Rockstar may or may not have pressured an editor to write nice things

by Meghan Watt

I’m not going to rewrite the whole story since you can just read it here, but here’s the gist of it if clicking links isn’t your style:

  1. Rockstar allegedly sends an e-mail to Zoo Weekly asking magazine writer Toby McCasker to positively cover Red Dead Redemption. The e-mail reads: “This is the biggest game we’ve done since GTA IV and is already receiving GotY 2010 nominations… Can you please ensure Toby’s article reflects this – he needs to respect the huge achievement he’s writing about here.”
  2. McCasker posts the e-mail on Facebook
  3. Zoo Weekly fires McCasker, having already warned him about behavior problems twice
  4. McCasker claims he was fired in response to ratting out Rockstar
  5. Magazine editor says he has no knowledge of a game maker requesting a positive review and doesn’t comment on McCasker’s dismissal; Rockstar seems mystified

For clarification, the article doesn’t say whether McCasker was previewing or reviewing the game.  I’m guessing the former since he was fired last month, and the game isn’t set to release until mid-May.

I’m also 90% sure that McCasker was asked to leave for reasons other than posting an e-mail on Facebook, but that’s not really the point.  The point is whether a) Rockstar pressured the editor to positively cover Red Dead Redemption and b) if it matters.

As to the first point, Rockstar replied to the allegations, stating: “We are not clear on what the story is here. We always try to present our games in the most compelling way to media and fans alike and of course we, like every other video game publisher in Australia or anywhere else for that matter, want to have our games seen in a positive light.”

So whether or not Rockstar actually sent the e-mail is almost moot.  The company apparently sees no problem with asking a journalist to look on a game positively.  A preview is typically rather generous anyhow.  When I’ve seen potential problems with a game during a preview, I tend to write something to the effect of “this might not be good, but we’ll see.”  But to each his own.

Now for the second point: Does it matter?  It goes without saying that developers and publishers shouldn’t be asking reviewers to give them good scores.  Neither should they be asking journalists to preview a game positively.  They would obviously prefer their coverage to be positive so what’s the point of asking anyhow?

Still, asking is one thing.  Threatening to pull ads is quite another.  That’s not the case here but has reportedly happened at other times.  But what matters most is that editors don’t give into that pressure.  As far as I know, it’s hardly an issue.  I’ve only heard of one outlet ever firing an editor over a bad score, but I hardly think it’s a problem that deserves much concern.

In my personal experience, I’ve had PR people call and ask what score I plan on giving the game to which I say, “I won’t know until my review’s complete,” less out of integrity and more because I honestly don’t know.  Score is the last thing I consider.  However, one thing I’ll point out is a tactic of which I’m not particularly fond.  Some publishers will allow reviewers to post their articles early (as in the weekend prior to release) as long as their scores will translate to an 80% or more on Metacritic.  That way, gamers will see a high rating of a game and go out to buy it before noticing the inevitably lower score on the day of release.

Anyhow, thoughts?