particular for GameSpot, Daniel Starkey. He's a freelance critic that gave the game a 4 out of 10. Wardell feels that the game is being targeted because Starkey and him have a past with #GamerGate. Starkey didn't agree with Wardell's opinions, and blocked him on Twitter. Wardell thinks that GameSpot knowingly set up Starkey with this game to review, in order to give him a bad name. He's gone as far as to send a letter to GameSpot to have the review pulled, and that his game deserves higher then a 4.

This isn't a question of whether or not the game is good. Does a developer have the right to make such a request and boast about their game, invalidating the opinions of others?

If this were a #GamerGate backlash between these two, I'd think that Starkey's review would have been more demeaning to Stardock. More venom. More disdain, less gaming talk. Because the review is on par with what everyone else has been saying about the game. A 4 might seem a bit low, but that's Starkey's choice. He even praised the graphics in the game in the review. If you were really trying to take out a developer, you wouldn't say any nice things about their product.

Now I will admit that GameSpot putting Starkey on this assignment was a bad call. And doubly bad that Wardell wasn't more aware of who would be reviewing the game at GameSpot, given the issues in the past. But is Wardell in the right here? Is this a #GamerGate backlash? Or is it a CEO trying to use his power to pull a review that mimics what other reviewers are saying - this one just happened to be the lowest score coming from a critic that he has butted heads with in the past?

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