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Consoleation: Aliens-gate and deflecting blame

Peter Skerritt's picture

Aliens: Colonial Marines Screenshot

Cinemablend ran an article recently that leveled some pretty serious charges at the gaming press. The article uses terms like "publisher-bought gaming media" and maintains that gaming press needs to come clean before games come out if they're bad.

This article, if you haven't read it already, is fallacious and unnecessary.

I've had my issues with gaming press at large in the past. I was very critical of their general reaction to those angered by Mass Effect 3 last year, with overuse of the "entitled" term and basically talking down to their readership. I've also been critical of the practice of review embargoes in the past, as I think that they tend to be precursors to bad games. (Note: It's not an all-inclusive trend that embargoes and bad games are linked, but there are definite examples in this case.)

In the case of Aliens: Colonial Marines, gaming press is not at fault. I don't care how much the author of this article wants to call people out for not being forthcoming. These reviews—and reviewers—are bound by embargoes. They can't say much, whether they like it or they hate it. It's worth noting that reviewers tried to leave clues for consumers about the game's quality, with many taking to Twitter urging consumers to wait for the embargo to lift before buying the game. That, in and of itself, is risky behavior. Read between the lines and you can see that reviewers were trying to tell consumers something… but there's only so much that could be said prior to the lifting of the embargo at 4am Eastern (1am Pacific).

I deal with embargoes in some of my review opportunities. They come with the territory. Publishers and PR firms make the rules. If you don't follow, you don't get product early—or at all. I'm not a fan of the practice, and have questioned it, but the choice is simple to make. If embargoes aren't followed, losing early access means not being able to supply eager readers with reviews on the day of release… and that can lead to even more wasted money for bad games or lead to not enough people being interested in games that I determine to be really good. If the author is mad about embargoes, he needed to point at the right people. Not IGN, Geoff Keighley, and others… but publishers and PR firms who set these rules to begin with.

Aliens: Colonial Marines Screenshot

Of course, there's one major problem with the author doing that: He writes for the gaming arm of his own website. He's basically a member of the gaming press calling out his peers with no provocation.

There's a lot of blame to go around for this Aliens disaster. There were development issues between Gearbox and Timegate. The embargo period lifted too late to save eager consumers from themselves. And, yes, those eager consumers are very much part of the problem. The author of the article was smart enough not to identify that, saving himself backlash from his readership at the expense of attempting to soil the reputations of his fellow writers.

Here's a truth bomb that you're probably not going to want to hear: Consumers do assume a lot of blame here. There's nothing forcing consumers to buy blindly. They're enthusiastic. They made up their own minds based on neutral previews and impressions of unfinished materials. When you buy a game at midnight, or even on the day of launch, you assume some risk as a consumer. When you don't rent first, you don't (or choose not to) read reviews when they hit, and you don't wait for reliable experience word of mouth from friends or colleagues, then you assume some risk as a consumer. If you decide that, in spite of bad reviews, you need to find out for yourself… then you assume some risk as a consumer.

I've done this many times in my decades as a video game consumer. I've bought games on launch day or even at midnight, sold on my enthusiasm, only to find that I'd wasted my money on a game that was bad or that I wound up not liking. Sure, I can try and blame reviewers or friends for not warning me, but the fault in these cases is clearly my own. I could have waited a few extra days before dropping my $60, but I gave in to enthusiasm. It's the price we pay for early adoption. It isn't fun sometimes, but it isn't anyone's fault but our own. So if the author is going to use "There's a lot of gamers out there who wasted $60 on Colonial Marines when it wasn't what it was advertised to be" as a point of emphasis, that's the consumer's problem. Or the developer's problem. Or the publisher's problem. It's not the fault of the gaming press in this instance.

Deflecting blame from where it really lies is counterproductive. Sure, Cinemablend will get plenty of traffic from this attack piece, but it also serves to damage the website's credibility and at the same time demonstrates a very odd agenda on the part of the author.

Category Tags
Platform(s): Xbox 360   Wii U   PS3   PC  
Developer(s): Timegate   Gearbox  
Series: Aliens  
Genre(s): Shooting  
Articles: Editorials   Columns  
Topic(s): Business   Game Design & Dev  

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But What About a Year of Previews that Instill This "Enthusiasm"

First off, you wrote a well thought-out article. Since big-title games often previewed/talked about for months/years of advance, whether in print or online, these previews can often come across as a sugar-coated "like this little taste? there's more coming in the future." I cannot clearly recall where such previews, especially in print magazines, comes with a "it was looking good before, but not so much now...I recommend holding off until it improves" tagline on it.

There seems to be too much of a chance that if you want to see/play regular updates to an upcoming game, you have to "play nice", otherwise you run the risk of no further updates and potentially losing your audience.

If that is the case, then the current status quo has no chance of changing. Magazines/web sites have to write neutral/favorable previews, building up anticipation for a game by interested individuals, such that when the game is finally released, it can often failed perceived expectations.

However, you are absolutely correct in the power of the consumer to make the final choice. Overcoming the need for immediate physical gratification (e.g., being the 1st in line to buy/play a game for either enjoyment or bragging rights) still remains a big obstacle for me at times. I just happen to have enough financial responsibilities elsewhere to where buying a game at midnight is not a concern anymore (however a new Batman Arkham or Metal Gear Solid game often activiates the "need to buy it now" gene in my DNA).

But just rather gripe and moan at the staus quo, here is one menial suggestion:
For each video preview or game demo played, review it like you would a full game release. Then for each updated video/demo, review it again and start tabulating the review scores. This would give a reader the opportunity to quantify how well the game development is progressing, and provide a potential sedative to the "can't wait for it!" bug. Of course, less than favorable reviews brings us back to that dangfangled status quo mentioned above. Ah, capitalism and fail-safe consumer protection, two tastes that never go great together!

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