Sunday, December 25, 2011

Equilibrium - 12/25/11

I spent last night with relatives, discussing the happenings of the past year and looking forward to the next.  Somehow it came up that I was blogging and reviewing games on line, and eventually it turned into a debate about 'virtual' journalism, as my uncle deemed it, and 'real' journalism (which I don't see a distinction between).

The topic came up when I brought up a story (which I can not find for the life of me, but will look for and link here if I come across it) in which a reviewer for a video game site found himself in quite a bit of trouble when the company producing the game he most recently reviewed went public with the fact that he had only spent two hours in game.

It should go without saying that two hours is nowhere near enough time to form an educated opinion about anything when it comes to digital entertainment - even things like the user interface (UI) or the overall graphics/performance of a product, it takes time to experience multiple things, play with your settings, take notes, etc. 

What followed was an interesting scenario - one I could easily find myself in now that this website is starting to get some regular traffic.

After the company slammed the negative review of their game with the fact that the reviewer only spent two hours playing it, the website that published the review immediately backed their writer; saying that they believed him when he said he had spent significantly more time in game.  This just made everyone look stupid, but lets examine the situation a bit further, as there's a few scenario's.

First off, as someone who's built and implemented multiple software solutions I can certainly understand the game development company's stance on a negative review being published with only two hours of playtime under the reviewer's belt.  I'd have probably been outraged as well, and rightfully so.  But what are the real options here?  Sure, you can check the database and see just how much time he logged in game, and perhaps even divulge those figures to the website posting the review - but you're fighting a losing battle, the website will never come out and say "Yeah, he didn't actually play your game.  We'll pull the review and fire him."  That would be the right thing to do, and corporations rarely do the right thing - let alone go make drastic reversals like that.

If you were the game developer, you could go the legal route.  You'd first make the website aware of your intent to do so, and provide them with the evidence you plan to use - IE a copy of the database and any logs present to show you didn't manipulate the data (which can be hard to prove depending on how you're storing your data).  If they didn't budge, then you'd file suit - arbitration would be involved, a mass of expert testimony, and then you could sue them for damages and various things involving journalistic integrity - which could result in HEFTY fines for the website (and anywhere else linking to the review) and quite a bit of money for the game developer if the court finds the review was damaging, malicious (due to the lack of time spent playing the game and then reviewing it) and then award you accordingly if sales dropped off.

I wonder why the game development company didn't go that route.  There's nothing to lose and everything to gain - if it's indeed true that he only spent two hours playing their game before writing up an article for the masses to read.

But this brings up a more interesting point - how can journalists defend themselves?  What if the game development company manipulated the data to show that the reviewer only spent two hours in game, when he had actually spent 50?  Suppose they also delete the logs, and hide the manipulation, and you have no legal recourse as a result?  I'm sure it's happened before - and if it happens again, someone can and will probably lose their job over it.  That's a bit crazy.

So what's the best defense?  I'm not a big proponent of Xfire, which is a gaming community that deploys a number of applications, one of which tracks your game time.  Something like that could work - it involves a third party and is very difficult to fake without extensive technical knowledge and/or an unnecessary hassle.  It's probably be easier to just play the game.

The only recourse to countering something like Xfire's tracking would be for the game development company to say that the reviewer didn't actually do anything in game, or that he sat around AFK (Away from Keyboard) for hours to run up his game time.  That's pretty easy to prove though, accomplishments in games are noticeable and definable, especially when you're first starting out. 

I'm not sure what I'd do if I was in that position, while it's relatively easy (through legal means) to prove what you were doing on your computer at X time, it's also easy for companies that don't like negative press to throw you under the bus and cheat the system - not saying there's many out there that would...

...But there's many out there that could.

And that's my thought for this week.  Happy (AND SAFE!) Holidays everyone!


  1. While the reviewer should have ethically said he only spent two hours in the game, I don't see how the developer could have a legal case against him. It sounds like the reviewer didn't have a whole lo good to say about the game. Sure it makes the developer look bad and angry, but it is the guy's opinion. You can't sue someone because you don't like what they think. Jeff

  2. Well, sure you can. I can't write a review for a restaurant and say its shitty because they serve steak (and I don't like steak) if I haven't eaten there.

    The same holds true for a tech. review - I can't provide an analysis and a score of a game, or a game's features if I haven't experienced them.

    Adding more information to the above article - the review spanned the entirety of the game, including end-game content, which is impossible to see or even consider at ~2 hours, or even twenty hours of play time.

    False statements in journalism tend to bring about bad things for the writers - especially if the statements effect someone's bottom line.

  3. Another thought, and not a legal recourse, but what about the website's reputation? I wouldn't read a review if I knew that the person reviewing it was from a site that encourages ~2 hours of experience before forming an opinion. I'd go somewhere else.


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