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Brainwashing the Bloggers |

Publishers of games and movies commonly engage in questionable behavior to garner favor with reviewers and other influential tastemakers. Sometimes this is fairly blatant with fully paid exotic trips, gifts, and even blatant cash payoffs, but it’s usually more subtle with exclusive event invites, prestigious parties, executive interviews, and well-placed flattery.

Successful Flattery vs. a Backfired Bribe

Read these quotes and decide whether the journalist was successful flattered and his goodwill secured or whether the attempt was unsuccessful:

From a recent interview with Joystiq, Kotaku, and Destructoid:

Joystiq: “I think everybody here, I’m sure, would agree that Microsoft goes above and beyond. They really bend over backwards to help out blogs and treat us like peers.

Destructoid: “We get a lot more attention from Microsoft obviously. They really do reach out to the blog community.”

Joystiq: “Other companies, like Sony, came around really late. They just started talking to Joystiq at all, just recently. That [the PS blog] was the first time we’ve had any kind of official involvement with Sony.”

Now read these quotes from a recent Arstechnica article with the headline, “Sony cancels press junket with $1,000 payout for writers”

The event has since been canceled, without explanation (likely because of the bad publicity, and we’d like to think that most journos told them to stuff it). While you can’t conclusively say this is a bribe or would have resulted in biased coverage, Sony basically paying the rent of writers in exchange for a trip that no one can write about seems very shady.

The Microsoft flattery worked. They didn’t rely on something crass like cash payoffs or limos or exotic vacations. Microsoft made them feel special: “like peers” as Joystiq said. Do you know how great it feels for a young unaccomplished English major to get direct attention and compliments from big name Microsoft execs? Notice that both Joystiq and Destructoid used very gentle and favorable language when discussing Microsoft: “They really bend over backwards to help out blogs” or “They really do reach out to the blog community”. Of course, Microsoft’s true motives are obvious: they want favorable coverage from influential sites.

Sony’s attempt at currying favor clearly backfired. Arstechnica ran an accusatory headline and tells Sony to “stuff it”.

However, the same Arstechnica is clearly not immune to flattery. Arstechnica can be seen covering Microsoft interviews in a rather favorable light. In this interview, the same Arstechnica writer visits Microsoft and glorifies Microsoft’s upscaling technology while bashing the PS3. From a technical perspective this is absolutely ridiculous; the *exact* same upscaling is done internally by HDTVs with zero quality difference. Or in this interview, another Arstechnica writer interviews a Microsoft employee, a “top gun”. The employee is flattered and glorified as he promotes various Microsoft technologies and openly bashes the PS3 and the Cell CPU. Arstechnica may not have accepted cash or fancy vacations and accommodations from Microsoft, but Microsoft’s promotion efforts clearly worked.

For Microsoft, influencing young and weak-minded gaming journalists is child’s play. As reported by, Microsoft is involved in the higher stakes realm of government lobbying in a big way:

Microsoft, which leads lobbying expenditures among hardware and software companies, is one of the largest spenders on government travel as well.

Sony isn’t innocent in this regard either. While many movie publishers have found movie reviewers who will blatantly sell positive review quotes for a fee, Sony Pictures was busted in 2001 for taking this a step further and using a completely made up movie reviewer.

More links on press junkets:
Washington Post

  • Rjcc

    Referring to other writers as “young and weak minded” because they said something positive about the way a company they deal with interacts with them is hilarious.

    The notes you quoted from Joystiq and Destructoid, were not reviews of microsoft’s products, or even statements about them. They were exclusively about how they deal with the company, and appear to be entirely transparent about it. Should they not use “favorable language” to describe their own interactions, if the interactions were in fact, positive?

    I’m not sure if you know what bias is, or how to find it.

    If you’re going to accuse other websites of being bought by a few favorable words and a press pass, you should provide actual evidence of it.

    The other two articles you quote are interviews, are you saying Ars shouldn’t do or post any interview where a Microsoft employee says something negative about a Sony product or else they’re biased? They’ve clearly been bought & turned.

  • inspectre

    I’ve seen this discussed before. Sony simply doesn’t pander to the press like M$ does, and the press hates it. That doesn’t mean that Sony doesn’t bend over backwards to give the press what they need to do their jobs; such as interviews and game demos. What they don’t do is talk about how “great” a particular journalist or blog site is to stroke their ego’s. It’s a giant scotoma that the press refuse to look at about themselves. Am I talking about all blog sites? Of course not. Some are obviously platform cheerleaders on one side or the other, and do not review a game based on it’s own merits, but on which platform it’s on.

    You want to see bias in action? I’ll show you bias.

    Every other first person shooter announced for the next 12 months has some form of criticism. With the possible exception of Call of Duty 4.

    I challenge anyone to find a critical analysis of Halo 3 from a mainstream source.

    – Is it innovative? – No.

    – Is it cutting edge graphically? – An obvious no.

    – Is it pushing multiplayer forward in any new direction? – No.

    – Is it innovating single player forward in any new direction? – None that i’ve heard.

    – Is their a SINGLE article anywhere on the internet of someone (besides Bungie devs) who has actually touched a controller and played Halo 3? – No.

    – Does anyone in the press have a preview copy of the single player campaign seven weeks before launch? – I can’t find any.

    – Is there any in-game footage of Halo’s single player campaign FIVE WEEKS before it must go gold to make it’s launch window? – ONE trailer with TWO MINUTES of IN GAME footage. ONE!

    – How many screenshots of Halo’s single player campaign have been released by Microsoft? – Eleven. Eleven screenshots of one of the largest video gaming franchises in the world FIVE WEEKS before gold master.

    – Does anyone in the industry act concerned or even question these events? – No.

