Tobold's Blog
Thursday, November 12, 2009
My material relationship with EA Bioware

Okay, I'm nearly 3 weeks early, as the Federal Trade Commission guidelines on disclosure of material relationships between bloggers and companies only kick in December 1st. Nevertheless I wanted to let you, and the FTC, know that my review copy of Dragon Age: Origins just arrived by mail. This is a first: While I got free access to some online games in the past, this is the first free physical copy of a game I received. Which is nice, notwithstanding the fact that getting a review copy a week *after* release is a bit late, and I already bought Dragon Age via Steam while I was still unsure whether I'd get a review copy.

I'm already past the Zitron number of 9 hours played. I will probably publish a review of Dragon Age: Origins next week, after having played it a bit more. As this will be way too late for a classical standard review, I was thinking of doing a comparative review between Dragon Age and World of Warcraft. Not because these two games are similar, but because they are so different. By comparing them I hope to explore the question of where the inherent limitations of MMORPGs and single-player RPGs are.
I'm curious: isn't the FTC a USA institution? As a EU citizen, why do you feel the need to abide by their guidelines? Or is my sarcasm detector severely broken today...? :)
I know you already do what they recommend (publicly reveal all received freebies), and frankly I'd do the same if I had a blog (worthy of freebies hehe). It feels like common sense to me.
Will the guideline apply to you because blogger is owned by an american company?
And if you don't abide by the guideline, can they do anything to you besides sending pointless emails like the ones the swashbuckling swedes of Pirate Bay received?
If it's a guideline and not a law, what *can* they do to anyone who doesn't obey?
I have yet to pick up DA, and sadly probably won't have a chance to play it anytime soon.

With Modern Warfare now out, the FPS gamer in me will most likely take over and make that my next purchase. Then with Mass Effect 2 on the horizon I'm not sure where I'll be able to squeeze DA in.

Looking forward to your thoughts on the game nonetheless.
Um, the Zitron number is 9hrs in the character creator, not in-game. Having played the game AT ALL means you are no longer able to review for EG, unless you include at least 3-4 factual errors that can be discovered within the first hour of gameplay (amazingly EG did this in their DA review as well, making them 2-2 in reviews I've actually read there).
Dragon Age:
Your avatar is the prime mover of a story centred around you - hence enabling narrative exploration of origin stories, choices with consequences and story branches.

NPCs travel with your party, allowing for closer emotional ties and character development.

Combat is both playable in real-time and pausable, allowing for visceral experience and tactics/strategy to come in play.

One player controls a group of characters, allowing for more fine-tuned strategic combat and smoother gameplay experience as the team works as a mind-reading closely-meshed unit that always cooperates with one's desires. If it goes wrong, it's really your fault.

Masses of enemies at a time.

Save/reload features. Take backs and cheating allowed.

World of Warcraft:
While they try the same above singleplayer RPG tactic for story quests, the conventions of mob respawns and the millions of other players in the same world, right next to you, dilute the effect.

Logging in and out of a persistent world means stuff changes when you're not around. Quests need to be broken up into bite-sized not-really-related set pieces, that will reset for the next player.

New phasing technology as introduced in Wrath of the Lich King attempts to help the illusion along, spoiled by the ending of a specific death knight questline wherein a writer really didn't pay attention to the established lore and/or think in terms that would make narrative logic sense.

NPCs are static and rarely move, and when they do, you'd really rather they not because it's yet another escort quest with a suicidal NPC.

Combat tests your action and reflexes (in comparison to a pausable game, not just in terms of button pushing but positioning and situational awareness), and is affected by latency.

No save/reload, no take backs.

The challenge in group combat is social and organisational when it boils down to getting buy-in and cooperation from real people, as opposed to avatars you control. Prone to human error and failure => making successes more meaningful?

WoW multi-boxers replicate the singleplayer RPG team combat experience at high setup cost.

The ideal number of mobs to fight is one at a time. Aggro is an important concept.


