[Article first published as Q&A with Jim Redner: The Redner Group, 2K Games, and Duke Nukem Forever on Blogcritics.]
Videogame review ratings are, as with review ratings of all forms of media, pretty subjective. There have been games that have gotten mediocre reviews which I thoroughly enjoyed, and there have been games with fairly high critic reviews that I only thought were so-so. It’s the same grab bag you shove your digital hands into when visiting Rotten Tomatoes to check out a flick.
There are, however, certain titles (again, as there are in other forms of media) that completely polarize audiences with folks ending up completely on one side or the other of a “loved it/hated it” dichotomy. The Guitar Hero and Rockband games are a perfect example. I don’t know anyone who casually played them just for occasional kicks when they came out. Folks were either rocking out with their finest rock flourish, or throwing things at those dancing the dance of digital rock, asking them how they could destroy music this way.
After all the built up anticipation, we all knew that 2K Games and Gearbox’s Duke Nukem Forever was going to follow this same kind of line. I mean, the game was over a decade in the making. There was an army of loyal fans, with their yellowed, crinkled preorder receipts from way back when chomping at the bit to finally get their hands on a copy of DNF, while another faction wasn’t really buying into the excitement. As the release day got closer, reviews started rolling in, and unfortunately for 2K Games they weren’t good. After receiving a combined Metacritic score of 49 (for the Xbox 360 version), it was 2K Games’ outside public relations company, The Redner Group, that went on the offensive, sending out a few tweets that sparked a lot of controversy, with the following one seeming to be the harshest:
“too many went too far with their reviews…we r reviewing who gets games next time and who doesn’t based on today’s venom."
It looked like TRG was threatening gaming media outlets that gave 2K games low review scores. The tweet was deleted shortly after, and replaced with an apology from Jim Redner and a tweet indicating that it was only The Redner Group, and not 2K Games, that was behind the message. Despite the tweet being deleted, gaming sites around the web immediately began reporting on media outlets being threatened with blacklisting for bad reviews. But not everyone was talking about threats from TRG. In a tweet yesterday, Eurogamer.net’s Tom Bramwell said “I feel sorry for @TheRednerGroup today. We are blacklisted by @2KGames and it seems to be standard practice.” He went on to mention that they had to buy Duke Nukem Forever to review it.
Everyone had something to say, but outside from a few tweets and a public separation with 2K games, I wasn’t seeing anything from The Redner Group. To get some clarity I contacted Jim Redner yesterday, who was gracious enough to take the time to answer a few questions for me. His answers paint a picture of an emotionally charged man with a passion for gaming who gets very personal with his project. He freely admits that yes, he made a mistake, and the whole situation could have been handled better.
Read what we had to say below.
Tushar Nene (TN): Did 2K Games have any part in the tweets originating from TRG's twitter account?
Jim Redner (JR): No, 2K didn’t have anything to do with the tweets. They came directly from theRednerGroup. theRednerGroup is a small PR agency. In fact, it is just me. I work from a bedroom turned into an office. I hustle to get business and I have to compete with the bigger agencies. I am a 24/7 one-person agency. I hire freelancers to help out on occasion, but for the most part I do it all. I care for my clients and their projects. I work very hard to generate consumer awareness. It’s so hard to put so many hours and then see one story tear it down. I am so emotional[ly] tied to my projects and I acted unprofessional due to one review and it wasn’t even the lowest review. My tweet was plain dumb. I know how I should’ve handled [it]. 2K reacted as they should’ve. I actually offered to resign the account the night of the tweet because they needed to distance themselves from me.
TN: Did the tweet regarding reviewing which outlets would receive future 2K releases reflect 2K's true sentiment, as EuroGamer.net's Tom Bramwell has tweeted that they are now blacklisted?
JR: Actually, no. I don’t know much about EuroGamer and their standing with 2K. I can’t speak on their behalf at all.
