What level of journalistic integrity should we expect from a preview?

Apparently Silicon Knight's doesn't like EGM's take on the Too Human demo at E3 '06.

I guess we went in with the hope that people could overlook some of the technical issues and see the potential for Too Human. It is, after all, only a demo. We certainly thought that EGM would look on us favorably after seeing the game in a better state previously when they gave us a cover. Ultimately, we were incorrect.

I guess this refers to something in EGM magazine, because 1up's post-E3 article on Too Human was very favorable. EGM's 1/29/07 podcast talks a little bit about the controversy. They naturally feel an obligation to their readers to "evaluate" what they see (I like that term because it describes reviews more accurately than "review" does).

I can see this from 2 points of view:

#1 Game journalists are not publishers' marketing slaves. I have no doubt in my mind that EA would buy, cheat, and steal their way into glowing reviews if they could get away with it. Left to their own devices, that particular company would probably create a "Mother Russia" style propaganda branch that tells us how beautiful things are on their side of the wall. I don't want this. That style of journalism has driven my away from Next Gen magazine, IGN, TeamXbox, OXM, Gamespy, and other sources. Currently game previews online are full on marketing love children; rarely do I read anything disparaging about a game in development.

#2 Games are developed in fits and starts. Demos are not good indications of what to expect. Bad press can kill a good game (Chromehounds?) What other choice do journalists have but to paint a rosy picture? They often see pre-alpha builds, missing artwork, unoptimized code, bugs abound, entire sections missing. You might run into a hunter-orange wall and get the response "that's not finished yet." It's the nature of the beast. We don't get to see rough cuts of movies, or read rough drafts of novels. Whatever burning interest you might have to know more, human nature will naturally deflate your enthusiasm if you see the process behind the end product.

I am reminded of a quote from Orson Welles:

I don't want any description of me to be accurate; I want it to be flattering. I don't think people who have to sing for their food ever like to be described truthfully - not in print anyway. We need to sell tickets, so we need good reviews.

I don't want the people who create my hobby to starve, but I don't want to distrust my journalists either. They are an integral part of enriching the entire process. They provide feedback that companies like EA would otherwise ignore. So where is the line here? What say you, goodjers?

Don't show sh*t if you don't want someone to say it's sh*t.

You should never expect to buy off a journalist just because you have paid them for marketing space. Regardless of what they say in the review (or preview, in this case) you are still getting the front page, or a full page layout, or whatever. I expect journalists to obviously be excited about a game in development but not to the point where they don't give any meaningful insight into the development.

Journalistic integrity? Next you'll want people to be polite, or for us all to stop driving and ride horses. I don't know what utopian rock you crawled out from under, but you can take your ideals while I take my wages.

IMAGE(http://www.marriedtothesea.com/gallery-shake-500.gif)

If you listen to this week's EGM Live they go into more detail on it. They basically say that the preview that Shane Bettenhausen saw was a different build and it ran smoother than the E3 version which was demoed after the preview. A different EGM editor previewed the E3 version and called it as he saw it. What caught the devs off guard was how glowing one EGM editor's take was as compared to the other's, and that EGM (viewed as a whole and not a collection of writers) had seen it run better, so why didn't they mention it? It's not like IGN saw the better build and EGM saw the E3 demo.

Edwin wrote:

Don't show sh*t if you don't want someone to say it's sh*t.

So you don't like previews? Because that attitude means that you'd never get one again.

We all hate buggy games, where things don't work the way they should or entire sections are completely broken. Game journalists live in that world. All the games they play are like that. By the time a game is released, they're usually finished with it and moving on to the next alpha or beta build.

Game journalists live in that world. All the games they play are like that

Which is fine, and I'm not asking them to lie, but honestly most previews I've read have been pretty straight. It's that Driver3 (Driv3r?) review that still gets me every time...

From the journalist's perspective: I don't know one game journalist that actually likes writing previews, myself included, for the reason you mentioned above: "Games are developed in fits and starts. Demos are not good indications of what to expect." You're not looking at a finished product; therefore, is anything you're demoing at all meaningful? Everything good is subject to change and everything bad can be improved. A preview is obsolete almost as soon as it's printed.

They're exercises in futility: impossible to write, impossible for readers to take seriously and worst of all, impossible to exclude entirely in a print mag (you wouldn't believe the bitching editors receive when their preview sections are merely reduced by a few pages. I can't imagine what would happen if they should be removed entirely).

That being said, I'm a little confused on exactly what caused offense here. *Edit: nm, Hemidal explained it above.

souldaddy wrote:
Edwin wrote:

Don't show sh*t if you don't want someone to say it's sh*t.

