eldavojohn writes "You might be used to the idea that game reviewers receive games free and ahead of time, but Ars opens up a darker side to the mystery box. Like a $200 check from Dante's Inferno, reading, 'by cashing this check you succumb to avarice by hoarding filthy lucre, but by not cashing it, you waste it, and thereby surrender to prodigality.' Or how about a huge-ass sword from Darksiders. Or brass knuckles (illegal in some states) from the makers of Mafia II. Or rancid, rotting meat mixed with spent shell casings, teeth, broken glasses and dog tags from Bulletstorm. NCSoft gave out flight suits and trips to weightlessness. Nintendo apparently likes to send all manner of food, including elaborate cakes shaped as their consoles and games. Squeeballs sent a crate of stuffed animals. iPods from Activision and Zunes from Microsoft seem to be pretty tame bait for reviewers ... but there's one reason why this continues to happen: more news-starved review sites and blogs report on the extras and the publisher's game gets spread around just a wee bit more. Even if it is as freakish as bracelets from an insane asylum spattered with blood." I think we must be doing it wrong around here... we usually can't even get games before the release date, much less get free rotting meat.
Ages ago I used to write for a now-defunct music reviews site. There was no pay, it was implied we were to keep whatever advance CDs we wrote about. Things went well until I started giving bad reviews to some high profile releases. The problem is that those advance CDs were free to my publisher, and I was giving out bad reviews. Bad reviews were punished by the publisher by cutting us off their advance releases list, so I was told to write “good” reviews so the publishers would continue to send out the free CDs. Needless to say, I left. To this date I have only reviewed things I own or have used.
This is the most basic flaw of the review system. You cannot trust a review that comes from a person that is held hostage by the thread of cutting off this supply of free merchandise. The only sites that survive are the established names that are big enough that the threat of disclosing this attempt at blackmailing the reviewers will bring bad press to the publisher that is attempting it. The small guy simply can’t survive in this kind of fight, so the next time you read a book or product review online, ask yourself this:
- Did the reviewer purchase the product? This is very easy to check on Amazon because reviews from purchasers are clearly marked.
- If the reviewer didn’t purchase the product, was it disclosed in the review? Was it a freebie? Or a lent copy of the item that must be returned to the source?
- Is the reviewer only writing positive reviews? Go Take a look at dpreview.com and notice how some very high profile cameras barely rate over 60%. Dpreview.com (Even before Amazon bought them) were a reliable source because you could count on them to show objective data to support their reviews. Want to see something funny? Go to metacritic, pick a popular game, then look at the sites that rate it very high. Now pick one of these sites and see how often they rate a game really high.