Dare you to move beyond the obvious comparisons that I just tossed up offhandedly here. :)

And no, I've not played Dragon Age at all, nor gotten beyond lvl 30 in WoW. I could be utterly, miserably wrong on my premises.
Congratulations on your material relationship with EA! I look forward to your comparison piece.

PS Ed Zitron was a patsy! The whole thing was a publicity stunt worked out between Aventurine and EuroGamer!
I'm curious: isn't the FTC a USA institution? As a EU citizen, why do you feel the need to abide by their guidelines? ... If it's a guideline and not a law, what *can* they do to anyone who doesn't obey?

As far as I know, there is a $10,000 fine for not sticking to the guideline. As I am not a lawyer, I can't tell you how enforceable that fine would be in the EU. But I do know that foreigners breaking US law can be arrested as soon as they step on US territory. So, as the FTC guidelines happen to be identical to the policy I had before, I don't see a reason to risk my freedom to visit the USA in the future.
How can you fine someone for ignoring a "guideline"?

That breaks language.
Great even you're selling out now.

It costs EA 30c (the cost of printing the DVD) to get a guaranteed positive review from you broadcast to everyone who visits your site.

Pretty sweet deal for them. Can't say I'm not disappointed though.
guaranteed positive review

Why would the review be guaranteed positive? Maybe you can be bought for 30 cents or 50 dollars, but as I stated previously, my price for a guaranteed positive review is $100,000.
The whole point of games bloggers, the whole reason it's popular, the whole reason people visit sites like these is because you're more of a man-on-the-street than games news or reviews site.

Every reviewer on a games site is at the mercy of their employer, who in turn is at the mercy of advertisers and by link the publisher.

People like to read what people like yourself think about games because you have no axe to grind, you aren't receiving free swag or games, you don't have a manager breathing down your neck, reminding you that your salary is paid by the advertisement money of this product or company, you can be honest and display value proposition because the money for this game came out of your own pocket, the same as all of us.

So you're now receiving review copies from a house as big as EA, incredible, and you have the perfect game to display your "honesty" because DA:O is such a good game, you hope nobody will question your positive review.

You give a good review to a good game and secure not only future free games for yourself from EA, but every other publisher that sees you can be bought for the price of a single copy.

Am I angry? Yes, and you're welcome to disregard everything I've said or not even publish this comment, but before you strike back in anger, take a moment and think about what I've said.

I've valued your commentary for a very long time, and I wish you'd realise that these companies do not value you or your opinion, they value your site statistics.

Just think about it if nothing else, before you go too far down the road of lost credibility.
Of course I know that companies send me free stuff because of my site statistics. But that does not depend on me writing a positive review. Look at it from my point of view: I'm going to review that game anyway, so why would I refuse a free copy?

Alternative deal: I promise to never accept any freebies from companies if you and every other reader pay me $9.95 per month for that valuable and guaranteed honest opinion. Not interested? Thought so. Because you lied when you said you "valued" my commentary. You using "Anonymous" as your name and writing personal attacks is a very strong hint that you are nothing but a troll.
I can guarantee your review of your freely obtained Dragon Age: Origins will be overwhelmingly positive.

Care to take that bet?
PS. You're on Blogger, I don't have a blogger account, using anonymous is my only option.
I don't always agree with your opinions, Tobold, but sometimes I really like what you have to say. Good job putting that troll in his place.

Also, I really like your concept of a high price point for guaranteed positive reviews. I will remember that for a long time and if I ever am in a position to do so, I will certainly follow your lead on that.

Even if it's just a joke, it is an awesome concept.
The eurogamer review is accurate in its description, but 8/10 does not reflect what was written in said review.

It lacks an overall soul, admittedly true.

