Tuesday, May 25, 2010

No More Famitsu for Me

In 2006, when Japanese game rag Famitsu gave Dead or Alive Xtreme 2 (Xbox 360) conspicuously high review scores despite a consensus in the Western gaming community that the game wasn't that good, I shrugged and said, "culture gap." Any game publication could be expected to hand out an evaluation that differs -- sometimes wildly -- from the general consensus, especially in cases where a game had been localized for a foreign market. But, as I intend to illustrate below, an outlandish review score can also be an indication of plain, old-fashioned corruption.

Consider the history of Famitsu, a magazine once revered for the infrequency with which it gave out tens (Famitsu reviews games with a four-person format mimicked by EGM and others). In the first 12 years of its existence, Famitsu never gave a full 40/40 score to any game. Beginning in 1998 with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, as many as fourteen games that may or may not have arguably deserved perfect scores started getting them. The trend accelerated, with three games winning perfect scores in 2008, and four games in 2009. At the same time, Famitsu started winning exclusives left and right, often reviewing games prior to their release dates. Together, these phenomena formed a strong suggestion that Famitsu was squarely in the business of hyping games, not criticizing them.

When Famitsu gave Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (PSP) a perfect score of 40/40, it was a confirmation of prior suspicions for many. In particular, Gawker Media's game blog Kotaku pointed out that Famitsu's adulation for the game reeked of dishonesty (citing product tie-in agreements between Konami and two major Japanese game magazines, and an advertising campaign in which Hirokazu Hamamura, former Famitsu Editor-in-Chief and current president of the magazine's parent company Enterbrain endorses the game).

In response to the accusation, Konami and Famitsu teamed up in joint opposition of Kotaku, a move which only served to cement the idea that Famitsu could no longer be trusted as an impartial critic.

Those who remain unconvinced of Famitsu's conflict of interest needn't look any farther than the current print issue of Famitsu Xbox 360, in which three games, Lost Planet 2, Super Street Fighter IV and Splinter Cell: Conviction, have all been given scores of three nines and a ten (92.5%). On Gamerankings.com, however, Lost Planet 2 averages 68.87% over 24 reviews (at the time of this posting) from various English-language game websites.

Now, before you shrug and say "culture gap," consider this. I've singled out Lost Planet 2 for the Xbox 360 because it disproves the suggestion that the disagreement between Famitsu and Kotaku is founded in cultural difference between consumers in different countries: On the Japanese Amazon website, the very same game averages a measly 60.6% over 32 reviews (at the time of this posting), all from Japanese-speaking customers.

That's not a gap between cultures. That's a gap between advertisers and consumers.

In a world where consumers can go online and make decisions based on reviews from so many different sources, there is no demand for a biased print periodical like Famitsu. If the management of that publication aren't willing to abandon their current formula of charging people for the chance to be advertised to rather than informed, then they deserve the extinction to which they are doomed.

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