So you don't like previews? Because that attitude means that you'd never get one again.

We all hate buggy games, where things don't work the way they should or entire sections are completely broken. Game journalists live in that world. All the games they play are like that. By the time a game is released, they're usually finished with it and moving on to the next alpha or beta build.

Plenty of game demos have been shown where the game is in showable condition. I don't see why it should stop.

KaterinLHC wrote:

They're hype.

Yeah?

I try to limit my previews to those in video format, so that I can make my own judgements about what I'm seeing. In the year of 2007 I don't see why that shouldn't be the predominant medium of reviews and previews, largely skirting the issue of journalistic integrity altogether.

That preference aside, as to the original question I say we should demand the utmost integrity of gaming journalists and expect little.

Edwin wrote:

Plenty of game demos have been shown where the game is in showable condition. I don't see why it should stop.

Good idea, but sometimes, the game demos are in buggy condition because the game itself will be in buggy condition when it ships. Will the bugs die in the demo, or will they make it to the finished product? You never can tell.

Personally, I find this specific example more than fair. There is a difference between a preview build, that you know will be problematic, and an E3 demo, which by its nature is supposed to show off a product at its absolute best. You can't present something that looks ugly and/or broken at a show that is trying to entice retailers and journalists into talking about how amazing it looks.

KaterinLHC wrote:

They're exercises in futility: impossible to write, impossible for readers to take seriously and worst of all, impossible to exclude entirely in a print mag (you wouldn't believe the bitching editors receive when their preview sections are merely reduced by a few pages. I can't imagine what would happen if they should be removed entirely).

Sadly all true. Readers simply should never take a preview at face value. As far as I'm concerned, you can't expect a preview to cover the faults of a product.

souldaddy wrote:
Edwin wrote:

Don't show sh*t if you don't want someone to say it's sh*t.

So you don't like previews? Because that attitude means that you'd never get one again.

Maybe that's not a bad thing.

In general, we don't see "demos" of half-shot movies, half-written books, or half-played music albums. Maybe we shouldn't expect so much damn "preview" material on games.

The downfall of E3 is something I might point to in support of this claim. How much info do we really need months ahead of release? Would it really make any difference if nobody saw anything on Halo 3 until a month before it released? (the whole cool multiplayer beta stuff notwithstanding)

I wish they would only announce games when they go gold.

Edwin wrote:

I wish they would only announce games when they go gold.

I can't even imagine what that would be like, so I can't form an opinion about it.

A massive media hype of the game for a week or two and then release.

I like reading previews, but view them completely as information on the the type of game a developer is trying to put out. It's fun to read stuff about games I may like at some point. The previews I've read about Virtua tennis coming for the 360 has gotten me to hold off on getting Top Spin 2. But in no way did the previews give me enough information to decide which game will actually be better. That's what I will read reviews for.

Personally I never expect any negative info in a preview, but when I get it, it is one heck of a red flag.

I'm digging the current Ubisoft model for GRAW 2, media blitz 2 months before the game is released.

In a perfect world, I would want brutally honest journalists and readers who know the difference between gold-master and pre-alpha build. Yet even goodjers aren't free from human nature (wait, that's my thread).

Generally I agree with you, Edwin, I was mostly playing devil's advocate. However, I know that SK is a good developer, and they don't release buggy games. Plus, I watched the video of Mark's E3 play-through that spurred all this and I can't really see why he would be so harsh on the game.

Edwin wrote:

I wish they would only announce games when they go gold.

I wouldn't go that far, but I would prefer very limited press up until the game is gold or nearly gold. Good games can wither and die in the shadow of colossal - and sometimes later delayed - releases.

As a developer shouldn't show off your early demo's if they are in a poor state, because he journalist will comment on the poor state.

As a journalist you should comment on the poor state, but note that it a very early build and correct your previous statement if the game turns out to be better.

I'm not much of a Journalist, but I thought the idea was not just to give a balanced commentary, but also have the sense to realize when a company is trying to impress you with graphics while trying to cover up the poor gameplay or vise versa.

Maybe that's why I stopped reading game magazines and interview my friends on the games they played instead.

I rarely read previews, as I have trouble getting excited about any game that isn't yet near-completion (unless it's a sequel, so I can hear about changes to the game system). I tend to expect all previews to be essentially rosy, lauding all the good things about a game while ignoring the bad, never to be taken too seriously. But a negative preview is in the same boat: who's to say that a game won't get a major overhaul before it's released, or that what some journalist thought was a negative turns out to be a positive? My "previews" tend to come from the recently-reviewed pages of game sites. Heck, I even waited for GoW to get reviewed before I bought it.

