I've read every single post in this thread and I have to say that I'm happy to see how nuanced and informative the conversation has been. With a few exceptions ("Publication X is total shit!" comments are too broad and inflammatory to be of any use), the criticisms being leveled at games writers have a lot of merit to them. It's distressing to see so many publications (including, surprisingly, RPS) shy away from addressing the issue when so many people clearly care about it. Look at the comments sections for the original Eurogamer story, Patrick's thoughts about it on Giantbomb, or even just the view count for this thread; people absolutely want to hear about this.
I'll contribute to this thread by describing my own (admittedly limited) professional experience in public relations. I recently served as the social media director and PR contact for a small consumer electronics company that sells home audio products and portable speakers. Putting it simply, my job was to "get the word out," contact as many people in the press as I could about our products and develop a corporate image.
In addition to providing information about our products and arranging to have review samples sent out, part of my job was developing a rapport with my contacts. Phone conversations that didn't need to be more than five minutes long were often more than twenty minutes long. Instead of just giving boilerplate descriptions of products, I would put a more personal spin on things and pitch them in the context of a broader mission that my company was passionate about.
I definitely influenced how our products were covered and many of the people that I contacted had a similar influence on me. If I was looking for a new promotional partner or platform, for example, I would like to think that the suggestions I would make at meetings would be from a purely logical standpoint. In reality, I was more likely to push for an advertising package put forward by someone that I had gotten along with and trusted. Being "chummy" with people makes you more likely to want to contact them with followup questions, giving them additional opportunities to sell you on what they're selling.
I hope that I'm not making this sound too sinister. I felt that I did my job with integrity, and I certainly never lied about the products that my company sold. But, to be blunt, my job was to both get more coverage for our products and influence *how* they were covered. That's why they paid me. If they didn't think that controlling the message was important (or something that was possible), I wouldn't have been hired in the first place.
Games writers being friendly with PR people gives PR people more influence. Games writers attending press events and receiving special gifts and press kits gives PR people opportunities to control the message. Games writers relying on PR people for review copies and information about the game before its release give PR people even further leverage. If you want to see thoughtful, independent coverage of this industry, it's safe to say that you should demand that there be as much distance between press and PR as is possible.