    This is just one example. There’s plenty more out there. Can you honestly tell yourself if Mass Effect was being exclusively developed for the PS3 it would be getting the endless hype from the press that it’s receiving? Honestly?

    Peace out.

  • Leo

    Hot damn, inspectre says it like it is! Xbox games seem to get non-stop hype from the press with so little actual info.

  • DC

    Soooooo many slimy people in this industry …

  • Darrin


    I appreciate your polite disagreement. You want “actual evidence” of bias? First, it’s really hard to really objectively demonstrate bias. Also, while I could cite a dozen other instances of blatant bias, and even quantify some of that, I really don’t want to take this issue too far. Thanks for posting, though. I love to chat with people of different opinion.

    In general, I would say:

    Favors PS3: 1UP’s Shane Bettenhausen and Newsweek’s N’Gai Croal.
    Favors 360: Aforementioned blogs, FiringSquad, many popular gaming sites (including my favorite, IGN), Dean Takahashi (although Mr. Takahashi is fairly cool about it)
    Favors Wii: Many non-gaming media outlets.


    Wow, that’s a comprehensive post!

    Sony *does* try to pander to the press. They just don’t do it nearly as much (as Joystiq pointed out) and are not nearly as effective as Microsoft.

    In defense of Halo 3, the game reportedly has 4 million pre-orders already. The press has to give lots of coverage to anything that hotly anticipated. OTOH, better selling series like Gran Turismo don’t get nearly as much attention and SOCOM, which was the most popular online console game for a while (more than even Halo), are ignored by the media. Even Counterstrike, which I would bet is far more popular, gets no media attention. I think Microsoft is simply really effective at getting massive media attention for its products.

  • Rjcc

    You’re entirely delusional.

    Making yourselves accessible is not “pandering” to the press.

    Question, how did ps3blog get access for the interview that was posted with insomniac,?

    It was never mentioned in the interview. Did it affect your impressions of the game, since you talked to the developers?

    Were they pandering to you then?

    You’ve directly accused named persons of bias and being “weak minded”, if you could show better examples of it, you would. Character assassination is not a good look, especially when gone about so amatuerishly.

  • Sporty

    Hard to believe someone in this day and age would be in denial of marketing tactics. All companies and politics are getting slimy as hell now. But really MSs is just disgusting.

    No offense Rjcc, But I have to assume your ignorant or lying. No one can be that in the dark now really.

    For the last 6 years Microsoft has been aggressively courting media outlets. Microsoft now does extensive background checks on journalist to find out what they like and history.

    The Bonus round Darrin was talking about mentioned their tactics, but Joystiq and Kotaku clears said they wont swallow their integrity with free perks, Dustructiod said they love getting bought (ironic they are also the most hostile against PS3).

    They fly them out to high class hotels, party with them and show them a small part of the game. It’s harder to talk against a friend then a faceless company

    The main evangelist for Xbox (meaning the fanboy that panders to media and pays for Negative Sony ads) is Andre Vrignaud. He is responsible for 80% of the anti-PS3 media you see.

    Most of their newest methods are actually to hire idiots to spread FUD on forums and comment sections of web sites. Serveral of the MS HD-DVD group are open about it on avsforum.

    Darrin was only bringing to light the tactics, not pointing out parties, since doing that could end some career if proved.

    But really it’s not secret what’s going on.

  • John

    All this isn’t very surprising, all of the “bloggers” are ssentially inexperienced people attempting journalism, being inexperienced doesn’t make them more objective, it merely makes them easier to manipulate.
    Sony’s mistake here was in trying to manipulate them like real (adult) journalists would be, while MS rightfully went for for kid/teenager-level manipulation.

  • Darrin

    rjcc, ok, I apologize for the “weak minded” comment and any indirect or implied personal insults. However, while some of my original post was an emotional rant, most of my points were completely valid ones to make.

    All advertising tends to be manipulative and tries to control public perception. That’s not necessarily bad. Advertising is a necessary and beneficial part of business, even though it can be obnoxious or deceptive. And I don’t see any evidence that Microsoft is less ethical in this regard than anyone else. However, particularly compared to Sony, they have been far more successful and effective at influencing media perception in both subtle and non-subtle ways. And this is a valid point worth bringing up for discussion.

    You downplay Microsoft’s actions as merely trying to be accessible. That is naive. Did you read their leaked strategy document on handling the media that Sporty linked? Did you read how they are one of the largest spenders on lobbying-related government travel? Do you really believe they do all that because they are just nice guys? Again, I’m not saying their less ethical than the next guy, but their intent is clear and the impact of this is very worthy of discussion.

    You said, “if you could show better examples of [bias], you would”. Believe me, I could! Honestly, though, that would probably just annoy most people, which is why I initially declined. Maybe in the future, there will be a more appropriate opportunity.

    I wasn’t involved in Henning’s interview with Insomniac. But of course, I agree with you that all interviews and PR contact don’t involve “pandering” or deceptive bias. However, the two interviews that I cited earlier, did have deceptive bias. And this isn’t just one oddball opinion, *lots* of people feel the exact same way.

    Sporty, great links! Do you have any on the avsforum issue you mentioned?

  • Sporty

    Not off hand since I tend to ignore the HD-DVD and general.

    But the biggest MS poster is Amir, their are others though

  • Sporty

    Also on the newest Bonus round from Sunday Patcher was saying how since MS treats him so well he does tries to shape negative MS news in a positive light. His exact quote was “You tend to over look some of the negative and keep in mind the positives when making quotes”

    With him being an actually professional he probably is less bias and doesn’t take swag and perks. But the less ethical would be easily swayed with better results.

    I’m sure all companies do this. But since MS lost the Anti-trust suit they’ve spent on a ton of money to shape opinion so it will never happen again.