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1482220cookie-checkYes Outlets Do Take Bribes For Positive Coverage, But Not In the Way You’d Think
Industry News

Yes Outlets Do Take Bribes For Positive Coverage, But Not In the Way You’d Think

On June 16, former IGN reporter Alanah Pearce made waves across the internet as she attempted to illustrate, from her claimed perspective, why the 10/10 reviews The Last of US 2 has received from all the mainstream outlets are not paid reviews. The term “claimed” is used as during the 17-minute video on several occasions contradictory statements are made on essential points. Then there are instances where she is either misinformed or outright lying.

For example, she levies the claim the leaks haven’t impacted the pre-orders of The Last of Us 2. Yet after the leaks, Amazon had a surplus of the sold-out collector’s editions for The Last of US 2. Additionally, Gamestop currently has collector’s editions available for purchase. As there has been no new printing, the new stock can only exist if people have terminated their pre-order.

Anecdotally, thousands have said they are canceling their pre-orders as well. Sure The Last of Us 2 will have a successful launch week, but given the reactions to the leaks, sales will fall off a cliff in week two. Just as they did with Resident Evil 3 Remake, Final Fantasy 7 Remake, and Gears 5. The latter of which saw the most significant launch week engagement and some of the lowest sales in franchise history.

Thus it is reasonable to say she is not giving her full candid opinion. At the same time, she continues to work in the industry and on a podcast with Troy Baker, so there is an understandable reason why she would or rather could not. One can claim people are not blacklisted all they want, but when Sony is abusing DMCA’s to silence criticism, you are going to have a hard time convincing anyone Sony wouldn’t blacklist again.

During her presentation, there was a moment where she hit the issue right on the head. That the simple reality is reviewers are ideological propagandists (my words, not hers).

“This is my biggest criticism of games journalism. Is that I do think in a lot of cases writers write things for their peers rather than for the audience. While that still means they’re being honest, it does mean we have all these reviewers who are buying into “high art,” because they’re passionate about the games industry and are very passionate about storytelling in video games. That is their perspective.

But, that is also not necessarily the perspective you know that most people who read your review are going to share. That is a complicated topic as well, but yes My number one criticism of games media is that I think a lot of journalists write things for their Twitter Followers who also work in the industry more so than they do for people who read the website (actual gamers).”

One cannot say this, then turn around and argue if you want ethics in journalism, you cannot criticize those pushing ideological agendas. Ethics means abiding by a standard or code of conduct. When you’re writing for your peers and your ideological echo chamber, you are not following anything that can be considered an acceptable standard.

If you want to go off and write your own blog or for a political outlet, that would be one thing. When you are writing for a supposedly reputable outlet that is dedicated to giving consumers an honest opinion and impression, then carrying out the described behavior is far from ethical.

Yet among the claims she made that draw the most significant objection I have is the claim outlets don’t take a bribe for favorable coverage. It is true, cash doesn’t go from the publisher to the writer, but when your site also runs advertisements for the very games you are reviewing, that is a conflict of interest. When you get goody boxes, that is a bribe. Though it is more commonly called a kickback.

Bribery in the industry beyond the aforementioned isn’t as clear cut as you’d think. Even Pearce briefly touches upon this issue, appearing as she does so to comprehend the inherent contradiction in her stance. Relevance is what drives journalism. The more relevant you are, the more people read your site, the more your advertisement is worth. This is the simple economics of advertisement; it gets more complicated with engagement rates, rate of returns, etc.. Still, on a basic level, if your site has more traffic, your advertisement is worth more money.

When a publisher gives you early access to content, when they give you exclusive previews, they are giving you relevance. Relevance translates into money. When you don’t have relevance, you have fewer views and make less money. If you don’t make enough money, you cannot sustain operations, and you go out of business.

If you start reporting that a company’s game sucks, they’re not going to advertise with you. They’re not going to give you exclusive access or interview time with the developers. If Pearce were telling the truth about the situation, then there would be no reason for all the outlets not to cover Sony’s DMCA abuse. There would be no reason for them not to talk about the leaks. Yet no outlet will give coverage to either topic.

It’s not a simple cold cut relationship, but it is based on working relations. At the same time, just because it’s not a cynical exchange of cash doesn’t mean bribery and manipulation aren’t occurring. It’s just not happening like an organized crime syndicate would do in a Hollywood movie. Then again outside cinema, even the mafia doesn’t operate purely on handing out bribes.

Famously the mafia has its roots in community. Often giving back to the community in the form of loans, aid, and handouts. They protect their own. So even if they don’t bribe you directly. You’re inclined as a result of your relationship with them and your community not to snitch or take your 15-minute break. Similarly, if you’re friends with the developers who publishers are paying for your advertisement while giving you relevance, you’re not going to be too inclined to talk about how their game is terrible.

That’s simply the dynamics of the industry. Pearce, for her part, admits there are a lot of shady practices that go on, but did not want to go into details. If you imagine it functioning as a cartel out of some Hollywood flick, you couldn’t be further from the truth. It is based on dealings, goodies, and game journo pros relations with publishers where they aim and work to fix the narrative. Making reality more entertaining than fiction.


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