You can say what you want about Metal Gear Solid 4 – unless, that is, you’ve been playing the game ahead of its street date.
Yes, this month’s chief villain: Konami, for daring to request that in return for unrestricted access to Metal Gear Solid 4 ahead of its public release, those reviewers let into the inner circle had to adhere to a few rules about what they could and couldn’t say. Until the game was released, whereupon they could say what they liked.
Seems reasonable enough, right? Apparently not: it’s a crime apparently on the scale of chucking your kids off a balcony in Crete or the Holocaust (if it happened).
That’s according to the Internet, of course, which over recent weeks has decided that its late night tête-à-têtes with the PR industry should be regurgitated publicly in tedious detail – and often in all caps – to anyone who can be bothered to listen.
The chief complaints levelled during Metal-Gear-Solid-Gate were that Konami had asked reviewers not to mention the length of the cut-scenes, nor the size of the installation. Granted, both were strange requests – I’m assuming those rushing out to buy MGS4 on the PlayStation 3 had sat through both lengthy in-game movies before (in any previous Metal Gear game) and an installation (say, the eight minutes prior to GTA4, for example) – but, hey, it’s Konami’s ball, so they can play with it how they want.
But not according to some games websites, who seemed to think that access to pre-release code is something that should fall under some sort of freedom of information act.
US magazine Electronic Gaming Monthly turned its inability to critique a game without referring to numbers – the cutscenes are 90 minutes long, and you need to install the game for seven minutes, 90 per cent best game ever – into some kind of tub-thumping war on PR terror.
MTV Multiplayer – which seems to have unilaterally installed itself as the moral beacon of the games industry – fanned those flames through a protracted ‘reviews week’, in which the disgusting operating practices of the games industry were blown wide open. In one revelation that will shock the games industry to its very core, the website reprinted an email from an evil PR person (anonymous) asking a journalist (anonymous) whether he could hold back a review of a game (anonymous) if it was going to score less than nine out of 10. Take that, The Man!
The site went as far as to respond with a draft games reviewers’ ‘Bill of Rights’. Aside from dictating when and how versions of games should be “made available” to reviewers, it also insists that online modes are made playable during the reviews process, and that developers or publishers are not present while a game is reviewed.
Now, there are obviously arguments for and against all these points. Personally, I think reviewers should be made to pay for their games.
Asking someone to suggest whether it’s a title worth shelling out 50 quid for when they, on the whole, never buy their games at all is a bit like asking David Blunkett whether it’s worth going to Paris to see the Mona Lisa.
But as for whether or not journalists should be accompanied – well, it’s just the developer or publisher wishing to make sure whoever’s about to review the game spends adequate time playing the bits they consider to be important. I know all games reviewers are honest, thorough and incorruptible and that they’d definitely never spend just 15 minutes reviewing a game that’s taken over two years to create (despite the fact you can conclusively prove this actually happened by presenting them back their log-in details) – but it’s good to be sure. Because we wouldn’t want that to happen again, would we, Richard…?
So let’s stop this constant sniping, and drop the sixth-form politics. If you don’t like what one publisher’s asking you to write about – simply don’t do it. But don’t pretend you’re making some sort of Suffragette protest when you’re simply throwing your toys out of the pram.
simon [at] thetriforce.com