Kicking hornet’s nests

Twice in one week is pretty good for me.

There are a lot of unethical things that transpire in video game journalism, which are all likely extremely old hat to the established professionals, and why I’ve rarely, if ever, seen anyone write about them in the video game media. Things like the early Metascore manipulation I wrote about last week on Bitmob, and which I reprinted below.

In my earlier draft of that piece I had identified the four reviews that were the basis for the pre-embargo Metascore. A professional writer/editor contacted me to express concern that I was implicating them in wrongdoing, and how would he feel if someone had done the same thing to his outlet without contacting him first?

I didn’t see the point in contacting any of those four outlets before I published the initial draft of the column. It’s worth noting that what something looks like on Bitmob originally, versus how the edited version appears are often very different, so ostensibly the outlet would have struck the screenshot if they had a problem with it. But one doesn’t have to be a genius to exercise some deductive reasoning here:

– Review code can only be given out by publishers

– Publishers don’t give out review code without embargoes

– Community sites depend on relationships with publishers to get review code and to be able to post reviews in a timely fashion alongside the professional outlets.

– Therefore, it is extremely unlikely that a community site which has established a close enough relationship with a publisher to get review code is not going to jeopardize that relationship by publishing reviews pre-embargo without permission.

– Ergo: every site that publishes pre-embargo is almost certainly doing so with the publisher’s permission.

I’m sure there might actually be mistakes here and there, i.e. people who publish pre-embargo by accident, which was the concern of the writer/editor who contacted me. What if that’s what his outlet had done, and I made the implication that his outlet had published pre-embargo as a result of cozying up with a publisher? The point was ethically sound, so I pulled the names of the four outlets from the image.

I did, however, contact the four outlets to ask:

– Did you receive a copy of Homefront from THQ?

– Did you publish pre-embargo with permission from THQ?

– If you did not, were you aware of the embargo date before you published your review?

Two of the four outlets got back to me. One of them admitted that they did get review code and did have permission to publish pre-embargo from THQ, but weren’t willing to go on the record with that. The other outlet responded to my query by saying they would have their solicitor look at anything I wrote to look for slander, and that they couldn’t disclose the nature of their relationship with THQ.

After Bitmob editor Brett Bates’s edit before promoting the piece to the front page, I think the column turned out rather well…but crap like manipulating early Metacritic scores is just the beginning. I’ve heard tales of THQ throwing lavish events which they only invite B-rate sites to. Crazy stuff.

The other hornet’s nest I stirred up was a comment on Bitmob about my Metacritic post being followed up by a post about poop. Literally.

I try to write solid content for Bitmob because I believe allowing a wider variety of people to write about video games. I think part of the issue with games writing is that there isn’t a wider diversity of voices that also receive publicity. Shoe addressed the problem.

I think the best response I’ve been given from a pro is that Bitmob is a proving ground for writers trying to break in, and that’s precisely what I’ve used it for. I made my first post there in April of 2010, and didn’t get promoted to the front page much at all for a long time. Now, everything I’ll have written for Bitmob in 2011 save for my Jan. 5th post has hit their front page.

I guess that’s par for the course for community sites, but having a hard-nosed column I wrote followed by a post about games to play while shitting really rubbed me the wrong way. My wife tells me that this is often the way with websites, to follow something serious up with a lighter piece, and I get the idea of maintaining balance. I shouldn’t have commented on the poop post that it bothered me to have said post follow up my Metacritic piece. I’ll own that mistake.

It’s not my place to try and police a community which isn’t mine, and I’m blogging about the incident because I want to remember that it took place, as an object lesson for the future. A writer’s choice is whether to submit or not, and not to question the values and mission of the outlet. I was telling myself the other day that I should learn to repeat Wheaton’s Law like a mantra every time I find myself thinking about saying something snarky.

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