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 news.com, 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: