EA's and Microsoft’s/Machinima's compensation campaigns are really, really bad for gaming journalism
It’s 2014, and everyone has the ability to express their own opinion. The days of a select few being read in print magazines are long gone. In addition to the seemingly countless journalism outlets on the internet, even more people are crafting well thought and highly intelligent editorials, reviews, and articles on personal blogs, forums, and other places.
Those people, however, don’t always have the same credibility as people working for the top tier sites. They don’t have the history, the proven track record, or the following to help carry their thoughts. Sometimes it’s because they write for a hobby. Other times it’s because they’re new and trying to break into the industry. Regrettably, this means that many excellent pieces of journalism are ignored and put aside.
Unfortunately, that’s a trend that may continue, especially when it comes to YouTube personalities.
The notion of writers and personalities being paid off for their thoughts are far from being new. I’ve heard tales of articles being written due to a check that wanted to be cashed, review scores raised to please advertisers, and black-hat journalism practices in order to increase page views and web traffic. Yet through all this, there seemed to be one bastion of hope: the every-gamer giving their honest opinion not because it’s his job to do so, but because they love video games.
Sadly, it’s become a bit harder to trust that every-gamer.
Both Microsoft and EA have recently been outed for paying off YouTubers to say nice things about their games. It’s a nifty little business move: organic marketing that seems honest and sincere. Sadly, it falls into the category of being sketchy. Considering that these videos don’t come with the endorsement that the publishers are paying the personalities, it evolves from sketchy to downright bullshit.
Image from NeoGAF
We must not forget that although some like to take the video game journalism business seriously, I am not an important person. My colleagues at this site aren’t important people, nor are the many fine people you read on a daily basis. This is no slight on anyone in the industry. It’s just a fact: video games are a hobby, an expensive one at that. While some may enjoy viewing the PlayStation 4’s price tag as “inexpensive,” there are many out there that will strongly disagree with you. At the end of the day, we’re not a major news outlet. We’re an enthusiastic press outlet with enthusiastic fans. Sadly, that does more harm than good at times.
I’m referring to the hive mind mentality that likes to exist in the realm of the internet. While there are places for all opinions to be welcomed and legitimate debate to exist, they’re sadly in the minority. If I had a dime for every time a comment accused an article of being paid off, I’d, well, you know how this goes. The idea of authors being paid off for their opinions is nothing new. But now, instead of “unhappy advertisers” and speculation, we have proof and plenty of it. On the surface, this seems like an absolutely fantastic thing. It’ll encourage more transparency from publishers and editors.
However, that will likely just be the tip of the iceberg. Hordes of gamers will undoubtedly point to every minority opinion and “know” someone was paid off.
I played 200 hours of SimCity when it launched last year. I enjoyed it, hiccups and all. It’s one of several EA games I’ve enjoyed recently. I’m not on their payroll; my bank account can promise you that. It won’t stop people from assuming I am, though. That’s the part that worries me. We’re writers who write about a hobby, yet at times we’re held to a higher standard. I understand the need to disclose where our paychecks come from, but it’s a shame that many fantastic opinions and articles may get shunned in the future.