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The Glass House 'Variety' Lives In
By Patrick O'Connor     |   Posted on April 29, 2008   |   Episode 146 (Show Archive)  

   

Let's be honest, the biggest Grand Theft Auto IV fans are going to completely ignore this article because they'll be too busy exploring Liberty City!
For all the complaining I do here at Defunct Games, you should probably know that I'm not a negative person. There are a lot of things I love; I just don't find myself putting forth the same energy to cover the good things as I do the bad stuff. But all that is going to change, because today I am going to talk about three things I absolutely love. That's right; today I'm going to talk about three things I absolutely love: the Grand Theft Auto franchise, making fun of the mainstream media and pointing out blatant hypocrisy. This must be my lucky day, because today I have a chance to write a story that combines elements from all three of my favorite things.

I'm not afraid to confess that I've been a huge fan of the Grand Theft Auto series since its inception in 1997. Like a lot of you out there, I didn't truly fall in love with the franchise until Grand Theft Auto III. This 2001 PlayStation 2 game knocked me off my chair, I had

Although it's hard to look at now, Grand Theft Auto III really changed the way I looked at open world video games!
never seen anything quite like it and I loved every second of it. Oh sure it has its problems, but it was hard to overlook the ambitious nature of Rockstar Games' open world crime simulator. My love for the series only grew deeper when I got a hold of Vice City and San Andreas (not to mention the PSP entries, Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories). As you can no doubt imagine, today is an exciting time for me and millions of other Grand Theft Auto fanatics.

Like many of you out there, I eagerly anticipated the first review of Rockstar Games' newest mega seller. While most major game websites had to wait until Sunday, April 27, to post their review, IGN managed to secure the "exclusive" online review, beating their competition by two or more days. For a few minutes I forgot about my hatred for exclusive reviews and loaded up IGN as quickly as I could to read this seven page review. It was, to put it kindly, seven pages of absolute gushing. At one point the Hilary Goldstein review states that it's

Variety is known for breaking a lot of Hollywood news ... video game news not so much!
the most fun he's had in years, finding very little to complain about. To compliment this praise, IGN decided to give the game a perfect ten out of ten, the first game to score that in close to a decade.

But apparently not everybody was happy with Hilary's take on what will likely be the best selling game of the year. On the exact same day that IGN posted their review, Variety's Ben Fritz decided it was time to take a stand against exclusive reviews, Grand Theft Auto IV and IGN (see: Exclusive Reviews Are Ethically Troubling). Unfortunately in doing so managed to incite a minor controversy that made him look like another hot air blowing media critic. Howard Kurtz he's not.

Ben's point, in short, is that it's impossible to trust a publication that buys an exclusive review. In this post-Gerstmanngate world we live in we find ourselves being hypersensitive about just about any review situations that arise. After

This article isn't just about IGN, it's also about Game Informer ... who, coincidentally, didn't score the exclusive GTA IV review!
hemming and hawing, Ben finally explains the real affront in this situation: "[A]nyone who knows anything about videogame journalism knows that when an outlet gets a review copy of a game, they agree to an embargo -- not to run their review before anyone else. In these cases, Game Informer and IGN.com clearly got permission from Microsoft and Rockstar, respectively, to run their reviews before any other outlet. And it means they got their copy of the game pretty damned early in order to have the review ready to run early."

"So, we have a situation where a publisher gives a videogame website or magazine a major commercial advantage by providing an early copy of the game and an early embargo so they can run the "exclusive review." This probably results in more magazine sales or Web traffic and thus more revenue. Exclusive reviews are really ethically troubling, for all the reasons

To quote Ben when he wasn't working at Variety: "We honor embargos, but give a day or two notice so we can read them."
I've outlined above. And I'll state it flat out: I personally don't trust any review labeled "exclusive." Is anyone else as disturbed by this practice as I am?"

No, of course he's not the only one that is disturbed by this trend. For what it's worth I largely agree with Ben when it comes to exclusive reviews, I hate the idea that my competition is knowingly spending money to scoop me (and the rest of the game critics) by a few days. Unfortunately IGN didn't have the exclusive rights completely locked up, because a quick check at Meta Critic shows that there were a number of other publications that managed to their reviews posted (including, but not limited to, the Official Xbox Magazine). To be fair, in the video game publishing world there is a difference between an online exclusive and a print exclusive, but either way IGN's seven page review was far from the first review of the game.

