Buzzfeed vomits up a witless, inaccurate attack on the video game press

Buzzfeed vomits up a witless, inaccurate attack on the video game press

We’re expecting to see the next generation PlayStation at a Sony event in New York tomorrow evening, but Buzzfeed editor Joseph Bernstein is wondering if the gaming press has what it takes to report on the console. You see, in his eyes we’ve all been way too giving when it comes to the Wii U, and we can’t be trusted to write about any of the upcoming systems.

He brought up the sad state of the Wii U sales numbers in order to make his point. “Because the system has fared so poorly, so quickly, you’d probably assume that the coverage of the Wii U by the gaming and tech press, from its announcement to the reviews at its release, was characterized by skepticism, if not outright negativity. You’d be totally wrong,” he wrote. Then he quotes from various stories, including one that I wrote.

This is where his arguments leave the rails.

Selective quoting

The idea is that the gaming press should have known that the system would fare badly, and written about that instead of giving our opinions of the system at launch. You see, that’s what he uses to make his point: The reviews of the launch system, which were written soon after the firmware was added to the hardware. Our great tragedy was that we didn’t know the system would fail, and thus we can’t be trusted. We were too giving. The quote he uses from my story? “I adore the system so far.”

He left out the headline: “Beta-testing the Wii U: how the system’s launch is punishing early adopters,” which was seen as being pretty negative at the time.

More bits from my story: “The challenge is going to be teaching consumers what it does, and convincing developers to create games you can only play on the Wii U. Oh, and it would be great if the menus and software made a damn bit of sense.”

Here’s more: “The problem is that the firmware is half-baked, and simple tasks are more complicated than necessary,” I wrote.

“How simple are the mistakes?” my story continued. “The image doesn’t fit my screen when I set the resolution to 1080p and, while I can change the size of the image in the Miiverse menu, that adjustment doesn’t work on any other screen. Games look fine, but the user interface is chopped off around the edges. I finally had to manually adjust my television, the first time I’ve had to do so for overscan. Why does only one area of the Wii U (Miiverse) give me the ability to adjust the image size? Why is my friends list limited to 100 people? At this point we’re all beta-testing this software, and it could be days, if not weeks, before everything is sorted out.”

I referred to the system, at launch, as a “train wreck.”

Bernstein then attacks Polygon for stating that the system “will still host great games,” as if saying Nintendo is going to release one or two above average games for the system is impossible. He also leaves out Polygon’s skepticism of the console.

“We are cautious and indeed, somewhat pessimistic, about what the future holds for Nintendo’s new system,” the review stated. “With Microsoft and Sony expect to announce new, significantly more powerful systems within the next six months, Nintendo has only a short amount of time to establish the Wii U. We are concerned about its ability to be more than a box for Nintendo first-party releases.” Does that sound like the Wii U was given a free pass? The number at the end of the review, by the way, was a 6.5. This was hardly fawning praise.

I also loved the “glowing preview” of Colonial Marines he uses as evidence that things were overlooked in that area as well. The story was an interview about the lighting of the game, and it ended with Jim Sterling saying the lighting looked good. It wasn’t a glowing preview as much as it was a look at a technical aspect of the game. This is was back when the lighting did, in fact, look damn good.

Clear intent, terrible fact-checking

This may seem like a petty thing to write about, but it makes me angry to have my stories quoted out of context during an attack on my profession, especially when it’s so easy to point out Bernstein’s lapses in judgment. He claims we weren’t skeptical of the console, selectively quotes articles, and then leaves out the sections where the authors note their skepticism.

It’s okay to be skeptical of the gaming press, and lord knows I’ve played some inside baseball in this regard as well. What’s not okay is misrepresenting stories by cherry-picking one-sentence summaries that are in no way representative of the actual reviews. What’s even more heinous is the idea that reviews should be based on the possibilities for financial success, or you’re somehow not to be trusted if you like something that failed to be a commercial success.

Plenty of the write-ups used by Bernstein to make his point about the fallibility of the gaming press contained extensive sections that were skeptical of the hardware and its place in the industry, but highlighting those sections wouldn’t have made his point, so they were left out.

There are two options here: Either he didn’t read the articles he used for his quotes, which is negligence, or he willfully ignored their content, which is unethical. Either way, I actually think the gaming press did a wonderful job pointing out the good and bad aspects of the Wii U, including my own articles. I’ll be in New York checking out whatever Sony has to show me, and I have a feeling we’ll get a pretty good idea of the strengths and weaknesses of that product as well.