The benefit of a single player RPG is that you can be meaningfully included in the plot (for example nameless one, bhaalspawn, cloud etc.). When you are nameless adventurer X who shows up to save the world, it gets dull.
Congrats on getting your review copy finally. Seriously, if a game company would offer you 100,000 for a positive review its probably a bad business deal on your end... people will find out about it eventually would they still visit your site for honest opinions in the world of MMORPGs?
All publicity is good publicity...but since you bought it anyway and are prone to talk about games you play, they already gotcha!! Hehe, just joking!
I'm somewhat disturbed to think of the trolling comments you don't approve if you deigned to let these poorly written ad hominem attacks through. In any case I have always appreciated your transparency regarding free subscriptions or beta invites. Review units are standard practice for much of the enthusiast press, professional or otherwise. Does the fact that a reviewer did not have to make an initial investment of their own money color their evaluation? Almost certainly to some degree; but, so long as the arrangement between the reviewer and developer/publisher is understood, then the audience can judge for themselves what role it played in the evaluation.

For your future comparison between MMOs and single player RPGs: people often point to the "social" nature of MMOs as being one of their defining features and primary virtues. That you're inhabiting a world with other player characters is supposed to make that environment far richer than a single player game could ever achieve. Yet, one could just as easily argue that the players one meet in most MMOs do more to break the immersion in the world and frustrate your experience than add to it. Moreover, while Dragon Age might be a single player experience, the act of playing it right now in November 2009 is a cultural experience that one shares with tens of thousands of others. You're still "playing in the same world" as many others; you can still share stories or talk combat mechanics in forums and fansites devoted to the game. What you lose is the 13 year old home from school spawn camping your quest mob and yelling homophobic and/or racist comments in world chat.

Looking forward to the review.
PS. You're on Blogger, I don't have a blogger account, using anonymous is my only option.

That is simply not true. You can use the Name/URL option, put any nickname you want under Name, and leave the URL field empty.
I don't use my work blogger account when posting here... but I still leave a name.

Tobold ignore the idiot please. Oh - after you did a WOW & DA:O comparison, can you extend the same comparison to WOW/Warcraft3? I want to see if the same comparison works when it's the same company, same IP, and even same characters
(alas it'd be MMO vs RTS...)
I'm somewhat disturbed to think of the trolling comments you don't approve if you deigned to let these poorly written ad hominem attacks through.

It kind of depends on the post subject. I wouldn't let ad hominem attacks through on a post where I just talk about a game. But as this post is more about me, I need to leave people more room to talk about me here. I don't agree with the anonymous troll, and I dislike his manner to express himself, but I do think that the question whether freebies influence bloggers to give more positive reviews is a valid one.

Oh - after you did a WOW & DA:O comparison, can you extend the same comparison to WOW/Warcraft3?

Kind of difficult, I barely played Warcraft 3. I'm a turn-based strategy man, RTS give me a culture shock.
To answer your question, the reason your review loses credibility in my eyes, beyond the obvious free games situation, is that you can no longer offer a view on the value proposition of a game.

You can't say the game is worth X because you not only did not have to shoulder that cost, but actually ended up gaining from it. I think it's pretty much unavoidable for you to have an automatically positive disposition to DA:O now.

Can you still look at a game objectively and offer opinion on it? Sure, but not from the same perspective as those of us who didn't get it for free, on top of that, you're in an insecure position where the thought of giving a game a bad review seals your fate on any future free product, that will continuously enter your mind when writing and posting it.

I've been visiting your site for years, it's a little sad that you simply dismiss me as a troll instead of addressing my points, but that's your perogative.

I'm not a blogger, I don't have a website, but you're welcome to know my first name is Jamie, if that adds some mystical credence to what I'm saying. I'm simply somebody who has been reading your content for a long time, and felt that I needed to speak up on this.

If all you can do is call me a troll and feel vindicated by your defending zealots, then maybe I was wrong to believe you on your controversial "mistakes" not so long ago.

I'm sad you're going this way Tobold.
@Anonymous aka Jamie

1) I don't think your argument that my review is being influenced by a free copy is valid, because I don't think $50 is a lot of money. Just check the facts: Look at all I wrote about WAR and WoW over the last 12 months. I have a free subscription to WAR, but not to WoW, so according to your theory my comments on WAR should be more positive than my comments on WoW. I think you'll find that this is absolutely not the case.

2) I made it very clear where my impression that you might be a troll is coming from, and even explained to you how to not post under the Anonymous label without having to register anywhere, using the Name/URL option. In my experience pretty much anywhere on the internet, your opinions lose weight if you post them anonymously.

