Jim Sterling recently took to Twitter to discuss a paid promotional review deal from the company representing Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and Yoozoo Games. The company was asking about how much Sterling charged to post coverage of the browser-based game, Game of Thrones, and Sterling finally did the ethical thing by exposing it publicly, further proving that #GamerGate was right all along about corruption running rife within the media and journalism industry.
Sterling made the tweet on the brisk morning of February 6th, 2019.
So the concept of “paid reviews” is often conspiracy theorism…
… until a licensed Warner Bros. game asks me for my fucking review fees. pic.twitter.com/NwONMHCxYS
— Jim Sterling (@JimSterling) February 6, 2019
Sterling’s reference to “conspiracy theorism” dates back to 2014 when he originally called #GamerGate a “conspiracy” when gamers used the hashtag to claim that corruption was running rife within the industry.
Nevertheless, the winter day would get colder for those at Warner Bros., as the chilled touch of #GamerGate’s zombified hand caressed their moral spine, sending a jolt of ethics trembling throughout their body. This was much like the late, great TotalBiscuit, who also took Warner Bros’ media promotion firm, Plaid Social Labs, to task back in September of 2014 for violating Federal Trade Commission standards for paid positive reviews of Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, as outlined over on Cinema Blend.
Heck, Jim Sterling even did a video about the paid review scandal when he used to be associated with The Escapist.
Yet since then, many so-called “pro consumer” advocates took up a rather “anti-consumer” stance when it came to the corruption unearthed by #GamerGate. Sterling seemed to avoid the ethical violations like his oral conduit avoids intake moderation, or Valve avoids threequals.
But attempting to dismiss or hand-wave away concerns about paid reviews and corruption can only last for so long until eventually the umpteenth e-mail will warrant some sort of acknowledgement, like a camgirl on Twitch finally talking to the basement-dwelling shut-in who has been paying her rent through donations.
You might notice that Sterling almost takes a dismissive tone with acknowledging the paid review scandal as if it’s not as frequent as gamers let on, but even in his Twitter thread there were others who posted up about companies like Tencent trying to pay for reviews as well.
Karak (ACG) said in a stream few days ago he received offer from Tencent to review a game for several thousand $.
They even offered help to make it seem organic not sponsored if he’s worried about how it would come out.
— FelixM (@flanker_35s) February 6, 2019
These allegations of paid-to-play reviews are not new. They’ve been circulating around the industry for years, and many gamers have felt that many positive reviews about games that didn’t deserve the high scores were due to paid influence, or that negative reviews were discouraged, lest the reviewer get fired like what happened with Gerstmanngate back in 2007.
Many of these issues culminated in what would become #GamerGate, which highlighted a lot of the corruption happening within the media industry at the time. There was so much of it that it ended up being cataloged over on a repository known as DeepFreeze.it.
These sorts of paid deals aren’t uncommon, though. There was discussion about journalists accepting paid reviews to make ends meet in the Game Journo Pros group, as well as other reviewers who allegedly took money to give certain games high scores, as outlined in a piece about the Metacritic corruption conundrum.
YouTuber DreamcastGuy also covered the paid promotion and sponsorship deals that affects many reviewers, and the process required in order to get paid, and how the contracts are structured.
These sort of pay-to-play marketing schemes have been around for a while, and this is partly why the Federal Trade Commission exists; to help consumers become informed about certain advertising and promotional policies and regulations in order to protect them from misleading or fraudulent schemes.
In fact, the whole push to get YouTubers to disclose sponsorship deals came about after #GamerGate aggressively petitioned the FTC to update the disclosure guidelines to include video game reviews and YouTube content.
#GamerGate also targeted the traditional media as well, prodding them to update their disclosure policies relating to affiliate links and sponsorships, which even resulted in anti-#GamerGate sites like Rock, Paper, Shotgun updating their policies, along with The Verge updating their policies, and even Gawker being goaded into updating their policies before they bit the dust in the Hulk Hogan lawsuit.
While Jim Sterling kept trying to convince gamers that #GamerGate was unnecessary or that Anita Sarkeesian didn’t want to “take away your games” (which is false, because our games are being taken away) even Sterling has to admit that the corruption that’s rife within the industry still needs to be called out, proving that #GamerGate was right all along.
(Thanks for the news tip zac za)