Bethesda, review copies and the role of games media

The relationship between press and publishers is an on-going debate in video game media. Media are often given review copies before a game’s release, giving them time to properly complete a game and write a review; but publisher Bethesda has decided to provide review copies of Dishonored 2 and Skyrim: Special Edition to media a day before the games’ respective releases. Many have written not in favour of this new review policy, labelling it “anti-consumer,” and arguing that it places a lot of pressure on critics. This article will examine four views articles that, while all agree that the policy isn’t fair to consumers or their professions as critics, differ in the ways in which they try to convince their audiences.

 

Tim Colwill’s “Bethesda, Games Media, And the Uncouth Vulgarity of Acknowledging Capitalism” and Eric Kain’s Forbes article, “Bethesda’s Decision To Withhold Review Copies Is Bad For Games And Sets A Dangerous Precedent”, are both causal and evaluative, and very explicit in not being in favour of Bethesda’s policy. Colwill, however, argues that this sense of anti-consumerism isn’t new to the industry, and is solely based on publisher’s desire to make money, while Kain argues that it goes against the standards of art critique. Ben Kuchera’s “Bethesda wants your money before the reviews hit” by Polygon presents a far less aggressive factual and evaluative argument, explaining the situation while calling for his readers to stop pre-ordering, again labelling the incident as anti-consumer. Stephen Totilo’s “You’re Going To Get Fewer Early Games Reviews From Everyone” by Kotaku offers a similarly lighter-toned view to Kuchera,

 

Tim Colwill’s “Bethesda, Games Media, And The Uncouth Vulgarity of Acknowledging Capitalism” is a causal and evaluative argument. His central claim that Bethesda’s behavior is incredibly anti-consumer but that the industry’s always been anti-consumer and exploitative requires the warrant that consumers use reviews to justify their – or at least, help them make informed – purchases. His claim is explicitly mentioned in the first few paragraphs as he describes games media as “correctly labell[ing] [Bethesda’s policy] as anti-consumer,” and that “the problem is that the industry as a whole is anti-consumer.” He uses an appeal of comparison to hyperbolically compare the effects Bethesda’s policy has on the games industry to what Republican candidate Donald Trump has done to the Republican party, “scandalizing the establishment by saying out loud the racist things that were previously only conveyed through polite smiles and racist policy.” While this can easily be seen as a hasty-generalisation and requires the warrant that Donald Trump’s racist attitude is unwanted, I argue that Colwill is merely aggressively against the policy, and uses this to vilify the publisher to further position his audience to see that it goes against societal norms.

 

Colwill uses another appeal to a more related analogy in Rockstar’s treatment of games press, to further justify his view that publisher secrecy isn’t a new practice. He quite forcefully argues with an appeal to emotion, that Rockstar “treats games media like shit and the media plasters on a smile and deals with it because they don’t have a choice,” to demonstrate that journalists have been treated poorly by publishers before. He extends this by very matter of a factly calling to his audience, “You can on one hand the amount of outlets that were graciously granted a preview of Grand Theft Auto V, or an interview with a developer.” This reinforces his appeal to analogy while satirically pointing out the unfair bait from publishers to games press, but by itself doesn’t entirely justify his claim that the industry is anti-consumer. Again, this requires the warrant that pre-release coverage is good for gamers, and that it helps them make informed decisions about their purchases. He undermines the validity of his argument, however, in describing the Rockstar CEO as “liv[ing] in a gold penis on the moon.” This is easily an attempt to further vilify the company but acts as a distraction to his argument, partly discrediting it.

 