3) I don't see how you can argue that I didn't address your points. I did not suppress your comments, in spite of other commenters urging me to, and I did reply to all of them.

4) I don't think the question of "value" can be objectively reviewed. Some people simply have more money than others. Some people are OUTRAGED that MW2 costs $60 instead of $50, others just shrug and buy it anyway. The only thing a reviewer can do is to describe the game and say how he likes it, it is up to the reader to decide whether that is worth whatever the price of the game is to him.
The biggest difference seems to be that you replace your party of noobs with a party of heroes which you can control yourself.

No longer am I being annoyed by bad pugs!
Your conversation with Jamie-the-Troll is intriguing from two perspectives.

Firstly, where in the Western world does any reviewer of any form of entertainment, writing or broadcasting in any medium PAY for access to what he reviews? For heaven's sake, I just work in a bookshop and I have half-a-dozen free proof copies of books and graphic novels waiting to be read, and that's just what I got in the last week! I've scarcely bought a new book in the last ten years and I don't even DO reviews.

The idea that ANYONE publishing reviews ANYWHERE would be motivated to change their published opinion JUST by getting the subject matter free is almost scarily naive. That's just not how the world works.

The second intriguing thing relates to the anonymity issue. Presumably, the only reason that anonymous contributions aren't taken with as much weight on internet forums as attributable ones is that it is possible to build up a history against a name and thereby assess the "value" of comments from that source in future. Given that you can put any name into the Name/URL field on this blog, with no further continuity, is there any difference between an "Anonymous" post and a series of posts made by the same person but each made under a different Name? Is there software that prevents that happening? Is there software that prevents multiple people posting under the same name?
Is there software that prevents multiple people posting under the same name?

There isn't on this blog. I'm pretty certain I have two different "Chris" commenting here. Or one Chris with a serious schizophrenia. :)

Presumably, the only reason that anonymous contributions aren't taken with as much weight on internet forums as attributable ones is that it is possible to build up a history against a name and thereby assess the "value" of comments from that source in future.

Note that anomymous Jamie is accusing me of exactly that: He will find a *future* post of mine less credible, because of what I stated in this post. If I would post that very same review anonymously on some forum, there wouldn't be a problem, because nobody would know the review stemmed from a free review copy.

I don't think our brains are really suited to deal with anonymity, it is not a problem humanity had to deal with in the formative stages of our species. Social interaction is based on trust, which is based on experience and recognition. Just look at the "Paladin Schmaladin / Ferraro" story a while back, where people stopped trusting the advice of a blogger on how to play a paladin because it was found out that the blogger used fake photographs to represent himself. We seem to be unable to trust a text on its own merits, without being propped up by a somewhat irrational "belief" in the person of the author.

That is not something I'm really comfortable with. You don't know who I really am, yet you base your trust in my reviews on your perception of my obviously fake "Tobold" personality.

Jamie is all stressed out because he thinks that the "Tobold" brand is losing credibility by admitting an unverifiable acceptation of a freebie. Obviously my future review of Dragon Age changes in value for him in function of the perceived credibility of the "Tobold" brand. Yet he fails to see that exactly the same mechanism kicks in when he posts as Anonymous instead of creating a "Jamie" brand, whether that is the name on his passport or not. With the worst trolls posting as "Anonymous", the "Anonymous" brand is seriously tainted, and would even make less contentious comments appear suspect.
Unfortunately the vast majority of your readers are just that, readers, even on a blog like this where you encourage interaction and discussion, what percentage of your page reads are from people who regularly reply to your posts?

Like I said, my position is that of somebody who reads and enjoys your content, and like most people, I only come out of the woodwork when I feel something has gone wrong, in the same vain of any complaints outlet.

I was well aware when I made my first reply (When I was admittedly pissed off and reading back on it, it's a little cringeworthy) that I would be bashed by your regular and positive participants, yet I still replied, because I wanted to point out how your new material relationship irked me upon discovering it.

