What Was I Thinking?

#OneADay 3 – Selling Out?

with 2 comments

I sold out today. I guess. That’s how some would describe it.

I know more than a few people who refuse to accept advertising or payment for websites because it would dilute the integrity of their art, or some shit. I don’t know what they really believe but I honestly, truly and with all my heart simply CANNOT understand how taking money for doing something you were going to do anyway is selling out. Even better, taking money for something you love to do. Reviewers are paid for their opinions, are they not?

[Questioning aside: Is it possible to write a review without expressing your personal opinion? If all you do is describe features, well… that’s not a review. It’s marketing copy.]

Of course there are plenty of ways that you can sell out. In the NHS we have strict policies on this. Obviously you can’t have doctors in the pay of pharmaceutical companies. Big pharma… how we put this delicately? Doesn’t always have the best interests of patients in mind.

Doctors and other employees are perfectly entitled to invest in pharmaceutical and medical technology companies; they just need to declare those interests and are thereby excluded from purchasing decisions. They’re also perfectly free to evangelise about the latest, greatest Guidant pacemaker or extol the virtues of Medtronic new equine heart valve and how it could lead to the lowest comorbidity rates in the hospital’s history. They’re medical consultants after all – they know what’s best for our patients.

When it comes to gifts – well, any gift to an individual that’s worth over £25 must be declared to the Trust. Around Christmas time you’ll see a plethora of calendars, mugs, pens, letter organisers, all lovingly embossed with Spiriva, Crestor, Viagra, Procoralan. All perfectly reasonable, m’ludd. We’re just popping off to lunch now, would you like to come along? You don’t have a clinic scheduled this afternoon, do you?

But let’s face it – I’m running a games review site. One of my must-preserve-my-artistic-integrity friends was running a site that showed you live indie band gigs according to the nearest Tube station. We’re not exactly dealing with life-or-death here, nor spending millions of pounds of public money.

[Fun taxpayers’ aside – Did you know that an NHS coronary artery bypass graft (heart bypass) costs between to £8,000 and 12,000 per patient? God I loved it when those patients came down in the lift after being discharged and went straight to the vending machine for a king-sized Mars bar >.< ]

This is the thing about games review sites. We all appear to be funded by games companies. I've seen some objections to free review copies of games but the reality is that if we had to buy games at retail prices, we'd all be bankrupt. Return on investment would mean that indie games don't have a snowball's chance in hell of getting coverage and the games press would be even more biased towards those with a large marketing budget. How about accepting payment for impressions? Sponsored posts – accepting money to write about a specific game? It's entirely my decision as to whether or not I give an unwarranted positive review – money changing hands does not equate to a loss of "artistic" integrity.

Rather more nebulous are things like the COD:BlOps helicopter holiday. I must admit, I find it strange that they praise Joystiq for choosing to pay for a smaller hotel room. How the heck is having your company pay for a small hotel room any different from having Activision pay for a large hotel room? A free holiday is a free holiday. At the end of it all, it still comes down to one person playing part of a game and making a choice as to whether or not it is worth £40, does it not? Isn’t that why we read reviews?

What I really don’t understand is why the tech/family/ethnic minority marketers aren’t working in the independent games blogger space. This is where the damage is done, of course – games sites being pressured to pull negative articles under the threat of losing funding. Looking at Quantcast (and how they get their numbers is a mystery to me) the US segment of my games site has a clear market appeal towards parents, people who earn under US$30k, Asians and Hispanics and people who have no college education. Surely somewhere in those segments is an interest that goes beyond gaming? Are we all so conditioned by Google AdSense that we compartmentalise our browsing habits to the extent that there’s no value in running non-games ads on a games site?

[edit: Good lord, Rock Paper Shotgun has an Intel advertisement running. More of this, please]

However you feel about journalist ethics and advertising, I ran my first site takeover advertisements today. And BioWare fangirl that I am, I’m glad that I popped my cherry with Dragon Age 2.


Written by Weefz

3 January, 2011 at 11:57 pm

2 Responses

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  1. No I agree, some people need to get off their high horses about it. We don’t moan at bakers selling their bread so writers can make a bit of money by having some adverts beside their content. As long as it’s not obtrusive I don’t mind, I understand that content must be paid for in some way.

    We don’t think twice about adverts on tv. Plenty of tv shows are even sponsored by certain products and you’d never think “Ooh what sell-outs!”.

    If writers are being corrupted into writing positive reviews or taking down negative ones it can all happen regardless of whether they are running ads or not for that company.

    At the end of the day it comes down to trust. If a website is publishing things that don’t ring true and you don’t think they are impartial enough you’ll just go elsewhere. I am perhaps naive in thinking this but I’m sure most websites would rather be honest and trusted than paid to write PR for bad games.


    4 January, 2011 at 2:55 pm

  2. […] a comment » Another one-a-day blogger, Evrim Ersoy, wrote a great response to my post on selling out. If you want people to take you seriously, take what you write seriously then it’s your […]

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