"It gets 91% in one review, yet only 12% in another. Why is this?" moans Rodger Huxley from Robin Hood's Bay. An exclusive review, cover image, demo disk and a 97% score " is there some kind of casual relationship?" enquires Derrick McIntyre from Dumfries. Let your sleepless nights be at an end as we melt away your DoubtCongestion by dripping another TruthKarvolKapsule onto your PerceptionPillows"
That was the beginning paragraph of the editorial called "Pound of Flesh" in issue 53 of Amiga Power magazine, just shy over 20 years ago in September 1995. It would be accurate to say that this editorial is only infamous for gamers in the UK save for a handful of Amiga enthusiasts overseas. Even then it will only be known for those of us that were in households that either chose to have an Amiga 500/600/1200 as their gaming machine, or in the case of myself, a household that couldn't make enough money to get into the console craze that Nintendo or Sega were offering at the time and had to settle for the option of getting a cheap Commodore machine where budget games could be bought for as little as £2.
However for those few of us old gaming fogies who were avid Amiga Power readers, their commentary in September 1995 has been coming back to our memories at this time , probably more so given that we are now over year of GamerGate happening.
The two page spread (Which you can view a scan of here) took a sarcastic tone to the subject of collusion and conflicts of interest, not as a way of dismissing the notion that there were issues between news outlets and publishers but simply because everything Amiga Power did was with a mocking tone. It was what made them popular with readers. They were rebels without a cause and openly, brazenly in fact, mocked and jabbed at everyone else in the Amiga community even their big sister publication Amiga Format, which was under the same publishing arm of Future Publications.
While reading a quote from the piece "after the meal, Binary Magician Interactive's PR guy Gary let me drive his Testarossa to the office. He's great, and we played the game for an hour while chatting about getting hammered together that night" it is obvious that the line was made for comedic effect and not to be taken too seriously as an actual example of what went on with reviews. With hindsight of the last 20 years with what we have since learnt about some the practices that have gone on between reviewers and publishers, there is an element of truth to AP's comedic statement.
In fact if you take selected moments of the article two decades on, you can match them with incidents that have been reported or at least speculated within the last decade." We're developing the game in America", explains the software company. "We'll pay for you to fly over Stateside and while you're here, let us take you to Las Vegas for two days and then fly you over the Grand Canyon before heading onto Los Angeles. And then you can impartially review our game by the poolside of your rented apartment, draining the mini-bar at our expense". Curiously, the thought of sending the disks over to the reviewer by Federal Express seems to occur to no one. Mountain to Mohammed and all that.
This still remains one of the main talking points and concerns with consumers. How much influence is exerted on reporters and reviewers as a result of being "wined and dined" by publishers? William Usher talked about this three years ago in an article for Cinema Blend. John Walker wrote a blog about this subject in October 2012
If the words of former editor of Official Australian PlayStation 2 Magazine Richie Young are to be believed, one does not need to have to become close to a developer that an affair can happen. If you want sex in exchange for positive coverage, publishers have allegedly been willing to go that route!
"And it shall pass that the reviewer can't get off level one. And he shall not care for the game, or want to play it for more than 20 minutes. But lo, he shall be fearful of the software company dropping advertising and missing him off the free create of beer list at Christmas, and he shall tremble and quake mightily as all rival mags have given it a high score. So he shall give it a score low enough to dissuade potential buyers, yet high enough to pacify the software people. And that score shall be the NUMBER OF THE BEAST, and it shall be 73%."
The scoring of games has become such a messy debate that it is surprising that not many review magazines and websites have abandoned scoring games altogether. Putting aside the asinine reaction of the small set of readers who are offended that a game they place all their hopes and dreams on only getting 7 out 10 and not 9, the lack of trust in publications giving scores without any influence from game publishers has been greatly noticeable for a number of years now. Not to mention the inadvertently created horror that is Metacritic which has shown the complete disconnect between reviewers and consumers and much worse, led to the culture of developers struggling to gain employment because companies demand that they have a profile of games that score 90 or above on the website.
The most famous incident of impropriety between publishers and reviewers over the score of a game is still Jeff Gerstmann losing his job at Gamespot in 2007 following his review and average score awarded to Kane & Lynch Dead Men while Eidos was paying for game to be heavily advertised on Gamespots? website.
" These graphics would be remarkable enough on a PC 486DX, so they're truly astounding on a CD32' is a euphemism for The Amiga version's still three months away from completion, so we've played the PC version on a 486DX, even though it features texture mapping and gourard shading far beyond the capabilities of the Amiga and therefore gives a completely false impression of the game. But hey, we've got the much vaunted and meaningless exclusive" And you think we're making this up.
For the moment I would say that it would only be speculation that this still happens today. I have yet to see a review of a multi-platform game that did not disclose which version was used to review the game. I had some notes of allegations of this happening more recently on websites but those links turned up as smoke however do not construe that as me dismissing that it would ever happen. If anyone does have examples to offer, please post them in the comments section below, I will be happy to edit later.It should be noted that Amiga Power themselves were not free from controversy when it came to reviewing games. As noted on the website AP2, which was created by former staff writers of the magazine (And purposely left to look like really bad 1993 websites), AP admitted on three occasions that they reviewed Super Stardust, Pinball Illusions and Sensible World of Soccer as if they were complete games when they actually were playing on incomplete versions that were still subject to change. One other incident not mentioned on the site was a review done for a game called Putty Squad in 1994 which was also chosen to be on the cover of Issue 41 but never saw a release on the Amiga until December 2013.
Take more quotes from the article and you can likely think of a similar incident that has been reported or alleged within the last five to ten years. I would be easy to argue that it is cliched to use the phrase "The more that changes, the more things stay the same", however given what we have seen in the twenty years since AP's editorial is that it can't be considered cliched, if in fact it is proven to be true and accurate to say about the state of the gaming press.
The fact that we can look back two decades ago at this article and say today that the same things have been happening in the industry, solidifies the argument that GamerGate was not a sudden explosion from one moment of impropriety. It was the straw that broke the camel's back from twenty years or more of abuse by the media that was suppose to be advising and protecting the consumers. Amiga Power might have been able to find humour in it back in 1995. Today with the industry worth an estimated $80 Billion, consumers do not find it funny anymore.