Tobold's Blog
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Bribing Tobold

Before anyone starts shouting, let me say that of course I'm kidding when I use the term "bribing" in the title, it is a deliberate exaggeration. This post is to tell you that I received another free game account, in this case for Puzzle Pirates. That should be less controversial than the last one, but I'm trying to remain consistent with my policy here, and disclose all free game accounts (not necessarily beta accounts) I receive. I know that some people would prefer me not to accept anything, and others would prefer if I accepted such gifts without saying anything, but this policy of disclosure is what fits best with my personal ethics and values.

I am happy to receive free accounts for MMORPGs, and wouldn't protest if "give a free account to Tobold" became a trend. It isn't about the money, I can well afford typical monthly subscription fees. But I do like the "official" recognition. Yeah, so I'm vain, what's new in that?

But what exactly could you "buy" from me by offering me a free account to your game? Not all that much. I'm getting several mails every month from small game companies who want me to check out their games, and in many cases I don't get further than to their website and screenshots. If a game isn't interesting, even a free account won't make me play it. I've also had cases where I installed the game and played for example the beta or a free-to-play version, and the game was so bad that I thought I'm doing the publisher a bigger favor by *not* writing what I think about it.

In the case of interesting games, especially those I have some prior knowledge of, like Puzzle Pirates, of course I'm more likely to play it when I have free access. And if I play it, and I like it, I will write about it, or mention it in other posts where some feature of that game appears relevant. But the only thing you can ever get out of me is my honest opinion. Does anyone here think I am praising Warhammer Online too much on this blog, because I received a free account? Don't think so, I'm getting more often accused to be a WoW fanboi and WAR hater (neither of which is strictly true, it is just the latest WoW expansion that fits my personal preferences very well for the moment).

For me that is just part of blogs and games becoming more mainstream. Book reviewers don't have to buy the books they review, game journalists get free advance copies of games, and now bloggers are recognized as being some sort of reviewers too. So I'm not surprised if DM Osbon gets a free collector's edition of Wrath of the Lich King. (For the record: I paid for the expansion, and I'm paying for my WoW account too. I used to pay for my wife's account too, but after 4 years I was able to persuade her that she should pay for herself. :) Blizzard wisely figured out that I'm going to write about them on my blog anyway.) Getting the occasional freebie doesn't mean bloggers are being "bought" by game companies. In the end you're more likely to find an honest opinion about a game on a blog than on a professional game site or game journal, which has to survive from advertising revenues paid for by the same companies whose games they review. And if you don't believe that, at least my disclosure gives you the opportunity to disregard anything I say about the game in question in the future.
By giving you a free game account, they got their game mentioned and linked on your blog, which is probably why they did it in the first place.
People like me are the ideal target for this 'back-door' advertising, because otherwise I would never have heard of games like Puzzle Pirates or WIzard 101.
Congrats, Tobold! (I thought Puzzle Pirates was already free?)
Same here with Wizard 101, which is the perfect game for my son thanks! I feel that this is your blog and you grew it to the point that companies notice you. I say great job! Milk it for all it's worth because you deserve it. Unless of course you have gotten into Darkfall beta, in that case I hate you ;)
Not exactly. Puzzle Pirates has different "Oceans" with different business models. Some are classic monthly fee subscriptions, others offer basic functions for free and have you pay with "doubloons" micro-transactions for advanced functions.
Well, as you said, you'd be writing about it anyways. I think in reading your blog regularly, anything you may or may not receive doesn't seem to affect the feedback you give on games. As you said, publications that review things don't buy them, it is the company's perogative to give out freebies. You have a large readership and are well known. I guess that's one of the perks of your blogging, you deserve any freebies tossed your way.
Now how does a game blogger get free porn accounts? LOL!

