Coffee Talk #245: Game Review Events Revisited

Welcome to Coffee Talk! Let’s start off the day by discussing whatever is on your (nerd chic) mind. Every morning I’ll kick off a discussion and I’m counting on you to participate in it. If you’re not feelin’ my topic, feel free to start a chat with your fellow readers and see where it takes you. Whether you’re talking about videogames, NFL players not liking their boss (*cough* Brad Childress), Gwyneth Paltrow going country, or Sarah Palin’s cookie loving, Coffee Talk is the place to do it.

Way back in Coffee Talk #4 I wrote about my peeves with the incredibly unnatural process of reviewing games. In addition to the cram-a-thon sessions most game reviewers have to engage in, the occasional “review event” pops up every now and then. I was having a Twitter conversation with two game journalists at Games Radar about the matter. The “payola” factor of review events doesn’t bother me, since most writers can see past that (and in many cases, care more about playings games than enjoying luxurious surroundings). My problem with review events is that it affects the process. I am of the opinion that adding foreign surroundings to an already unnatural process alters perception.

The example that a lot of people are bringing up is GamePro’s Tae Kim’s review of the Call of Duty: Black Ops. Check out his opening paragraph:

The Ojai Valley Inn and Spa sits in the tiny town of Ojai about two hours north of downtown Los Angeles. Built in 1923, it features a full 18-hole golf course, a luxury spa, and 308 deluxe suites situated on a 200 acre plot with picaresque views of the surrounding forest and mountains. It’s hard to top in terms of amenities and creature comforts, and it seemingly offers everything you could ever want in a vacation spot. It’s utterly fitting, then, that this is where Activision chose to hold its review event for Call of Duty: Black Ops; the lavish surroundings were no doubt meant to lend a measure of sex appeal and ‘wow factor’ to the proceedings, but it was also a good metaphor for Black Ops: The game is a veritable playground that, like the plush resort where I and a handful of game journos from various outlets were sequestered for three days, seems to offer everything you could ever want in a console first-person shooter.

Forget the fact that I learned more about the Ojai Valley Inn than Call of Duty: Black Ops from the opening paragraph. Taking a gamer out of his/her natural environment alters perception, whether game journalists want to admit it or not. Playing games in your living room is natural. For staffers at gaming outlets, playing games at a desk or in a game lab is natural. Foreign environments — no matter how luxurious — change perception. Similar to how setting often changes the experience of listening to music, sipping wine, or enjoying coffee, setting changes the experience of playing a videogame.

Anyway, that’s my annual rant on review events. What do you think of them? Does it bother your that game writers are sequestered at luxury spas? Does it bother you that they have to review a game in a short period of time in a foreign environment? Or do you think that it’s not a big deal?

Author: RPadTV

42 thoughts on “Coffee Talk #245: Game Review Events Revisited”

      1. I second this notion. You play the game differently when reviewing it than you would if it was just for enjoyment. You find yourself cramming as much content into a small window as possible, ignoring sidequests you might have otherwise done, etc. That being said, "having" to play games is a lot better than "having" to do a whole lot of other things.

  1. I'm with Smartguy. I need the hands-on for myself. Sometimes, it helps to see gameplay video… but most of the time I'm unimpressed with that as well.

  2. a few weeks back you had a coffee talk where you asked what our router was named…i renamed mine over the weekend

    "pretty fly for a wi-fi"

    i know its stupid, but what else would you expect?

    1. I was wondering the same thing. My guess is that it is a type of party held by the developer or publisher of a game to get a bunch of respectable game reviewers/critics together and have them play the company's game. By doing this, the developer/publisher gets to control the environment that the reviewers play in and they also get to see them face-to-face. This makes it harder for the reviewer to be biased and (in theory) should lead to higher review scores and thus, more sales.

      From a marketing perspective- it's actually quite brilliant. Slightly on the deceptive side, but brilliant. It's actually only deceptive if the reviewers don't know what is really going on or the real reason behind the review party. But I figure that most of them aren't idiots and know full well why they are there and why all of their "expenses have been paid." If they do, then it's not deceptive at all. At best, it’s a bad influence on the reviewer and in all honesty, it should be disclosed to the reader.


