By the way…

Ombudsman reader Josh Fishburn was more than a little miffed with a recent PSM review that he says didn’t reveal its true nature at the outset:

“I’m curious to hear your opinion on the Gran Turismo 4 review in the March 2005 issue of PSM. It is an import review, but that fact is not called out until mid-way through the review.

What exactly does he mean by that? Well, this picture might clear that up (text blurred out to protect against potential cease and desist orders. The fair-use purpose here is to simply show the “import review” disclaimer in context. Click the picture to see a larger version):

The import review disclaimer is that black box on the bottom-right of the left-hand page. Here’s a close-up of it:

The text of that disclaimer: “At press time, Sony is still putting the finishing touches on the U.S. version of GT4, so we thought we’d tell you what we think of the recently released Japanese version of the game. Aside from some minor changes to the soundtrack and car roster, our version should be identical. We’ll have follow-up coverage of the North American version, as well as reviews of several steering wheel controllers, including Logitech’s GT4 wheel, in the next issue or two.”

Josh wrote an analysis of the issue on his blog, which offers a nice summary of his position:

This is an embarassing editorial oversight, calling in to question PSM’s own mission statement to “only review games when they’re ready”, without a clear indication of what “ready” really means. As part of their announcement, they also state that they’ll have follow up coverage of the North American version of the game. The solution I suggested earlier – putting the announcement at the beginning of the article and featuring the Japanese box art – would have been a simple change. It also would have made it clear to the reader what they were reading.

I do have an opinion on this, but first I’d like to hear how the rest of my readers feel about it. Should this disclaimer be at the beginning of the article, or is it sufficient as is? Should it be bigger? Smaller? Nonexistant?

On a somewhat related note, do you think running import reviews before the U.S. release is OK? If so, should the promised “follow-up coverage” be a requirement. Is PSM’s “Buy or Die?” rating totally ludicrous (both in this case and in general as a phrase)

Leave your thoughts on these and other issues with the comments link below. I’ll post the correct answers sometime tomorrow.

Update (2/23/05 8:51 p.m.): Here’s what I had to say

15 thoughts on “By the way…

  1. I don’t think its that huge of a deal. I do believe that the import warning should be bigger (atleast as large as the scoring box), but the warning’s design is very noticable and even a quick overview would lead your eye right to it.

    Sure it could be clearer, but its clear enough.

  2. To follow up on what I said earlier, import reviews need to be done on a case by case basis.

    I think the real issue in that situation is whether the editors have the balls to print a retraction or update to their review should the US version of the game come out and be drastically different.

    – Sewart

  3. The Import classification seems easy enough to see when looking at the entire spread of the article. Putting in the “Reviews” section is somewhat misleading. If it were me, I would put together an Import Review section in the magazine, although how likely is it that the writers for PSM want to be reviewing Japanese and/or European and/or Austrailian and/or Korean games? Probably not likely at all.

  4. I think this sort of thing can only be discussed on a case by case basis. As someone else stated: if this was an RPG with a plot that was important to the gameplay, then no, it’s not alright.

    But common sense needs to be used as well. I like the idea of PSM just being honest and reviewing the game, rather than taking the infuriating route of pretending the game “isn’t finished” until Sony America says they’re ready.

    As for a new car…please. In a game with 500+ vehicles, the addition or subraction of one or two vehicles will not throw off the balance in any way. Besides which, the GT series has never been about white-knuckle racing against powerful opponents.

    Use the example of GT3. The loss of the Diablo and subsequent addition of the RSX to the US version was a change so minimal I’ll be a lot of folks don’t even know it happened.

    And I don’t believe this is a case of PSM wanting to beat out competing publications so much as it’s a case of them knowing their readership is wondering about this game (I mean, it’s going to be one of the biggest selling products this year), and not simply pretending it’s not out there because Sony hasn’t provided a US review copy yet.

    Just my two cents. Oh, and I think the import review warning on the page is more than sufficient. If it was buried in the middle of the body text somewhere…well, that would be a different story.

    – Sewart

  5. I have no problem with import reviews, even if they are for games that are coming out stateside. The disclaimer is definately visible and it sticks out well enough.
    I haven’t read the PSM issue in question, but in my opinion, if a magazine is going to review an import version of a game, they should either have a special section for import reviews, or put them at the beginning or end of their regular reviews section.

    Timmay

  6. They did the right thing; many publications wouldn’t even run a disclaimer that prominently.

    What they should have considered doing is not giving it a rating. How much value does that give to readers in the US? “Wow, the Japanese version is awesome! Maybe the US version will be too!”

    Move it to the news section, keep the text exactly as-is, and only rate the North American version.

