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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Wikipedia bias in video game articles

Cat and Wii by plynoi from flickr (CC-NC)

In spite of all claims to neutrality, Wikipedia can be ridiculously biased at times - it just outsources its biases to some external authority.


Here's Wikipedia article about Empire Total War - but you can look at any video game review. Here's an excerpt:
Empire: Total War received acclaim from reviewers upon release; several critics commended it as one of the foremost strategy titles of recent times. Praise was bestowed upon the extensive strategy breadth, accurate historical challenges and visual effects. The real-time land battles, with a far greater focus on gunpowder weaponry than earlier Total War titles, were thought to be successfully implemented.

Here's another:
And entire Reception section is one big praise-fest, just look at it yourself.


In reality Empire is a bug-infested game with crappy AI, "historical accuracy" is sacrificed to gameplay or general coolness without giving it a second thought, and neither users nor even authors received in particularly well. Some but not all problems were fixed with patches - but reviews were based on buggiest pre-releases or very early versions, so they must have noticed the bugs - just failed to mentioned them.

Here's Metacritic users:

Here's Amazon:

Here's one of the developrs Mike Simpson (about pre-1.5 patch version):
I had 6 copies of Empire: Total War sat on my shelf intended for close gamer friends that I didn’t send out because I was too embarrassed about the flaws.

How did it go so wrong?

Users and even the developers were highly disappointed by the game, and outright hated first versions. About the only group of people who absolutely loved it were game reviewers.

But game reviewers are not independent! They're publishers' outsourced PR department! Any review outlet which is overly critical of publisher's dearest games will lose access to pre-release games - and more importantly advertisement money. If your job depends on not being able to see flaws in games...

What annoys me is not so much reviewers - everyone knows they're corrupt spineless wankers - it's how Wikipedia instead of making neutral reviews based on users' opinions outsources its bias to reviewers. Here's a diagram of bias flow:
Publishers → Reviewers → Wikipedia

There's as little place for these unofficial PR departments in Wikipedia as there is for publishers' official PR departments. Unlike users who don't have any conflict of interest, there's nothing remotely independent or unbiased about professional game reviewers. This is to some extent true for all kinds of reviewers, but in game reviews situation is far more pathological than with movies or books or almost any other kind of reviews I can think of.

Wikipedia failed its mission hard. Outsourced bias is still bias. How come it can write about abortion without much less bias than about video games?

1 comment:

Quickshot said...

So your basic position is, is that wikipedia is naive in assuming that game reviewers can be trusted?