IGN: A Conflict of Interests?

I’ve been thinking about the recent announcement of IGN’s new software to allow developers to deploy advertising into games as an additional revenue stream (press release), both for the developer and IGN themselves. There’s been a lot said about the implications of this for IGN’s credibility as an independent news source, as if they’re set to make more money on a game with their software in it will the editorial team be encouraged to inflate their scores even more than they sometimes do? I’m not even mentioning the issues with advertising in games becoming increasingly overt to the point of annoyance, and we all know how invidious IGN’s advertising on their site can be.

Advertising, or rather product placement in games is nothing new but what this technology will allow, in addition to Steam-style automatic content serving, is for your year-old game to suddenly start showing ads for the latest Hollywood movie or a new title from the developer. This has good points (more money for developers as costs rise) and bad points (why am I getting advertising in a product I just paid £40 for?) like any advertising system and whether or not IGN will be as overzealous with their in-game advertising remains to be seen, but the implications for them as a source of reputable games journalism can’t be ignored.

I frequent many message boards around the Internet (including IGN’s) and it’s absolutely inevitable that any reference to an IGN review will bring immediate jokes about inflated scores and payoffs from developers for a few extra points. I don’t know about the veracity of the claims although I will say that they do have a tendancy to rate higher than other sources, but it surely can’t help a poor reputation to actually have a financial interest in the success of the games that you’re recommending to people. It’s expected of official magazines but an independent source should remain independent from what they report on. Even if the involvement is purely nominal and the editorial teams are not impacted, there is already evidence that IGN sales have more control than they should. Just look at this post concerning the dismissal of Dave Smith from former IGN PS2 editor Dave Zdyrko:

“I foresaw Smith getting the boot some day because of constant complaining by the sales department with regard to his reviews costing us ad deals. I even overheard a certain executive in sales say in the bathroom that he couldn’t understand why we still had him on staff.”

I’ll certainly be watching the coverage of any games that contain this new advertising technology.

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