Disclaimer: These words are solely mine alone and do not reflect in any way on those of the management team here at The Indie Mine. I would also like to note that our policy on the subject of paid reviews is straightforward. We never have and do not foresee a future where we ever will charge for reviews.
It’s a taboo that’s plagued the games media for longer than I’d care to imagine, be it in the passing whispers of game developers or the rather loud declarations of groups like AppyNation. The idea of paying for articles can throw the very substance and credibility of any piece out of the window and into the already oversized piles of advertising that creeps into our view each day. So why does anyone think that it’s the right way forward? What could drive an organization to risk their reputation as an impartial source of information for a few extra dollars?
If you haven’t yet seen, this discussion was first sparked when Twisty’s Asylum dev ‘Twisted Jenius’ posted this community blog over at Destructoid in which the author mentions receiving an email response from Indie game focused publication IndieGameMag.com. The email, sent by IGM publisher Chris Newton, mentions a few noteworthy points that have since been considered an issue for many developers, journalists and readers across the board, with claims of conflicts of interest and lack of integrity taking the forefront of many people’s concerns. In response to these issues, Chris has since released a statement on why they have decided to implement this new policy.
(Now before we continue, I want you to think of all this as one big issue to the industry, for all parties concerned. Forget about IGM and focus on the issue of this being considered as acceptable behaviour. They aren’t the first people to run with this plan, and they most certainly won’t be the last.)
By now some of you may be thinking “Hey, it’s only a few dollars and that helps the writer/site stay afloat” and in many ways you’d be correct in assuming the money gained does indeed go towards funding staff wages and site costs. Like most of the developers they report on, many sites that choose this option are independent and without much external funding, usually being run off of what little ad revenue banners can muster or from the wallets of management themselves. It can be pretty dire for lesser established sites and in many ways contributes to this ‘last resort’ of charging for coverage.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and without the allure of cash some sites will struggle to uphold a stable work environment. Whether it’s struggling to retain low paid/volunteer staff or fronting the costs of site maintenance, there will always be a possibility of making a loss. In an ideal world these costs would all be covered and those contributing their time and effort would receive a fair reward for their articles, but unfortunately that’s not how the cookie crumbles
It’s fair to say when people begun finding out about IGM’s policy change, a great deal of people weighed in with their own take on the subject, with most not only expressing disappointment with the new policies, but the overall idea of paying for coverage. From blogs like this, to tweets like these
Indie devs: Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, pay for reviews. Ever.
— Mike Rose (@RaveofRavendale) November 28, 2013
yeah, don’t pay for reviews – you don’t need to and it’s silly
— Mode 7 (@mode7games) November 28, 2013
I’d want a disclaimer on a review saying it wasn’t paid for. I can see that going down well.
— Byron Atkinson-Jones (@xiotex) November 28, 2013
What’s gotten everyone so riled up then? Well depending on which side of the gate you’re on – be it developer, journo or ‘consumer’ – this practise will have a different impact on you.
First time and lesser known developers are more at risk to engaging in these paywalls where the fear of their projects falling into obscurity clouds their judgement and desperation overrides common sense. This fear isn’t as foreign as some might think, with some devs spending hours reaching out to sites/podcasts/YouTubers in an effort to get their game seen, only for a crushing blow to be dealt as 90% of the people contacted don’t even bother replying. It’s truly soul crushing and can easily cause a spell of short-sighted desperation in the strongest person. However, as plainly put in the tweet below:
“No respectable site asks for money in exchange for a review. No site with any influence asks for money in exchange for a review.” bang on.
— Lewie Procter (@LewieP) November 28, 2013
Above all else, it looks shady from the outside. Developers should never risk their credibility or reputation on the off chance of coverage. But there’s something more troubling than credibility at stake here. If this was to become a widespread policy across the majority of media sites, you’re going to be looking at an empty wallet to go with those shredded reputations. If we let this become a precedent, it’s sure to spell more trouble for both yourselves and the developers of the future.
What you can do about it: Simple, they need your games to review. If you refuse to supply codes, their budgets will become much thinner. Don’t underestimate the power of pressure.
We should be angry every time we see this. Pitchforks should be raised and torches lit, because it’s acts like this that have a negative impact on how we are perceived by everyone else.
Let’s not kid ourselves. This isn’t the first time anyone’s seen this post before. Sure, in most cases like this it will have more to do with the individual aimlessly ranting frustration from a low score, but the underlying message is one of distrust. A lack of faith in journalistic integrity and the belief that corruption exists within a medium that’s supposed to provide an impartial perspective for the consumer is something we should all concern ourselves with. It doesn’t take a genius to recognise that if you accept compensation for an article it looks dodgy as hell! You can scream and shout about how impartial and unbiased the published articles are, but at the end of it all the target audience will have a hard time believing that the piece was in no way influenced by payment.
What you can do about it: Call it out, wherever you see it. Don’t be afraid to speak up and name sites that do this. If we idle around while it goes on, who else will fight it?
[Side note to sites considering this] Seriously, don’t. There is no point throwing away your reputation. Your readers trust should always be at the forefront of everything you do, because without an audience your words mean nothing. Respect the time they dedicate towards reading your site.
You don’t read articles and watch videos to hear about some pre-paid advertisement, cleverly reworded to sound like an informed and independent assessment of the latest ‘must have’ shooter. You read them for an honest opinion of what the person writing/recording the review thinks about the game. Each review is subject to the author’s own personal preference, but as a member of the audience it shouldn’t be too much to ask for that content to be free from any hidden agendas, or at the very least if there is any compensation for the content, that it is clearly shown somewhere in the content. This isn’t rocket science, its common decency.
How to oppose it: Ultimately, without you they have no audience. If you want to see change, you can help simply by supporting those who don’t employ these policies.
Before this comes to an end, there’s just one point I’d like to cover. There will inevitably be those questioning my own agenda for this article, and while I would like to claim complete and total impartiality that would be incredibly hypocritical considering we are, for all intents and purposes, a competition site to the initial publication in question. I write this article not as a member of this site, but as a journalist. In an effort to reinforce this, here is a list of sites that cover a wide variety of indie games without charging them for any coverage, because it can be done:
[Update - December 1st, 2013] Indiestatik is reporting that Chris Newton has stepped down from his position at IGM, Director of Business Relations Chris Adkins is taking over, and that the pay-for-review policy is being abolished. You can find out more in Indiestatik’s editorial.
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