This relationship can also cause further problems when personal loyalties come into contact with professional responsibilities; should I write an exposé on a developer's dubious business decision, that would otherwise negatively affect the consumer, or should I remain silent to protect friends?
This then further begs the question; what are the rights and responsibilities of journalists? After some discussion with Wesley Copeland (whom you all know and love as the editor-in-chief of this fine blog), this is the final list:
- To be allowed to give honest reviews and opinions without fear of reprisal from developers, publishers and consumers.
- To give only accurate representations of games within reviews.
- To make the consumers aware of potentially hostile business decisions taken by publishers and developers.
- To only give fair criticism.
- To remain impartial, as far as humanly possible.
This is both beneficial to consumers and developers, as it informs the former and provides free advertising to the latter. It is for this reason that journalists receive free games and hardware; our honest opinions are much more valuable to everyone concerned.
Worrying about the reprisal from a developer or publisher - it's usually the publishers that push back - over a negative review of their latest AAA money sink, is a common part of journalist life. At VGI we don't tend to worry too much: if we get black-listed by a publisher, then so be it. Having said that, being black-listed by a major publisher can cause serious problems for the journalists in question; we rely on getting the reviews and previews of the latest games out at the same time as our competition. Being black-listed makes that difficult.
This is not to vilify developers and publishers; in the vast majority of instances, they will not react or respond to negative reviews other than, perhaps, to ask for more detail on their mistakes so that they can make improvements. One recent example had VGI being 'reported', by a fan of the Witcher 2, to Namco Bandai's head of PR for our review of the Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition. The actual cause for complaint was fairly minor (and subsequently addressed in an editor's note) and Namco Bandai did not react at all.
This brings me onto a journalist's responsibility to only give fair criticism. VGI stands by everything said in the aforementioned review, however it could easily have been the case where we may have stated something that was unfair or untruthful, whether by accident or design. In that instance it would have been right for VGI to be challenged on their view - although that is not to say that asking us to further explain our views is a bad thing; feel free to do it whenever you disagree with something we have said.
Impartiality is, perhaps, a contested responsibility. Many journalists see themselves as purely to empower the consumer and some view it as more important to remain impartial and to just present the facts. These are both valid viewpoints and there are strong arguments to be made for both to be adopted. Even at VGI there are a range of differing opinions on the subject.
Impartiality will read as objectivity. This is especially true of reviews, although reviews are by definition mostly subjective; it is possible to comment objectively on the technical faults or graphical fidelity experienced within a game whereas enjoyment of storyline, gameplay and aesthetic is more subjective. Which company made the game should not influence the review of the game (although business models, for instance will).
A slightly shorter piece, this time around, simply because most topics have been previously covered; the publishers, the developers and the consumers.
What are your thoughts? Do you have anything to add or do you have any questions? Write away in the comments below!
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