I like Joystiq. I think that they are one of very few gaming news sites that manage to walk the fine line between being funny, being informative and not doing too much hit-baiting. Keep this in mind while I try to explain why I was so disappointed with their recent “Editor’s Note” concerning Capcom’s Captivate 09 which is going on right now in Monte Carlo.
According to the post, they declined the invitation to attend Captivate because it was going to be funded (in opulant surroundings) by the studio who were previewing their products. Joystiq claim that covering products while the man that’s trying to peddle them picks up your tab would have been uncomfortable for them. I can see their point and respectfully suggest that, if that is the case, critical appraisal is not a pursuit they should be engaged in. At the very least they should also refuse all those free review codes they get sent and the press incentives like the recent, high profile, Godfather 2 brass knuckle pack. If integrity issues mean that they have to turn down a junket like this then they should insist on paying full retail price for their games for review. If you can’t retain your objectivity you shouldn’t be selling it.
Of course, the comments on the post are full of people agreeing with their decision and I can understand why. On the face of it the decision to turn down such a tempting trip seems like a sacrifice and hints towards a rare integrity. The official Joystiq reply seems to be that the appearance of impropriety would be as bad as impropriety itself. This is absolutely flawed logic. You trust your ability to remain objective or you might as well give it up. I think that they do remain objective, I would never have doubted that if their editor had not stated their weakness. Now I will find it difficult to trust their objectivity in the future.
The logic used is slightly skewed as the admission that they couldn’t trust themselves to retain their objectivity when the trip is paid for implies that they are not actually objective in their day-to-day reporting. If they receive a particularly cool press pack does it add a point or two to the review scores? When a PR company contacts them and asks, for the sake of future relations, that a game’s review is held back for the opening weekend do they comply or do they publish and be damned? Fundamentally the question that is raised is this; do they serve their readers or the publishers?
In the interests of fairness I have to say that Joystiq also outlines why funding the trip themselves wouldn’t be a cost-effective use of resources and that all makes perfect sense. Reasons like E3 only being six weeks away and a relatively limited number of titles being available for actual play-tests. Very sensible.
Stating that you couldn’t be objective? Rubbish. If you can’t be objective then you shouldn’t be in the game.
I am not, for a moment, suggesting that they can’t retain their objectivity. I think they would have done fine if they’d gone to Monte Carlo and enjoyed all the Capcom-funded luxury. I am not questioning their integrity or objectivity, I’m suggesting that the reason they gave for not going is either not thought through or not the real reason.