Colwill uses another appeal to analogy and emotion in justifying his supplementary claim, as well.  Colwill introduces his secondary claim that the role of press has changed and been replaced by an uncritical coverage of games with YouTubers, by describing the traditional relationship between publisher, press and consumer, “if you wanted to reach the consumer, you needed to play nice with the press.” While this could be seen as an appeal to “facts” or social norms, as publishers did rely on press in the pass, I’d argue that this is an example of a circular agreement, as Colwill simply reinstates the beginning of the claim to justify it. From there, he uses an appeal to emotion and social norms to explicitly state the later half of his secondary claim that “consumers are explicitly rooting for uncritical coverage of games, and attacking the press for hurting the feelings of AAA publishers by criticising their work.” He hyperlinks the phrase “explicitly rooting for uncritical coverage” to a comment on a game review by GameSpot that compares mainstream games media publications to YouTube personalities, claiming that the former “fail…to highlight positives [and] negatives [about a game] while maintaining an unbiased opinion,” before admitting that YouTuber Angry Joe had received a pre-release copy. While partly an over-generalisation, Colwill uses an appeal to facts in referencing the comment, to justify his claim with photographic evidence of a reader “attacking the press” for criticising a AAA publisher’s work. From this, he uses the metaphorical description – again, another use of an analogy – of the press as the “majestic Sphinx” who had previously “guarded the villagers from the monsters in the dark” but is now threatened by said villagers who are “mad at [the Sphinx for] hurting the monster’s feelings.” Despite the ridiculous imagery glorifying Colwill’s position as a journalist, it clearly defines the shift in games media. That said, it doesn’t necessarily work in justifying his claim by itself, and works well in conjunction with the above appeal to facts.

 

Like Colwill’s article, Erik Kain’s “Bethesda’s decision to withhold review copies is bad for gamers and sets a dangerous precedent” by Forbes is an evaluative and causal piece against the policy. Kain explicitly states his claim, that Bethesda should abandon their new policy because it is bad for gamers and sets a dangerous example for publishers in the future, in the title of the article. He quotes a blog post from Bethesda explaining the new policy, sarcastically quoting their belief that they “value media reviews.” Kain calls out Bethesda’s claim that they “value media reviews” by sarcastically commenting, “they…would prefer to do away with them entirely, free to sell their products to consumers with as little pre-release criticism as possible,” giving the impression that they are anti-consumer but in a far less aggressive way than Colwill. In this way, he uses an appeal to negative consequences, suggesting it could lead to “[a] loss of trust between publishers, consumer and the media,” before mentioning that “trust is already in short supply,” to reinforce his above critique of Bethesda’s blog post.

 

He uses a series of appeals to authority, comparison and popular opinion to justify his claim, too. He lists the benefits of providing early copies to media as supplementary claims in bold to substantiate his view. Namely, he uses an appeal to authority in arguing that “early review copies give critics a chance to write comprehensible reviews,” suggesting it’s good for the consumer – although, this requires the warrant that consumers read reviews before making a purchase. He also uses an appeal to authority and popular opinion, stating that review copies “ensure more information for consumers before [the] launch [of a game],” and “reward good game developers”. While these secondary claims have very little justification to support them, and are merely a circular argument, they act as justificatory statements to Kain’s central claim.

 

Kain later compares games critique to other creative arts reviewing, arguing that “video games should be held to the same standard as other entertainment.” He refers to the reader in second person by means of the analogy in, “you want[ing] to go see a movie on its opening weekend but there being no reviews of it,” to create a personal connection between his claim and the reader. From there, he uses an either-or argument, stating that “you” would either “think twice about seeing the movie” or “go see a movie that would have been reviewed terribly because it’s awful,” which he argues “punish[es] consumers but reward[s] bad films.” He argues that reviews published after a game is released because publishers decide to provide a review copy a day before a game’s launch, has a similar effect to this analogy, and in comparing games and film critique, justifies his claim that this practice is unnatural and goes against social norms.

 

Ben Kuchera’s “Bethesda wants your money before the reviews hit” by Polygon on the other hand, is a causal and evaluative piece with an underlying recommendatory tone. Kuchera’s central claim that Bethesda’s behavior is anti-consumer and doesn’t actually care about critics and merely sales, is implied in the article by contrasting Bethesda’s view with his own. He uses an appeal to authority and sarcastic choice of emotion in reinforcing Bethesda’s belief that they care about reviews, stating that the company is “going to show that love by wiping out any chance players will have to learn about the quality of a game before it’s released.” Unlike Colwill and Kain however, Kuchera doesn’t explicitly state that this is wrong, and rhetorically asks that if his reader wants to spend money on a game before they know if its good or even works, he can’t stop you since “it’s your money.” That said, there is clearly a judgmental tone to the rhetorical question. He also contrasts quotes from Bethesda’s blog with his own analysis to discredit their view, claiming that “painting [it] as anything other than being consumer hostile requires some pretty hefty spin,” enacting another appeal to authority. In doing so, he creates a more rounded argument than Colwill and Kain who position their audience either on their side or Bethesda’s.

