In January 2009, BioShock 2 released for the PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Both a sequel and prequel to the original BioShock in a single player story and multiplayer story, respectively, fans across the globe rushed to stores to pickup their copies. After a few short months of offline single player campaign and online multiplayer gameplay, a downloadable content package (DLC, for short) was released on the consoles’ marketplaces. As fans downloaded the DLC, they realized that the size of the file they were downloading was 128.00 KB.
You don’t have to be a Computer Science major to know that anything in KBs is pretty small. Usually, Text Edit and Notepad notes are only 10KB or so. How could a full DLC package for a fifth-generation console game (complete with high-definition video and audio) only equate to 128.00 KB? It can’t. What the fans discovered was that they were downloading a virtual key of sorts that would unlock the DLC content which came pre-installed on the original game disc.
This sparked a large debate over what constituted “DLC” and what people were really paying for when they purchased a game. On one side, the content was already on the disc, and since people paid $59.99 for that disc, shouldn’t they have been allowed to access all of it? On the other side, the content was not pertinent to the single player or multiplayer experiences and only added to the overall experience, so didn’t the developers, 2K Games, have a right to moderate when the unlock code for extra content was released? In the end, no true verdict was reached, and people eventually just moved on to the next problems life threw at them.
In the case of the recent announcement of Sony’s PS4, a similar thing happened. People noticed that of the two posts published on BuzzFeed, one was “sponsored” by PlayStation while the other was not. Both appeared to be identical posts, minus a sponsor acknowledgment and off-white background color. The problem that arises from these two posts is that readers can’t be certain what is the true, objective opinion of the reviewer, or what is the information sponsored and written in by PlayStation’s own marketing team. Like with 2K Games, fans are left with a feeling of distrust towards the company.
Andrew Sullivan of The Dish writes that what’s not being respected here is the “ divide between editorial and advertizing,” a sort of unspoken boundary that exists, much like the separation of church and state. As times have changed and the line between journalism/criticism and industry advertising has widened and dissipated, it’s no longer clear what constitutes a totally unbiased piece of writing.
Editorial writing and media advertising need one another for both to survive, so sponsored content must continue to exist–without it, many companies wouldn’t be able to continue operating due to lack of funds. However when the two things become indistinguishable, “aren’t we in danger of destroying the village in order to save it?”