There has always been an uneasy and invisible tension between the gaming media and the creative industry itself that feeds us. As is the situation with movies, books and music, both the creators and the critics are in a tenable position where both require the other to survive. Without the developers, sites like ours would not exist, and without us, developers couldn’t promote their games, putting them in a state of strange limbo where indie devs are competing on a level playing field. The humanity!
Thus, its no surprise that like in any other industry, that sometimes things flair up and controversies ensue. What’s interesting though, that in this new media landscape, none of this can be hidden in the backhalls of offices anymore. PR agencies can try all they like, but its usually the passionate players on both ends that turn to the general public to decide who is right, or wrong, in the matter at hand. This is what happened this week in the very public fight between Eurogamer and the developers of new MMO Darkfall.
The issues all started after Eurogamer initially published their review of Darkfall on the 5th of May. For a bit of background – Darkfall, developed by MMO veterans and having been stuck in development hell for many years, released garnishing a very large cult following and very open ended gameplay. Being a particularly niche title, most sites and print media didn’t bother to review it, including ours. Many outlets probably figured that the market would be so small for such a title, it would be particularly difficult to publish a fair review. Others may have not have known it was released, but what was easy to know from a quick search was that it was very popular in the hardcore gaming scene.
Eurogamer had given Darkfall a 2 out of 10, the first time it had ever given anything remotely major such a terribly low score. To compare, Eurogamer scored Darkfall lower then such gems as Postal 2, Who Wants to Be A Millionaire 2 and The X-Factor Sing. Drama always immediately occurred. Comments on Eurogamer’s site and the Darkfall forums became especially intense, with people questioning the dubious nature of the review, including its especially rampant negativity, and strong claims against the content and control of the game.
It didn’t take long for Darkfall to officially respond. The developers echoed the same concerns that their supporters had voiced, and, with an extraordinary amount of openness, detailed their communications with Eurogamer and gave regular gamers an insight into how the gaming media works. And at the same time, dropped an enormous bombshell – that the reviewer and MMO editor of Eurogamer had barely logged a few hours into the title, according to server records, opposed to claims by the review in his article that he had logged many hours. Not only that, but that Eurogamer had told Aventurine (Darkfall devs) in advance about the bad review, and refused to allow anyone else to re-review considering such an extraordinarily low score.
Eurogamer also officially responded themselves, the next day, putting up a mixed defense, saying that the reviewer was a contributor, not staff, but that they stood behind him and his review. They did not apologize nor take blame, but did admit some “some lessons can be learned for future reviews”. They did, however, offer to re-review the game, but not take down the original review. This is an important point, since Eurogamer are part of the especially powerful MetaCritic and GameRankings websites, that aggregate reviews and can make or break an entire title. Both sites will only link and take scores from the original review, so a re-review would not help Darkfall in this regard,
Aventurine quickly responded with a couple more, again, very open posts detailing the full story behind the issue and countered some of the claims that Eurogamer had made. They dismissed that the re-review would fix the issue, and said that the damage caused by the negative press and the review in general would take a dramatic toll on the small developer’s bottom line. In any case, they reveal information regarding concessions offered to Eurogamer (including flying members over to substantiate their claims in person, with evidence) and other usually sensitive information to the public. In the era of public relations and marketing, this is almost unheard of.
So what can be learned from this whole situation? Lots. It uncovers the sheer power large media has over independent games, and how such a large blow can almost destroy the creative seams, the basic underlying point behind developing. It demonstrates the arrogance and sheer stubbornness to compromise, to provide checks and balances to make sure that such unbelievably low scores are justified, due to the impact it can have on the developer. Critics already are looked at with some level of disdain in the general industry, perpetuating this hate by logging titles that have obviously been very heavily and passionately worked on is ridiculous.
I have no problem with low scores, and I agree that many games deserve them. But I do have an issue when an obvious mistake has been made and little is done to rectify it. The reviewer did not like the title from the get go, and this shows throughout the entire review. As an editor myself, It is difficult to know whether a person assigned to a title will enjoy it or not, but if one of our review staff mentions that the game deserves a very low score, I will get a second opinion. This has happened before, and it will probably happen again.
I have played Darkfall. It is not a 2 out of 10 game. And, hell, I’ve played a ridiculous amount of games, some of which many of you wouldn’t even pick up to look at in a games store. It’s not my personal cup of tea but its obvious that the game is focused at a certain element of the MMO market, and it does this very well. To lump it in the same boat as games based around reality TV shows and Wii Mini-game throwaways screams to me of creating controversy for the sake of it, and the only loser in this equation is the underdog that cannot do anything but defend itself.
I must say, in conclusion, that I think Eurogamer, as a fellow media outlet, are great at what they do. But we all make mistakes, and as part of a self-regulating industry, we should be the first to admit these and re-assure our readers that there are humans on the other side of these words.