    2. In Coffee Talk #4 I wrote:

      "Another practice that bugs the hell out of me is when publishers have reviewers play the game off site. In these cases, a reviewer has to commute to a hotel suite or a conference room to play the game for a few days before writing the review. Again, the short amount of time introduces a problem, but it’s compounded by having to play the game in a completely unnatural setting."

      1. I reread #41 to see if I had missed something and I saw that part. I just didn't make the connection with that being the "event" you were talking about.

  3. I would rather just know that someone is capable of just giving me a straightforward review of a game. Perhaps that is a decent way to provide full disclosure about the location and setting, but I would rather be able to know that I am getting an honest review of a game.

  4. So I decided I really wish I knew how to take apart my DSi (and put it back together properly!!) but be able to switch the buttons around so they would be the same as an xbox controller. I like that configuration so much better and it throws me off to use my DSi now.

    1. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are hilarious and I love those guys, but Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann are just Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity on the opposite side of the spectrum. They are nothing more than glorified cheerleaders for their respective teams trying to disguise themselves as "journalists". I remember back in the day when journalism was supposed to be neutral and unbiased as possible. It seems that cable network news operates in the opposite fashion and is nothing more than a three-ring circus at times.

      This is probably why I like the Daily Show so much. Not only does Jon Stewart make fun of political figures from all walks of life, but he also spends a great deal of time skewering the ridiculousness of cable media outlets. In addition to that, they never forget that they are comedians first and foremost. The irony of all of this is that "The Daily Show" is probably one of the more politically neutral news shows on cable TV. Granted, he's a bit skewered to the left, but at least he's entertaining, funny, and even educational at times.

      My favorite Jon Stewart quote sums up the idiocracy of the two-party system quite nicely: "Republicans are people who love this country, but hate half the people living in it and Democrats are people who love this country, but wish they were more like another country.

      The two best interviews he’s ever done was the one where he tore into Jim Cramer (I, personally would have bitch-slapped the guy) and Alan Greenspan. During the Greenspan interview, Stewart asked the guy point-blank “Why can’t the interest rates be set on the open market?” and Greenspan stuttered and was completely dumbfound as he could not answer the question. I literally jumped up from my couch and cheered as it’s that kind of intelligent questions that “real” journalist always fail to ask.


      1. I think your definition of journalism is archaic. Journalism is not merely reporting facts in an unbiased way. It's about putting the facts in context for your audience. That was Cronkite's take on journalism and I subscribe to his school. In that respect, I think Maddow, Olbermann, Hannity, and Beck are doing what they're supposed to be doing.

        That said, I completely disagree that Maddow and Olbermann are the same as Beck and Hannity.

      2. How do you disagree? Just curious. I won't argue or debate politics on your site anymore since it seemed to really piss someone off.

      3. Certainly all four are biased. I think that MSNBC in generally is less pretentious and more informative about what they do. The network is pretty up front about the fact that all their programming has a liberal slant, but they do a better job of presenting facts first and editorializing after. They're not always proclaiming to be right, but are very clear about what their takes on situations are.

        Fox News is more sensational. Its personalities proclaim what is right and what is news, often stating opinion as fact.

        I actually enjoy programs on both networks. It's always best to hear both sides of an argument.

      4. agreed. you have to watch both in order to get a jist of what is going on. i do find it funny seeing the stories that one site or the other will pick up.

      5. Since I was probably on the other side of said political discussion and I never got pissed of…

        Who did YOU piss of?

        (accent on the YOU)

      6. I'm not looking to start a big debate over politics either. But I do disagree that journalism staying unbiased is archaic. In every journalism class I took, at a school that boasts one of the nation's top journalism programs, we were taught to present everything in a very unbiased matter. For one of my classes I turned in a 128 page paper where we were to be devoted to staying unbiased on a controversial topic and simply present the facts. I believe that is very much what journalism should still be about, it just isn't what the television executives have enforced to stay as the norm.

