Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
08 March 2007
Things Changing, Staying Same, Re: Kotaku
So as the blog world found out last week, Sony tried to play hardball with Kotaku to keep them from posting a rumor (which in the process became all but substantiated) that they were working on a new PS3 system feature, the "Playstation Home," to combine X-box Live's popular obsessive-compulsive Achievements feature with the Wii's Charlie Brown-creator tool. The mixture will, in the end, allow people to create a virtual, anthropomorphic personification of their PS3, which will live in a little virtual house, and collect little virtual game-related trinkets that represent your game accomplishments. Perhaps a future update will let the little guy live in the virtual basement rent-free beneath his virtual mother's home.

But let's set the Playstation Home thing aside, although there is certainly a lot of comedy there to be mined. Instead, let's talk about the attitude that prompted Sony's little do-our-bidding letter to Kotaku. For assuredly, it is far from being a exclusive to them. The assumptions that lie beneath that odd missive get to the heart of why the game journalism world in general, let us not mince words here, sucks.

The big sites, the ones who get the big news first (leaving the dozens of second-tier sites to lap up their used news and reprint in the great echo chamber of the internet) usually get that news by making a Faustian bargain. The contract reads "Our PR guys will spoon-feed you news, on the condition that you present it the way we want, and when we want it." An organization that obeys that kind of edict doesn't sound, to me, like something that can be called a press. But what can a site do but play the game, or be banished to the abyss of the second-tier?

Kotaku could buck the trend because, really, people don't go there, or to Joystiq, or Insert Credit, or Penny Arcade, or (yo homies) GameSetWatch, or here, for breaking news. They go/come (t)here for commentary. That's what blogs are best at.

Of course Kotaku isn't innocent either. One of the things that Sony requested of them in their ball-collection note is their debug PS3, something that Kotaku could not have acquired without agreeing, on an unspoken level at least, to the deal. And THIS week, they did pull information gained at GDC off the site because it had actually been "embargoed," and Kotaku had received a letter from Microsoft saying, in essence, "Who's your daddy?"

Most of the top-tier game news sites, the Gamespots and the Gamespies and the Gamewhosits, do this, but of all those that have used the Red Pen to ink their names on the contract, IGN would seem to be the ones who hide it the worst.

IGN, the guys who set up a subscription plan so that one can pay for untainted access to the PR spigots of major game companies. A recent blog post from IGN Wii editor Matt Casamassina said:
There are some potentially crazy-awesome games coming down the pipeline for Wii, by the way. You guys have no idea. I know that's vague -- has to be, but I've seen some stuff that you simply have no idea even exists and frankly, if you did, you'd flip out. Comments like these have a way of backfiring on me and i'm sure some people will be annoyed that I've even brought up, since I'm unable to give even a hint about the projects in question.
Yes! Is it not a shame that you, member of the gaming press whose job it is to inform us unwashed readers of so much juicy information. But alas! You have bigger, important interests at heart than us poor non-insiders, us unimportant masses, us pitiful ignorants. But I am sure you will tell us when you journalistic hands are unbound, and you come down from Mt. Olympus to bestow upon us a morsel of Truth.

Oh sure, it can't be an easy place for a top-tier site to be in. And I understand that there are some things that the manufacturers may not want news sites to print, and that is okay. Where we differ is on how to protect that information from the hungry eyes of the public. You do it, not by co-opting the enthusiast gaming press into your circle of trust, but by not telling it to them before you want them to know.

I do not think them turning into what is essentially an advertising service for the major manufacturers is they way to go. It is not good that any press get too close to those that they report on, and who have every reason to manipulate it. Joystiq suffered enough of a creditability blow some time back when one of their writers drank too much PR Kool-Aid that they fired the guy responsible. It couldn't have happened if they took more of a detached approach to the subject. The big sites like Gamespot and IGN may never be able to ween themselves off the sour PR milk, but gaming blogs shouldn't be chasing scoops anyway.

Let the NDAs lapse, and get back to the sacred task of shamelessly posting of every unsubstantiated rumor that hits your mailbox. That's all I'm asking.

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--John Harris at 01:39
Comment [ 10 ]

Comments on this post:

It doesn't seem a lot different than how most news organizations get their White House information from Tony Snow. If they're found to be disseminating unauthorized infos, they lose their invite to the press room.

I don't really disagree with your point in an idealistic sense but I think the current method is better than solely waiting for press releases or advertisements.

By Blogger Alex, at 08 March, 2007 09:59  

What I'm curious about is whether any of the media outlets have attempted to cultivate insider contacts which are not restricted by NDA. I know it would basically be encouraging employees to break *their* NDAs, but you'd think that some information obtained in this way could be reported without revealing the source.

Also, I wonder about the feasibility of going through the paperwork discarded from offices of developers and publishers. You'd think there would be something there to hunt through and report on.

Not glamorous, I realize, but is anyone thinking outside the current framework of online reporting?

