Saturday, May 30, 2015

Actually Worth Reading pt. 2: A Reply in Kind

  On Aug. 29th, Kotaku published an article titled "We Might Be Witnessing the Death of an Identity", along side a slew of similar articles from similar websites in the same theme: "Gamers are over", "A Guide to Ending Gamers" and so on. These articles release from Aug 28th to Sep 1st took many by surprise. Erik Cain of Forbes wrote " is odd when you see nearly a dozen articles within a 24 hour period pop up declaring the annihilation of an identity. It reeks of the worst sort of identity politics." (source) David Auerbach of Slate ironically opens his response to the controversy with "Slate readers are over, declining—a dead demographic." (source)

  The question of the day was: "Why? Why would games journalists declare gamers are dead?" Many gamers took to various forums to discuss, but were censored in places like 4chan and reddit's r/gaming, and the comments sections of every publisher that ran these articles were heavily moderated, removing any dissenting opinions.

  This combination of censorship and soap boxing, speaking through megaphones without listening in return, is what caused #GamerGate to explode. It might have taken some by surprise, but this had been building for years. Arguably the worst offender was and continues to be Kotaku.

  On Oct. 26th 2012, Kotaku published Andrew McMillen's article "What Went Wrong With Silicon Knight's X Men Destiny?" (archive), which made many claims about Denis Dyack, calling him an incompetent tyrant and implying that he scammed publishers. However, those claims did not have any evidence or any sources other than anonymous former employees. That did not stop the article from being published by Kotaku, even after the story had been turned down by others. The resulting controversy is still being discussed, especially as more information is made available.

  A few replies to this articles that are actually worth reading and watching are:

Your Opinion is Wrong: Denis Dyack by Andrew Whipple III (archive)

Response to Kotaku Article (video, 33:52) by Denis Dyack

Denis Dyack Interview Part 1 – Yellow Journalism and What Really Happened with X-Men Destiny by Brandon Orselli (archive)(page 2)

   On May 13th, 2013, Kotaku published Stephen Totilo's article "Grand Theft Auto Taught Me To Drive." (archive) Over a year later, Dec. 4th 2014, it was updated to show that it had been a hoax. The update reads in part:

  "This story appears to have been based on a hoax that was intended to trick us into publishing a false article... I didn't vet this person's story with the rigor I do with anonymous sources for more weighty stories. I messed up."

  Well congratulations, you got yourself caught! One wonders what "rigor" he is referring to, when so many Kotaku articles turn out to be founded on unverified, anonymous sources, while actual sources go uncontacted, especially the subjects of their hit pieces. While this less "weighty" story harmed no one, it showed clearly how easy it is to get a hoax past the editor-in-chief of Kotaku.

  According to Scrump Monkey from Super Nerd Land "It all comes down to one thing: access." Journalists have access that bloggers don't. When journalists don't use their access to vet their articles, they should not be taken seriously.

  The article that references this story among others is actually worth reading:

The Death of Games Journalism Part 1: Journalism 101 by Scrump Monkey (archive)(page 2)

  A video in which Stephen Totilo talks to Total Biscuit is actually worth watching:

Ethics in Games Media: Stephen Totilo of Kotaku comes to the table to discuss (1:42:31) by TotalBiscuit

  Georgina Young is well know in #GamerGate circles for insisting on strict neutrality. She is not "pro-GG", neither is she "anti-GG". However, she remains well liked and respected by those who continue to discuss ethical concerns under the tag #GamerGate (it's just a hashtag, after all), due to her fairness in reporting. She has reported on the harassment and doxxing of both sides of the debate, the bias of the GamerGate Wikipedia article, and a fair analysis of the hashtag. At all times, her words are chosen carefully, to not make sweeping claims, but to present what evidence there is.

  Young's Nov. 12 2014 article "The Problems with Kotaku Lie Much Deeper than Corruption" (archive) is actually worth reading. It begins by giving Kotaku much more benefit of doubt as now seems possible. However, the rest of the article is, quite frankly, a damning series of references to Kotaku articles which show "the shocking real life consequences for those involved, simply for clickbait and page views."


  In closing, I'd like to point out that the base image for the header to this article is Kotaku's original mascot. These two adaptations are a reference to "sea-lioning", which critics of games media are often accused of, and the many "sock puppet" accusations of those who tweeted out under #NotYourShield being fake accounts, specifically Tim Schafer's joke (which could actually be funny with a bit of work). The recolor on the right is a reference to, a games journalism resource that records ethical breaches of journalists and lists alternative sources (which will feature in future parts of this series).

