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15Aug/050

Announcing: Video Game Media Watch

The Video Game Ombudsman is now Video Game Media Watch. The same great video game media criticism you love, now with a new name, new design and a new address at VGMWatch.com. More information about the move is available in this introductory post. Update your bookmarks and head on over!

3Aug/051

Chobot Invasion

Love her or hate her, you have to admit there aren't too many game journalists besides Jessica Chobot who can inspire thei own Flash game only a few months after exploding onto the scene. (via everyone's favorite rabidly anti-Chobot site DontLinkThis)

3Aug/0510

The Syndication of GameSpot

Thanks to quite a few people for pointing me to this Sports Gamer post which, in turn, points to this CNet Press Release. Amid much talk of CNet's financial results, the release lists out Gamespot's "content relationship" partners, including one that might surprise you:

In addition, GameSpot continued to extend content relationships during the quarter, adding Walmart, MTV and Target as licensing partners. These build on GameSpot's existing partnerships with Yahoo! Games, AOL Games, and EBGames.com, and Sony Playstation, among others. [emphasis added]

Most of these are pretty straightforward. It's hard to miss the Gamespot-provided content when you browse around MTV.com, AOL's Games Channel, EBGames.com or Target's GetIntotheGame.com. But Sony Playstation? Out of context, that's the kind of "content relationship" that some people might imply constitutes a conflict of interest?

By way of clarification, GameSpot Editor-in-Chief Greg Kasavin said the release refers to "a licensing deal with PlayStation.com, which feeds in some of GameSpot's product data as well as some of its articles." Indeed, a bit of searching finds Gamespot-provided news stories in Playstation.com's archives. Kasavin also pointed out that "this isn't an exclusive relationship, as you can see other publications' information on PlayStation.com as well." That's also true: IGN.com seems to be the one providing most of Playstation.com's news now. (IGN/GameSpy didn't immediately return a request for comment).

Kasavin also made it clear that "this relationship has no effect on GameSpot's editorial in any way, shape, or form. CNET Networks, parent company of GameSpot, prides itself on the integrity of the content of its properties. As such, it wouldn't make much sense for CNET to engage in (much less to publicly tout) a compromising relationship like the one that's being implicated here."

I don't doubt Kasavin when he says this. Considering the number of places that same GameSpot content is licensed, it seems kind of silly to think that they would specifically slant their coverage to keep just one licensee happy. Besides hurting the quality of their work, it would likely lead to a lot of resentment among the writers and editors if they were told to be nice to be extra-nice to Sony from now on.

What's less certain, as evidenced by the reaction to this press release, is whether licensing content to sites like Playstation.com is a good move from a public relations standpoint. No one's really going to worry about GameSpot giving preferential treatment to Target, but readers who see the Gamespot name on the official corporate site for Playstation might easily jump to the wrong conclusions. Is the extra publicity and/or money from these relationships worth the potential hit to credibility? It's something each site has to decide for itself, I guess.

In other press-release-transcribed news: GameSpot offered 2 million downloads of the Battlefield 2 demo in 24 hours through its new GameCenter service, and offered 6 million video streams in one day during E3. Numbers like these are sure to make any small to mid-sized gaming site quietly weep through the night.

1Aug/053

Psychic Journalism

Thanks to Ombudsman reader Justin McElroy for pointing me to a Computer and Video Games article about some alleged Nintendo Revolution videos uncovered by a French gaming Web site. It's a pretty standard, substance-free rumor-mongering article, with an added psychic twist:

"We can't confirm or deny whether they're true either way, and of course if we asked them, Nintendo would issue its standard 'we don't comment on rumour and speculation'."

Now, C&VG is most likely right. At least nine times out of ten, big companies like Nintendo do just issue a standard no comment when asked about rumors like these. But there are at least a few times when they will break that shell of silence, and that is when the game journalism community should be asking, and listening, the hardest.

It's very unlikely that Nintendo would confirm the footage was real. Even if it was real, they would likely issue a "no comment" until they could officially unveil the footage themselves, albeit with much less fanfare than if the footage hadn't leaked out. This doesn't mean that a "no comment" is as good as a "yes," but it does leave the possibility open.

What's slightly more likely, and more interesting, is that Nintendo would deny that the footage was real. Nintendo has done this in the past, for example, denying rumors of a potential sale to Microsoft or reports of technical problems causing a delay in the GameCube's launch. Imagine if the reporters in these stories had failed to ask, simply assuming that Nintendo would not comment on the rumors. Readers would be left without some truly vital information.

Even better, when a company does actively deny something, it's a great chance to catch them in a lie later on. Take, for example, this story, in which Nintendo denied it would lower the price of the GameCube just three days before doing just that. Or this story where Nintendo denied Sega would be making games for the Game Boy Advance roughly a year before the release of Sonic Advance. These little nuggets of self-contradiction are gold for any journalist, and poison for any PR department (this is why companies give so many "no comments" in the first place).

