Allegations of corrupt journalists and reviewers being bribed in order to get higher scores and positive coverage exist within every brand of the media, but in the world of gaming they seem far more prevalent, largely due to angry Internet fans screaming “paid-off” whenever a game they dislike gets a high score.
In the time I’ve been writing and talking to journalists from around the web I have to say that almost all of the allegations appear to be bullshit. Almost every time a game gets a high score or even a low score there’s no questionable motivations to be found, other than personal opinion. Having said that, there’s some shady practices, and the gaming industry often seems intend on trashing its own reputation.
Cue Ubisoft, who have been revealed to have been giving out free Nexus 7 tablets to journalists attending the recent Watch Dogs preview event. Yup, free tablets.
This was confirmed via Twitter when Steve Hogarty, who did not attend the event personally, tweeted:
It is TRUTH. Ubisoft gave journalists a free Nexus 7 each at an exclusive Watchdogs preview event in Paris. Oh Ubisoft.
— Steve Hogarty (@misterbrilliant) April 15, 2014
Other writers also took to Twitter, many of them to publicly state that they either refused to take the gift, or plan on auctioning it for charity. Steven Burns of Videogamer wrote:
For the record: I was offered the Nexus, gave it back to the PR. No reason to take it. I did drink the water that was also in the bag though — Steve Burns (@TheSteveBurnio) April 15, 2014
Meanwhile Edwin Evans-Thirlwell of OXM wrote a great little blog about the subject, explaining the tablet was an “asset stick” filled with Watch Dog videos, screenshots and other things usually used by the media when creating preview articles or reviews. He explained that the Nexus 7 is the tablet apparently preferred by Watch Dog’s leading character Aiden Pearce, and that OXM are planning on auctioning the tablet. He did admit to drinking the water and eating the mints included in the package, though. Cheeky bugger.
So let’s think this through; at the moment we have no idea how many people were at the event, or how many actually accepted the tablet. Nor are we are of how many of those journalists plan on auctioning the Nexus 7 for charity or giving it away to readers.
But more importantly, was this really a deliberate attempt by Ubisoft to bribe journalists? I’d like to think it wasn’t. It may very well have been an innocent move on Ubisoft’s part, but that’s not how the public will view it, and for good reason. If nothing else it’s a clear indication of a company not thinking things through. Any gift of this sort will raise the question of a review being influenced, even though no writer worth his or her salt should have his or her opinion swayed by anything a company’s PR team does. Accepting a gift does not mean a writer is automatically indebted to the company or that it will influence a review, but that doesn’t excuse the problem, nor justify a clear and obvious flaw within an industry that already is often viewed as untrustworthy due to its business practices. Things like this should not happen, because company’s like Ubisoft should know that it will damage their reputation and call in to doubt any review of their forthcoming game. In the Internet age scandals travel at the speed of light. In a perfect world a journalist should not be influenced by a gift, but there’s always the chance that they will be, and this is not a perfect world.
Review code for new games is one thing since it’s a requirement for writers to be able to effectively do their jobs, as purchasing all new releases would be costly. I’ve never hidden the fact that almost all reviews featured on this site stem from review copies provided free of charge by the publishers, because I could personally never afford to buy even a tiny fraction of them. But past that lavish PR packages filled with little trinkets, however inexpensive, should not exist, and yet they do. Events like this Watch Dogs preview serve only to do harm, and perpetuate the idea that all journalists are ultimately corrupt. A simple CD filled with the relative assets would have sufficed, though these can all be delivered digitally.
Furthermore, I would like to say that while I was invited to the event I did not attend. While you have no reason to trust me past any other Internet-based writer, I’d also like to say that if I had I would either have not accepted the gift, or auctioned it off for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.
This discussion simply should never have happened. There should never have been Nexus tablets handed out. It really is that simple.
Confusingly Ubisoft have also tweeted this:
At a recent Watch_Dogs event some media were given tablets as gifts. This was not in line with our PR policies. Apologies for any confusion.
— Ubisoft UK (@UbisoftUK) April 15, 2014
So, Ubisoft didn’t know what their own PR team were doing? Clearly Ubisoft need to explain exactly why this happened, then, because right now they’re in hot water and with very good reason.
So, what do you think? Is it a bribe? Was it an incredibly stupid but genuinely innocent move? Do you feel that things like this can and do influence reviews?