This kind of negative previewage can have positive effects though. I remember when Starcraft was still in development, lots of people were complaining about it essentially being "orcs in space," as it used the same basic interface as Warcraft 2. Blizzard listened to the complaints and fixed the problem. In answer to the topic, I'd say expect a preview to gloss over many problems that will either be fixed or revealed in a review. Serious problems with a game's design, however, it would be best to point out early -- maybe the developer will fix it.

souldaddy wrote:
Edwin wrote:

Don't show sh*t if you don't want someone to say it's sh*t.

So you don't like previews? Because that attitude means that you'd never get one again.

I hate previews. I think EGM did the right thing here. Way to go. I may even subscribe to the mag now*.

Glowing previews are part of the reason why the whole f*cking industry is still treated like a baby. It's just crappy "Journalism".

We get previews of movies, they're called trailers. And rumors. But those rumors actually tell you "we hear this movie f*cking sucks", not "Oh man this movie is so awesome you gotta see it!"

Can you imagine what would happen if Ebert published previews and they were all praising the movies before they came out?

Anyway, I'm with Edwin all the way. I hate that we knew about the Burning Crusade for like two years in advance.

In conclusion: f*ck Previews.

* No I'm not, but I'll check out their website at least.

edit: Did you guys check out PC Game's issue about "Hardware Guides"? It's in such a sad state. I used to love that magazine. I'd like to see some sort of "Actual Content VS Ads" percentage. I bet it is unbelievably low.

I bought a ton more crappy games before the internet

wordsmythe wrote:

Journalistic integrity? Next you'll want people to be polite, or for us all to stop driving and ride horses. I don't know what utopian rock you crawled out from under, but you can take your ideals while I take my wages.

Journalists need to have integrity. If they don't, they don't deserve to call themselves journalists.

Copywriters, on the otherhand, can have deceit up the wazoo.

I agree with the with people who say they expect previews to be a view through rose colored glasses. It's not a finished product, you are presenting me a title, that when completed, can be reviewed and torn apart. For me, a preview is only there to inform me of a game that I previously may not have known existed, or to update on the progress of a title and show me what it looks like. Perhaps if its a preview of a game that is close to release, you may state you hope they tighten this or that up. But, if the game is a year off, not two months away, then there is no need to gripe about things that are probably nowhere near completion.

I think I've said it before, but I wish ... 'journalists' wouldn't switch off any kind of rationality they may or may not have possessed at some point when getting to see a game ahead of its release. Experience should point out glaring issues that either cannot be fixed within the amount of time left or that are so deeply rooted in the gameplay that the final version simply won't all of a sudden lack such issue. When the game is supposed to come out in 6 weeks and runs like a total dog on whatever machine you got to see it on - should the "Oh, we're still optimizing the performance and take care of that!" statement from the publisher cover that?

The press doesn't have the 'right' to see a game before it ships. And the publishers don't have the 'obligation' to show the game to anyone before it ships. Of course, they need some hype, so using the press as extension of the marketing department.

Heh, btw., Vanguard received quite an amount of coverage in CGM not too long ago. I was always wondering about that since I never perceived the game as something overly special. And then I - having a digital subscription of the magazin - got two emails through CGOnline, offering codes for the Vanguard beta. And now that the game is out, there was this notification that I can download the game through them now. I usually have a high opinion of CGM, but that part I found rather fishy.

Let me second what Lara said. Actually writing a preview, or review even, seems like an insurmountable task. It seems like its easy, but it's a pain in the ass. The best case scenario is being right under the embargo window -- you have tons of time to put your thoughts together during the beta, but when you get to release your piece, your describing finished code.

As a consumer, I like reading them, but I rarely buy a game I don't get to Demo anymore, so I just don't get that influenced.

I used to write previews / reviews for dailygame.net. I got to see that E3 demo of Too Human last year and here's what I wrote about it -

Nothing.

It was very buggy and locked up a few times during the demo with the SK guy apologizing all the way through and promising the frame rate would be up to snuff by the time it shipped.

So I wrote nothing. No preview.

These guys are forced by their publishers to have something to show at E3. Every game is on different schedules and different points in their development cycles, but they all have to stop for E3, which can screw them up pretty badly.

I believe that's another reason E3 was shut down.

I saw the potential in the game, and considering the developer I'll be keeping an eye on it's progress. We had plenty of other games to write about so I asked my editor to just skip that one because it really wasn't ready. Just because MS puts a gun to their head and makes them show something that isn't ready doesn't mean I have to pull the trigger.

Is that integrity?

Wow Ridlin, yeah.

You guys saying "Yeah I expect Previews to lie to me all the time" aren't really helping, that's not cool.