Well when you do good work Tobold, it's nice that other people see that too, and reward your hard work.
Well, nothing stops you from establishing yourself as a porn review blogger. :)
ahhh the prices and rewards for recognition live it, love it.
Happy for you.
More free accounts = (likely) more interesting reviews/comments = good thing

More than the issue of an honest review (which I think everyone here knows to be true), I would surmise that this offer has been made because you may be perceived as a trendsetter, a blogger whose influence is considerable in the area of game/mmorpg reviews. An honest source of information whose opinion may be valued by developers and readers alike. I don't know what kind of sales videogame magazines make, but I would guess that just as many, if not more people read blogs and possibly this one in particular.
I on the other hand will always tell my readers if I tried something and it sucked. Still, I think you have a good disclosure policy Tobold.
I am sure that part of the intention of these companies is also to establish a good first impression with a reviewer such as yourself. Not a bad idea to have someone head off into their world having just thought, "that was awfully nice of them." Even so, I don't think that a good first impression is in anyway like trying to manipulate or force a reviewer to have the "correct" opinion because their business model depends on it. A good first impression is nothing more that simply sensible. It is a normal part of virtually every interaction in our society.

Besides, going out and spending $50 on a game just so that you can review it is just as likely, if not more, to color your impression of it. Right from the start you have a personal investment in the game and people have a tendency to want their spending choices to be justified. Receiving a copy of something is not a big deal and probably makes you even less biased. Receiving on going advertising dollars from one of these companies is a completely different thing. Magazine reviews, for this reason, are completely unreliable. People forget that the "information" that they receive from these magazines is not the real product. The reader is the product that is being delivered to the companies that buy the advertising. The same is true of the news media. The news is not the product. You are the product. Keep that in mind when you watch it or read it.
There's no reason blogs are going to be more "honest" or objective than professional reviews. There are many reasons why you could make the opposite case: indendent writer, accountable to no one, untrained, unpaid, prejudiced, no colleages to bounce ideas off etc etc. The vast majority of gamer blogs are painfully small in scope and very very personal to the little world the blogger is living in.

Whether or not you're being bought has always seemed like a non-starter issue in my mind: why would a games company waste money buying bloggers to get a certain opinion out of them??? that's just not what blogging culture is about, nor is it how professionals view non-professionals.
and now bloggers are recognized as being some sort of reviewers too.

You said it... not us. If you take this view of blogging then you are no longer writing a bunch random thoughts... but are offering an opinion, sort of or not.

I applaud you getting free accounts, not jealous and think you honestly deserve it.

Just expect and accept hard critique of your opinions. As a reviewer you are less immune to the backlash and rightly so.

I think your blog has been a review for more than 2 years, and have watched as you have constantly claimed that your thoughts carry no weight at all.

In a round about way you are admitting exactly this. You are a reviewer.
Since when has a blogger not stated an opinion? Lol!

You must be new to the Internet to think that Tobold and other bloggers don't post opinions including reviews. And of course his thoughts carry weight. Where'd you come up with this one?
Actually giving you an account guarantees at least an article about your game on Tobold's blog and if it's highly visible, that may very well be worth the cost...
I'm not quite sure how blogging doesn't include in any fashion reviewing, to the point that we must now officially change Tobold's designation. A blog is just a personal website where you offer your subjective thoughts on an issue. Reviewing seems like it fits pretty neatly in that bundle if you ask me.
I'm happy to see Tobold's reviews. His taste in games is similar to mine (although not identical), so it gives me a useful insight into things I might not otherwise try.
Tobold: why would you care if people knew if you had free accounts or not?

Oh, that's right, they're paying your salary...

...oh, wait.

If I got a free account and someone accused me of being a "sell-out" or whatever...I would simply ask them to go play FFXI some more and shut it.

I know Tobold doesn't favor non moderated forums. A massive outrage at the official Blizzard forums regarding introductions of Ads.

I was thinking what do you guys think of the situation? Is it moral for Blizzard to start putting banners in their forums?
I'd agree that I think a blogger is more likely to be honest.. I was looking for a review on a gaming keyboard and I found that all the game site reviews were written by the same person, and it was a crap undetailed review, I ended up finding a blogger who had used it and got a better idea of what I should be expect
Blizzard finally responded. They didn't try to bribe us they tried to rob us.
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