Game Journalism Gets a “Shoe” to the Head

When Dan Hsu led off the latest editorial in Electronic Gaming Monthly (#199, January 2006) with “my industry pisses me off,” I knew it was going to be interesting. Sure enough, in the following paragraphs, Dan Hsu paints a picture of widespread ethical misconduct that he says has infected parts of the video game journalism industry. Without naming any names, Hsu’s editorial mentions three seperate publications — two magazines and one Web site — that he has heard are willing to exchange advertising considerations for editorial considerations.

After finishing the short editorial, it seemed pretty clear that these serious accusations required further elaboration. And that’s just what Hsu gives after the jump.

In an interview with this reporter and NintendoNow’s David Gornoski, Hsu said he first became suspicious of other magazine’s practices when he noticed some odd games appearing on a specific magazine’s cover. “They’re not high-profile games, they’re not sleeper hits, they’re not marketable,” Hsu said. “They’re games no sane editor or publisher would ever put on their covers.”

Hsu says his suspicions led him to contact a public relations representative from “a major game publisher… as big as they get,” who confirmed that the suspicious magazine’s covers could indeed be “bought” with ad space. Hsu also heard stories of another magazine and game publisher that arranged an ads-for-covers deal “on the golf course” with no editorial involvement (Hsu said he heard the game company even has a name for the practice, “editorial marketing”). Another PR person from a small publisher told Hsu that a major gaming Web site told them flat out “if we want coverage, we need to buy ads.”

Hsu said he has experience with this type of pressure from game companies himself. “Game companies generally know they can’t boss us around or try to influence our scores, but that doesn’t stop some of them from trying, “Hsu said. “Some companies actually feel they have the right to look over your story before it goes to print! Do you know why? Because other magazines have given them that leeway.”

In our interview, Hsu refused to go public with the names of the magazines and publishers mentioned in his editorial. He did note that the outlets in his examples did not include IGN and Game Informer, “who were often accused by some readers.” Hsu defended his silence by saying that naming the outlets would look petty. “While I want to call them out because I want the industry to shape up, I don’t want to get into petty fights. I feel like we’re above that.” Hsu also worried that an investigative piece looking at these accusations would not be a good fit for an entertainment magazine like EGM.

So why do the editorial at all? “I had a selfish reason for doing that editorial,” Hsu said. “I’m hoping that, with this added pressure for everyone to do the right thing…and for the press to start acting like press…that it’ll make it better for *all* of us across the board… If all of my competitors would not allow game companies to read their copy before going to print … it’d make my life a lot easier.”

How will these changes come about? “The consumers have to rise up and demand better from the press,” Hsu says. “I’m not sure how they can do this if they themselves are not sure who’s doing the right things, and who’s not… but I hope the industry watchdogs … can help us clean things up, so we’re all get the proper respect that we deserve, as an industry as a whole.”

As an industry watchdog, I’m as troubled by Hsu’s accusations as his reluctance to publicly name the outlets he’s accusing. Nonetheless, this site will do its best to investigate such claims and report back with its findings once they can be confirmed or refuted.

If you have any information that you think might be helpful in such an investigation, please let me know. Your identity will be kept in the strictest confidence, if requested, and your information will be given its due consideration.

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