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On Running Feuds
Game Bully: Attack of The Redner Group
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on June 15, 2011   |   Episode 178 (Show Archive)  


Let me put it this way: Duke Nukem Forever is not for everybody!
As a video game journalist I take a lot of abuse. I'm constantly bombarded with paper-thin accusations that I'm biased or getting paid off by the powerful game publishers. I'm forced to deal with a revolving door of PR people and then fight for my spot just to talk to somebody involved with the game. And even though these things annoy me, I am fully prepared to put up with them in order to do my job. What I'm not prepared to accept is bullying.

After a dozen years of delays, team shifts and cancelations, Duke Nukem Forever has finally been released. There's just one problem: The game is total trash. It's absolute garbage. From the technical issues (long load screens, terrible graphics, etc.) to the cringe inducing writing, this Duke Nukem product doesn't deliver the goods.

You don't have to take my word for it, plenty of game critics agree. IGN said the game was better off as vaporware, 1up gave it a failing grade, Destructoid suggests 2K Games is pulling a fast one and the notoriously brutal Edge can't think

You should have seen Next Generation's rejected cover!
of a single good thing to say. The press has been universally negative, which must make doing public relations for the publisher a bit tricky.

Unfortunately The Redner Group decided to go the wrong direction. Yesterday 2K Games' PR chose to go on the offensive, attacking those who dare give Duke Nukem Forever a low score. After seeing the negative press somebody at the company took to Twitter and wrote this screed: "Too many went too far with their reviews. We r [sic] reviewing who gets games next time and who doesn't based on today's venom."

The Redner Group is being a bully ... and I'm not talking about the fantastic PlayStation 2 game!
Oh yeah? So let me get this straight, outlets that refuse to give Duke Nukem Forever a reasonable score will be blacklisted? Around the schoolyard there's a word for people like this. I'll give you a hint: It starts with a "B" and ends with an "ully". Whoever decided to send the threatening tweet last night was being a bully and we shouldn't stand by and let it happen.

Game critics were understandably shaken by The Redner Group's words. A fury of rebuttals were sent, all with the same basic theme. Game critics agree, Duke Nukem Forever is not a good game and we have an obligation

I understand The Redner Group's concerns, they are worried that Duke Nukem Forever will be the next Gigli!
to tell our audience what we think. To those people Redner responded: "Fair is great. Even if the score is poor, as long as the review is fair ... I've got zero complaints."

The problem is that what "fair" is a moving target. What I consider fair may be over the line for a PR agency already feeling the sting of a low-quality game. It's perfectly fair to complain that some of the critics are using the game as a punching bag, perhaps unfairly using the best material to unload on an easy target. But even if that's true, that doesn't give the PR firm the right to bully game critics.

When I say that I'm going to be blacklisted, I'm not talking about this crummy emo band!
The reason I find these words so offensive is because I am the target audience. I am currently in the middle of writing a review for Duke Nukem Forever, one that will run on these pages shortly. According to Redner's tweet, I either give the game a respectable score (whatever that is) or I face punishment. In this case, it would be this site (and possibly other sites I write for) being cut off from 2K Games. I can choose game coverage or being honest to my readers, I can't have them both.

This way of thinking is shortsighted. For one thing, being bullied doesn't make me want to be any nicer to Duke Nukem Forever. I was already struggling with the quality of the product and how to grade it, throwing this kind of fuel on the fire only amplifies my already jaded opinion. What's more, even if I give the game a bad score that doesn't mean that my readers won't be interested in the product. Movie studios long ago discovered that even negative press is good, since it

David Lynch's Lost Highway famously used the bad reviews to drum up interest!
keeps the name out there. The outpouring of negativity can only drive up curiosity for this product. Is the game really THAT bad? I guess you'll have to buy the game and find out.

But there's a deeper harm than that, one that involves my integrity. My readers expect me to be honest with them. The reason I have been able to write reviews for ten years is because I give my honest take, even when it's unpopular. By telling critics that we need to be on our best behavior, it further solidifies the notion that game critics can be bought off. At this point if I give the game a B+ everybody will assume I was affected by The Redner Group's strong tweet. I hope that wasn't the intention of this PR firm.

Even if I give Duke Nukem Forever an F, it will be in good company with the original MYST (one of the best selling games of all time)!
If standing up to a bully means that I no longer receive the hottest releases from 2K Games, then that's the risk I'm willing to take. I want my readers and every PR firm out there to know that I will not be pushed around and do not take kindly to threats. There are plenty of other games and companies that are desperate for coverage, so I'm not afraid of scratching off one company. On the other hand, I strongly feel that 2K Games would be benefited by continuing to work with Defunct Games, as we offer a unique fan base that is slightly older (and I dare say more intelligent) than your ordinary website.

After fielding what must have been dozens of negative tweets, The Redner Group has scrubbed all records of this fiasco. In its place is an apology, which reads: "I need to state for the record that 2K had nothing to do with this. I will be calling each of you tomorrow to apologize." This was the right thing to do. While I still worry about future access, it's good to see that somebody realized the error of their ways. Let this be a lesson to every PR agent working today: Bullying will not be tolerated.

Having said that, I do hope Mr. Redner, 2K and everybody else enjoys my Duke Nukem Forever review. You can judge for yourself whether or not I'm being fair. Gulp.

UPDATE: Not long after I posted this article Charlie Sinhaseni (a former colleague of mine at Gaming Nexus) announced that 2K Games would be parting ways with The Redner Group. The tweet: "2K Games does not endorse the comments made by Jim Redner and we can confirm that @therednergroup no longer represents our products." Good on Charlie, he made the exact right move.


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