 

His underlying claim, however, isn’t that Bethesda’s policy is anti-consumer but that people should stop supporting preorders. Kuchera describes the article as a word of advice, suggesting that his audience doesn’t have to believe what he’s saying, which humanises his argument. In the closing paragraph, Kuchera uses an appeal to emotion and consequence, directly engaging with his audience by calling out to them, arguing that “Bethesda wants your money more than anything else, and this is the company’s way of minimising risk.” While this requires the warrant that preordering is bad for the industry, the view that is his underlying true central claim is substantiated by the slug in the URL, “Bethesda-review-policy-dont-preorder”, and the byline calling out to his audience, “You shouldn’t be pre-ordering anyway.”

 

Stephen Totilo’s “You’re Going To Get Fewer Early Game Reviews From Everyone” by Kotaku presents, like Colwill, Kuchera and Kain, an evaluative and causal argument, but also a factual one. His central claim, that Bethesda’s policy is harmful to both consumers and critics, is mostly explicitly stated near the end of the piece, with a more factual description of the situation acting as the story’s lead. Totilo uses an appeal to facts in detailing the situation, quoting Bethesda’s blog post like Kuchera and Kain; only unlike the others, as Totilo points out, doesn’t feel the need to hold back given Kotaku has been blacklisted by Bethesda – meaning, they’ve been wiped from their media contacts. This in hindsight distances him from the issue while also crediting his view as truly honest and authentic.

 

Ultimately, these authors demonstrate an obvious bias towards games media and consumers. Despite their differing central claims and perception of how anti-consumer the industry was, currently or still is, they acknowledge a shift from traditional media to uncritical coverage of games in YouTube content. In this way, the issue is clearly undivided and considered unfair, even considering the varied tones these authors adopt.

 

Reference List

Colwill, T, 2016, Bethesda, Games Media, And The Uncouth Vulgarity of Acknowledging Capitalism, Not So Unwashed, 26th October 2016, http://notsounwashed.com/2016/10/we-value-media-reviews/

Kain, E, 2016, Bethesda’s Decision To Withhold Review Copies Is Bad For Gamers And Sets A Dangerous Precedent, Forbes, 26th October 2016, http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2016/10/25/bethesdas-decision-to-withhold-review-copies-is-bad-for-gamers-and-sets-a-dangerous-precedent/#68fead0e6d78

Kuchera, B, 2016, Bethesda wants your money before the reviews hit, Polygon, 25th October 2016, http://www.polygon.com/2016/10/25/13409774/bethesda-review-policy-dont-preorder

Totilo, S, 2016, You’re Going To Get Fewer Early Game Reviews From Everyone, Kotaku, 26th October 2016, http://www.kotaku.com.au/2016/10/youre-going-to-get-fewer-early-game-reviews-from-everyone/

No Man’s Sky: One man’s lie or are gamers too entitled for their own good?

The video game media industry has long debated the influence marketing hype has on a game’s success, some arguing that the constant feed of trailers sets an unachievable bar while others believe consumers act self-entitled and expect every promise made by developers to be met. No game has caused quite a stir in games journalism than the space exploration game, No Man’s Sky, which after first releasing on the 9th August this year, sparked views articles by Kotaku’s Jason Schreier, Polygon’s Ben Kuchera and James Pinnell in a feature on Hyper’s online division, arguing that it failed to deliver on fan’s expectations, and questioning whether developers should talk freely about their projects in the middle of development in fear of breaking said promises.

 

In a causal and evaluative views article titled ‘No Man’s Sky is the new Destiny’ by Ben Kuchera for Polygon, Kuchera compares the game’s limited content to Destiny, a first-person shooter released in September 2014 that was described as bland and missing content advertised in trailers and interviews but has since evolved to a full-game by online updates. His central claim that the reception and controversies surrounding No Man’s Sky resemble that of Destiny, meaning No Man’s Sky could become a completely different game in two years’ time, is explicitly stated throughout the article but very clearly stated in his closing sentence, “We’re going to look back on vanilla No Man’s Sky the same way we do with Destiny: with amused acceptance, and knowledge that things are a lot better now”; as well as implied in the title of the article.