I'm a bit puzzled as to why, if I had replied more in the past, or made a Google Account, my points would be met with more credence, since I am stating my opinion, emotion and feeling on the topic, nothing more. It was a position of honesty, it's a fairly sad indictment on you though, if you feel that every negative word you receieve, is that of a troll purposely provoking you.

There was no illusion of anonymity from my end anyway, since I made my initial post with the assumption that you could view my IP and trace it to earlier posts, since you can do that on other blog systems. The Anonymous tickbox was simply the easiest way to publish my comment without having to create some kind of account, and since I don't have a URL, I thought that option to be quite pointless.

As I said before, you are not a games media outlet, you are a blogger, a concept created on the basis of a single person being able to publish his thoughts and opinions to the world. Frankly, if I wanted to read a blog whose content was financed by games publishers, I'd just read a subpar editorial like Joystiq.

It's very frustrating for me, that you ignore my points but take any that agree with you as gospel, all I'm trying to get through to you is the feeling of a long term reader, who is concerned about the path you're treading. I'm glad you've achieved popularity, but you're on the risky ground of losing the people who birthed that popularity to you for all those years.

That's all, call me a troll again if you feel it's neccessary, but I'd hope you'd just take a moment to ponder on what I've said rather than striking back or leaving me to the mercy of your troglodites.

Good luck to you, either way.
It's very frustrating for me, that you ignore my points

Why do you keep saying I ignore your points, when I've answered your points repeatedly? There has been no other commenter this week I've replied to so extensively than you. Or are you calling me not agreeing with you "ignoring"?
Tobold, I would also be interrested in your comparrison between Dragon Age and the Bauldurs Gate games. From all accounts, this is a modern successor to those games, so I am very curious to see how the experience has matured.
And yet you called me a troll multiple times before you even began to reply to the points in any other manner than "you are wrong".

Let me come at it another way, and I'll make it my final one, but here's how I see it:

1. There are hundreds of sites like IGN, 1up or GameSpot that I could go to, to read objective lengthy, well written reviews from people from a similar demographic, earning a similar wage, doing the same job.

2. Blogs are (in my opinion) a more personal affair, where somebody in their 40's, pulling a 6-figure salary at a prominent company, with over 20 years of game experience, can engage and comment on the same topics as a 14 year old who has to save his pocket money to pay his WoW subscription, which is also his first game, with neither produce being any more or less valid than each other.

3. When I read blogs where people talk about games, I like to think I get to know the person's personality and background, and whether I can relate to that or not, I like to see those different viewpoints, I can't relate to you, since I would relate more to someone like Keen, but your perspective is still very interesting to me, and is a bigger eye-opener than reading a blog of somebody who thinks exactly like me. Probably why we're clashing so much now.

4. The value proposition I talked about is no less potent than I first described, $50 may be nothing to you, but that viewpoint still intriguing to me and puts a different skew on your review than someone for who that $50 was meaningful.

4. Most importantly, if bloggers begin to establish relationships with publishers, if you receieve all the games you talk about for free, if you get swag and create contacts within the industry, all of what I previously mentioned goes away. I don't feel that we need you to become another GameSpot Reviewer, there are plenty of those around already.
This anon is pretty funny. If he really were a long term reader of this blog he would know that you get freebies all the time and you always disclose any freebies you get.

So if this DA review has been "comprimised" and the copy of the game makes you less credible, then I guess he thinks the same about every single other post you've made about recieving freebies from companies. Which would make me wonder why he keeps reading the blog if he thinks that.

Hell if anything Tobold GAINS credibility because he is one of the few bloggers who has full disclosure as his policy. (shit, name any gaming news outlets, period, that have full disclosure)

Mr. anon don't you think if Tobold was getting paid for good reviews he would keep that a secret?
1) I am not at all competing with Gamespot, IGN, etc., I only play games and write about them. Even when I call a post of mine a "review", this shouldn't be confused with the sort of review you're likely to find on Gamespot. For example I don't do review scores, which are one of the main features of those sites. I also don't make sure my reviews are complete, covering all aspects of the game in question. I just write a general overview of the game, and my totally subjective and personal views of that game.

