PC Gamer has just announced that their sponsor for the PC Gaming show 2019 is Epic Games. For most people, this news is entirely predictable. The PC Gaming show has been a staple of E3 since back in 2015, and every year it has been sponsored. However, it seems that some people are quite upset by this. One redditor, who goes by the name of Slawrfp, is incredibly upset and they’d like everyone to know about it.
In their post on the r/pcgaming subreddit, Slawrfp talks about how they feels the sponsorship is a “glaring conflict of interest” and accuses PC Gamer of lacking journalistic integrity. They claim the site should look to find sponsors “not directly affiliated with the industry you are covering” because “the gaming industry deserves better.” So is the sponsorship a conflict of interest, or is it just good marketing?
What Is A Conflict Of Interest?
A conflict of interest is defined in the dictionary as “the circumstance of a public officeholder, business executive, or the like, whose personal interests might benefit from his or her official actions or influence.” In simple terms, it's when a person finds that their professional integrity is compromised due to personal circumstances.
This isn’t the first time PC Gamer specifically has been accused of conflict of interest. Back in 2015, they wrote an article about disclosure, after an issue was raised regarding a personal link between an editor and Ubisoft. The stance outlined remains in place to this day and helps ensure the site remains impartial.
In journalism, conflicts of interest are also greatly restricted by rules, which mean all sponsorship deals or advertising features have to be explicitly declared. Any feature or article which has been written as a result of money changing hands must be clearly marked as advertising or sponsored content.
Agencies like the Federal Trade Commission in the US or the Advertising Standards Authority in the UK ensure companies and influencers abide by the guidelines.
Most companies also have good practice guidelines and policies in place. These include keeping advertising and editorial teams separate and declaring when publishers have sent review copies of games.
Conflict or Common Sense?
The PC Gaming Show has been running since 2015 and has attracted a range of different sponsors. The show itself appears to be open to any and all games developers who’d like to appear on it.
Last year's sponsor line-up featured several game developers and publishers including Square Enix, Hi-Rez Studios, and Team 17 - all of whom are deeply involved in the gaming industry, of course. Previous sponsors have included AMD and Intel.
This sponsorship list was easily accessible, as shown by Redditors defending PC Gamer. If a developer sponsoring the event was such an issue, why was this not raised last year?
While we’re on the subject, what about the rest of E3?
There are numerous sponsors listed for the overall event, including Gamesradar+, Pocket Gamer, Gamasutra, Game Informer, GamesIndustry.biz and even PC Gamer themselves.
Should they all be banned from covering E3 news because they are sponsoring E3, which incidentally wouldn’t exist at all without them?
If you look at the wider industry, sponsorship which is directly related to the event is common. For example, the Game Developers Conference is sponsored by Microsoft and Intel, among others. Does this mean the event pushes developers to only use Intel chips? Or develop only for Windows platforms? Of course not, because the sponsorship does not influence the content of the event. If it did then only at that point is there a valid argument.
Sponsorship is a form of advertising, the aim of which is to get your name in front of your target audience. Epic Games' target audience is PC gamers, the prime audience for a PC gaming show.
The sponsorship just makes sense, like movies advertising on movie review websites, or games being advertised on gaming websites.
Right now, for example, PC Gamer is displaying a huge advert for War Thunder, a game the reviewer describes as “outrageously frustrating” in a reasonable but not exactly glowing review. There's zero evidence to suggest the review is in any way affected by the advert.
These companies are simply advertising in a place where they know their target market are to be found, which works for all concerned. Viewers are seeing adverts which are relevant to their interests and advertisers are getting in front of the right audience.
Is Epic Paying Everyone?
The only real argument put forward for conflict of interest was that PC Gamer writes a lot of articles about Epic and Fortnite. This is true. What is also true is that so does almost every other gaming website, ourselves included.
This content drives traffic to websites, which increases advertising, which is what ultimately allows us all to continue existing. Frankly, Epic and Fortnite are two of the most talked-about topics in the gaming culture today, whether in positive or negative terms. People who like Fortnite read articles, just as people who hate it do.
A quick count on PC Gamer showed around 25 articles which were prominently about the Epic Games store, Epic or Fortnite from May 1 until the time of writing.
Over this period The Gamer team wrote 26 articles about the same subjects.
Meanwhile, GamesRadar+ wrote so many their website has an entire section devoted to them. They’ve hit 26 articles about Fortnite alone, just in the last week.
As journalists, we need to give our readers the content they want, regardless of how we feel about it.
With regards to the sponsorship, the conflict of interest stance reads like an attack on Epic as a company, rather than a legitimate argument, and it's one we've seen before. For years Microsoft was in the firing line, with gamers falling over themselves to condemn the company as often as possible. Over the years, thoughts about them have shifted; only time will tell if Epic can pull off the same feat. As for PC Gamer, well as far as most of us are concerned, there's no issue here.
Don’t judge the sponsorship deal, judge the content.
Everything is fully declared and above board. If you watch the show and it’s full of fawning praise for Epic at the exclusion of others, then you have an argument. Unless that happens your argument is invalid. Allow games companies to continue to invest in quality gaming content and let that content speak for itself.