In what is the coolest jobs I've ever had, I write about toys for a living. All day, nothing but toys. It's amazing. When I'm not writing at work I'm writing at home, either working on my screenplay or my children's novel. When I'm not doing any of that I try to get in some video game time. I'm currently rocking Nintendo only consoles because dammit, I love Nintendo. More than Nintendo, I love platform games. Even though my favorite game isn't a platformer (The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker), it is my favorite genre of games.
Follow me on twitter at www.twitter.com/thekillerbees and add me to your 3DS Friends List (1633-4277-3240 and let me know so I can add you to mine.) I'd love to meet some people who want play some Kid Icarus, Resident Evil: Revelations and Mario Kart 7.
As I type this right now, 6:10pm on Tuesday October 30th, “Assassin’s Creed 3” is sitting at a score of 85 at Gamerankings. As of this moment, it has one review: an 85 from Gamespot. Usually, I don’t give a damn about Gamerankings scores. All reviews are arbitrary and it’s a 50/50 shot whether I’ll agree with them in the end. But I wanted to take a gander at this game in particular because of the massive amounts of hype leading up to its release. “Assassin’s Creed 3” was one of the top games of e3 2012, eclipsed perhaps only by “The Last of Us” and “Watch Dogs.” The media hype behind the game made it a big deal, the same way it will for those two aforementioned games and “BioShock Infinite” when they are released. I was curious to see if the game lived up to the hype and perhaps surpass Super Mario Galaxy as the top rated game of this generation.
Instead I am left looking at one score based off of one review. The review is from Gamespot, which is a media partner with Gamerankings. Both are owned by CBS Interactive. I initially started to cry foul, and began writing about how Gamerankings was keeping every other review off of its website so people who go to it will only click the Gamespot review. Surely, I thought, surely the other popular video game rankings website, Metacritic, wouldn’t pull such a shit move. So I brought up Metacritic and found that my suspicions were correct; Metacritic has 27 different reviews. The overall score of 85 was the same, but there was at least several different sources I could refer to when seeking out the reasoning behind that score.
The proof is in the pudding. Clearly Gamerankings was refusing to collect other websites’ reviews so they could drive traffic to Gamespot for this highly anticipated title. And this entire scheme was masterminded by the execs at CBS Interactive... which also owns Metacritic. I didn’t realize that before, but in my research I found a long line of mergers and acquisitions that made it possible. We start in 1996 when Gamespot was created by a couple of dudes. It was then bought by ZDNet, which was purchased by CNET in 2000. 2000 is the same year Gamerankings was founded, though I can't seem to find info on if it started out as an independent site or under the CNET banner. Metacritic was started in 2001 and sold to CNET in 2005. CNET was sold to CBS Interactive in 2008. Again, the absolute origins of Gamerankings are murky to me and I would love for someone to clear that up.
History lesson over, back to “Assassins Creed 3” and the mystery of the missing reviews. Why does Gamerankings only have the one review from its sister site when Metacritic, another sister site, has more than 20. Perhaps, just maybe, more people would call bullshit if this were happening at Metacritic. There is a reason publishers talk about Metacritic scores instead of Gamerankings; Metacritic has a much higher Alexa rating than Gamerankings, with a difference of more than 17,000 (for those who don’t know, Alexa ratings rank websites by popularity). If the more popular website was, in their own way, restricting access to reviews from websites not owned by CBS Interactive, someone would have probably noticed and written something on it. Instead, I kind of feel like I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. Looking at Gamerankings right now (6:47pm, Tuesday October 30th) there are only two reviews for “Need for Speed: Most Wanted” and still only one for “Assassin’s Creed 3.” This is actually a huge day for games, with several high profile titles launching across dozens of systems, so it’s understandable if there is a lack of reviews with so much to cover. But Gamerankings isn’t in the business of writing reviews, it’s in the business of collecting them.
Again, this could all be nothing; and after thinking about it for awhile, I thought I shouldn’t even bother writing about it. That’s when, while looking at Wikipedia, the story of Jeff Gertsmann came to my attention. I remember the fallout from his review of Kane and Lynch 2, where he gave it the (generous for that game) score of a six out of ten and was promptly let go by CNET. Other long term staffers left with him to go start Giantbomb.com, and independent gaming website. The full details of his dismissal finally revealed that dirty truth that many had assumed: CNET fired him after Eidos (publisher of Kane and Lynch) threatened to pull advertising from the site. Gertsmann was only able to talk about his dismissal after Whisky Media was bought by CBS Interactive. Whisky Media owned Giantbomb and Gertsmann is once again working for those same people who fired him a few years ago for giving a bad game a decent score. The only difference now is he’s in charge of his website instead of just working for it.
The past several years of mergers and acquisitions have narrowed down the number of parent companies who own our gaming websites to just a few. Gamespot, Gamerankings, Gamefaqs, Giantbomb, Metacritic and more are owned by CBS Interactive, which is a subsidiary of the CBS Corporation, one of the major media conglomerates that controls the news. IGN, 1up, Gamespy, Gamestats and Vault Network are owned by News Corp. one of the major media conglomerates that controls the news. Gametrailers and Xfire are owned by Viacom, G4TV is owned by NBCUniversal, and Future Publishing in the UK has its hands in many videogame websites including ComputerandVideoGames and Gamesradar. These aren’t just random sites I’m picking to prove a point, these are the most visited sites when it comes to video game news and reviews. There are independent sites near the top (Eurogamer, VG247 and Gamershell all make the top 25), but I worry about how long those sites will remain independent.
It’s now 8:00pm, Tuesday October 30th. Gamerankings has finally added new reviews to it sites. The reviews are for the PS3 and 360 version of “Need for Speed: Most Wanted” and are from Gamespot. “Assassin’s Creed 3” still only has one.
I could ramble on about this topic for several more pages but I feel I should wrap things up. The whole reason I started this piece was because I wondered why one website was failing to live up to its purpose. In investigating, I found that the videogame news media is not unlike other forms of media in that the most vocals voices in the field are owned by the most powerful corporations. As those corporations gain power, they will buy up more websites and be even more influential in our everyday lives. How long before we have websites falling as frequently as developers that were bought up by the major video game corporations? We can only hope that Media Molecule doesn’t decide to sell off to The Walt Disney Company anytime soon, seeing as they’re buying up all my favorite properties.
As in other forms of media it’s difficult to know who you can trust. CNN may call itself the most trusted name in news but they sure enjoy reporting on a bunch of bullshit. There is no way we can trust every reviewer out there and gamer reviews are probably just as unreliable. The picture becomes even more cloudy when most “news” reported by websites are simple press releases to hype up games. Where CNN has “Which Political Party is Better in the Sack?” stories, video game websites have “Unboxing videos.” That’s why I enjoy websites like Gamerankings. It’s sort of the poll of polls, as Nate Silver would say; a website that gives you a clearer look at the big picture by looking at each smaller picture that makes it up. It’s just a shame that this website prefers to play favorites instead of doing its duty to its readers/viewers/page visitors.
As I post this story Wednesday morning, I visit Gamerankings one more time and find all those missing reviews have magically appeared!