Wednesday, October 07, 2009
More on game reviewing ethics
Larisa is pondering whether to review Dragon Age Origins, having been offered a free copy of the game by a public relations company working for EA. In the end she decides against it, but mostly because her blog is only about WoW. As I reported earlier, the same public relations company sent me PR material about Dragon Age Origins, which I linked to because I found the game interesting. They also asked whether I would be interested in a free copy of the game for reviewing purposes. I said yes, but haven't received anything yet. I'm not sure the game has even gone gold yet, and then I don't know if that offer of a free copy is valid for Europe.
While I agree with Larisa's assessment that EA apparently sent the same offer to many MMORPG bloggers, my blog has always been about more than just WoW, or even just MMORPGs. I did review single-player games in the past, so a review of Dragon Age Origins certainly wouldn't be out of place here. That reduces the matter to a purely ethical question, of whether it is okay for a blogger to accept a free copy of a game in order to review it.
In my opinion, accepting a free review copy of a game is perfectly okay, as long as you disclose having received it in the review you write. Which is pretty much the content of the new FTC guidelines as well. In the specific case of video game review copies one added factor is timing: As far as I know (never got one up to now) review copies of games are sent our BEFORE the game is available in stores, so that the reviews appear simultaneously with the game release. A review copy isn't a cash payment in return for writing a favorable review, but a means to enable the blogger to write that review without cost to himself, and in time.
Of course EA is profiting from bloggers writing reviews about their new game, which is why they are willing to hand out free copies. And one could argue that by receiving a free game, the blogger would be more favorably inclined towards the game company. But the offer contains no actual conditions beyond "We thought you might be interested in receiving game related assets and a review copy. It would be great if you could share your initial impressions of the game with your readers prior to the release date on 11/3." As I mentioned in a different context, I never said that I couldn't be bought under any circumstances, but I certainly insist on the fact that I can't be bought for 50 bucks. So I do think that as long as I disclose any free review copies I get, I'm not only okay with the FTC, but also with my conscience. It's a win-win-win situation where EA gets cheap advertising, I get a free game, and my readers get an earlier review. It is then up to the readers to decide whether they are willing to trust a review based on a free copy, knowing of course that real game journalists not only get free copies but also work for publications financed by advertising from the same game companies.