Tales of Mass Effect 3: The Follow Up, Gamers, Publishers, Developers, PR, and Journalists

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Right so, if you’ve read the rant from last week, then you can probably guess what this is going to be about. You’d be partially right, not completely, but partially right. If you haven’t read the rant already, go ahead I’m sure you will either agree completely or disagree and hate my guts for a couple of weeks. You’ll probably be inclined to call me an asshole if you’re on the “hating me” side of the fence and I’m fine with that really. However given how people are up in arms over the whole Mass Effect 3 ending, with fingers being pointed here, there, and everywhere.

Note: I didn’t write that first rant because I wanted to leverage the whole situation to draw attention to the site, I well and truly feel strongly about the potential risks of the actions taken by both sides, and the potential disasters that might lay down the road. I know with what you will read below in this piece could very well piss off not only some readers and ME3 fans, but potentially other game journalists, game media sites, pr reps, publishers, and at least 1 person’s mom.  If it does, it does, shit happens, I knew that, that is an entirely possible outcome going into writing this, and I’ve made my choices and I’ll take my chances.

Charges of being either in the pocket of the publishers/developers, being PR mouth pieces, or generally just being uninformed industry shills on one side. The other side calling a particular movement entitled and yes jackasses, there’s a lot of frothing at the mouth, shaking of heads, hurt feelings, and so on.

I feel I should probably clarify a few things, because looking over my own piece, taking into account comments, messages, and emails I’ve received on it. I do think I got caught up in the angst of the moment and didn’t present my points as clearly as I generally prefer. I’m not going to apologize for that mind you, those on one side could care less what i have to say in any case, and those on the other side would probably take that apology as me just trying to save my ass from losing readers or something.

Read the site, don’t read the site, I welcome everyone who wants to read and comment and hold meaningful discourse, but I’m not going to shrivel up and die if you don’t and neither will Anjel Syndicate.

Note: Now, I’ll attempt to do the rest in a question and answer form to keep things straight forward. First though, let me get something out of the way right now. Yes I do talk to and negotiate with PR representatives from various publishers and developers to both obtain press releases so we can post out our daily news without having to steal it all from the big sites or miss major announcements because we’re not keeping one eye glued to RSS feeds all day. Furthermore, we have received from certain publishers and developers either product for review or preview access to games, betas, etc.

Do we appreciate those from the publishers and developers that have sent them to us?

Yes of course we do, neither I nor any of the writers on this site are independently wealthy enough to buy all the games that come out week after week. So either we see if we can obtain review/preview options, We forgo reviewing 98% of the games out there and focus on news only, or we review free to play MMO’s and facebook games and become niche enough that we might as well say fuck it and give up.

Oh we could just pirate games to review them I suppose, but that’s the worst of the available options in my opinion.

Do we fudge our scores, tone down our reviews, or otherwise generally sacrifice our actual opinions  to ensure we don’t piss off the PR Reps/Publishers/Developers/Aliens and stop receiving said product/media access/cool napkins?

Emphatically No. I have always told the writers who are doing reviews and previews to write what they think and what they feel about the game they are playing. If it’s amazing, say so, if it sucks or something about it sucks say so. The only stipulation I  have placed on negative critiques of any title is that if there is something in it that the writer feels is broken, crappy, or otherwise ruins the experience that they include a thought out suggestion or two on how to improve it.

In these 10 months of operation, I have made the executive decision to alter 1 score we have given a game. Not to please the publisher, the developers, or even you readers, but because of the simple fact that I have always been against games receiving a perfect score. The score in question was our review of Portal 2, and I had it lowered from the writer’s choice of a perfect score and he amended it to a 95%. Not because I have anything against Portal 2, it’s a fantastic game, but because unless a game changes life as we know it on planet Earth, makes coffee, and does your taxes a perfect score should be unattainable, something to strive for but never quite reached.

Doesn’t that mean then, that you risk the wrath of the powers that be?

In a perfect world that shouldn’t be an issue, publishers, developers, and their various agents should be willing to accept the negative reviews if they’re well reasoned and constructed along with the great ones. Unfortunately this isn’t always the case, we’ve all heard of or know a guy who gave a game a lower score, crappy review and he got blacklisted by this PR or that Publisher. Or that site that got advertising pulled, blacklisted, or generally trashed in like fashion because of a review they published. The reality is, reviewing creative content and being honest in your opinions comes with that risk.

Getting the games for free is nice and all, but if my staff goes from game to game worrying about how their review will impact the site, it reduces their ability to do their best work and present their real views. We haven’t yet been in this circumstance, we’re not running advertising on the site of any kind at the moment, and we’ve yet to have a representative of any publisher/developer yell at us and/or threaten to withhold assets/product. It will happen at some point as we continue to go forward, grow, expand, and cover more and more games.

When and if the time comes, my response to that kind of pressure or action is simple. I thank that particular PR Rep, Publisher, or Developer for all the fish and say so long. We’re doing this because we love games and gaming, we have the ability to write, and we want to write about games, the game industry, and engage with the game community in discussion about the games we’re all playing and enjoying or disliking. If a company and/or it’s representatives threatens us because we didn’t write a glowing, perfect score review, then so be it, we don’t need that kind of bullshit, and I won’t subject my staff to it.

