Our audience here at No High Scores is, by all accounts, extremely intelligent, devastatingly gorgeous and, among many other things, harbingers of excellent taste. I mean, that last one is obvious. Why else would they be here?
That being said, I’m going to pull a mother-in-law on you in which I say that you probably already know something, but then proceed to tell you any way. Ready? Here goes. Twitter is public. And by that, I mean that anything you say on Twitter is our there for everyone to see. Can you limit who sees it? Sure, but that’s not the default. The default is for all of your writings to go out into the ether where they can be consumed by anyone with an internet connection and a link to Twitter.com.
So, if you’re, oh, I don’t know, a PR firm representing Duke Nukem Forever, and you think that you’re going to evaluate who gets future review copies based on what you consider venomous reviews, you probably don’t want to Tweet that because if you do, everyone can read it….
I have worked with Jim Redner on a bunch of releases in the past and he has always been 100% professional. I worked with him on all of the Borderlands content, some of which I gave good reviews, some of which I gave bad reviews and every time a new piece of content was released, the download code arrived in my mailbox. Based on Jim’s follow up statement and apologies, the Tweets were clearly written out of anger and frustration and he promptly apologized for it. Do I think that Jim and 2K are now going to go on an aggressive campaign to blacklist outlets over Duke Nukem Forever reviews? No, I don’t. In fact, it’s probably going to be easier than ever before to get review copies out of the Redner Group as they may do a little overcompensating to appear that they’re being as above board as possible. Note to self, see what games Redner Group is handling and ask for a copy.
I have a different perspective on this whole thing as I have been on the other end of such a thing and outside of a few people at GameShark, no one knows about it because it’s incredibly embarrassing, but I think, in this case, it’s worth telling the story to better explain where I’m coming from. At last years’ E3, we had a booth appointment with a company that will remain nameless for reasons you’ll see soon enough. Danielle and I had a great tour, everything was fabulous and we went on our merry way. A month or so later, I asked the company for a review copy of one of their games. Now, a booth appointment isn’t like a golden ticket or anything, but at the same time, one would hope that if you’re substantial enough of a site to get a booth appointment, you would be substantial enough to get review copies. Not so in this case. The fact that I didn’t get a copy of the game wasn’t a big deal, however instead of telling me “no” outright, and allowing me time to come to other arrangements, I was strung along for a couple of weeks and then told “no”. I’m a big boy. I can handle a negative response, I just prefer to be told up front.
Fast forward a month or so later and Danielle had asked me who my PR contact was at the company as she was reviewing another one of their games and needed a contact to see about a review copy. When I responded to her, I used GMail’s nifty way of auto-filling the To: field to get my contact’s email address, however I neglected to then delete said address from the To: field before sending the email. This would be the email in which I said that a colleague of my contact strung me along before telling me to go fuck myself. Now, is that what happened? Essentially, yes. Did I want to express that to PR. Oh God no. I promptly realized what I had done and apologized up and down, but never received acknowledgement from my contact one way or another. Maybe they never got the email, maybe they did and didn’t care, maybe there were offended all up and down and we’re forever blacklisted. I have no idea, but every time we don’t get a game from them to review, I think this is my fault. It very well might be. Should they continue to punish us for something that was obviously a mistake? No, and we shouldn’t all get on the Punish Wagon for Jim either.
So yes, I completely understand what Jim is probably feeling right now, and because of that, I tend to give him a pass on his behavior. He got angry, said something he was feeling but shouldn’t have been expressed publicly, and he has since apologized for it. It’s not like he tweeted that he hates Asian people or something horribly racist and it makes you question his character. What he said is that they’re reevaluating who gets review copies based on venomous reviews. I’m sure this isn’t going to be a very popular opinion, but so what?
Whenever I give a game a bad review, I always try to make it clear that I’m not insulting the developers personally. Do I always succeed? Probably not. With a game like DNF, which sounds like it’s not only poorly designed and executed, but also features some pretty offensive material, that task would be even harder. I mean, whoever decided to publish a game that features women being raped by aliens in a jokey manner as opposed to a serious “oh shit these aliens are despicable” manner, probably should have their motivations questioned. The line between bad review and venomous review then becomes even fuzzier and I can understand being protective of your clients if you feel that the reviews of their work attacks them personally. I probably would think twice about sending product to outlets that personally attacked my clients as well.
All that aside, the bottom line is this: PR outlets control who gets review copies, and they can decide to exercise that control in whatever manner they see fit. Their job is controlling the message, and deciding who gets copies, or who can post scores in relation to the embargo are all tools they use to accomplish that task. If you don’t like PR controlling the message, then don’t play their game. It is just that simple.
My Twitter feed was all abuzz about Redner’s comments and the threat of blacklisting and other terms thrown about to make this sound more serious then it actually is, but here is it is, in a nutshell: a PR firm may make it harder for sites to get early, and free, something that is publicly available for, at most, 60 dollars. They are not keeping the game from getting into everyone’s hands. They’re keeping the game from getting into a small group of hands early and for nothing. If you don’t want them keeping it out of your hands, buy it yourself. Buy it yourself! Jim Redner or Randy Pitchford or Jesus H. Christ Himself can not keep you from writing or saying anything about a game you bought yourself with your money. If you don’t like the way PR plays the game, then don’t play it. PR can’t push you around if you don’t let them decide what you write about.
We are enthusiast press and as such, we are beholden to PR to do our jobs, but we don’t have to be. Over the years we have dug ourselves into a pit with every early review and day one launch event we post and PR stands at the edge of this pit, throwing down games as they see fit. When they don’t throw down the games we whine and complain, ignoring the conveniently placed ladder that’s right next to us. Maybe if we all used it to climb out, bought our own games and stopped feeding into this notion that a review is only worthwhile if it posts before people can actually buy the game, we wouldn’t give a shit who Jim Redner wants to send review copies to.
I have worked with some seriously wonderful PR people in this business and some complete tools, just as I have worked with some seriously wonderful developers, designers, writers, artists, you name it and some complete tools in all of those departments. At the end of the day you come across all types, and how much you decide to let them influence your job, or your opinion, is your decision, not theirs. I think we would all serve our readers a lot better if we kept that in mind.