But as you keep reading you will realize that this is about more than just a simple IGN review. This 900 word diatribe is actually about the possible inflation of the Grand Theft Auto IV score. Although he reminds us several times that he hasn't played enough of the game to give it a score, he doesn't quibble about stating his displeasure at

Yes, Ocarina of Time is one of the best games ever made, but like all "perfect" games it suffers from its share of problems!
the end of the article: "I've been playing it a while and it's really good. But it's not 10/10 "best since 'Ocarina of Time'" good. It does have faults."

Of course it has faults, but then, so did The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, the game he is trying to hold it up to. The more Ben writes the more bitter he comes off, to the point where I actually started to wonder if he was just using this most recent non-story as a catalyst for something much bigger (something that has him going against the rest of the community and not being "wowed" by Rockstar's newest game). Either way, it's the end of the editorial where everything kind of falls apart.

Obviously this is just Ben's opinion, so why should I spend 1,700 words trying to prove him wrong? Simple, because the dude is nothing more than a hypocrite. You heard me correctly, Ben Fritz is a hypocrite. After spending 900 words complaining about IGN and how they "may" be inflating their scores, Ben forgets to make mention of the fact that his employer (Variety) does exactly the same thing as IGN. While he sits up there on his high horse judging everybody else in the media, Mr. Fritz seems to have no problem when his employer tries to pull the exact same shady tactic.

But hey, there's no need to take my word for it. Perhaps you should check out the below video to see Variety columnist Todd McCarthy provide the "first review" of the upcoming Iron Man film. This review was posted on April 25th; the exact same day that Ben Fritz wrote his article attacking IGN. Not only is this video called "Iron Man First Review," but the video is introduced as the "first" review of the newest Marvel superhero movie. See for yourself ...



For what it's worth Ben Fritz does address movie reviews in his 900 word attack piece on IGN: "You never see a paper or TV station getting special access from a movie studio or TV network or book publisher to run an "exclusive review." Imagine the L.A. Times or Roger Ebert touting their "exclusive review of 'Iron Man.'" Absurd, right? So why do we tolerate it for a videogame?"

Not to prove Ben wrong (again), but At the Movies with Ebert & Roeper frequently features "exclusive" reviews. Whether

While it isn't widely reported, Roger Ebert (shown here with his wife, Chaz) does indeed post exclusive reviews!
or not they paid for the early access is still unknown, but so is the agreement between Rockstar Games and IGN. And let's not forget that Iron Man video, in which the word "first" is uttered more than once.

But this isn't about Roger Ebert or Iron Man, this is about Ben Fritz complaining about the "exclusive" review of Grand Theft Auto and openly hinting that perhaps the score was inflated. And like everything else in this article, Ben finds himself looking a bit foolish now that more magazines and websites have chimed in. When it was just IGN it was easy to say that they over sold Grand Theft Auto IV, but now that every other publication has voiced their similar opinions Ben is left to argue that the game does in fact have faults and it cannot be compared to a ten year old Zelda game.

Yes, IGN gave it a high score. But so did 1up (the site gave the game a perfect A+), and GameSpot posted their first perfect score since 2001. And you can't forget about Eurogamer, GameSpy, Official Xbox Magazine, Team Xbox, PlayStation Official Magazine UK, Game

Even Bart Simpson knows that a perfect 10 score does not mean that the game is in fact "perfect"!
Informer, GamePro, GameDaily, VideoGamer, Gamer.nl, Thunderbolt, and PSW Magazine. And the sites that didn't give it a perfect score all gave it a 9.8 or a 9.5. Even if everybody was coming up with the 9.5 number, that's still nothing to sneeze at. At this point it can only be one of two things going on: either Ben is simply trying to generate more buzz for his little read game blog, or all of those trusted magazines are lying to you. Just keep in mind that this is the guy who didn't care for Mass Effect.

I end this article right where I started it. Despite all of this complaining, I really am excited to get my hands on Grand Theft Auto IV and see why everybody loves it so much. No matter what Ben Fritz says, this is going to be a fantastic day for millions of video game fans around the world. In a lot of ways Ben is absolutely right, but it's hard to get your point across when you decide to go after the biggest game of the year and hypocritically talk about exclusive reviews. As they say, those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw copies of that Grand Theft Auto IV special edition lockbox.
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