Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
 
Toboldgate

Not only did I have to laugh about the Toboldgate title, but the analysis of Boathammer is pretty much spot on: Critics get free samples all the time, so why exactly shouldn't a MMORPG critic get a free subscription from a MMO company that wants him to cover their game? Every single video game review you'll read in a print magazine is based on a free copy of that game. And as I am certain that Mythic hasn't created that free media subscription program only for me; I'm sure that at least a bunch of print magazine journalists got exactly the same free subscription. They just didn't mention it, probably because they thought it was perfectly normal, and for me it was something unusual.

I think the main question in the MMO blogosphere is more along the "Why him? Why not me?" axis. Some people seem to be rather miffed at me. Ethic from Kill Ten Rats felt it necessary to post a "we would never accept any free subscription" manifest, and then blocked comments to that thread. Which is easy to write if you didn't get a free subscription offered in the first place. Honestly, how many bloggers would have refused a free subscription to WAR or any other major MMO?

I have no idea whether I am the only blogger who got one, or just the only blogger admitting he got one. And I don't know either why I received it. Was it my Paul Barnett interview? The 3,000 visitors per day, or 2,000 feed subscribers? My Blizzard press pass, on the logic that if Blizzard thinks I'm press then the other companies follow? Even if I'm the first, you might find solace in the thought that I probably won't be the last. Your blog might be the next big thing if you put enough effort in it, and if it becomes customary for MMO companies to hand out freebies, then maybe one day you'll get one too. It is not as if we bloggers had a huge income from our activity, so some recognition is nice.

I consider the value of that free subscription to be somewhere around $200, based on the fact that I bought a lifetime subscription for LotRO for that amount, and that the monthly fee of LotRO and WAR are similar. For me $200 is not really a huge amount of money, it is less than what I make in a day in my job. I would be disappointed in you if you thought that I could be bought for that little. But if you really think that I'm in Mythic's pocket now and won't be able to write anything unbiased from now on, I'd recommend not reading my WAR coverage and especially not my upcoming WAR review.
Comments:
Since you were the one to reveal the free subscription would that make you Deep Throat?

Kidding aside, it seems like there are a lot of new bloggers out there who expected blogging to result in fame and a job in the game industry. I think you might be the target of disappointment backlash.
 
Zomg! Mythic has you on retainer for $14.95/month!

Honestly, I don't see the big deal. Sure, I'd like to play for free too, but I don't have a successful MMO blog with a large audience.

I doubt game magazines have to purchase a subscription to write reviews, so I don't see what the big deal is.
 
Critics get free samples all the time, so why exactly shouldn't a MMORPG critic get a free subscription from a MMO company that wants him to cover their game?

There are two kinds of companies giving away review copies of their products, services, whatever. The ones spreading their gifts to every critic and the ones only fueling the critics, that say what the company wants to hear. In the movie business that's called a studio plant, a term i really like for games as well.

Reading your posts about WAR can leave the impression, that Mythic is gifting studio plants only.

Especially with the recent events, this move from Mythic more and more looks fishy. Of course only the haters will scream the loudest now, but accepting such offers will weaken your influence to the core readers too, no doubt about it.

A decent move would be to give this free subscription away to one reader, but of course then Mythic would cancel it. Guess why?
 
As evidenced by his comments and coverage about the GOA debacle, I hardly think that Tobold qualifies as some MMO studio stooge.

The subscription isn't a bribe to write positive things, it's a bribe to play the game.

Mythic just wants Tobold to write about the MMO and HOPES he will say good things about it. No one at Mythic honestly believes that $14.95/mo is going to buy anyone's integrity.

What they DO think is that he will be more willing to play the game for a longer period of time than he may have if he didn't have the free subscription.

If you choose to perceive this as a bribe of some sort, then that's the payoff. That he'll play it longer and/or be more likely to come back and see any improvements or updates.

Think of it this way: If Tobold is only lukewarm to WAR, perhaps he unsubscribes and never plays again after his free month. With a free subscription, he may be more likely to come back in 5 more months to write about it again. In a way, it’s not much different than how buying a lifetime subscription to LoTRO will make you more willing to come back and play.

It doesn't guarantee the things he says will be positive. For that, Mythic has to have faith that the product is a good enough to inspire positive reviews.
 
Enjoy your free sub Tobold. It was given to you for a reason. That reason may be unknown but who cares. Enjoy it and let all the other critics whine. You can't please everyone and you don't have to. You should not have to justify yourself, regardless of what others say.

Keep up the great work on the blog!
 
The people who expect "journalistic ethics" from bloggers make me laugh. I suspect a lot of bloggers actually think they ARE journalists. No, you're not. You're a blogger, and it's perfectly okay to accept anything a game company might send to you.

No blogger has any responsibility whatsoever to "play fair" or "report without bias" or anything of the sort. It's a fricken blog, not a newspaper.

As low as journalism (at least in the U.S.) has sunk recently, it may seem like the line between blogs and news media has blurred. But that's just an illusion.