Of course, if I contacted C&VG about this, they'd probably just tell me that they didn't have time to contact Nintendo before posting this little airy nothing of a story, and they just made up an excuse to avoid looking lazy. Hey, if they can make up likely answers, then so can I.

29Jul/059

G4-shadowing

Are you ready to be surprised when G4 broadcasts its third annual G-Phoria awards ceremony on Tuesday, August 9?

Well, too bad. G4 has gone and spoiled the surprise by releasing a list of the winners that were revealed at a Los Angeles ceremony last night.

Readers of this blog will know I'm no fan of Spike TV's Video Game Awards, but at least they didn't totally ruin the tension and surprise of the show by announcing all the winners a week and a half before the broadcast.

Unfortunately, G4 does seems to be following Spike's lead in the all-important area of product placement -- The "Alt Sports Award Fueled by Mountain Dew," "EB Gamers Choice Award," and the "Legend Award Presented by Jeep" really add to the prestige and grandeur of the event (Kudos to GameSpot for taking out this crass marketing in their listing of the winners).

While we're on the subject of categories, why is it "Favorite Character" when nearly every other category is "Best [something]?" Are you afraid of offending all the lesser characters? And while we're at it, how can there be a "Gamer's Choice Award" when, according to the release, every category was decided by "fans who cast more than 1 million votes online and via text message." And "Best Boss"? What is this, Nintendo Power?

I didn't catch thefirst two G-Phoria broadcasts, but I'll probably try to watch this one out of morbid curiosity. And to see who wins, of course.

In other G4 news, the company is looking for "exceptional geeks" to answer an open casting call for a new Attack of the Show host. Requirements include being "fast, funny, engaging, pleasant-looking enough to not scare more sensitive viewers, and confident." Also, you have to be a guy ("sorry, girls!" the posting proclaims). Finalists will get an unpaid (Joy!) guest host gig for a week before one is picked as the full time host. Should be interesting to watch.

In even further G4 news, Icons is excellent. I've been watching a lot of it on my newly acquired Tivo, and I've been consistently impressed with how focused and interesting it manages to be. Almost redeems the whole network, it does.

28Jul/054

Bloody Errors

The Associated Press has a great human interest story about a blind 17-year-old gamer who routinely beats opponents with his back turned away from the screen. The article has one quote, though, that makes it seems like the story's author wasn't watching the screen either.

In describing a Soul Calibur II (the article misspells it "Soul Caliber") match, the author writes:

"'That's what happens. It's why I don't play him,' O'Banion said after his blood-spattered character's corpse vanishes from the screen." [emphasis added]

"Blood-spattered" is an interesting adjective to use, considering Time magazine described the game as "mercifully blood-free." Many fan reviews also point out the game's lack of blood, and anyone who has played or watched the "corpses" are remarkably unblemished after a loss.

It's likely that this throwaway line was just a bit of colorful embellishment on the part of an overzealous writer or editor, trying to punch up the copy long after the match took place. And given the fact that characters in SC2 are routinely hacked with extremely sharp weapons, it's easy to imagine how the faulty image of a bloody corpse might form in the author's memory. In the grand scheme of things, this small error doesn't really detract from the quality of the rest of the article.

But it can be just as important get the little things right as the big ones. Adding errors to the small details of your text can distract readers from the larger focus of the article, and make them doubt the rest of the facts. Given the extremely sensitive nature of the video game violence debate, errors like these can also serve as the basis for some truly baseless claims.

One of my journalism teachers always told us "If your mom tells you her name, ask to see some ID." It's an extreme example, but the point is clear: check everything, assume nothing.

27Jul/053

Now That's Sarcasm

Steven Johnson, author of Everything Bad is Good for You, has an excellent commentary piece in today's Los Angeles Times defending Grand Theft Auto. He makes great use of sarcasm, statistics, and specific anecdotal examples to make a thoroughly convincing argument. Johnson expressed a similar sentiment on NPR's Fresh Air last week.

That remind me, I really have to pick up his book.

23Jul/054

Thompson: Gaming News Sites Are Useful for Something

"Sims 2, the latest version of the Sims video game franchise ... contains, according to video game news sites [emphasis added], full frontal nudity, including nipples, penises, labia, and pubic hair."
-Attorney Jack Thompson, as quoted in a Gamespot article

Nice to know that Thompson is willing to use the games press to his advantage, even while he refuses to speak to them unless it suits his purpose.

Also... what news sites is Thompson reading that include such graphic descriptions? Is he counting Sims 2 modding forums in with "gaming news sites?" Would I be surprised if he was?

The answer to that last one, by the way, is "no."

22Jul/058

The Paper of (Inaccurate) Record

The New York Times: "Over all, the Grand Theft Auto series has sold more than 21 million games, making it the best-selling game on record."

WikiPedia: Nope

22Jul/050

Game Editors of the World…

...Unite agains the injustice of controversy.

(via Kotaku)