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Letter from the Publisher: Who Watches the Watchmen?

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Posted on February 18, 2013 AT 04:06pm

There’s been a lot of talk, conjecture, and speculation about Brandon Justice’s recent review of Aliens: Colonial Marines for EGM. This post will hopefully let me set the record straight on how EGM handles reviews in general—and this particular piece specifically. At a minimum, it should provide some facts for those who have engaged in reviewing our reviewer and provide a broader understanding of how EGM conducts reviews and, importantly, the things we won’t do in arriving at our opinions.

Let me begin by stating that I find it more than slightly ironic that many (if not most) of the critics who have questioned the veracity of Brandon’s opinions are doing so by passing erroneous speculation off as fact themselves. EGM wasn’t paid off. EGM didn’t sell advertisements to Sega or Gearbox or receive any compensation from anyone associated with Aliens: Colonial Marines. EGM didn’t attempt to change or influence Brandon’s opinions. And EGM has always, and will always, stand behind our reviewers regardless of criticism.

It’s not news that throughout EGM’s existence, advertisers have attempted to pressure editorial coverage by threatening, or even withdrawing, ad campaigns in the aftermath of negative reviews. This includes publishers who have asked me, point blank, since the relaunch of EGM, to change a review score—or future advertising would be canceled. I understand that this creates an easy, if cynical, explanation in the minds of many whenever a positive score is awarded, especially when it falls outside an aggregator’s average and is so at odds with reader sentiment. But know that in every instance, I have stood with the reviewer—and, by extension, our readers—to support the analysis of our editors, even when it resulted in a financial hit. This has been the case with every review that EGM has ever run while I was publisher, going all the way back to when I founded the magazine nearly 25 years ago. It’s a bright line that is non-negotiable, and I challenge any company or employee (current or former) to point to a single instance while I was running the magazine where anything but total support for our reviewers and their opinions have been guaranteed.

So, how does one of EGM’s reviewers find laudable, if not exemplary, things in a game that everyone else panned? Because reviewing any type of product or media is a subjective process. Some people connect with certain things in different ways. EGM provides an internal oversight of the reviewing process to ensure that games are played to completion and scores properly reflect the written review in all instances.

Many have taken issue with Brandon’s view that—at least based on his respective scores—Aliens: Colonial Marines is a better game than Halo 4. Personally, I’m with the masses in not agreeing with that conclusion, but my opinion (or yours) doesn’t diminish Brandon’s feelings to the contrary. It also doesn’t mean that Brandon has this point of view because someone put cash into his or EGM’s pocket.

Any review should certainly be subject to criticism, but censoring an opinion or reshaping a particular reviewer’s point of view into something other than their own personal feelings is, in my opinion, worse than publishing a review that others may feel is “wrong.”

Make no mistake: It’s absolutely fair to challenge any review, not just those that fall outside the average of our peers. Anyone is welcome to offer their personal insight on any opinion we publish by leaving comments on the review page itself. We don’t edit these comments (except in the rare instance when they contain personally hateful speech directed at other users), and it’s an opportunity for our readers to let us know where we stand, as well as offer their own critique.

We also recognize that our print, digital, and online users rely upon our reviews in making purchasing decisions, and we take that responsibility seriously. That doesn’t mean, however, that the two reviews that EGM has published in the past year that fell well outside the Metacritic averages (out of the 226 articles that Metacritic has linked to since our relaunch) were written with questionable motives—or, to put it in the terms being thrown around by some, because we were “paid off.” We weren’t paid anything. And to even insinuate otherwise, especially in the absence of proof to the contrary, is just wrong.

Another example of how more than one critic of our Aliens: Colonial Marines review questioned EGM’s integrity was the oft-repeated assertion that it was published amidst a full-screen advertisement promoting the game. That is not true. If these critics had gone to any of the other game-specific pages on EGMNOW.com—which more than 5 million gamers use daily to follow the games they like most on social-media sites as well as the website itself—they’d find similar backgrounds. The Aliens: Colonial Marines background was created by EGM, not the game company. It was not designed on behalf of the publisher. The background doesn’t link out to anyone. No one from Sega or Gearbox asked us to create it or publish it. And not one penny was paid for it to be there. Combine this with the fact that the background was first added to the website nearly a year ago, and a lot of the conspiratorial emphasis many placed on it evaporates. While it’s certainly convenient for the narrative that “EGM was obviously compensated by someone associated with Aliens: Colonial Marines”—which many proffered as fact—it is not fact.

That said, it’s important for us to address issues such as this that have been raised by readers as a cause of legitimate confusion. It may take a situation such as this to draw attention to the need to adjust such things, but we learn from the feedback you provide, make adjustments, and move on.

As far as the review is concerned, I’ll leave it to Brandon Justice to more fully expand upon the reasoning of his review if he wants. Speaking as the publisher of EGM, I must be supportive of my reviewers’ conclusions if they’re produced in an honest manner that is free from influence, regardless of whether they are challenged for their criticism or praise.

Some of you may have heard that Brandon Justice is no longer with EGM. This is true. But before speculation once again overwhelms fact, let me state that his departure has absolutely nothing to do with his Aliens: Colonial Marines review and is actually related to actions that took place prior to last week. Brandon is free to share these reasons if he so chooses. I want to thank Brandon for his service during his tenure with EGM and wish him the very best in his next endeavor. We will be announcing EGM’s new executive editor in the days ahead.

I know that, even in light of the information contained in this post, many will continue to pass a harsh judgment on our Aliens: Colonial Marines review, and that’s OK. I’d rather EGM be questioned for making a call that you disagree with now and then, than for changing a review, pressuring a reviewer to select a score that isn’t their own, or trading its integrity for any form of compensation.

We produce EGM in all its iterations for you, the reader, and value your feedback and support. We’ll continue to work hard to bring you honest opinions and insight and, while we can’t promise that our beliefs will always match up with other journalists, I will stand behind them absolutely.

Steve Harris
Publisher
EGM Media

Publisher and Founder of Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine.

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