Enjoy your sub!
 
My post was in response to several emails I received asking me if I was given a free account. While I was *not* given one, the point is still the same. I would turn it down. I have turned down free accounts, free trips and free swag many times over the years and I'll do it again. I personally don't care what you do Tobold and it won't change my opinion of you. This is just how I run my site. I decided not to accept anything a long time ago and it will stay that way.

What others do regarding this issue has no effect on me and my opinions of them. I judge by what you write and I am unconcerned about your integrity. My post was not intended to be an attack on you, it was merely to clear the air for our readers at KTR as they had concerns.
 
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Well my comment made no sense.

I meant READERSHIP not subscription.

What I meant to say its all good that you got a free sub and blah blah, I think "oh cool" but when you gloat about how awesome you are in terms of readers and crap like that it makes me think: "EGO much?" and honestly it makes it hard to swallow that you aren't bragging about the subscription.

In which case I have to agree with KTR
 
Hudson, I mentioned readership numbers because of this. But of course now you got me wondering whether I could charge all of you $14.95 per month to visit my blog. :)
 
I've been reading your blog for a long time, Tobold, even when it ws mostly about WoW (which I don't play). I hope you do make use of your free subscription and play on the US servers occasionally. I agree that there appear to be some sour grapes out there.
 
People seriously need to take a step back sometimes. It's a subscription to a game that's so cheap most people forget they're even paying for it.

I do find "Toboldgate" a very amusing term, though. ;)
 
"What they DO think is that he will be more willing to play the game for a longer period of time than he may have if he didn't have the free subscription."
So would I. Can I have one?

Seriously, though, giving free subscriptions to journalists is common practice amongst game companies. A friend of mine who is a politics & current affairs writer gets free access to WOW. Clearly Blizzard aren't going to be getting any favourable reviews from him, because he doesn't write them. I suspect their view is more subtle: that journalists (and well-known bloggers) are "influencers" that other people tend to listen to.
 
Good for you. Objectivity is an illusion. I actually wish newspapers would be more open with their coverage of politics, sports, etc. -- disclose advertisers, fees, relationships, much more than they do. Blogs should be no different. We know your opinion and your bias (if the free sub makes you *that* biased; if I had AOC for free, I'd still say it sucks)!
 
I think Sid67 made some excellent points. But Tobold, while i do appreciate your honesty and am certain that small perks like this wont influence your writing one bit, it may have been better not to talk about it. Your writing may not change, but the perception readers have MAY change.

If you write an good review on WAR some people may think thats because of the free sub. If you write a bad review, some may think its because you want to prove your not on Mythics payroll. I dont think this will happen but it may. Thats why i think silence was golden in this case.
 
Lol, congrats, Tobold. I'll still read your blog unless you become an unbearable fanboi who writes nothing but spin on bad games. And I highly doubt that would ever happen.
 
Tobold, thanks for telling the truth. It is not found many places on the internet or in the White House for that matter. Sorry for all of the unbridled jealousy! Keep up the good work!

Crowelf
 
Wait, the blog Overlord is getting special treatment? :shock:

/sarcasm off

I don't understand the hate from other bloggers (and I don't mean Ethic, who I also highly respect) when this type of thing happens. I mean you are paving the way, showing companies that they not only need to focus on PC Gamer, but also 'dedicated blogging Joe' and his thousands of readers.

The fact is, if you made a post and said "I hate Warhammer, don't play it", Mythic would lose subs. How many, who knows, but at least some. Just like people will try a game when you say "This is awesome, try it". You've gained that bit of power through your work here, and you deserve every shred of it.

While we don't always agree (which I'm happy about, it leads to good debates), I've always held you in high regard, both for the dedication and constant quality of this blog. You getting minor perks like a free account only means good things for others who follow in your footsteps.
 
Honestly, only true morons would think you will be influenced by the free subscription.

I can understand people being jealous, but anyone who has read your blog knows a free sub won't stop you from being honest on the game.

And it's a wise move by MMOs to hook up popular bloggers- you'll be more likely to cover the game after the excitement has cooled down and they put out a new content patch or something.
 
I say good for you :)
 
The fact is, if you made a post and said "I hate Warhammer, don't play it", Mythic would lose subs.

Ha! If Tobold wrote a blog entry like that, I expect Massively would have an entry up that said “ Tobold hates Warhammer” within 30 minutes.
 
It doesn't even make sense to say that the sub would influence him.

What are they going to do if he hates the game and says so?

Cancel his account. OH NO, they are taking away a game he hates. If he doesn't like the game, the free sub has no power over him.

That's like parents threatening to not let you eat lima beans because you said you hated lima beans.
 
And yes I am jealous of Tobold. I wish I could write a blog post half as interesting as almost anything he writes. He truly is at the top of the MMO blogpile and if anyone should get free stuff, it's him.
 
I am sceptical enough that whenever any journalist/blogger says 'Oh you really need to try product X, it's great!' that I wonder if they were paid to do that. There's lots of bloggers who are secretly getting paid to write what they write. There's forum posters who actually work for somebody and slip in recommendations about their employer's products. There's secret advertising everywhere.