 

Throughout the article and as a part of his claim, Kuchera uses an appeal to comparison, comparing No Man’s Sky and Destiny, as well as an appeal to facts by including images of tweets from the President of Hello Games, Sean Murray, and fellow critics to substantiate his claim as credible, without needing to specifically reference them. By using images of Sean Murray’s tweets and quotes extracted from interviews with him post-launch, Kuchera backs up his supporting claim that Murray and the team will improve the game’s crashing issues and add content missing from the game later in its development. Kuchera also uses an appeal to analogy in the metaphor of “Hello Games bottl[ing] wine, not scotch”, to reaffirm his claim that like wine, No Man’s Sky will improve with age, meeting the demands and promises Sean Murray made. Of course, this entire article requires the warrant that fans believe Destiny was a bad game at its launch and has improved in the last two years, and that No Man’s Sky didn’t meet fans’ expectations. In this way, Kuchera recommends his audience to patiently wait for the developers to add more content in the next two years with updates before disregarding the game, while arguing that the game’s poor reception and limited content will result in a better game in the future by means of updates like Destiny.

 

 

The No Man’s Sky Hype Dilemma by Kotaku’s Jason Schreier, like Kuchera, evaluates the reception of No Man’s Sky but also questions whether Hello Games lied about the content of their game to fans. The central claim of Schreier’s argument – that the game did not meet the ridiculously high expectations people made for it and that the game was falsely advertised – is implied by the author rhetorically asking, “…why the No Man’s Sky described in 2014 looks so much different than the one we’re playing in 2016”, using an appeal to comparison to compare the version of No Man’s Sky shown in gameplay demos and trailers by the studio in 2014 with the released copy. The views piece is a combination of a factual, evaluative, recommendatory and causal argument: Schreier uses an appeal to facts by referencing a Reddit user’s investigative post breaking down every interview with Murray pointing out the many promises he made and whether they are in the retail copy, to support his claim that the game was falsely advertised; as well as evaluates the reception of the game from Kotaku readers, utilising an appeal to popular opinion by means of his established audience, reinforcing a familiarity between his view and audience which in doing so, further substantiates his view. Unlike Kuchera however, Schreier recommends Hello Games responds to fans’ disappointment and publicly explain why content was missing, and whether they’ll add said missing content later by updates, while implanting a causal argument and an appeal to negative consequences in arguing that the lack of dialogue between developers and consumers will make fans less trustworthy of developers and video game marketing at big video game marketing events like E3 (an entertainment expo in Los Angeles where companies announce their upcoming product line-up). From this, he uses an appeal to emotion, asking whether it’s “fair” to criminalise Hello Games, before rhetorically asking, “is it fair to say that the developers of No Man’s Sky lied to fans?” Of course, much like Kuchera, this view requires his readers to believe that content was missing from No Man’s Sky and that anything Murray said was taken as in the game rather than an aspiration – a view he argues is shared among the entire gaming community, over-generalising while also adopting an ad populum argument.

 

Schreier provides a counterpoint to his claim by an appeal to authority however, quoting developers in support of Hello Games and those who have been in the same position, to explore a counterargument to his claim that the game was falsely advertised. Schreier quotes a developer behind Bioshock Infinite, another that was overhyped by marketing, Forrest Dowling, from his Twitter profile shortly before introducing him and his experience in the industry to substantiate his earlier remarks as credible and relevant to the story as a fellow developer who has been in Murray’s position, thereby adding a level of authority and sophistication to Schreier’s own view by providing a balanced argument, unlike Kuchera who provides a one-sided view. Dowling’s comments defending Hello Games, relating the story to that of his own and confessing that as a team of 15, they most likely didn’t have the time or resources to make the promises Murray made before its release, is a clear appeal to analogy and emotion, using emotive language to convey how difficult it can be as a developer disappointing fans and by extension, themselves. Again, the entire analogy and use of quotes from developers can only work if Schreier’s audience believe that Dowling’s – let alone another developer’s – quotes are credible and trustworthy, which is potentially why Schreier provided a background paragraph – that could be seen as some as a distraction – explaining who Dowling is. Schreier ends the piece with a quote from Dowling, in an attempt to humanise Hello Games while calling for developers to speak more openly to consumers about why content advertised prior to the game is missing in the retail copy.