Also, companies could use such leaks to their own advantage. Perhaps some already do.

By Blogger jvm, at 08 March, 2007 11:29  

If the way game companies have the game press tied around their fingers the way the Bush White House has tamed the American press, that speaks very poorly of them.

Anyway, I would argue that the companies depend more on the game press than the game press depends on the companies. The press creates the stories, and the press stokes the hype. The companies have their own websites for disseminating information, if they didn't need the game press on some level they could just use them to get out the info they needed spread. What the game companies need them for is their appearance of objectivity. If they aren't actually objective, then ultimately that appearance will wear away, anyway.

That may not seem like an obvious conclusion, but the very existence of popular second-tier sites is indicative that it's very possible to be popular without signing anything.

By Blogger JohnH, at 08 March, 2007 14:00  

"Anyway, I would argue that the companies depend more on the game press than the game press depends on the companies."

i one hundred percent agree. we're not talking about war here. or natural disasters.

we're talking about product announements.

the gaming press IS these companies' advertising channel. companies should be paying gaming "press" to come to their junkets not getting paid to allow them in.

there needs to be a coup and it needs to be now.

the proof?

look at how fast sony turned around and cuddled up to kotaku. they tried to bring the big stick -- to play the big dog -- and realized they weren't and aren't the head of this relationship.

bloggers and gaming sites need to wake up to this. no more ndas. no more paying (or getting paid by) publishers.

the game sites need to realize that they OWN the relationship -- not the other way around.


By Blogger m3mnoch, at 08 March, 2007 14:36  

and, i might add, the very second one of the bigger sites breaks news that other sites have, but are under nda (presumably via an insider), all bets are off.

the day gamespot gets scooped by joystiq because joystiq "doesn't do ndas" but has an insider and gamespot has a stupid gag order contract? that's the day all this changes.


By Blogger m3mnoch, at 08 March, 2007 14:42  

But m3mnoch (if that really is your name), it just happened. That's what happened with the Kotaku thing. Another site broke news of the Playstation Home early, which is why Kotaku (which was under an embargo) published it, because they now had it from another source.

By Blogger JohnH, at 08 March, 2007 15:55  

I could see a trade magazine cultivating sources to get news "scoops" that might be valuable, but otherwise, gaming press is entertainment press.

There's very little an "inside scoop" will benefit the community. These sites might as well work with companies' PR (within reason). Sometimes there are insane demands, like 1UP awhile back being asked not to print Famitsu's review of a particular game that was going to be released soon in the US.

I really don't understand what the beef is. As long as I can trust a site's reviews and editorials, I really don't care about how it runs it news.

By Blogger Mordrak, at 08 March, 2007 23:52  

But that's what I'm worried about: already previews in game magazines and on game sites are a joke. What I am concerned about is that the anecdotes about the companies abusing the game press are like the three roaches you see in your home: for each you see, a dozen are in the walls, hidden away.

By Blogger JohnH, at 09 March, 2007 00:00  

There was an interesting two part podcast from Gamasutra that did a 3 person conference interview thing with Greg Kasavin, Greg Vederman, and Jon Davison. One topic they discuss is how reviews really aren't the important in selling games, previews are. has had similar articles questioning the effect reviews have on game sales. Greg Kasavin also reveals that publishers put a little too much importance on since the site really isn't that popular.

So as publishers realize this (and they already are), you'll have to worry less about the integrity of the reviews. Publishers won't care about the reviews.

Also, I don't read previews for an accurate representation of the game's prospects. I read them to see if the game looks like something I might be interested in. It's easy to spot hyperbole. Just ignore it.

I guess publisher's could exert influence in editorials, but I don't see how they benefit from trying to influence an article on the influence of Hollywood on the video game industry or other similar articles.

By Blogger Mordrak, at 09 March, 2007 12:59  

"But m3mnoch (if that really is your name), it just happened. That's what happened with the Kotaku thing. Another site broke news of the Playstation Home early, which is why Kotaku (which was under an embargo) published it, because they now had it from another source."

heh. no, it's not my real name... i'm this guy:

anyway. i don't think it did REALLY just happen. kotaku still honors embargos in general.

i think this will start the cogs turning, tho. i hope we'll see some big gaming blogs say things like "we're not signing ndas!" and publish more insider dirt. if they don't have an agreement, they can publish it.

it's just getting out of those agreements to begin with. it'll just be a nervous can-we-exist-while-blackballed thing. do they want to be a "news outlet" or a blog? being both is what's sticking in their craw right now.

they need to realize, that's how to get the best info. the game industry is filled -- absolutely packed -- with disgruntled, over-worked, under-paid moles. sprinkle a bit of the "you get what you pay for when you have testers working for free" pixie-dust and you have yourself an industry ripe for the gossip-plucking.

kotaku of the future: "hey, kid. i'll give you $500 if you tell me about that top-secret project you're testing right now."


By Blogger m3mnoch, at 09 March, 2007 18:54  

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