  7. The disclaimer seems pretty noticable to me, it’s even in a different colour and has that tell-tale rising sun. Personally I think previews of japanese versions shouldn’t have a score, unless it’s in a section devoted to import reviews or something. There could be some changes to the US version that somehow affect the score, making this article somewhat deceptive. That’s more of a personal opinion though.

  8. The disclaimer is sufficient, but I believe that posting an import review before the U.S. release is inappropriate. Minor changes are still changes, making the U.S. product different, so a review of the Japanese version is no substitute. PSM is not likely to receive their advance copy of the U.S. version any later than other publications, so they have nothing to lose by running the review later than expected. Well, I guess if the review hit after the product launched, then it would lose that secondary role of advertising for early adoption of hyped games (“Buy or Die”), which just might be why there is an import review of GT4 for us to be talking about.

  9. Not a big deal. This game isn’t going to change dramatically, it’s not like the North American version is going to have the online element Polyphony Digitial promised and then failed to deliver. The differences here are going to be some cars removed or added and maybe some songs on the soundtrack changed due to legal wrangling with the car manufacturers.

    Honestly, I don’t blame PSM. This is obviously a game that’s going to be of great interest to their readers, and Sony has repeatedly dropped the ball – how many launch dates has GT 4 blown now? Four? More? This is a flagship title for the platform with an unlimited budget, and they can’t pick and stick to a launch date? Instead of a big, planned lead-up to the release, we get a low-key press release stating the game is FINALLY shipping on 2/22/05.

    Unlike online outlets, which can adjust to sudden changes in a release date, print outlets can’t. I think this was more than fair in serving readers who wanted to know about the game before it was available for purchase – particuarly when Sony seemed to be rolling dice to randomly generate when that was going to be.

    Look at OPM, which ended up with egg on their faces in trying to create a build-up to the games release and produced and ran a whole video feature on the now non-existent online mode, which arrived on magazine racks right after Sony announced the feature had been mysteriously dropped.

  10. I’ll join the others and say it isn’t a big deal. Even if it were even less subtle than that would it matter? Does one review really hold that much weight? It isn’t as if there has never been a misleading review or a review, even if the reviewer really beleives in it, that someone has disagreed with or anything…
    While I think they should mention it, and I think that what they did was enough (especially if they review import games semi-regularly) I hold game reviews in the same regard I hold music or film reviews, which is to say, not very highly.

  11. I’m not a big fan of VG mags, and PSM in particular. But I mean give me a break.

    That’s a huge notice that it’s an import review. Now, if it was mentioned in the actual text itself, halfway through, that’s one thing. But to say it’s in the “middle” of the page…

    The different color catches your eye.

  12. Sorry Sewart, I’m not big on racing games and didn’t know there were 500 cars. Obviously they’ve got that ‘balance’ thing figured out if that’s the case.

    But Raughn, I’ve got no problem with them printing import reviews. Though it’d be more interesting if they did it with games that aren’t available here that might be of interest. (I think EGM does this once a month?)

  13. Doesn’t seem like a big deal to me. So they reviewed the import version. It’s not like it’s an RPG and there’s a going to be a plot to review. Does the North American version have the same gameplay? Check. Does it have the same cars? Check. Does it have the same racetracks? Check. Okay, then build a bridge and get over it. The editors at PSM were probably promised a pre-release copy and never got one. God knows the damn game was supposed to come out months ago. So, I say, meh.

  14. I’m kinda anal when it comes to some things, and this is one of those things. I’m all for reviewing import games, but not in place of their stateside counterparts unless the games are to be, game-code-wise, identical.

    Exactly like Finster said, it’s not an RPG where only language/plot will be changed. But that just means that if a new car added to the game it might totally throw off all game balance.

    Maybe they could’ve put ‘Import Reviews’ at the top instead of just ‘Review’, or had put the box at the top of the column, but I think the disclaimer they put in earns them a ‘no grief’ card from me. But just barely. 😉

  15. < NAME="kylescomment"><>Thanks for commenting, everyone.

    Like most of you, I think that the import warning is more than sufficient in this case. While technically it is placed in the middle of the text, it’s not like it’s hidden in the middle of a sentence. It’s a big black box with a Japanese flag and the words “IMPORT REVIEW” in big letters. Not that misleading, in my opinion.

    For the larger issue of import reviews, in general I don’t think they’re a problem. If your readers crave information about foreign games, you shouldn’t withhold it just because it might not match the domestic version. That being said, it’s important to put a disclaimer like this on any import coverage, and to cover the local release as soon as possible. In that follow-up coverage, it’d be a good idea to focus on differences between the import and local versions.

    As for the “buy or die” rating… um… are those the only options?

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