  Kotaku used to be a consumer advocate, and appealed to the market in a fun and sexy way. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, it is a beautiful thing to do. Now, however, places like Kotaku are publishing articles vilifying games, gamers and game creators based on a totalitarian ideology that is extremely sex-negative. One final video on this subject in the context of the comics industry that is actually worth watching is Spider-Woman's Big Ass is a Big Deal (6:42) by Maddox. In it, he notes the various inconsistencies and hypocrisies of this type of thinking.

  Kotaku has abandoned beauty and now attacks it. Kotaku has abandoned journalistic objectivity and ethical standards and will now print anything for the clicks. Kotaku has abandoned consumer advocacy and now attacks games, gamers and game creators. They are not alone in this, of course, and more of these attacks by similar sites will feature in Actually Worth Reading pt. 3.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Actually Worth Reading pt. 1: Some Websites are Lying About Game Devs

  On May 19th., Polygon published an opinion piece (archive)(link) by Katie Chironis (game and narrative designer, currently a team lead for Elsinore). In it, she states:

  "Right now, passionate, optimistic backers who want to see their favorite old franchises return to life are being misled right and left about the "real" costs behind a game, concerns often hand-waved away by celebrity headliners and funding goals that appear to be appropriately large — on the surface."

  She further speculates on what Yooka-Laylee's actual budget might be:

  "If we say $10,000 per person per month for a year of development, which is a very rough approximation, you get a $1.8 million budget. The campaign has already raised over $2.5 million, which is a very workable budget, but it's hard to imagine how the game would have survived under the campaign's original goal [$270,000]."

  Chironis didn't have to speculate, though. Instead, she could have read the Yooka-Laylee Kickstarter FAQ, which states:

  ""Isn’t £175k a little cheap for the game you’re promising?" Indeed it is, but that figure alone doesn’t give you the whole picture. We’ve already put a plan in place using personal finances to get the game done no matter what happens, however this extra money can be used by us to hire a few more talented people, get the game done sooner and allow us to commit to more features and platforms too." (archive)(link)

  Chironis must not have fact checked before making her claims. While Polygon added "The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Polygon as an organization." to the end of the article, this does not let them off the hook for publishing an opinion piece founded on a false premise. They could have instead asked for a revision, or added an editor's note, or not run the article to begin with. More likely, the editors at Polygon didn't fact check either.

  Chironis' claim may in fact be correct about games other than Yooka-Laylee, according to Mark Kern. He states "Its true though (not here), many KS's do lowball and don't disclose. The fear of the stigma of not funding drives em." (source) However, that Chironis makes this claim about a popular game kickstarter without that claim being factual only undermines her argument.

  On May 22, Patrick Klepek published an article on Kotaku titled "Worth Reading: Some Kickstarters are Lying About Game Budgets" (archive)(link), with a photo of Yooka-Laylee as the header. In it, he links a few articles with commentary of his own. Klepek's comments on Chironis' article in full:

  "I’m of two minds on this argument. One, I believe the fear over known quantities coming to Kickstarter and raising tons of money actually helps the service—and smaller projects—by introducing crowdfunding to other people. On the other hand, it’s absolutely true this new way of using Kickstarter—asking for way less than you actually need, and simply leveraging the service as a way to prove interest to potential investors—is doing a terrible disservice to our understanding of game budgets. Crowdfunding has been a wonderful way for people to better grasp the realities of how much it costs to make a game, but some projects are outright lying."

  These comments coming after that headline and that photo are a blatant implication that Yooka-Laylee are one of those projects that are "outright lying."

  The title has since changed to "Worth Reading: The Way Games Are Using Kickstarter Is Changing", and an update including:

  "While some Kickstarters may be misleading people about their budgets, the ones highlighted in the article I was linking to and referenced in our own article here, have explained to potential backers that the amount of money they’re asking for doesn’t constitute a full budget for their game. Some backers may not realize this, but the information, to some extent, is there. That makes these Kickstarters and their approach worth writing about, and it makes the phenomenon of asking backers for significantly less money than the cost of development worthy of discussion, but it doesn’t constitute lying. I apologize for my mischaracterization."

  The text also changed from "some projects are outright lying."  to "some projects seem misleading."

  These statements, "to some extent", "mischaracterization" and changing "outright lying" to "misleading", these do not constitute an apology. This is a weaseling out of responsibility after getting caught.

  As of May 28th., the Polygon article remains unchanged. (archive)

 Chironis, Polygon's editors, Klepek and Kotaku's editors are now all collectively responsible for this smear on Yooka-Laylee's reputation. Whether it is by failing to check the facts or by outright ignoring the facts, this is libelous. This is yellow journalism.

  There are alternatives, however, some of which I will reference in Actually Worth Reading pt. 2.