Yesterday, I was going through social media wondering what people were questioning about with exclusive reviews. I hadn’t heard anything about any exclusive reviews for months despite liking multiple regions of IGN on Facebook. IGN’s Xbox head Ryan McCaffrey skipped St. Patrick’s Day on Sunday because he was working on reviewing possibly one of the year’s most anticipated titles: BioShock Infinite.
To preface what I’m going to say through this editorial, I’m sure there have been no basic journalistic ethics broken with the exclusive IGN review of 2K and Irrational Games’ BioShock Infinite but as I don’t have any personal or private business relationships between any employee of either company I can’t be a hundred percent certain in that statement either.
With days before a game’s release and no official reviews are out for the public to read, usually this means that there should be some kind of caution about a game but when an exclusive review is in play, all cards are thrown into the air just like a childish game of ‘52 Card Pickup’: tell everyone to pick up the cards as one person gets the delight of watching others squirm. Surely, this isn’t the intent of either partner intentionally but that’s what comes of the situation.
When dozens of popular gaming outlets are told to sit on their hands and not get to release a review all at the same time, all those who follow the games media are crowded to the one voice, creating a dictatorial opinion on the subject. Along with the outlet’s opinion, several other options pop-up: how will the review change with a specific advertising layout, what does the publisher want in order to complete the contracted obligation and the most important how will the judgment be judged by the consumers?
Millions of dollars lay upon the fingertips of one San Franciscan that could change a global company’s stocks from fifteen dollars a share to ten or twenty. If the game gives a bad impression to the reviewer, this could mean hundreds of people’s jobs potentially as the publisher has invested five years and millions of dollars into the project. If the game gives a good impression to the reviewer, the outlet could receive criticism for the next decade on how they were supposedly paid-off by one of the largest publishers in the industry. Every reviewer has to think of this but when you remove the other 100 reviews from Metacritic with the single review speaking for potentially all of the company’s audience, you are forcing this reviewer to feel obligated to not only to feel safe in his words but to compromise, in this case, his positive or negative criticism.
In other media mediums like music or movies, exclusive reviews aren’t used anymore as they appear to be naive with major outlets being shunned, which goes for all those independent bloggers too. Apparently though, this doesn’t affect the decision making made over at Take-Two Interactive. In fact, looking at the layout of the ‘review-in-progress’ that has been posted as of the publication of this editorial, there are several locations that IGN and Take-Two use with different retail partners to take advantage by posting advertisements in strategic places where readers can’t ignore an Amazon link telling where gamers can purchase the game.
Literally, in the middle of a fucking sentence, an advertisement links to a private IGN server which is then redirected to the online Microsoft store for a pre-order of BioShock Infinite. The dependent phrase should read ‘In BioShock Infinite’s opening moments, ...’ but instead boxed with red dots, the ‘$59.99 @ Microsoft Store’ advertisement immediately steals away attention from reading as it has been placed directly where most consumers would direct their eyes: to the middle of the screen. Call this what you want but putting an advertisement right in the middle of a sentence, as far as I know, has never been done before other than normal page breaks with a newspaper.
This wasn’t the only obvious advertisement that was featured in the ‘review-in-progress’ either. As it was called a review-in-progress, most gamers will scroll down to see if a score has been given but instead for those searching for the arbitrary number would be treated to looking at three different box arts for different platforms from different retail companies linking to their respective webpage where you can pre-order the game now.
I don’t know if it’s just me but the exclusive reviews just seem to be a great way to advertise, by choking other outlets from reporting on a game instead of offering your audience an accurate outlook on a title by subjectively inspecting what other reviewers have said about the game. If I were ever given this chance for an exclusive review, I wouldn’t be able to accept it morally because the personal implications that such an illustrious event would be such a massive impact on my writing career but also because I write to help gamers to get the best product out of what money they have. Only allowing one person to review a game publicly before its release is an atrocity to those who follow game reviewers and shouldn’t be allowed because it collapses discussion for how exciting a certain product maybe.
BioShock Infinite comes out on March 26th, next Tuesday, internationally on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC and Mac. Yesterday, I reported that Greenman Gaming is offering the best offer for the PC version of the game as you’ll get an extra three games for free with the purchase of a downloadable copy of the game.