Eurogamer gets Ed Zitron to review Darkfall. Ed scores the game with a 2/10. Aventurine gets angry, claims that Ed only played for 2 hours – most of which he spent in the character creation screen. They got the logs to prove it, states that as “just the facts“. Blogosphere goes a bit crazy over it, jumps on Eurogamer and claims that their reputation has been damaged. Stropp even compares it to Gerstmanngate. Darkfall-fans are upset. Ed claims that he played for at least 9 hours and that it seems like Aventurine is missing some logs (update: Tasos replies to that claim).
Now, first of all – 9 hours, even if that’s true, isn’t enough time to review a MMO. But it’s still 5 times the amount of time Aventurine claims he played. In the end, that doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that everyone automatically believes Aventurine. They have been wronged, game journalism is in a bad state, Eurogamer is evil and won’t pull the review. Aventurine is automatically telling the truth.
If you’ve ever been working as a game journalist, you know that most of the low scores you give a game will come under attack. If not from fanboys, then from the game company itself or its PR-people. It’s part of their job. Giving a 2/10 to a game won’t stand undisputed. Why would it? It hurts the company who made the game being reviewed. Of course they’ll fire back in one way or another. In certain cases it’s nothing more than a PR-rep calling up the editor, yelling a bit and then hanging up – end of story, business as usual. In other cases it can lead to incidents like Gerstmanngate.
But do remember that it’s business. Reading Ed’s review I can agree, even if I’ve never played Darkfall, that it seems like he didn’t play nearly enough to get into it. But Aventurine knows it’s a niche title and should be fully prepared to get some low scores. You make a niche title which has a hard learning curve, get ready to take some flack. You make a game with UI-problems and a non-intuitive control scheme (which as far as I’ve understood it, Darkfall does have), get ready for some bad reviews. Sadly, that’s the name of the game. Get a PR-rep to handle the contact with Eurogamer’s editors.
In general, this incident has lessons for all of us – both for journalists and developers. Journalists should be aware that they are being monitored if they are playing on an account supplied by the game company. They should be aware of the problems this might bring if a) they don’t do their job and if b) they give a game a low score, no matter how much time they actually spent in game. Developers might even learn a lesson in how to manipulate the press, if Tortage wasn’t enough already.
In the future, when more and more MMOs flood the market, we’ll need to find a new way and a new format for reviewing MMOs. The old ways won’t work in the long run, something more obvious than ever. But please, don’t judge Eurogamer purely on what Aventurine is telling you. I’m not saying that they are lying, but that it’s part of their job to refute low scoring reviews. Until a neutral third party reveals exactly what happened, don’t jump the gun too quickly.
And Aventurine, where’s the Gamereactor press account for Darkfall? I promise, I’ll give the game more than 9 hours.
Update: Keen writes some good stuff about the whole incident over at his and Graev’s gaming blog, also offering some ideas about how Aventurine could’ve dealt with the review in a better way. I agree, the “you are wrong and we got proof”-tactic doesn’t really help, except making people that already love Darkfall hate Eurogamer a bit more.