The last few days have seen some much needed clarity and investigation into parts of the gaming press that have traditionally gone sadly unobserved; these fine, fine articles from Simon Parkin and Mike Rose for instance looking into the secrets that YouTubers would much rather be kept private, and thus maintain the illusion of independence and honesty that both they and their fans like to hold up as a difference from traditional outlets. It is however merely one aspect of a far more complex web of deals and expectations that look set to shape the nature of gaming criticism over the next few years, as well as posing a key operating question I feel is overdue being asked.
Specifically, why the hell am I never in on that good shit?
My investigation began at the offices of Esther Fittingly-Finch, CEO of industry-leading digital marketing firm Adverfelch. Things did not go promisingly when I arrived for my appointment to find Fittingly-Finch doing her best to avoid me by, “being at lunch”. When she returned two hours later, it was only with some reluctance that she was willing to answer my questions, or as she put it “If it’ll get you out of my office.”
I began with the obvious. “Why, in around fifteen years of writing about games, have I never so much as been offered a bribe or a brown envelope or a big sack of diamonds for my moral compass?” I demanded, as she covered a yawn that smelt of veal and exquisite scotch. “I’m sorry,” she replied, “But I have no idea who you are. That is probably your problem. It is not however mine. Guards! Bring the spiked baton, if you please.”
“Maybe I can clarify,” I said, reaching for a business card. But then the security guard was there and it was made painfully clear that our meeting was over and the rest of the day become one of becoming very intimate with a fresh bottle of ointments and unguents. (Note to self, offer services as spokesman…)
Having made my first crack into this shell of secrets however, I resolved to check in with my anonymous contact at EIDOLON Games, Phillipe K. Dennings of Floor 4, Cubicle 387, for the insider viewpoint on my situation. “I see your wife Martha and children Denise and Franklin are looking well,” I told him, off the record. Then we got down to business. Where the hell were my brown envelopes and kickbacks already?
“It’s like this,” he explained. “I’m afraid that you’re simply seen as unbribable.”
I won’t lie. That was actually a moment of pride. “Because I’m considered of unimpeachable moral quality?”
“Ah,” he said. “No, sorry, I mean, not worth bribing. Like, at all.”
“Why? I’ve written hundreds of reviews! Features! I’ve worked for a huge pile of magazines on a wide variety of subjects!” I shook a finger. “I was told by one person that my review had killed their game in the UK!”
“Were they right about that?”
“No, obviously not.”
“Well then.” He paused for a moment, pondering like Mephistopheles in a slightly sweaty T-Shirt with some half-naked anime chick on it. “I suppose, because I like you, understand, I suppose that if you’re willing to commit to giving our next Professional Murderer Simulator over 90% I can probably swing you… say, half a Snickers bar?”
Well. It would be something at least. There was honour in something. More than in nothing, anyway. That went without saying. But I knew better than to look a gift horse in the mouth. This was one of those turning points in a journalistic career; when you have to consider your morals and ethics and what they are truly worth, for they can be sold only once and are then forever lost, never to be recovered. And for the moment, I knew, I did not have sufficient information to know for certain, not in my heart of hearts, whether or not this dark trade would be worth the blackened soul. So I asked the question that hung in the air like a foul stench. “Who gets the other half?”
“The MD’s dog. Also, it gets the first bite. Hey,” he added, shaking his finger, “Don’t be quick to turn it down! There’s a thousand YouTubers would leap at that offer! I don’t know if you watch CompleteWingnut, but he’s lived off those since digital distribution made it impossible for reviewers to earn a living by putting games on eBay.”
“CompleteWingnut? Isn’t he the guy who scores games by popping his zits into the camera?”
“He was, until the rabies.” Phillipe sighed. “Tragic story, really. He had a hundred million subscribers by the end.”
It was clear. If I wanted to get some of that sweet, sweet corruption money, it wasn’t going to be enough to simply do a good job telling it like it is and waiting to be approached by someone willing to finally bloody pay to, y’know, not do that. Setting up a new YouTube channel was probably going to be insufficient. Looking at the deals slowly being revealed and the average accrual speed of subscribers in an over saturated market, there were only two ways to receive the kind of fame or infamy required for a wide enough audience – to be incredibly lucky, or to eat a live rabbit on camera while playing Kaizo Mario. Both sounded like more trouble than they were worth, not least because I’m really bad at pretending to be angry at a game I only installed because I knew it was annoying.
So I looked further afield. If nobody was willing to come to me, would outright whoring be sufficient? A price list for instance, made public so that willing companies could find it, and if anyone complained, I could cut off their tedious mewling by calling it transparency. From what I could tell, the standard response from the same viewers who raged about corruption in old media were totally happy with that in the new. So, I began. For scores in the 90-100 percentile, a million pounds seemed like a reasonable amount. For those with deep pockets, like the makers of the new App Store hidden object game Kim Kardashian: Talent Finder, the real scores could then begin at around 300%. This, I figured, was an amazing opportunity. Not only would it look great on any advert, it could compensate for at least two full ‘hater’ reviews on Metacritic. Take that, you average number worshipping vampires.
So, we’ll see how that goes. At the moment, there have been no takers, but it’s only been a week. I realise that I’m pricing myself somewhat high, but I figure that it’s for the best – after all, if just one rich company bites, I never have to play another adventure game again. God, those things. The only thing worse than the pointing is the clicking. All the bloody clicking. Click, click, click, click. Who’d do that for fun?
But, never let it be said that I am not generous. To give something back to you, the little people, I’ll let you in on a little secret in advance. Should anyone bite, and finally provide one of the bribes that I crave so, so much, I’ll be sure to put in a code so that you know to ignore everything as the deceit-dripping balls that it most definitely is. You know. Something we all know that I would never say. I was thinking “Finally, a Myst game worth playing!”
So, keep an eye out for that. And maybe I’ll send you a postcard from the Bahamas.
Maybe. Unless of course I have something better to do with my time.
(I will totally have something better to do with my time.)