      7. Every outlet has some sort of slant to it, whether it's newspaper, television, or the Internet. Just presenting facts is fairly useless, in my opinion. You have to explain what the facts mean. Putting them in context always adds some sort of bias.

      8. Yes, but should that context or those facts be presented from altering angles? Nothing wrong with doing your own slant in a documentary, but a news broadcast should do its best to stay in the middle I think or it could end up like Dan Rather lol. j/k.

        I honestly prefer to read foreign news outlets to find out what is going down in the US. For instance, I had no idea that POTUS was spending so much traveling to India.

      9. Instead of a single anchor, why not 2? I honestly didn't mind watching Hannity and Colmes. Sean Hannity while good intentioned is quite over bearing and I don't trust him to be forthcoming all of the time. Nor with Holmes. Together however I enjoyed their counterpoints to one another.

      10. You're right; my definition of journalism is archaic. That's probably the main reason I would have never survived in that field no matter how bad I wanted to. Call me old-fashioned, I guess. I seriously do believe that a journalist should only present the facts and let their audience make up their own minds. "Putting the facts into context" is simply slanting the facts to fit your mold.

        While I will say that Beck and Hannity (particularly Beck) are more "over-the-top" in their delivery, and Maddow and Olbermann seem more dignified in their communication, they are all still incredibly biased and doing a disservice to our community by letting personal feelings affect the context they put their chosen news into. Obama would never get an impartial interview from Beck any more than Bush would get from Maddow. That’s not journalism to me. No president is perfect (except for Calvin Coolidge). Every president has had pros and cons about them. They do some good things and they do some bad things (some more than others, obviously). A good journalist should always seek the truth, both the good and the bad. They should never manipulate facts in order to boost their ratings. To me, that is very unethical… especially if you call yourself a “news” show and not a comedy show like Jon Stewart.


      11. Who is this "our community" you're speaking of and why should either network care? Both networks are doing a good job at serving their communities. They're businesses, not services.

        For better and worse, this is what televised news has become. 30 years ago, networks treated their news programs as one of the most prestigious services they offered. Now they're seen as loss leaders that aren't worth the dollars spent per Nielsen point.

      12. Our community = our country. You're right again, of course. I do see the delivery of news as a public service instead of a business. Like I said, I'm old-fashioned that way. I just think that's the way it should be, regardless of the fact of what it actually is or has become.

        There is a place in this world for Fox News and MSNBC, but it shouldn't be under the heading of "news", it should be in the same category as "Perez Hilton" and "The Colbert Report" (and "Mad Money" for that matter).

        I know I can't do anything about it except not watch and not contribute to it's Nielsen ratings. I would be more than happy to support the loss leaders if it meant that I could get my news devoid of any personality but my own. I simply don't like people connecting the dots for me as if I were a five-year-old.

        That's just how I feel.


      13. I would agree with your sentiment. I feel like the news should be more old fashioned, despite the direction it has been heading for a while now. I see news as a service provided to the public for their benefit which should be presented in as unbiased of a format as possible (acknowledging what Ray said about it being nearly impossible to be unbiased, that should still be the point for which journalists strive to reach).

      14. You know, the only reason the government allows network TV to carry the air space it does is because it delivers the news. This is indeed this "public service" you speak of. That's as fair as it gets.

        Notice the examples you guys have been on about are "cable" news channels… different rules apply for those bastards.

        Straight up though. unless your tax dollars or advertising dollars pay for it… don't expect to have a say. America itself is pretty much a business anymore. Hell, in the last CA election, the MAIN topic on the table when electing a Governor was "Who is going to make the state more money?"

      15. Haha, Cramer is an idiot. Yet he still has a show.

        I think Stewart's best moment was when he had Obama on recently. Makes fun of the president on one hand by simply having him on, and in the other hand it is showing that it is merely a job and not a position of royalty. Good work dude.

      16. Cramer is such a friggin' tool! How people's eyes don't bleed when they watch his show, I have no idea. I seriously think that the people who listen to this ass-clown for financial advice are the same kind of people that wear multi-colored hats with propellers on them and think they can fly… people that are accustomed to wearing a jacket with one sleeve and several buckles in a white-padded room.


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