Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
28 March 2006
Big sites sell unmarked ads -- now what?
So we find out that GameSpot and IGN allow advertisers to pay for sponsored front page links which are not differentiated from editorially selected links. Great, we've identified a problem. What do we do about it? Seriously.

Generally speaking, folks like me and other bloggers aren't the mainstream. We don't shop Wal-mart for our games. We don't first learn about games through TV advertisements. We don't check a single site for criticism. We are aware of blogs for second opinions. We are not GameSpot's or IGN's most important audience.

That said, we have to live with the consequences of the big media's perfidy. For all our clamouring for original games and fewer sequels, we cannot exert enough pressure on the game companies or the media sites to change the cycle they've created.

And make no mistake, both are complicit in the bumper crop of sequels. Sure, the publishers are shoveling the crap, but the media are lending a hand with these sponsored links. It's the same problem that's been raised with the advertising of prescription medicines:
  1. Dude sees Provosentilla(TM) on TV
  2. Dude visits doctor for problem that can treated by Provosentilla(TM)
  3. Dude mentions Provosentilla(TM) to doctor
  4. Dude gets prescription for Provosentilla(TM) because doctor wants patient to feel he got good treatment.
  5. Provosentilla(TM) outsells competitors
If enough Joe Average Consumers see a publisher's crappy game on the front page of GameSpot and IGN often enough, they might just assume it's there because it's newsworthy. Their artificially generated interest is felt through clicks through to previews and trailers, and probably in some preorders. This interest in turn generates more previews -- after all, those stories are getting some serious viewers! -- and therefore more coverage which attracts more clicks and more preorders. Pump it as many times as you can, right up to the disappointing review.

If this happens, and I think it's at least reasonable to think there is some feedback, then the whole "advertising is separated from editorial" defense doesn't really hold water. It's one of those perfect explanations that ends up being wrong.

And because all the big players are complicit in the system, and consumers in general don't know or don't care, the minority who pines for more is left to suffer.

So how do we fix this broken system? I don't see any good way, but I'm open to suggestions.
--Matt Matthews at 18:26
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