A few words on editorial integrity
As you may have heard, one of GameSpot's main editors was unexpectedly fired last week, allegedly for giving a low score to a game that was being heavily advertised on the site. When news of this broke, it rightfully caused a huge stir in the gaming community. (If you want to read more details, ShackNews.com has done a good job covering the story.)
The situation at GameSpot has ignited much debate about the integrity of game journalism. While no one has directly questioned ours, it seems now is a good moment to remind everyone of the policies and practices we have in place to protect Adventure Gamers' editorial independence. After all, when you have a site that reviews games, the most important thing is having your reader's trust. Without that basic level of trust, our words wouldn't carry any weight, and we wouldn't deserve the respect of the adventure game community.
When it comes to personal interests or commercial pressures, we are extremely careful not to let them get anywhere near our editorial content. We deal with the subtle issues, such as not letting the site be influenced by friendly publishers or PR representatives, partly through experience and partly through our policies. The editor (Jack Allin) carries out virtually all major communication with developers and publishers so that writers can remain objective. The writer's review scores, in turn, are never changed by the editor after the review is submitted.
As for commercial pressures influencing our opinions or decisions, this is something we have successfully avoided for the past nine years and will continue to do so for as long as this site exists. Fortunately, publishers understand our desire for complete editorial independence and we have never been tempted by anyone to let advertising money overrule our editorial voice.
We started Adventure Gamers out of love for adventure games. Our content is still, for the most part, contributed by volunteers. For many years our bandwidth and server costs were covered almost entirely by standard Google Adsense ads, which gave us the comfortable position of being completely independent of any sort of direct advertising campaigns.
As you may have noticed, we have had more commercial activity on the site as of late than we have had in the past. It's all part of our plan to gradually professionalize Adventure Gamers and take it to the next level. For instance, we hope to add streaming video sometime next year, which is an expensive but (we think) much-needed feature.
While we've increased the number of ads, we are careful to preserve our staunchly independent position. One way in which we shield ourselves from outside influence is having multiple revenue streams that are not dependent on adventure game publishers.
We are fortunate enough to focus on a single genre, which gives us the option to run ads of games in other genres that we don't review and probably won't even talk about. Currently we run advertisements (mostly through third-party networks) for action-adventures, roleplaying games, MMOs and casual games. Having a diverse ad portfolio ensures that if one adventure game publisher were ever to threaten to pull ads because of a review score, it wouldn't exactly be much of a threat. (Not that we'd accuse any publisher of wanting to do such things, but we're talking about even the mere possibility for these situations.)
Furthermore, an increasingly large part of our revenue comes from affiliate links placed next to reviews and on game info pages. We run affiliate links to Amazon, eBay, Univeral Hint System and Adventure Shop, each associated with the 1000+ games in our database. That means that our affiliate commissions come from literally hundreds of tiny sources, with each individual game responsible for no more than a few sales commissions a month. This will also be true for the recently-launched Adventure Shop; as its catalog expands, affiliate commissions will be distributed across a lot of different games from many different companies. This means that manipulating review scores in an attempt to boost affiliate link performance would not only be strongly misguided, it wouldn't even have much of an effect (at least, not besides seriously endangering our reputation).
Of course, it's worth pointing out that we are all about facilitating discussion of adventure games and providing consumer advice. We are not in the business of making or selling games, which is why we work with third party affiliate programs. We aren't (and probably never will be) directly involved in selling games.
Finally, and with all that said, we keep a 'separation of church and state' between editorial and advertising. Jack focuses on editorial, while I focus on business. It hasn't always been that way, but when we decided to drastically redesign and expand the site, we knew it was time to more clearly divide our responsibilities.
What this means is that I generally don't know when Jack puts up another article or what score a game is going to get, and Jack generally doesn't know who I'm talking to for ad or business deals. Of course, the walls between us aren't as tall as they are at the bigger gaming sites, where entire sales and editorial teams might be physically separated by being on different floors or even different buildings. Adventure Gamers is relatively small, so we do talk to each other, and I sometimes help out with content when I can. But both our responsibilities are quite clear, and this serves as an important measure to keep commercial and editorial interests separate.
In the end, though, it all boils down to trust. Our loyalty is to you, not game companies. That's the attitude that has kept us going for all these years. We worked very hard to earn your respect and your trust, and we work hard to keep them.
If you have any further questions about our editorial policies, I'd be happy to answer them.