 

Like Schreier’s article, ‘No Man’s Sky: To talk or not to talk by James Pinnell for Hyper argues that Sean Murray saying too much prior to the game’s release was what led to unachievable fan expectations. Pinnell’s piece is primarily evaluative and recommendatory, as he leads the piece with a discussion on Murray’s comments in various interviews, claiming that he attempted to correct himself in later interviews over things he wanted in the game but couldn’t deliver on; while also recommending Hello Games hire a community manager or public relations to channel the conversation between developer and fans, ensuring Murray doesn’t say too much. Pinnell both implies and explicitly states his claims throughout the piece, using analogies, comparisons and facts (in an authoritative tone) to justify his concern for Hello Games to speak more publicly to fans with a concentrated communication channel.

 

He leads his piece with an appeal to analogy and authority, using the story reported by games press earlier in the week about two players being unable to see each other in the game, contrasting Murray’s comments in several interviews that you could, to imply his claim while add some reported evidence to his claim that Murray’s comments are contradictory.  From there he writes, “Image evidence from Twitch [live] streams showed them effectively looking at one another, but there were no avatars to be seen”, referencing players’ footage on a popular live stream program that the video game community – and Hyper’s audience – engage with, to further hook his audience to see his view. Pinnell also uses descriptive language, describing Sean Murray’s response to the Reddit thread detailed in Schreier’s article as “uncharacteristically silent” after confessing he’s “fairly open and attentive to interviews and questions” to imply that the studio lied about including the multiplayer component, along with other features, in the game.

 

Pinnell later lists interviews with Murray where the developer made a number of promises, using hyperbolic descriptions of the game in the interviews, in a part of the article subtitled “The Hype Train”. He speaks to his audience in first person when describing the overall reaction of the game when it was first revealed, “we were awed by the magnificent first trailer that launched at the VGAs [Video Game Awards] back in 2013,” to connect with his audience in an attempt to persuade them – albeit, over-generalising. He then uses an appeal to facts and analogy, listing interviews with the Comedy Channel’s The Colbert Report – who claimed that Murray was replacing Morgan Freeman as God – and a famous interview with Game Informer, where he answered over 70 questions about the game, leading to many complaints about missing content. Much like his earlier use of an appeal to analogy and authority, Pinnell does this to substantiate his opinion with credible sources of information as his audience values Game Informer as a mainstream video game media outlet, and sees the bizarreness of Murray being on The Colbert Report, being compared to Morgan Freeman.

 

From this, Pinnell uses a combination of an appeal to comparison and appeal to negative consequences in comparing the fans’ reception of No Man’s Sky and growing distrust with Hello Games to the creators of Pokemon Go, Niantic Labs, who encountered a lot of fan backlash after ignoring fans’ concerns about the game. In doing so, he substantiates his claim that Hello Games need some form of public relations – suggesting that the situation could become as bad as Niantic because “…staying silent only creates new problems”. In this way, Pinnell’s recommends that Hello Games seek a community manager and refrain from making bold promises they might not be able to deliver on.

 

While each author uses an appeal to popular opinion, accepting the view that No Man’s Sky did not meet fans’ expectations and that promises were not met, their claims towards the game vary, along with their use of appeals to justify their point. Kuchera uses an extended appeal to comparison and potentially positive consequences, comparing the game’s reception to Destiny to argue that in the future, Hello Games may include everything that was missing from No Man’s Sky. Schreier on the other hand, uses a combination of appeals to fact, authority and popular opinion, quoting his audience’s concerns and other developers, to provide a balanced argument to his claim that the game was falsely advertised and that Hello Games “lied” to its fans – although by providing a counterargument, Schreier lets his audience decide their own view based on the two, using an either-or argument. Pinnell offers a counterpoint to Schreier, claiming that instead of lying to fans, the company merely spoke to openly about their aspirations for the game which were taken as broken promises, before recommending the company hires a community manager to improve their poor communication with fans in fear their brand image becomes as damaged as Niantic Labs’ Pokemon Go (thereby using an appeal to comparison). Nevertheless, each of these views journalistic pieces requires the warrant that No Man’s Sky did not meet fans’ expectations, and in doing so, demonstrate the video game medium’s on-going debate on the role marketing and hype plays in the enjoyment of a game.