I’m Too Much Of A Wild Card To Receive Review Copies

Yesterday I explained why I do not yet have a Titanfall 2 review while other outlets (some with considerably smaller audiences) got theirs up no problem.

I talked about my inability to receive review copies of Electronic Arts and select Square Enix games, with the PR firm 47 Communications being the common brick wall. After multiple failed attempts to learn the reason from 47, I decided to be the squeaky wheel and write about it in an article.

The squeaky wheel didn’t get grease, but it did get answers from sources who read the article in question. The good news is, 47 Communications does not apparently have any quarrel with me. The bad news is, some publishers think I’m just too much of a wild card to be trusted.

Wait… that’s not really bad news. That makes me sound awesome!

01

From what I’ve been able to find out, publishers are indeed the ones making the final call. PR firms get requests from reviewers, PR firms forward these requests to the publishers, publishers start crossing names off the list and determining who is allowed to touch the game before launch.

Fairly standard stuff, but things have been changing this generation.

Over the last year or so, it would appear that at least Electronic Arts is not secure and confident enough to believe I’m a “safe” reviewer. From what I’ve learned, “wild cards” such as myself are no longer considered the worthy gamble they used to be, with game releases and critical receptions more tightly controlled by publishers than ever.

Electronic Arts has a documented history of attempting to manipulate the critical reception of its games. It quite famously pressured outlets over Battlefield 3 reviews, doing what it could to mitigate the possibility of any unfavorable criticism.

In a world where pre-orders are only becoming more important and launch-day microtransactions remain controversial, it’s hardly surprising EA is still attempting to dictate public perception of its games. Best to hide all the shitty business practices from customers for as long as possible, right?

This is not just limited to myself. Any critic deemed too “unpredictable” makes certain publishers nervous, and they’ve steadily grown more eager to cut out any variables that could rock the boat too much.

If you are a critic and you have been receiving code for high profile games from publishers such as EA, it may very well be because they think you’re easy to please and will give the positive coverage they expect. Frankly, I’d find that rather insulting.

Quite why I can still get western Square Enix games but not Japanese Square Enix games remains a mystery, though it may have something to do with different companies receiving different amounts of code, or perhaps Square Enix’s Eastern side just being more controlling than its Western counterpart. I’m only going off what I’ve been able to learn about the situation, which hasn’t been a huge deal.

What I do know is that things have changed over the last few years. Review codes used to be more liberally doled out, with PR firms having a ton of codes to give to outlets of every description. These days, companies have gotten stingier with the codes, and PR firms are left with a fraction of what they used to be able to provide – when they say they’ve run out of codes, even digital ones, they’re not lying.

As I stated yesterday, this is an inconvenience to me from a scheduling standpoint, but it’s not going to stop me doing my job. Thanks to my Patreon support, I have the budget to purchase and review high profile games, even if I won’t get such reviews up before a game’s launch. I remain on Metacritic, and I continue to have an audience I’ve no intention of letting down.

It’s an expensive way to do business, but unlike even many established media outlets, it’s a way of doing business I can actually afford.

02

In the past, I’ve praised Electronic Arts for having the guts to continue providing me with code despite my harsh criticism of its business practices. It’s a shame that is no longer the case, but I guess I can understand it even if I think it showcases a severe lack of confidence.

I’m glad I know the deal now, even if nobody at EA actually had the nerve to reach out and tell me. From now on, I shall make sure any EA game I care to review is purchased personally – not really different from how I’ve been doing things of late.

This is the cost of not being predictable, of not being somebody a corporation can expect praise from simply for producing another “Triple-A” game that is “expected” to get the usual 9/10 scores.

Ironic, considering how much I actually loved Battlefield 1. Wild card, bitches!

As irritating as it is to no longer be able to provide certain high profile reviews alongside the “safer” outlets, I at least feel like I must be doing something right if I’m making certain publishers “nervous.”

Now if you’ll excuse me, this wild card has work to do.

And he will for quite some time to come.

Doctor Madness
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Doctor Madness
I find the biggest irony of this situation, is that by excluding some journalists, the ones that aren’t “safe” and have passionate followers, publishers are building distrust among consumers. Take myself for instance, with multiple reviewers I follow being locked out by review embargoes or just not being allowed a copy of the game to review, I am left with nothing but opinion and hearsay to inform myself on new games. In such a case that publishers are silencing review of their latest title, I can only assume that said title was rushed, doesn’t work, and/or carries anti-consumer practices that… Read more »
Austin_sj
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Austin_sj

Are you going to do a Titanfall 2 review? I’m thinking of picking up one of the big three shooters and your critically thoughts would be appreciated.

David Gil
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David Gil
No big deal, I don’t buy anything day one from big companies anymore. And I haven’t trusted a big sites review since I saw them giving COD’s ridiculously high scores. Best case scenario for me with triple a companies is I buy their game on sale and patched on PC and it ends up a slightly above average experience that fades from memory shortly after. Your taste seems to be in line with mine in most cases and that’s whats important, I know if you like it I’ll probably like it. I know that probably sounds odd but that’s how… Read more »
Maniate
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Maniate

Jim, you actually published an accusation that a PR firm could be freezing you out on the slim grounds that they serve two companies that didn’t give you review copies of their games. That’s all it took for you to write that. Come on now.

