Now, this isn't always the case. Sometimes you get private single-person screenings as a movie critic, and sometimes you get to go to big press events for video game previews/reviews. In both cases, the earliest review tends to be the review that gets the most hits. Site traffic balloons up a day or two before game release date, but interest in any released game wanes over time until it slows to an inevitable crawl. You are far less invested in reviews of a game a week after their release when you could just pick up a copy at blockbuster to try for yourself. So being first is very important for any site that wants to be relevant.
And here, my friends, is the problem. You see, if a studio doesn't send you an early copy of a game they are releasing, then you'll have to secure your copy the old-fashioned way: by buying it. This means you'll be getting started on your playthrough of the game in question when everyone else has already finished and gotten their article ready for publishing. Your review will almost certainly come in after the initial review rush, which tends to hit the very second the game becomes available in stores. This means your review will simply be less relevant and less seen than everyone else's, since the public's general interest in the game will drop off very quickly.
Now, let's say Publisher X creates the game of the year and you give it a favorable review. They will more than happily send you another review copy of their next big project, as they will likely expect another great review which gives them tons of good publicity. Publisher Y, on the other hand, creates a horrible flop of a game that no one should play, and you rightfully review it as such. They will be far less likely to send you a review copy of their next game, because that risks spreading bad publicity that may only decrease game sales.
Meanwhile, movie critics that are showing up to screenings many times do not have their name or outlet attached to their tickets, so movie producers have far less control over who shows up, sees the movie, and whether or not the attendees give it a crappy review (although they may encounter similar problems with private screenings.)
And here is our big problem, ladies and gentlemen. Game developers essentially have the ability to make or break a game publication but cutting off their access to review copies. Heck, if a game developer is paying for advertisements on your site, they might pull the ad, and with it goes the money and the paycheck for your reviewers. Game critics aren't doing this for their health, you know. They need to put food on the table like everyone else. So is it any surprise that games journalists tend to sugarcoat their reviews?
Does this excuse this behavior? Of course not. In fact, if we all simply started treating reviews with more integrity, salty game developers would eventually have to play ball with honest reviewers. But all it takes is one scummy reviewer to buy into the sugar cycle again, and that reviewer will have an advantage over every other reviewer in the industry.
Not every game publisher works this way. There are publishers with integrity out there that will send review copies of their game out to every publication that asks, regardless of how crappy their games were reviewed. However, as long as the people being reviewed control the means of reviewing, there will always be a desire to placate them in order to keep the reviews flowing.
If we want reviews with more integrity in the future (and we should), then the whole industry has to change, not just game reviewers.
Angelo M. D'Argenio
Date: October 3, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*