Are Review Sites Pandering to Nintendo

I’ve decided to ask the question no-one else wants to, is Nintendo incentivising review sites for positive reviews? 

Mario You Promised a Good Review we receive promotional material from nearly every publisher in the UK and Europe and more than 99% of those are decent hardworking folk who enjoy working in the industry and publish some pretty amazing games. Some budgets are bigger than others but they have never applied pressure to increase a games overall score or make us say positive things about a game.

At Brash Games, our mission is to provide the games industry with an opportunity to showcase the various games platforms available at the moment, and to help you, the customer, find the very best games around whilst steering you clear of the stinkers. It’s quite simple really: If a game is crap we say so and give an honest unbiased opinion.

Many publishers understand this and accept that occasionally they get a wrong and release a real stinker and that for doing so they deserve criticism. Occasionally you get the odd publisher who knows prior to release that a particular game is going to be mediocre at best so they don’t send it out for review. Now there’s nothing wrong with that, but it seems a little wasteful to spend a vast amount of money publicising a game that’s going to bomb anyway!

Now we receive games for review from games companies and I allocate them to members of the writing team here at Brash Games. They are asked to give an honest, unbiased review of the game as if they purchased it themselves (see LocoCycle for instance which scored 2/10). We cater for Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, PS Vita, WiiU, Wii, 3DS, and PC, and that way we are not bias towards any one system / publisher. Once the reviewer has published a satisfactory review on Brash Games they get to keep the game.

What I do disagree with is Nintendo’s stance on the issue of reviewing their games.

Nintendo used to be a pillar of the gaming industry, but it’s now seeking positive reviews by the way of a 10 day loan program. You have to sign a loan agreement and confidentiality clause and if your review is positive and only highlights the positives you can keep it. If it’s bad then you have to send the game back within the 10 days so it can go to someone else.

Put quite simply, they incentive sites to publish a positive review by only allowing them to keep the game if they do so. Most review sites (even some of the big ones) don’t pay their reviewers, they usually get to keep the games they review as payment, but practices like this mean reviewers get punished for leaving a bad review.

Screen Shot 2014-03-14 at 13.18.16It comes as no surprise that in recent years there has been a vast increase in dedicated Nintendo sites springing up, many of which don’t have a dedicated review scoring system, they simply recommend you purchase the game to keep the publisher happy. Furthermore if you publish a review without a score it can go live 2 months prior to those with scores again encouraging sites to simply recommend a purchase prior to release ensuring the site receive a boost in traffic and in-turn increase sales for Nintendo.

If this in Nintendo’s Policy then I want no part in it. Why should one of my writers spend 10-12 hours playing a game and writing a review only to have to send the game back if it’s no good?

I know Nintendo President Satoru Iwata said the maker of video-game machines is considering a new business model after forecasting a surprise 25 billion-yen ($240 million) annual loss because of tepid demand for the Wii U but surely this form of petty bribery shouldn’t be part of it.

Luckily, no other publisher operates such a scheme and I don’t think they get away with it. I’m glad neither Microsoft or Sony stoop to such underhand tactics!

Obviously it’s a very complex area and everyone has a different opinion, take the following games and ratings for instance:-

FlingSmash (EuroGamer Score 30 – NintendoPower Score 75).
3D Classics: Urban Champion (IGN Score 25 – Nintendo World Report Score 65).
Mario Party: Island Tour (NowGamer Score 40 – Nintendo World Report Score 85).
Wii Party U (ShackNews  Score 40 – NintendoLife Score 80).
Chibi-Robo! Photo Finder (Darkstation Score 30 – Nintendo Life Score 60).
Pokemon Rumble U (NowGamer score 35 – Nintendo Mag Score 64).

Nintendo specific sites do seem to be bias towards Nintendo games and are doubling the critic score in most cases just to keep on Nintendo’s Press list. If they don’t score a game they can’t feature on Metacritic but they do get to publish reviews two months earlier than any other site simply by recommending a purchase so they receive a boost in traffic, but should Nintendo be applying this kind of pressure to guarantee success?

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