I love reviewing games, I really do. Back when I first started doing it I was constantly struggling with writer’s block as I felt I had already covered all the semi-interesting topics already and was simply cranking out post after post which I didn’t feel particularly proud of. Game reviews then were a writing safe haven, a place where I could write almost endlessly on how that game made me feel and the nuances of the game play and graphics. They were among the most time consuming posts to write but they were also the most fulfilling and, several reviews later, I had left behind the creative block that had plagued me for months before and I’ve never looked back since.
That love of game reviews hasn’t gone unnoticed by publishers, PR reps and developers. I’ve felt incredibly lucky to be invited not once, but twice to play the Call of Duty titles before they were released (I couldn’t go this year, unfortunately). I was also lucky enough to have my review of Resonance noticed by the PR department of Wadjet Eye Games and was invited to play their upcoming title, Primordia, before it was released to the public. Sure I’m not exactly overwhelmed with requests from PR reps and publishers to get coverage of their games but I’ve at least had a taste of how the game review world operates and like many of my fellow brethren I’ve always been left craving more.
Reviews live and die by their timing, especially for larger sites. I knew from the start that I would never get a review out before any of the big sites would simply because I’d never get access to the titles at the same time they did. I’m ok with this as whilst I might not be first to market on these things I still manage to do alright, even if the amount of traffic I get would be a rounding error on the analytics dashboard of any proper gaming site. The opportunity to do reviews alongside the big time players then is a huge advantage to people like me as it gives us a chance at grabbing a slice of that juicy review traffic, even if most people will simply wait for their review site of choice to publish it.
Then DoritoGate happened.
I’ve never had someone call me out for being on the take for my reviews and that’s because (I hope) that I’m pretty upfront when I’m dealing with PR people or an event that was designed to generate blog coverage. Whilst my review scores tend towards the upper end of the spectrum, with a few people pointing out that I’m operating on a 7 to 10 scale and not a 0 to 10 one, that’s essentially a form of survivor bias that came about due to the way I review games. I did joke about giving a better review score to Modern Warfare 3 or Battlefield 3 depending on who schmoozed me better but I never consciously did that because realistically there was nothing else for me to gain from it.
When you’re like me and these kinds of things don’t happen to you very often it’s hard to not accept it the lavishes of the PR agencies, especially when they’re helping you further your cause. I don’t have an ethics policy tying me down or a boss to report to so the only people I have to appease is you, my dear reader. As far as I can tell everyone is comfortable with reviewers like me receiving review copies of games and even attending events where we’re given previews of said games (them paying for your travel still seems to be a grey area) but the furore that has erupted from a man sitting beside a table of Doritos and Mountain Dew has made me question what’s appropriate and what I’m comfortable with personally.
Now I’ve got something of a position of power here since I don’t advertise on this blog nor have I ever worked with publishers and PR people to do things like mock reviews. However when I first started getting offers of review products I took a long time before I accepted something mostly because I didn’t know what taking it meant for my blog. Intrinsically the gift of a product is given on the expectation of a review so there’s an obligation there, even if there isn’t any formal contract to speak of. My journalist friends said that disclosure is the key here, which is something I’ve stuck to religiously, but after seeing how the wider gaming community has reacted has me wondering if there’s things I should say no to in the future. All in the name of some form of journalistic integrity.
Realistically I don’t believe I have as many conflicts or issues as some of the people involved in DoritoGate did but it’s issues like these that play constantly in the back of my head when I’m writing, or even thinking about writing, a game review. I’ll stick to my principles of being honest and transparent when it comes to benefits I receive as part of the review process but I don’t have any hard and fast rules that I feel I could apply to other games reviewer’s yet. I think that’s what’s bothering me the most and I’m not entirely sure when I’ll have a solution for it.
There’s little doubt that the past decade has brought upon us rapid change that our current legislature is only just beginning to deal with. One of my long time bugbears, the R18+ rating for games, is a great example of this showing how outdated some of our policies are when it comes to the modern world. Unfortunately such political antiquity isn’t just isolated to the video games industry it extends to all areas that have been heavily affected by the changes the Internet has brought, not least of which is the delivery of content such as TV programs, newspapers and radio. This rift has not gone unnoticed and it seems the government is finally looking to take action on it.
Enter the Convergence Review a report that’s was commissioned in 2011 to review the policy framework surrounding Australia’s media and communications. It’s a hefty tome, weighing in at some 176 pages, detailing nearly every aspect of Australia’s current regulatory framework for delivering content to us Australians. I haven’t managed to get through the whole thing but you don’t need to read far into it to understand that it’s a well researched and carefully thought out document, one that should definitely be taken into consideration in reforming Australia’s regulatory framework for media. There are a couple points that really blew me away in there and I’d like to highlight them here.
