Where does promotion end and conflict of interest begin?
Many of the people in the business and quite a few gamers who couldn't avert their eyes fast enough caught sight of the video game journalism and public relations fragile relationship when Jeff Gerstmann (then of Gamespot) was canned apparently for his honest/bad/whatever review of Kane and Lynch (developer Eidos had paid for significant marketing on Gamespot for the title). I'm not here to rehash that issue, but in a history repeating itself moment, we once again find out that a few companies - owned and operated by the same individual - are working at both promoting and reporting about various gaming titles.
Joystick Division has posted the research and recorded conversation with Richard Kain, TriplePoint PR's Founder and General Manager. The story is longer and has more names than a Tom Clancy novel, so grab a whiteboard if you want to sketch out all of the corporate relationships. The critical pieces to the equation really are these:
1. A number of companies were set up to earn money from various facets of the video gaming business. This includes a PR firm to help publishers and developers get their message out. It also includes a news type site for video game reviews.
2. The companies/sites were segregated and viewed as semi-independent third parties, which might have lead readers of the news type site to believe they are unmotivated (as opposed to unbiased) in their reporting.
3. Similarly, the companies paying for PR from the PR firm may not have known about the PR company's relationship with the pseudo-news site.
4. The sites in question have all changed their "About Us" pages to reflect their relationship status.
While the interviewee does himself no favors by allowing himself to be interviewed, there is something to be said for way the industry has not only condoned these relationships, but it really promotes them. All companies want to get the word out about how great their products are, and if they can stack the scales in their favor a bit without looking too obvious, then they will.
Certain people would want to throw stones at anyone out there misleading customers, but we might run out of stones. I have my own conclusions about what I think of the situation, but I really believe that in the day of the internet, the truth comes out at some point and you better behave that way. Everything you say or do will be used against you in the court of law and public opinion. Do you as a gamer really take notice of these kinds of behind the scenes issues or does it really matter? To some investors and customers it does, I'm certain. Let's discuss on our forum.