Ethical Journalism and Shady Businesses
The stance that all journalists adhere to a code of conduct that puts them responsible for outlining their potential biases and factors that influence their paychecks is a stance I wholeheartedly back. For a reader to understand the weight of a journalists words that reader needs to know if the journalist is receiving free copies of products or if the developer they are talking with is someone they play tennis with every week. These are important to understand the bias of a journalist and how you should measure their words.
That isn’t to say that the above instances discredit a journalist’s words on those particular subjects. Getting a free review copy of a product dismisses the concern of personal finances influencing the review of a product and playing with a friend doesn’t mean that friends can’t criticize one another to help them achieve bigger and better things. It really depends on what perspective an individual reader prefers over another.
The reason why I bring this up is that there are a lot of eyes focusing on journalistic integrity and a demand for journalists in gaming to be open about their practices and their biases. While there is a lot of good reason to demand this of journalists I find that there is a woeful neglect of the consumer awareness against developers and publishers in gaming. They seem to be enjoying a large cushion of leniency from consumers and journalists despite some of the incredibly outrageous things they have been up to.
Let me provide some examples:
Nintendo is rather well known among YouTubers as a company that simply wants to control all opinion, revenue and representation of their products. In the past Nintendo has outright issued copyright claims against YouTube personalities that could have ended in some accounts being outright shut down. More recently they have “conceded” with YouTube by taking control of video content by adding Nintendo ads and outright taking a cut of advertising revenue over the creator. This notably sparked an outrage and it should be no surprise that not many personalities touch Nintendo products anymore.
FUN Creators, developers behind Guise of the Werewolf, hit TotalBiscuit with copyright strikes against his account. They accused him of something (I can’t find the original claim) and the team with TotalBiscuit with an e-mail asking for the copyright strike to be removed. What followed was a bizarre amount of e-mails and tweets from FUN Creators that harassed TotalBiscuit and readers alike while claiming that TotalBiscuit was making up a lot of this. They even demanded that TotalBiscuit “remove all tweets and delete your channel”. It ended with FUN Creators backing off when they realized that TotalBiscuit and Polaris were perfectly willing to take this all the way to court.
Recently ImminentUprising, creators of Slaughtering Grounds, cherry-picked a first impression video Jim Sterling made about the game and issued a copyright violation against it. Before this they “reviewed the reviewer” by taking Sterling’s original video and typing over it with crude and abusive language to harass Sterling and potentially his audience. ImminentUprising is apparently perfectly willing to go to court with their potentially false DMCA claim after they made a very powerful statement about why Sterling’s video, and seemingly his alone, is against their copyright.
Finally we have a debacle featuring Ubisoft and the immediately released Assassin’s Creed: Unity. The company enforced a 12 hour post-launch embargo that restricted anyone who got a review copy from criticizing the game. This was done, presumably, to protect a game that has been stated to be one of the worst Assassin’s Creeds to date.
What is important about these examples is what was done, what was the initial reaction and where they stand now. Nintendo still makes crazy amounts of money and undoubtedly still taking money from some YouTubers, FUN Creators are still harassing people on Twitter and still making profit off their game, people are still buying Slaughtering Grounds to get in on the hype of the game and Ubisoft still cashed in on pre-orders. Despite the outrage no one has held the developers and publishers accountable in the long term.
What should be noted about this last example is the response it has gotten from many popular gaming news and review outlets. A few of these outlets have made a promise to the community to refuse to partake of review copies that enforce such an embargo. This is a great step towards demanding a higher standard from the developers.
I support @Stephentotilo – CynicalBrit will also not accept review copies with post-launch embargos anymore. It is anti-consumer, quit it.
— TotalBisquid (@Totalbiscuit) November 11, 2014
The problem is that, while some are standing firm in their decisions, there are many others who will still play the system that the developers and publishers are setting. It appears that consumers, despite being burned time and time again, are willing to turn a blind eye to outrageous actions. It leaves a journalist in a precarious position when they try to provide the reader a fair and informed article while dealing with embargo restrictions.
I agree that we need to put journalists, like myself, under a code of conduct that offers transparency to the reader. I also feel that these standards need to be applied to any company that provides a product for the journalist to review be it in gaming, the geek culture or the maker/haker spaces. Journalists should band together to demand that companies stop trying to manipulate the market so they can make their pre-order sales, microtransactions or other ridiculous buy-ins that companies enforce against consumers. Consumers should hold consumers to these standards and refrain from purchasing from a company who uses manipulative practices.
We all have a part to play in making a fair and even market of information and product. Only until we all work together to reach a common goal will we find our market improving to provide more of what we want rather than what one side wants. We are at a time where we might get close to something of this nature and I will play my role as a consumer and journalist to reach that stage.