For starters the review recommends that the licensing of broadcasting services be abolished in its entirety. In essence this puts traditional broadcasters on a level playing ground with digital natives who don’t have the same requirements placed upon them and their content. Not too long ago such an idea would seem to be a foolish notion as no licensing means that anyone could just start broadcasting whatever they wanted with no control on how it was presented. However with the advent of sites like YouTube such license free broadcasting is already a reality and attempting regulate it in the same fashion as traditional methods would be troublesome and most likely ineffective. Abolishing licensing removes restrictions that don’t make sense anymore given that the same content can be delivered without it.
Such a maneuver like that brings into question what kind of mechanisms you would have to govern the kind of content that gets broadcasted. The review takes this into consideration and recognizes that there needs to be some regulation in order to keep in line with Australian standards (like protecting children from inappropriate content). However the regulations it would apply are not to every content organisation. Instead the regulations will target content organisations based on the size of the organisation and the scope of their audience. This allows content organisations a lot of flexibility with how they deliver content and will encourage quite a bit of innovation in this area.
The review also recommends that media standards apply to all platforms, making the regulations technology agnostic. Doing this would ensure that we don’t end up in this same situation again when another technological breakthrough forces a rethink of our policy platform which as you can tell from the review is going to be a rather arduous process. Keeping the standards consistent across mediums also means that we won’t end up with another R18+ situation where we have half-baked legislation for one medium and mature frameworks in another.
The whole review feels like a unification that’s been long coming as the media landscape becomes increasingly varied to the point where treating them individually is complicated and inefficient. These points I’ve touched on are also just the most striking of the review’s recommendations with many more solid ideas for reforming Australia’s communications and media policies for a future that’s increasingly technologically driven. Seeing reports like this gives me a lot of hope for Australia’s future and I urge the government to take the review to heart and use it to drive Australia forward.
I’m under no delusions that I’m some kind of highfalutin blogger who’s under constant bombardment by corporate suitors looking to peddle their wares through my site. I have however been privy to some things that I wouldn’t have had a chance at otherwise had I not kept on writing for all these years so I’m somewhat familiar with the usual process of how an initial email will turn into something concrete. However it appears that there’s a lot of people out there, some of them possibly genuine, who have no idea how to contact even low end bloggers like myself in order to get some coverage. Today I’m going to lay my cards on the table and detail the response you’ll get should you ignore them.
Firstly I have a public email address that I published on this site with the primary intention of giving people an easy access avenue to me should they want to chat, comment or approach me for some kind of business related venture. It was also something of an experiment to see just how much spam I’d get through it and for the record it’s basically none (current queue is 71, all handled well by Gmail). You can feel free to email me at that address with whatever it is you want to talk to me about and I’m pretty much guaranteed to respond to it within 24 hours. If you don’t get a response it’s likely you’ve violated one of my cardinal rules, ones that if broken I’ll at best ignore you and at worst make sure I waste as much of your time as possible.
For starters you need to address me in the email, not Admin or webmaster or TheRefinedGeek or whatever your spam program uses, just me. That’s my initial sniff test to filter for carpet bomb emails but I’ve also simply deleted other emails which were possibly genuine just based on the fact that they couldn’t take the 2 extra seconds to find the About page and find my actual name. To date everyone I’ve had a successful blogging relationship with has managed to find my name without issue so if you can do the same you’re guaranteed to not get thrown into the trash along with all the other spammers.
Most importantly, and pay attention here because violating this rule will get you on the “waste this sucker’s time” list, you have to actually understand what this blog is and how you might fit into its overall picture. It seems that after I put the magical words “guest post” into my long time friend’s Call of Duty review people think it’s open slather for writing something on here. I’m am most certainly open to people writing guest posts on here but I’ve turned every single unsolicited one down so far simply because they want to write something that’s just not what this blog is about, nor I think my current audience would find particularly interesting. What this says to me is that you’ve done some kind of Google search for blogs that have posts with a title containing the words “Guest Post” and then emailed them hoping you could peddle your wares to. Just read 2 weeks worth of posts here and you’ll figure out if the article you have in mind is a good fit for here and then ask yourself why you want it here and not on your own personal blog.
These rules aren’t particularly rigorous so if you’re a real person looking to make a connection or a blogger looking for a place to show your writing to a wider audience you’ll have no problem complying with them. The spammers and idiots however will continue to trip them up, usually failing at the first “say my name, bitch” step. I might not be a bigshot blogger but I have standards and respect for the work I do and if my standards are too high for you then I’m sure you can find a home among all the other spammy blogs that will welcome you with open arms.