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.

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