Note: (This following note is primarily directed at the publishers, developers, and their representatives) I am not saying I will not respond to feedback about our reviews from publishers/devs/etc. If we missed an aspect of a game, a feature that perhaps didn’t get covered in the review for some reason, we do welcome notice on that so we can be sure we did due diligence in our examination of a title. We want to be sure we do all the games we cover justice and make sure we did check out a title and it’s elements and features as much and as best as we can.

Friendly, constructive Feedback is always welcome be it from readers, or from the companies that make and publish the games we cover. Threats of any kind however, should be beneath us as professionals and something we should work as an industry to expose and take out of any discourse or interaction. Should any ,however unlikely, come our way, I will respond to them appropriately and through well considered methods.

But you guys are a small site in a big sea of game media websites and blogs, do you really think the companies care if you walk away from covering their titles if they try to bully you?

Completely true, we’re not a big name site with big name writers, we’re not a “household name” in the game journalism scene, so realistically I doubt very many publishers would give a wooden nickle if we stopped covering their games in that situation. That isn’t the point, at the rate we’re seeing growth and so long as myself and the staff continue to work on the site and have a passion for doing this, we might someday get to that kind of status and then it might mean something to the other side.

As I said, that isn’t the point. While we want to have a good relationship with the publishers and developers so we can ensure we can get the news and assets we need to keep our readers informed, we don’t need them to do this. It helps and I know a lot of people in all the companies and in the industry that are really great folks and I love the hell out of them. However, we don’t have to cover Publisher X’s titles to be productive and have a steady stream of content. So many games come out now,  unless we have a staff of 40 or more people working full time we couldn’t cover every single title that launches in a year so if we have a falling out with one particular company or group, there is still plenty more games to keep us busy.

All that said I don’t expect this to ever be a common occurrence to begin with, if it even happens at all. I could right here and now create a list of companies that won’t even give us the time of day presently, and that’s the reality of being a fresh face in a really big crowd. I’m not complaining about that as it’s the simple reality of this business, and we’re still growing, changing, and building our content, our own “personality” and style so we can afford to be patient and attract attention as we grow. I am, however prepared to face situations that may arise, and wanted you readers to understand some of what the thinking is behind the daily posts, comments, and tweets here at Anjel Syndicate.

Finally, to the heart of the matter. What does all of this have to do with your stance on Mass Effect 3, it’s ending, and the controversy and fan reaction you wrote about last week?

I think I needed to first clarify all the above stances so that I can communicate more clearly my thoughts on the whole thing, and to illustrate that in this case, these thoughts and opinions regarding the whole ME3 mess are my own and not motivated by loyalty to the industry, pandering to the publishers/developers/etc, or because I really think the gaming community is made up entirely of jackasses.

I did go a bit over the top in that editorial (Rant), I recognize that and I accept that. However, my stance on the idea of BioWare potentially changing the ending of ME3 hasn’t changed. I still do not like the idea of them changing the official ending they originally put into the game.

Not because I want BioWare and by extension Electronic Arts to come give me a cookies and cuddles for taking this side in things. It’s because of the effect it could have on the creation of games and game narrative. I’m not talking about games being art either. I do think video games are an artistic medium made up of many artistic components, thus being a form of art. That’s an entirely different conversation in my mind.

No, my concern is that by having them actually change the ending of the game could effect how games and especially game narrative is approached in the future. Will the writers and creators of a game’s story and world be less confident in their work thus not fulfilling their own vision because they’re worried people won’t like it? Worst still, will that set back the cause of meaningful story in video games several years? My concerns have less to do with Mass Effect and it’s ending and more to do with the impact this could have on future development.

I really do understand the feelings of the players whom were disappointed and feel betrayed by an ending that either didn’t give them the closure they needed. Or, as has been stated by those of this opinion, totally disregarded the work, decisions, time and emotions they’ve invested in playing the game. I understand those feelings, I empathize with those feelings, and I know if royally blows when something like that happens.

There are extreme opinions on both sides, and some of the actions taken by both sides have been extreme to the point of ridiculous. However, people will do as they do, and express themselves as they can or want. BioWare and the fans and players they have pissed off will either work things out or they won’t, I hope in the end that the vast majority of Mass Effect fans and BioWare can get passed this.

Really, when all of this is said and done and we’ve all moved on to the next big gaming flame war, that the results of whatever BioWare decides to do, and the players decide to do isn’t bring about sacrificing the ability, confidence, or vision of other game creators, developers, and writers.

I don’t want the road to peace between BioWare and the gaming community to be littered with the bodies of ideas and stories that were casualties of the fear that fan reaction can or will alter the creativity and risk taking of developers to build new experiences, thereby preventing those ideas from getting off the ground and stopping us exploring and experiencing  those future worlds.

Final Note: Not everyone is going to want to reply to this posting in the comments, but i’m quite sure some of you will either want to tell me off or comment on this privately. There’s an email link in the “Post Written By Box” it’s there for your needs, or hit me up on IM’s, Twitter, Etc. I’m always open to discussion, comments, and feedback.

About David "AnjelusX" Slauenwhite

Anjel Syndicate Editor-in-Chief, Gamer, Lover of Books, Conjurer of Words, Worlds, and Stories, Coffee Worshiper, and Nova Scotian.

“I’ve been gaming since I stood on milk crates to reach the controls. New games, retro games, you name it, I probably love it.”