I don't think Tobold will be swayed by this one free product, and I am really glad he was open about this, but I recognize the general risk in this. If you start getting constant free swag that others are not getting, eventually you might just not want it to stop. The free stuff makes you feel special, you start to feel like that CEO is your good buddy and you don't want to hurt their feelings etc. Bit by bit it might just start to alter your opinion.
 
It makes sense to me that Mythic would offer you a free sub. You are a widely read MMO news source. As a blogger covering a variety of MMOs you must maintain subsciptions to each game you write about. Offering you a free sub allows you to keep WAR on your radar without cost to you as other subscription games come out. That means virtually free publicity for Mythic (as you said it cost them $200). I have no problem with it, nor does it make me suspicious.
 
Wow. Love this drama.

Can't believe anyone feels so strongly about this that they would spout such venom in your direction. You blog about a video game. You get $15 a month from said video game. Whatever.

If anyone thinks Tobold is being bought, I hope you aren't reading gaming magazines and think that they aren't being bribed a bit. They are.
 
i am waiting for your warhammer review before i decide to buy it.

getting a freebie from mythic is a plus and im sure everyone will envy you.

are you planning to review the 'released' game or the 'openbeta' version ?
 
Don't worry about it. Many reasonable people believe gifts like that can't be accepted honestly, but many reasonable people believe they can. Nothing you could do, including turning down free stuff, will make everyone trust you.

The way I see it, they probably offered you a free account because you're likely to talk about whatever games you're playing one way or another and your blog reaches a lot of readers. Even when you're critical of a game, you increase its name recognition.

Then again, I've received free stuff from EA before (like the full Creature Creator and XBL early access codes) and I get fewer than a hundred hits per day. I made sure they know that, and now I'm fine accepting whatever they throw my way. The only pressure I feel is to give their games a fair look when I'm interested.

Anyway, congratulations on the gift. I don't doubt you'll continue to be fair in your talk of WAR or any other game.
 
Not another single person is given a free ride... only the T?

All the bloggers out there and crits didn't get this deal?

Large companies don't do crap like this for free.

You are either a plant... or IMHO a diversion.

EU Beta goes very 'Pete Tong'... and we here about your free subscription.

Some of the Beta flack on the blogsphere is now directed at this instead.

In marketing it's called slight of hand or distraction. Many companies stage/line up events as ways of security against future (bad) newsworthy problems.

Tobold has been played into this.
 
As far as I can see neither Tobold nor Mythic will have any advantage from that move now. But later on, something could happen. Tobold might play whatever game he wants, at some point boredom sets in. And thats perhaps the point to remember "Well I got this WAR account here, lets have a look how its changed and write about it, its free anyway".

At the moment WAR is everywhere.. but a nice little review one year later can bring back more than one of the disappointed guys from the launch I think.

To me that doesn't look like a bad thing, it doesn't compromise Tobolds integrity and it doesn't look like a 'evil' move by Mythic.

And in the end its your own fault if you let yourself lure into some lame game because of a simple review. Before I get a new MMO I spend whole days researching every possible aspect of the game and a simple review can make me aware of something new out there at best.
 
I'm completely behind you.

It's true that you have probably been targeted by Mythic's PR machine because of the scale of your readership and your influence among their target market. In this respect, you are lumped in the same boat as those print journalists who won't declare their free subscription because, quite frankly, they think their readers take it for granted.

And Mythic is clearly hoping it will win itself some good publicity and, ultimately, sales. It would have been foolish not to target you in its promotional activities. Companies are increasingly recognising the need to win over new media opinion formers as well as the old media ones.

But you're in a much stronger position than those magazine hacks. Mythic can pretty much buy good print reviews simply by ensuring its ad spend is high enough. No editor has ever allowed criticism of a significant advertiser and kept their job. You don't have that pressure. Not to mention, anyone who reads your blog knows by now you have no axe to grind, no agenda to push, beyond simply writing about a topic that interests you.

This doesn't reflect badly on you. I'm glad you have access to the game because I want to know what you think about it. Without the gift, there's a chance your commentary may have been less substantial than it has been, or else you may not have covered it at all. So I'm glad you were given the gift, and very glad you accepted it.
 
T... now that you have this US account, MOO?
 
Good job on getting the free subscription. Your straightforward writing earns you the biggest readership and also apparently the notice of the big game companies. Please ignore the haters and skeptics; just keep writing the way you always have been!
 
Just chiming in that I don't understand the drama around your comp'ed pass. If someone is that influenced by a free play, they have a lot more issues with their integrity than a free cookie.
 
Look at the guys at Penny Arcade; they made it big based on a comic, they get free stuff, and they only allow advertisements on their site the games for which they support. They can be brutally honest, or at least appear so.

I enjoy reading your blog, Tobold, though I have been MMO-free for nearly two years. Currently enjoying Armageddon Empires, and looking forward to the next CrypticComet creation.
 
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