The other day, I walked into a GameStop to hear the clerk talking to a mother about a game she was thinking of picking up for her son. Without mentioning the title, she said she did a little poking around the Internet and saw that this game had good reviews. The clerk said to her "You can't trust reviews. They give every game a good score." With that, she didn't purchase the game and simply walked out of the store.
Fans across the Internet have been complaining about the state of games journalism for a while. They say we have no integrity and that we pander to big gaming developers. They complain about sugarcoated reviews that stretch to praise games that honestly just aren't very good. They say we post reviews of games before we even get a chance to really spend time with them, and that our scores and ratings are impulsive and inaccurate.
Well I'm here to say that you're right. You are 100% right. I can't say this problem has affected me much, considering one of my favorite pastimes is to really rip in to horribly developed games, but there is a problem with the integrity of games journalism as a whole. However, you may be surprised to find out that this isn't the fault of the journalists, but rather a problem with the way games get reviewed.
Fans love to compare game journalists to movie critics. They wonder why we seem to fall into the lap of big developers while movie critics have no problem saying AAA movies like Transformers 2 are crimes against humanity and art. Why is that?
Well, I've done some movie reviews before, so I'll do my best to explain. To review a movie, you go to a screening. The screening tends to be a large event that you can purchase tickets for, such as a film festival. These screenings take place well before the movie is available to the public, but the "public" is still mostly welcome to show up. For example, I saw Kevin Smith's Red State in a showing at Carnegie Hall, and all it really took was going to a website and purchasing the tickets. In a sense, movie preview screenings aren't personalized. They are massive events that many journalists from many organizations go to.
Game reviewing, on the other hand, is actually quite different. When you want to review a game, you send emails to the game developer or publisher asking for a review copy. Then, if they like you enough, they will send you a copy of the game along with a press kit and assets. You then have to write your review, but hold it until the press embargo lifts. (The embargo itself is a bit of an issue with both game and movie journalism, actually.)