Eddie Edwards
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Eddie Edwards

“The squeaky wheel didn’t get grease, but it did get answers from sources who read the article in question.” This would seem to indicate that there is more information than just what you’ve stated.

Maniate
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Maniate

Well of course there’s more information but that doesn’t mean Jim didn’t go off half-cocked based on nothing. If you’re writing a story, a coincidence like working for the same two devs really is nothing. You either have proper attribution to print something or you don’t print it.

Moisa Mircea
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Moisa Mircea
Reviews are pointless these days Jim. Talking about reviews is even more pointless. I find that even you can make mistakes( i know, i know). So i don’t bother reading. If a game is well loved on Steam and Metacritic i buy it. Its not that i don’t trust reviews. Its just i have been burned to many times by every single outlet (including you) to conclude that NOBODY is being professional about this. Reviews have been a mess for years now. And every time people like me criticized the critic for being to subjective, we got the: “But reviews… Read more »
TheMagicLemur
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TheMagicLemur

This is borderline nonsensical.

If you criticize a review for being subjective, then you literally don’t understand the core concept of a review. Your inability to comprehend the fact that reviews are always — ALWAYS — opinions does not change it.

You don’t seem to understand that if someone dislikes an aspect of a game that you like, that doesn’t mean one of you is objectively wrong. OPINIONS. REVIEWS ARE AND HAVE ALWAYS BEEN OPINIONS. ALWAYS. IT’S NOT A HARD CONCEPT TO GRASP

Moisa Mircea
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Moisa Mircea

I don’t actually read Steam or Metacritic reviews. I just look at the number. Maybe read a few of the negative ones.
Like i said i have been burned to many times by so called professional reviewers. So much so that i wondered at some point what makes them “professional reviews”. The answer, at least my answer is nothing.
There is nothing to differentiate an amateur from a professional in this field. Thats the nature of subjectivist. Anybody can be one.

So Steam and Metacritic.

Forrest Kayssen
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Forrest Kayssen
So you’d rather trust the flavorless gray sludge of a faulty averages system than find one or two reviewers you feel you can trust? What of stuff like word of mouth, and actually asking about the game in question? The opinions on games on Steam are fueled just as much by douchey opinions than by a game’s merit. And Metacritic isn’t much better, whether you’re looking at the professional scores or the user ones. Did you know one of the most negative reviews of the film “Ex Machina” is from a christian film reviewing website? Stuff like that skews scores… Read more »
Marc Forrester
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Marc Forrester

Google has trained us to trust the machine, and we forget that someone always programmed that machine, and embedded bias into the code behind the screen.

TheMagicLemur
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TheMagicLemur

Did — did you JUST now figure that out?

What separates them is usually years of self-taught writing and analytical style. You don’t seem to understand the point here. Find a reviewer who’s taste you tend to share, and then go from there. No one’s MAKING you read reviews, but refusing to sit doen and read the reasons behind the number does not make you a more savvy consumer, my friend; it makes you a mark.

Kintari
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Kintari

> reviews are inaccurate and pointless
> If a game is well loved on Steam and Metacritic i buy it

Amer1ka
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Amer1ka
If you blindly follow somebody into a purchase rather than read what they said, apply it to what you like or dislike, account for potential differences in things like language, release platform etc. and forget that reviews are personal opinions then yeah, you’ll get burned. That’s what happens when you shut your brain off. In a day and age where each game gets gameplay up before release pretty often and post release for certain you only have yourself to blame for blindly following somebody. And did you really just say that reviews are pointless and then say later that you… Read more »
Obnoxious
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Obnoxious
I kind of agree with you Mosia Mircea. Reviews are almost pointless but thats because companies like EA have made them pointless by ‘cherry picking’ reviewers as I like to put it that are guaranteed to give good reviews. Reviews are about people giving their opinion on their experience with the game that is why some people like certain games and others don’t, it gives a diverse industry and that allows people to make better decisions on whether or not they want to buy the game for example: if two people say that the driving in a racing game is… Read more »
HisDivineOrder
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HisDivineOrder

I don’t know why every reviewer, especially of larger sites, doesn’t have to buy their games. Purchase price is as much a component of how good a game is as any other element. No Man’s Sky is a ridiculous game at $60. At $20, it might be alright.

Price is important and unless the reviewer is experiencing that part of the game as much as every other part, well… they’re not experiencing the game the way the rest of us do.

craigstealsheep
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craigstealsheep

With how many games they have to review, the fact that they tend to be on payroll, overhead, etc, it would be an extra expense. Review sites budgets are pretty crap as it is so any way to keep costs down is a plus for them.

TheMagicLemur
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TheMagicLemur

Half the time they aren’t even on payroll. A LOTTA media outlets just use freelancers. Easier to fire them when you can’t afford them.

