By Alan Scherstuhl
By Charles Taylor
By Melissa Anderson
By Inkoo Kang
By Amy Nicholson
By Sam Weisberg
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Chuck Wilson
Two Thursdays ago, I described the links between one of gamings biggest PR companies, TriplePoint PR, and a small gaming news and review site founded by TriplePoints General Manager and Founder Richard Kain (A Slave of Two Masters, JoystickDivision.com, September 25). Though the site GameCyte.com was set up via a domain privacy service and none of the companies disclosed the apparent conflict of interest, we were able to determine not only Kains connection to the two companies, but more like the fact GameCyte was staffed by current and former employees of TriplePoint, and that its most highly-recommended games by Kains own admission were made by a company hes invested in. Within a day of the story running, every site related to Kain had its About page updated to disclose this information to its readers.
Thats good. Its also not enough. Laying a conflict of interest bare doesnt dig the mines out of your field, it merely plants flags on them. TriplePoint and GameCytes relationship is still ill-conceived at best and built to fail at worst. . . but sometimes, all we can really hope for is more information so we can make better judgments.
Such are the dismally meager expectations we have these days. If it came out Roger Ebert worked for Paramount, it would be a scandal; if it was revealed Game Informer held a monthly eBay auction where game publishers bid on the cover story, gamers would log a jaded harrumph on the Net, sigh, and go back to asking the clerk at Gamestop for game recommendations. Jeff Gerstmanns firing, Sonys deceitful All I want for Christmas is a PSP campaign, Ubisofts embargos on less-than-glowing reviews, $800 sacks o swag awarded to Halo 3 reviewers and a dozen other examples have soured many gamers to the point theyre skeptical of anything found on screen or page even other gamers. Case in point: the poster who brought up the TriplePoint/GameCyte story at a popular gaming discussion board was quickly accused of being either me or one of TriplePoints rivals.
How do we fix this? Here are two places to start. . . address these, and almost everything else falls into place:
Transparency across the board. Transparency is the smallest yet most vital gesture any gaming news source can offer its readers. Whether its describing how you get the games you review, listing the publisher-hosted parties you attended at E3 or simply explaining whos in charge, its always better to err on the side of disclosure and think of what you do on a daily basis as a conversation youll eventually have with your readers. The oft-repeated rule of thumb at my previous employer was: Dont say, do, or write anything you wouldnt want to hear read back to you in court. Not a bad place to start.
No more publisher money. This needs to become gamings equivalent of the anti-lobbyist movement or getting off foreign oil: No more ad dollars from game publishers period, end of discussion. You dont need them. Gamers arent little veals locked in boxes who only buy games: they are consumers who buy things like deodorant, cars, clothes, sunglasses, over-the-counter painkillers, condoms and tooth whiteners like anyone else. In scraping together the money that keeps the lights on, there are alternatives to accepting it from people who create the games youre supposed to be objectively evaluating.
At some point, principle must come before commerce. Some will dismiss that notion as naïve, saying silly boy, games journalism is a business, to which Id reply: That will make a great first line on your About page.