Thursday, July 17, 2014

Online Video Game Criticism - Slippery Slope

I am always traveling through the wide and narrow streets of the internet looking for all sorts of news related to the Video Game Industry and I believe that this story would be an appropriate one to address, to give my own personal thoughts on the matter. I have gone in depth once before about video game critics, such as what you read back in my article "Stuck In Nuetral: Sonic The Hedgehog", and it remains true that some sources for video game criticism just aren't that reliable to begin with.

When you, the consumer, are looking for an opinion on a game that you are potentially going to buy off the shelves of a store, you would like to be given the right kind of information regarding the product in question. You would like to know the details of what makes the game good, what makes the game not so good, and what makes the game worthy of your hard earned money. The idea of criticism is nothing new. Criticism of anything is present all throughout the world and there are people out there who will get paid to provide their opinions on a product, to provide their criticisms on something that they felt weren't exactly what they were looking for.

When you read the article in the above link, it shouldn't come as a surprise to you when you find out that game developers and publishers are paying popular online personalities to have their own video games be reviewed. This is the kind of practice that has been kept as a secret for a few years and I think it was appropriate to finally shed light on this issue because it serves as a potentially harmful issue for the Video Game Industry as a whole down the road.

People who put out videos on YouTube that involves playing video games and providing commentary on them has been something that either outsiders like or don't like for one reason or another. Another issue altogether would be the act of YouTube intentionally propelling certain channels to instant stardom and allowing them to receive the benefits of promotional exposure that only few of the smaller channels can even dream to have. Especially in the case of the larger YouTube channels, reports are that game devs and game pubs hand out money to the creators of these channels to promote their games through reviews in the form of YouTube videos.

Gamasutra, a fine website for video game related material, conducted a survey of 141 YouTubers, asking them numerous questions regarding the ethics of YouTube video game criticism. 30% (42 people) had over 5,000 subscribers to their channels. Of these 42, 11 (26%) admitted to "receiving money directly or indirectly from a game dev/publisher for recording videos of their games". This survey stems from the seemingly growing issue that has plagued YouTube earlier this year and at the end of 2013 when pertaining to copyright issues.

Should YouTubers get money for the work that they do? It really depends on what that work is exactly. If YouTubers are blatantly copying something that clearly was not their idea to begin with and claim it to be their own idea in a video, then no, it's not okay to get money from that. In all honesty, when I think about this issue of Let's Players (people in the industry obviously know this language by now) and whether or not they should receive monetization for their works, it gives me headaches on many occasions. I have heard both sides of the fence of this issue and it just sounds like one big court case where no one really knows where they're going inside the courtroom.

There is only one question I can ask everybody when it comes to YouTube monetization.

What exactly is the gigantic deal here? 

Now there are standards to maintain when you are creating a video that talks about your favorite video games or your least favorite games. There is an etiquette that YouTubers should establish before they go on commentary in a Let's Play or when they get in front of a camera for a game review. When you review a game, you should speak the truth. It's not that hard to do. You have to tell the masses how you truly feel about a video game that you just played and you have to be able to indicate to your audience whether or not a certain game is worth buying. You can't go into a game review and half-butt your way through the process.

Now as the article above states, the YouTube personalities are being paid to review games that were made by the development teams and publishers, and it's easy to see why there would be a slippery slope to this action. On one end, it would be easy to see why the YouTube personalities would gladly accept the money offers from members of the industry and why they would go out of their way to make the game reviews. On another end, though, it becomes very worthy of deep speculation as to why game developers and game publishers provide under the table money to these YouTube personalities in the first place, especially when these channels don't directly work for them.

Why is there this need to promote your game in this way? For a dev of pub to pay a YouTube content creator to review a game and relay information that may either be useful to the consumer or might wind up as pure misinformation, what is the motive here? Many people speculate that game reviewers, even big boy professional game reviewers, are being paid by game companies to lie about what they play in a review. 

It's one thing to promote a product out of the pure joy of being a devoted fan to that product. You can't fault a fan for being a fan in some cases. However, it is crossing the line by leaps and bounds for game reviewers to step in and post videos on YouTube that contain intentionally misleading tidbits about a game that consumers are not yet sure about. You know what we call that down on the streets? Hustling.

Hustling (Definition):
1) To proceed or work rapidly or energetically
2) To push or force one's way; jostle or shove.
3) To be aggressive, especially in business or other financial dealings.
4) Slang - To earn one's living by illicit or unethical means.

Both the game reviewers and the game companies partake and conspire in hustling tactics in order to get their products bought by consumers. It's just like the old tactics the car dealers would pull on innocent folks back in the day. When you were sold a lemon of a car and you turned it back in to the car dealership, you were blindsided by the dealer as he didn't take responsibility for it. If a game company gets the feeling that their video game might not do as well as they had hoped in sales, they will do anything to spark interest in their product. That game is their baby and they will protect that baby, even through the act of hustling.

If a game is proven to be mediocre or bad, then that's all there is to it, and there's no changing it. I'm sorry to have to dawn that onto game companies, but that is the truth. If your game under performs in gameplay and in sales, then people have a right to know about the truth behind your game and what it's about. There's no way to dance around that.

Consumers earn their money by working hard and they don't want to be led to buy something that will end up making them feel ripped off in the end. In some circumstances, sadly, that is all some companies will look at as their bottom line. The money. They don't care who they have to push around and they don't care which kind of system they have to abuse in order to make a quick buck. If paying game reviewers to write positive reviews suits the game companies, then they will do so.

Criticism of video games, or anything else for that matter, is entirely subjective and it should remain as such. Do I have things to pick apart on the subject of Let's Plays? Yeah, I do, but monetization is NOT one of them. There shouldn't be a gigantic stink being raised about Let's Players who are truly committed to putting out quality videos with commentaries, editing and extra features that DON'T go along with the games they play, and the corporate giants such as Nintendo have no right to rip away the profits that YouTubers make.

At the end of the day, Let's Play videos are not harming the economic bottom line that Nintendo and others of its ilk so desperately cherish. Game companies make enough money and the charts indicate as much if you just looked at them. There is no need to stomp on the little guy and refuse to accept the fact that times are changing with the way that we distribute money.

If I were to put out a video of a Nintendo game, let's say Super Mario Sunshine, on YouTube and I made my own commentary for it and I edited it enough to make it stand out from just being a straight up gameplay video, then what case does Nintendo have? Am I claiming in any way that I own the development and the designing of Super Mario Sunshine? No. It very clearly says that Nintendo made the game, so why would I be claiming such a thing? Why would Nintendo worry about such issues? Let's Play videos are a form of expressing interest in products and it mainly develops more interest in products because of its exposure to the masses. If anything, Let's Play videos helps makes companies like Nintendo more money!

As consumers, we have a right to freely express how we feel about video games and we should have our own platforms to say what we think, whether or not big companies agree with us. That is our choice to make and game companies have to be at peace with that. If I love a video game, I love it. If I hate a video game, I hate it. If I'm indifferent on a video game, then give me time to think about it.

Don't pay me to sway me because you will be slipping and sliding away on that slippery slope, and the truth will come to light.

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