Man, what a rant-fest I have been on lately!
Several items have fired off this blog:
1) Tobold's blog about "Blogging Ethics." He talks about being sure to divulge any free "gifts" from developers or companies that he might cover.
2) A thread on MMORPG.COM about free stuff that players might receive.
3) Discussions about players getting angry at developers for posting about their vacations. How dare they vacation!
Simple things, but they add up. Over the last several years that I have been more involved with communities than games, I am always surprised that players even ask about such personal things. First, let's talk about bloggers or podcasters receiving "free stuff." Does it happen? Sure. So, why is this even relevant? Many players seem to think that if you get a free poster or glow-in-the-dark pen or free access that you're opinion is tainted and will more than likely lean to the positive. Even if the game sucks, you will give it a glowing review because you saved 15 dollars.
Not only is this is the largest sack of s*** I could think of, but even IF it was true, how is that not the natural order of things? The point here is to get to playing the game. If you are a developer, do you ask bloggers/podcasters to buy your game for 50 bucks, and then ask them to sign up for 15 bucks a month? That's ridiculous. You spot 'em a deal, and allow them to get to the game. If that same blogger goes to a convention, you don't expect him to pay to sit down with a developer to play through the game for an hour? They sit down and log in.
If Tobold feels as though it is "ethical" to tell everyone every time he shakes some one's hand, more power to him. I admire it, but to be honest I just don't care if people think my opinion is tainted. It's an opinion, and the readers/listeners are supposed to have their own.
I want to make sure people understand that I understand that these are the more extreme examples, but it is linked to players thinking that somehow a developer or a blogger or podcaster is not just a human being just doing something. In the case of most bloggers/podcasters, we are not getting paid. At all. I blog every day, in a few areas, and receive nothing. If someone wants to throw me a Light Saber throw towel, go for it.
Of course, my payment is the interaction I get with the fantastic people I have met, players AND developers. Gaming is such a small, small world and is very open to pretty much anyone coming along and making a home.
But think to those that think that freebies being throw around equal biased BS filled reviews and opinions, I will point a few things out.
1) Get with the year, say, 1960. Payola happens. It can taint opinions one way or the other, but so can bloated pay options, cruddy betas, or whatever. A million things can effect an opinion in a million ways.
2) Bloggers/podcasters are NOT journalists. They are teenage girls, keeping a diary. Instead of talking about the cute boy in class, they whine about patches. You do not expect them to remain unbiased when talking about, essentially, toys. Certain levels of excitement or excitement over interactions with the toy-makers can and will adjust their opinion. We are not talking about the crisis in the Middle East, or about health care. Those are subjects that rarely effect us directly, and even occur in other lands. It would be much easier to remain cold and unemotional if the story had no effect on us whatsoever.
3) The players that have an issue with "journalists" receiving any type of gift or high-five or smooch from a developer need to ask themselves if they ignore all the kick-ass swag at video game conferences/fan-fests. Of course not. They grab up that stuff like their lives depended on it. But I will assure that a person-to-person opinion (the one that the gamer has) carries more power then any 1 out of 5 million name-less bloggers out there. You, as a player, can effect more people than you think, trust me. But snagging free s*** doesn't effect your opinion?
This issue, to me, connects to the idea that developers or "industry people" are somehow not human beings. They are. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a genre of entertainment that is more accessible to it's fans than MMORPG's. You know where a lot of the developers came from? The fanbase!
If you think some one's opinion might be tainted by getting a free pewter figurine, then take what they say as...
Form your own. There has always been and always will be the possibility that a blogger or podcaster could not only be feeding you a biased opinion, but outright LIES, and you would never know. Don't place so much trust in someone else's opinion. Use it in consideration for your own opinion, but just as part of the bigger picture.
And, if you really really want to, form your own podcast/blog. Get involved. As someone that just decided to try it one day, I can tell you that the industry is filled with more cool people that are down-to-earth and cool than most. Players AND developers.
And then, when a developer wants to give you a free mug that says "I live to PWN!" you can refuse it for the sake of unbiased opinions.