Sonic Hate: Game Previews Are Just Advertisements

Dark Void is out and – surprise surprise – receiving middling reviews from the online gaming press.

Gamespy: …”jetpack fans will have to settle for half-baked.”

Destructoid: “The best parts of the game are mediocre and the worst parts are abysmal.”

IGN UK: …”Every bit as disappointing as expected.”

Totally and utterly non-shocking, unless you happened to read the preview coverage of the game from these same online sources:

Gamespy: “Dark Void takes game mechanics that are very similar to what other shooters have done in years past but keeps things fresh with its unique focus on aerial combat and vertical level design.”

Destructoid: “Unless Dark Void completely jumps the shark with some sort of retarded plot twist or ridiculously out of place gameplay mode later in the game, I think that they have pretty solid win on their hands.”

IGN UK: “From what we’ve seen so far, these disparate game elements combine seamlessly, making for an incredibly fresh, genuinely exciting take on the shooter genre.”

I am sick to death of this. Every game gets hyped to the hills in preview coverage. Every MMO might have what it takes to knock WoW from its throne. Every third-person actioner is a gasp-a-minute thrill ride that will leave you breathless. Glaring problems are described as hiccups needing to be ironed out before the game ships. This bullshit pre-game carnival barking is universal in the gaming press, as predictible as it is omnipresent. Any gamer could probably write a passable game preview without even trying the game out; we’ve all read a few dozen stupid hyped up game previews before. We know all the lingo. Fresh. Promising. Puts a new spin on. Cover system.

I understand why it happens. Game sites don’t want to piss off the people who send them review copies and allow them into preview events. They want to be able to cover upcoming games that will nab them page views from interested readers. Maybe it would even be nice to get a pull quote in the game’s print advertising. If they want all these perks, they have to make nice about the game, at least until the first day’s sales are in the till.

But it needs to end. Game sites can’t be beholden to game companies; that’s how stuff like Gerstmanngate goes down. Game sites offer free advertising (in the form of previews) in exchange for promotional material that draws readers. They are selling their credibility to buy pageviews; the snarkier ones then try to gain it back by bagging on the game in reviews or post-review coverage. You know this, game enthusiast. You know that there is something wrong when IGN keeps promising you that just beyond the horizon is a wave of wonderful games that never quite seems to wash up on shore. The enthusiast press is sometimes just a bit too enthusiastic, like a sportscaster who stops calling the game and starts rooting for a team. There’s a difference between being a fan of the hobby and being a booster for the industry; as you look around the gaming press, which do you see more of?

I want to talk about what can be done about this by both journalists and consumers. These are proposals for discussion, not commandments.

1) Don’t trust Day One reviews. They have received early review copies from the game company, and would like the company to keep sending review copies to them. Have you ever noticed that game reviews that come out early tend to be much more positive than those that come out after some times has passed? I think it’s because those who hurry their reviews out early are a) not looking that closely at the game in their rush to finish writing and b) trying to maintain a good relationship with the publisher.
A Day One review is a sign of a co-opted reviewer.

2) Focus on the negative. When reading – and God help if you choose to do this – writing about a game that isn’t out yet, don’t be afraid to have doubts. The game isn’t real yet. It won’t be truly formed until the DVDs have been burned, the boxes shipped, and the day one patch installed. There is nothing truly good or bad about a thing that isn’t born yet. You have hopes and you have fears. Most previews soar around with the hopes, which are good and fine things, but leave the fears forgotten on the ground (or in the penultimate paragraph of a two-page article. Hunt for those fears, pick them up, turn them over in your hand. Try them on.
Base an early impression on what might be, not just what might be awesome.

3) Ignore previews altogether. They’re just ads. If you’re interested enough to read the article or download the video, you’re already as interested as is healthy. Don’t encourage the gangster Frankenstein hype machine. Buy the game when it comes out, or maybe read a few reviewers that you trust and talk to some friends about it first. Until then, play the games you have.
Fuck them and their advertising white noise.

Anyone want to suggest any other ideas? Explain why previews are a good thing? Lend me some sugar, I am your neighbor.


One thought on “Sonic Hate: Game Previews Are Just Advertisements”

  1. Previews are all about hope. Hope that this time the designer will deliver! This time the hype will have a product that justifies it! In the end we buy what inspires us and excites us.

    And yeah, you should take an editor and take out all the hyperbolic adjectives and then read it and see what is left after the “Fantastic!” “Outstanding!” and “Exceptional!!” words have been removed.

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