Buzzwords
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Buzzwords
price is definitely a viable factor, i remember playing rebel galaxy and thinking “huh… that was good but damn it was pretty short.” then i remembered i paid 10$ for it and even when it was brand new it cost 20$, so no jimmies were rustled that day. but it gets weird when it’s that persons job to play that game. like: did siskel or ebert ever say “well i guess it’s okay seeing as it didn’t really cost me anything. one thumb up.” if they can’t make a reasonable estimate on whether a game is delivering 60$ worth of… Read more »
Lucid Loon
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Lucid Loon

They can do that ahead of the actual release, tho

TheMagicLemur
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TheMagicLemur

Jim already did a good JQ about this, but you should stop and consider the logic. Game reviewers are not highly paid and buying all their games and consoles would make doing their jobs quite literally impossible. Not everyone is as lucky as Jim; your average games journalist is eating ramen in a one bedroom apartment while hoping to get some freelance work coming in.

TheJerryPiece
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TheJerryPiece

Yeah? I don’t think no mans sky would have been good if it were cheaper. I may have just felt slightly less ripped off. The difference between buying a piece of dog shit for $20 dollars and buying that same piece of dogshit for $60 is irrelevant. That’s why money shouldn’t factor into a review. You have this jealousy about people getting the games for free. In the end though, you want a quality game and the company wants your money. Without reviewers, they are just going to take that money and then shit in your hand.

Ron Baron
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Ron Baron

I really don’t think people having to buy the games for their job would affect the review. At large sites, the reviwers wouldn’t be buying it anyway, it’d be the site itself.

Anduinel
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Anduinel

So what would be the best way to let EA know they’ve just killed any chance they had of me ever pre-ordering their games, given that they’re apparently scared shitless of getting honest reviews? Granted, I wasn’t exactly likely to do so given their bullshit with the last DA game, but at least there was a non-zero chance. Now, not so much.

craigstealsheep
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craigstealsheep

You can always email them and get a group to do it. Granted, it won’t do much unless it’s hundreds or thousands of people, but it can’t hurt to try. If their inbox is flooded with email specifically complaining about this then they may be willing to change. The other thing is to notify other press outlets that are on the “good” lists and to then call all of these outlets and EA. Here’s some numbers for EA:
Origin: 866-543-5435
Privacy: 650-628-1393

adampoole
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adampoole

wild card jim… we need a t-shirt of that

ChaostheDude
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ChaostheDude

The image should be Jim holding a joker whilst as a card himself… Or as the Uno card he was using with the four shades portraits… So many ideas… @Jimsterling would you tell us your thoughts?

Nidioqueen
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Nidioqueen

Hey Jim – You gonna review Paper Mario?

Chapomon
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Chapomon

Is anyone else wondering that the top image is? It looks like a bootleg Jim Sterling next to a bootleg Brad Jones on a bootleg version of Midnight Screenings.

La Chica Incognita
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La Chica Incognita

Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Never seen the show but Danny DeVito is a dead giveaway which leaves me wonders how the heck you don’t recognize Danny DeVito.

Chapomon
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Chapomon

I don’t watch television and I don’t think I’ve seen any live action recent films with Danny DeVito in it so I wouldn’t have recognized him.

Gareth
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Gareth

I don’t think he’s done any recent live action films. The last film I remember seeing him in was Virgin Suicides and that was at least close to a decade ago.

Forrest Kayssen
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Forrest Kayssen

Look up “Wild Card, bitches!” on Youtube.

Danger Beans
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Danger Beans

He plays ’em fast and plays ’em hard. . . he’s JIM FUCKING STERLING SON!

RifleAvenger Sashiro
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RifleAvenger Sashiro

“He’s a loose canon games journalist, who doesn’t PLAY by the RULES.”

Weasel Biggs
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Weasel Biggs

“Yeah, mister PR-Person? I just got done sending out review copies like you asked…
– Good work, dogsbody, get back in your ca – WHAT?! YOU SENT JIM FUCKING STERLING SON A COPY?! ARE YOU INSANE?! HE DOESN’T PLAY BY THE RULES! HE’S THE DIRTY HARRY OF VIDEOGAME REVIEWERS! WE’RE SCREWED!”

*insert the theme song to Shaft or Dolemite here*

TheOneWhoSucks
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TheOneWhoSucks

Damnit, Sterling! I want your badge and dildo bat on my desk by this time tomorrow!

ChaostheDude
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ChaostheDude

XD So… You’re a ‘Wild Card’ for being an honest critic? XD Just because I trust you more than Game Informer… Stupid publishers, when will they learn?

Milestone_RP
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Milestone_RP

“The fuck daya MEAN ‘some of these reviewers think for themselves’?! Since when?!”
— Some EA Marketing Higher-Up, 2016

Weasel Biggs
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Weasel Biggs

I like to imagine the EA Marketing Higher-Up spat out a cartoonish half-stogie out of sheer disbelief.

It’s juvenile, but imagining these boardroom lizards as Space Jam’s Mr. Swackhammer is a good source of petty comfort.

Imp Emissary
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Imp Emissary

So, does this mean you’d still get the review copies if they could be 100% sure you’d give the game a low score? ;p

Ah well. I’ve been waiting to see reviews from specific people before getting games anyway.

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