The legal debacle surrounding the various allegedly illegal reviews of Alone in the Dark, and Atari’s subsequent handling of said reviews underscores the growing conflict between videogame producers and videogame journalists.
This isn’t new. Recently, we saw a similar situation with coverage of Metal Gear Solid 4 – Konami explicitly denied reviews the privilege of mentioning some of the weaker aspects – ie, things likely to draw criticism – of the game. This order came in the form of a testicle-crushing non-disclosure agreement, and many videogame media outlets, with the notable (and admirable) exception of EGM, were more than willing to abide by it.
The gravity of the Atari situation is exacerbated somewhat by this comment left on Shacknews, written by Erwin Bergervoet, a staff member of gamer.nl: “I posted a review up on the Dutch gaming website Gamer.nl thursday in the afternoon, scoring Alone in the Dark with a 5. ( http://www.gamer.nl/doc.php/46318/ ). Within an hour, Atari called to have the review pulled off, claiming there was an embargo till friday. Remarkably, websites scoring the game higher, could let their reviews stay online, while the lower ratings had to be removed. Weird practice if you ask me. The game also was already out in the shops at thursday, which kind of disables the embargo.”
In this situation, “weird practice” is most certainly an understatement. What we have here is a complete collapse of the fourth estate, a situation in which journalists are subject to the whims of the overwhelmingly wealthy companies who wish to control them. Surely, we can give Atari the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their initial claims that the reviews posted by gamer.nl were done using an downloaded copy of the title. But, it is essential to note that those reviews were unfavorable. One would be delusional to argue that Atari would not have gone about this in a much different way had the game received an eight or nine.
We also cannot ignore the fact that Atari is likely damaging sales for Alone in the Dark themselves via their handing of the situation. It’s usually an unwise pratice to alienate the very vessel that brings news of your product to the people that might buy it, especially if that particular product has its share of faults.
[See also: Alone in the Dark gallery]