On the morning of February 6th, popular video game critic and journalist Jim Sterling informed his fans via his Twitter account that he had been approached by a Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment affiliate, Yoozoo Games, offering him monetary compensation in return for favorable coverage of an upcoming browser-based strategy and role playing game, Game of Thrones: Winter is Coming:

Sterling’s reference to conspiracy theorem relates to his stance on the GamerGate movement: in 2014, Sterling called the movement a ‘conspiracy’. Members of the GamerGate movement regularly cited their displeasure with corruption and dishonesty within games journalism as one of the core tenets of the movement.

Though Sterling dismisses the idea of widespread video game journalism corruption via the concept of paying for favorable reviews, recent events have provided concrete evidence of money being exchanged for favorable coverage.

In 2015, Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment would not provide critics with pre-release review copies of Middle-Earth: Shadows of Mordor unless they signed a contract which prevented critics from discussing any of the game’s faults and mandated that the critics persuade their players to purchase the game.

In the face of negative press regarding their latest title, Fallout 76, Bethesda presented YouTube video game critics with copies of the Fallout 76: Power Armor Edition, after which many of these critics began to provide favorable coverage in the face of overwhelming quality issues.

Leaked documents exposed Microsoft and EA’s practice of paying YouTube critics to promote their product, a practice which violated FTC guidelines. The saga of Jeff Gerstmann’s firing from Gamespot due to his ‘6.0’ review score for Kane & Lynch has become a well-known moment of shame for the entire business side of the video game industry.

In reply to Sterling’s tweet, many other YouTube critics were quick to share their similar experiences being approached by game companies with offers to favorably cover their games and refute the idea that paid reviews are a ‘conspiracy’:

This issue is unfortunately far from a recent development. In 2005, 3DO’s then-president Trip Hawkins wrote a strongly worded response to Gamepro’s John Rousseau after he assigned a score of 2.3 (out of 5) to an upcoming 3DO title, Portal Runner. In this message, Hawkins directly threatens Rousseau due to the fact that Hawkins provides funds to Gamepro through their advertising contract:

If you disagree with me, you do so at your own peril…As you know, most game publishers are losing money and have cut back on advertising. Many magazines and webzines have perished. What seems needless to me is the often overly negative tone that gaming editorial takes.

And do not patronize me by telling me the reader is the customer–your real customer is the one that pays you your revenue. And it is game industry advertisers.

I should mention in passing that 3DO has been one of your largest advertisers. Effective immediately, we are going to have to cut that back…In conclusion, I think you owe us one because you took us by surprise and threw our review to a wolf. And you accepted his word as God without even checking in with a major advertiser…

Ultimately, Sterling declined the offer, preferring to abide by his principles rather than compromise them for a paycheck:

What do you make of this practice of buying positive coverage for games? Do you think it is okay? Or do you think it’s something that needs to change in the industry?

  • About The Author

    Spencer Baculi

    Spencer is the Editor for Bounding Into Comics. A life-long anime fan, comic book reader, and video game player, Spencer believes in supporting every claim with evidence and that Ben Reilly is the best version of Spider-Man. He can be found on Twitter @kabutoridermav.