Oct 282012

Rab the Brave

Recently I was delighted to see that Eurogamer had taken Robert Florence on as a weekly guest writer for a column called Lost Humanity. Down the years, Rob Florence has been to videogames what Charlie Brooker is to TV. (in)Famous for a number of things, he’ll always be the man who said “Bummed in the gob” live on the BBC, bought us the excellent (and sadly missed) Consolevania, as well as working with BBC Scotland a few years later on another irreverent take on games, Videogaiden.  Cutting, insightful and consistently funny. Like Brooker, he’s a man who’ll call bullshit when he sees it and will make you laugh/squirm while he’s at it.

I was pretty surprised when I saw he was writing for Eurogamer. Down the years, Robert has also made a habit of sticking the knife into crappy or pretentious journalism. A few years ago Kieron Gillen (long-time Edge and Eurogamer reviewer) wrote a piece (he referred to it as a “manifesto”, but we’ll gloss over that one) called The New Games Journalism, which spoke about how games journalism had to transcend the traditional confines and conventions of traditional print journalism and strayed into the “personal” and should function in the broader cultural and artistic context. It was too big a target to miss. Florence and Consolevania dug up the still-born corpse of NGJ and proceeded to beat it mercilessly for most of the time that Consolevania ran. During Videogaiden’s short run, they even managed to find the time to give games journalism another whack.  I would have assumed that Robert had upset enough of the mainstream games media clique to ensure that he wouldn’t exactly be welcomed with open arms by a mass market gaming website.


 Storming the Castle

This week’s column was arguably the best one he’d ever written for Eurogamer. In it, he basically called out a subset of mainstream games journalists for the uncomfortable circle-jerk they indulge in with PR and Marketing teams. He even went as far as citing examples of journalists using their Twitter feeds to promote a sponsored event in exchange for the chance to win a PS3 (seriously, what kind of a games journalist doesn’t own a PS3 already?) One journalist even objected to being accused of advertising after sharing a sponsored hashtag with thousands of followers, in exchange for having a chance to win the PS3. If sharing a sponsored keyword with thousands of your followers in the hope that they’ll look into what it is isn’t advertising, then I’m Ron Jeremy.

Not me.

When I originally read the article, I was gobsmacked and elated. Eurogamer had shown the world what a huge pair of balls it had by publishing an article that spoke openly about such an uncomfortable topic and called out by name some of those who were guilty.

Alas, it was too good to be true. Shortly after, Florence confirmed via Twitter that he had parted ways with Eurogamer and an edited version of the article reappeared on the website. If you’d like to see the “original” (the edited sections are in bold) you can find it here.


The Old Boys’ Club

I must say, I’m not entirely shocked by this. When it went up, it was too good to be true. I don’t blame Eurogamer for what happened. After all, it’s a large commercial entity with backers and advertisers it has to keep happy, from the moment I saw the article the outcome had a faint feeling of inevitability about it.

I’ve been in and around the games industry for nearly a decade now and I’ve seen first-hand how these relationships work. There are  journalists/reviewers out there who really call it like it is and stand for something, but I’ve been around for too long and been to way too many industry events to know this is not the case across the board. Journos who should be challenging PR and Marketing at every turn, have very cosy relationships with the people they should be holding to account. Favours are exchanged for freebies, advances copies, invites, etc. and scores altered. This is why most hardcore gamers don’t really buy into the breathless excitement of some of the major gaming websites.

We’ve all gone out and bought games with 90+ review scores in the past only to find they’re steaming unplayable turds. The funniest example of this I seem to remember is the controversy which kicked up after all the gushing reviews went out for Driv3r prior to its release, only for the final game to be an unplayable mess.

A few years back I worked for a small scale publisher which got a poor review on one of the major gaming networks. In all fairness, the game was crap (there’s a whole post coming sometime about how crap games get made) and the review was pretty fair, except for a line about the game being “less offensive than paedophilia” (there’s your clue that it wasn’t an American site), which I thought was uninspired but wasn’t particularly offended by. Cue the PR guy going into a blind rage and picking the phone up… Within the hour the offending passage had been removed and a “compensation” agreed. All this for a tiny publisher with very little financial or product weight behind it. It really opened my eyes to how much publishers dictate the content and editorial policy of sites.

Ultimately, I find the Robert Florence/Eurogamer falling out disturbing for two reasons:

  • I want journalists to feel free to call things as they see them.
  • I want my games to be assessed on their respective merits and qualities, not in direct relation to my publisher’s marketing budget vs. other publishers marketing budgets.

It’s no wonder that people are increasingly moving away from mainstream games print and online media; there’s a reason why poorly-written fan efforts are so much closer to the pulse of the community: “Honesty and passion doesn’t wear a suit.”