I can speak to how I handled theRednerGroup’s US and Canadian media review policy. I look to support writers who have pre-launch provided coverage on the game or project that I represent. If you provide me with coverage, I will provide you with a game for review. Your pre-launch coverage and review generates consumer attention for both the game and your site. It is a symbiotic relationship. If you haven’t covered the game yet and ask for a review copy, I usually turn you down. I have a limited amount of copies to give out and I try to take care of the writers that have taken care of the game. It’s only fair. Of course I want everyone to review each game positively, but we all know that is not possible. Some games rock and some games don’t. We know well in advance of launch if a game is going generate high or low scores. Overall, we are never surprised.
Reviews are subjective. They are one person’s opinion of the game, and as you know, opinions are never wrong. I read every review. I don’t care if my game receives a poor review so long as the writer backs up the story in fact. I believe that writers have a responsibility to be ethical and fair in their reviews if they receive the game from the publisher. A writer can hate a game and say so. The responsible thing to do is to write the review in a fair manner and back up the review in fact. If they do that, I cannot and will not complain about the review?
Everyone has the right to say what they want, when they want. But, if you are going to be crass and outlandishly mean spirited, I have the right to no longer support you with content or games. Blacklisting is an ugly word. We don’t blacklist anyone. We pick who receives games and who doesn’t. We have limited amount to begin with. I think people believe that games are free for us when in fact we have to pay for them as well. A discounted price, but it still is very expensive. So why would I send a game to someone who I know is going to destroy or is capable of hate-filled stories? Where is the sense in that? If someone hits you every time you see them, would you continue to want to see them? Of course not.
I admire writers who can take a game and write solid reviews based in fact even though they would never play that game in their spare time. For instance, if someone hated sports and was told that they had to review a baseball game and then turned around wrote a well-founded review on it, regardless of the score, I find that impressive. I couldn’t do it. The vast majority of writers in this industry do that all the time and they do it well. There is a common misconception that publisher have to give games out for review. They don’t have to give games to anyone. In fact, they have as much right to refuse to send games out as writers have the right to publish whatever they want.
TN: What kind of response have you received from the community?
JR: The response from writers in the industry has been overwhelming supportive. They provided me with their opinion about my tweet, a lot of well thought out constructive feedback which I welcome. Some agreed and some disagreed but they were honest and open with me. I have tried to uphold several beliefs in how I work with people. I try to be fair. I try to be prompt and take care of the media I work with. I hope that I will be able to rebuild some of the faith I may have lost in the video game media community.
TN: What happens next for TRG?
JR: Since I am a single PR professional, I handle all aspects of a campaign. In order to compete with the bigger agencies with multi-offices and 100s of employees, I have work seven days a week from my bedroom/office. I have to be available all day and all night. I hustle. I work tirelessly and Duke Nukem Forever was my baby. Like a father protecting his son, I emotionally charge[d] when I posted that tweet. It’s hard to read outlandishly bad reviews that are really diatribes. Actually, it was just one review and it wasn’t even the lowest scoring review. It was just a mean spirited diatribe masked as a review. I should’ve had thicker skin.
My next steps are to continue my hustle. This has set me back and rightly so, but I will push forward and move on. theRednerGroup will survive this controversy in some form or fashion. I know what is important in life and I know what isn’t. I love the video game community. Much to the dismay of my future wife, I still play games. Go Borderlands! Call of Duty: Black Ops! I have played games since my next door neighbor introduced me to the Atari 2600. Asteroids, Centipede,Codebreaker. Though my tastes in games have changed over the years, my passion for them hasn’t.
Twitter is a pretty powerful tool. What was a vague idea years ago has turned into a media machine that’s being utilized by folks in business and entertainment to communicate with fans and each other, giving everyone all the latest news. Unfortunately, that kind of instant attention can be a double-edged sword; fame can become notoriety in a matter of a day. It’s just another illustration of potential problems that can occur that people never would have thought of in the pre-Facebook/Twitter era.
I’d like to thank Jim Redner again for answering my questions, and wish him and The Redner Group the best in moving past this situation.