2) Very idealistic, but not true in practice. On blogs and similar places, people aren't equal, but differ in writing skill and maturity of their opinions. I doubt I would have many readers if I were an average 14-year old playing his first game.

3) Agreed. That is why I read blogs like Gevlon's or Syncaine's, in spite of almost never agreeing with what they say.

4) As I said, it takes a lot more than $50 to influence my writing. I would think that most bloggers value their personal integrity more than $50. If freebies don't affect me, why should I refuse them?

5) So why didn't you stop reading my blog a year and a half ago, when I first disclosed industry contacts? I was extremely proud of getting a press pass for the European "Blizzcon". And I would say my readers profited from that as well, as I was able to interview one of the WoW devs, which would have been impossible without some sort of relationship with the industry. I don't see how that turns my blog into Gamespot. I only write one or two reviews a month, and dozens of other posts.

What you, and most other readers of mine don't understand is that I am writing for only one person: Myself. Of course it is nice if that writing results in lots of people visiting my site, or game companies sending me free stuff. But if a game company isn't happy with my review and doesn't send me more freebies, I don't really care. And if a reader isn't happy with my writing and stops visiting, I don't really care either. I care about the people who are willing to engage in intelligent discussion. I think you could be one, but you'd need to pick up some rules of behavior.
Now that I have read the entire comment thread thus far, something occurs to me. Why would someone who proclaims to not be a troll call the other commenter "troglodytes?" Anyone who was not actually a troll, would dispense with the name-calling and actually listen to the points that are being made here.

From what I have read, I think there has been a strong discussion on the topic and some strong points have been made.

Jaimie misses one of the first rules when dealing with another human being. Never assume they operate or think the same way you do. Just because Jaime would feel compelled to give a positive review based on the monetary value of that game box, and the opportunity cost of possible future free games, does not mean that Tobold would feel the same way.

From the small amount of information Tobold gives us about himself, any reader who has read his blog consistently, would have the impression that Tobold is a fairly successful person with a comfortable disposable income. Someone like that may not, in all likelihood, be influenced by the possibility of a few free games. He verifies this by setting his “price” for selling out at the $100,000 mark. It may sound silly, but it illustrates a reasonable point. Some people value money and gifts higher than others. Some people have a higher price. It is a fact that has to be taken into consideration.

Furthermore, the point Tobold makes about WAR and about WoW is another important indicator of how much free gaming material influences his opinions. He has not exactly been gushing about WAR lately, a game I quite like.

Jaimie reminds me of a guy I had in a WAR warband once. He was in a completely different zone from the rest of the warband while we were in a keep siege. He kept yelling for a rez, and people kept pointing out that he wasn't even on the same continent so they could not rez him. Finally, he quit the warband in disgust, after posting that no one was willing to rez him and he didn’t want to be around such a terrible group.

He was either trolling, or not paying attention.

Jaime is not much different. He has been told repeatedly how he can put his name in (I can do it, for heaven's sake, and I don’t have a URL or a blog. I use the little dot marked name/url because I understand that the "/" is an "or"). there has been a fascinating comment discussion on why names are important. Tobold himself makes the point simply by using the same name, because we can go back and look at older posts under his name and see a trend of behavior that either recommends or condemns his opinions and comments. His entire ‘I am “Gevlin” post was a study on the importance of identity when conveying ideas. An anonymous tag just doesn't do that. Furthermore, all of the points Anonymous Jaimie has made have been addressed but Anonymous Jaimie has yet to respond to them to take the discussion any further beyond “I’m disappointed in you, you are a sell out.” If it is not an attempt at trolling, the easiest way to prove it, is to move on with the discussion and actually address the defenses presently on the table.
Tobold, I think you should ignore the silliness of losing your credibility. Your credibility is established by the quality of your arguments. In that regard, you have few equals among gaming bloggers.

I'm really looking forward to your DA article. I've been almost exclusively a WoW player for a few years and I'm really enjoying DA. It's the first time I've been immersed in a single player RPG and it makes me realize all the flaws of WoW and MMO's.
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