GTA IV stirs up new controversy, this time involving ethics in videogame journalism

Ethics in videogame journalism is unfortunately not a new topic, many of us will of course remember “Gerstmann-Gate” where GameSpot’s senior editor Jeff Gerstmann was fired for presumably having a wrong tone when reviewing Kane & Lynch: Dead Men late last year. It was later revealed by GameSpot that they did not fire Gerstmann because of the review but rather because they were growing increasingly unhappy with his performance and this was apparently a long time coming. Whether or not the man was fired because of the review or because he was indeed a bad employee, the horrible timing of the whole situation has sullied the good name of videogame journalism.

Ben Fritz, a videogame correspondent for Variety, has written an article claiming further possible unethical behavior, this time focusing on IGN’s exclusive first review of Grand Theft Auto IV, and the perfect 10 it received. Fritz prefaces his article by saying that because he has not played GTA IV, he doesn’t know if the game was in fact deserving of a 10 and doesn’t believe that IGN is being dishonest in this case. What he does believe is that the whole concept of exclusive reviews is ethically questionable.

As evidence, he cites the exclusive review of Mass Effect that GameInformer ran several weeks prior to the games release and the near perfect score of 9.75 it received. In the review, several significant flaws were noted but the game received a lofty score regardless. Was it because they felt pressured by Microsoft who gave them their exclusive first crack at a review, or was it simply that, in spite of its flaws, Mass Effect deserved the score; Fritz believes it may have been the former rather than the latter.

Fritz feels that exclusive reviews have the ability to sell magazines, and increase web traffic, thus increasing revenue from advertisements, thus journalists may feel beholden to the publisher for granting them this most holy of privileges, thus leading journalists to look past flaws in gameplay, frame rate, and story, instead focusing on the games positives, to stay in favor with the publisher.

Personally, I trust Hilary Goldstein, who reviewed GTA IV for IGN, I read a lot of reviews from a lot of sites and he’s not one to hold punches. At times he’s too hard on genres that he does not particularly like, but he doesn’t seem like the dollar is his bottom line. But either way, consumers should never base their decision to buy a game off just one review. It’s very subjective and what one person loves, another will hate. So it’s always smart to check out several reviews before spending your hard earned money on something you may not end up liking.

[See also: Grand Theft Auto IV gallery]