Blacklisting in Games Media

Originally published on Trevor Trove on November 20, 2015

Imagine it’s November 2013 and you receive scripts from a casting call that you are confident reflect the script of the long-rumored Fallout 4. What do you do with that information?

Earlier today, Stephen Totilo of Kotaku posted a piece announcing that they have been blacklisted by Bethesda and Ubisoft, seemingly tied to their reporting of leaks regarding unannounced games Fallout 4 and Assassin’s Creed Victory (later revealed as Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate), respectively. I wound up getting into a couple twitter debates online and while I felt I was making coherent points, my opponents simply touted the rallying cry that “the developers don’t owe Kotaku anything” and “why should they reward leaks?”

To the former point that developers don’t owe Kotaku anything, this is certainly true. But I argue it comes across as a petty move on the part of a developer or publisher’s marketing or PR department to completely shut out access and completely refuse to even comment with a “no comment” response given these circumstances. Now the departments at those companies were certainly within their rights to withhold access and may have run some kind of cost-benefit analysis on whether or not the positive impact of Kotaku outweighed the negative impact of Kotaku on their bottom line and decided that it was a relationship they could live without; that’s their prerogative. But the perception pervades that Kotaku was punished for reporting factual news that their readers would want to know about instead of just towing the marketing line and reprinting the press releases provided them.

To the latter point about rewarding leaks, I responded “why should they penalize leaks?” It’s not as though Kotaku stole the leaked Fallout 4 script or Assassin’s Creed Syndicate assets. Somebody provided the leaked content to Kotaku and Kotaku determined their sources were strong enough to publish the information. By blacklisting Kotaku, these companies are trying to stifle games journalism in favor of the narrative they want to provide. The companies didn’t like that Kotaku didn’t play by their rules and timeline and are punishing the site as a result.

I likened the situation to theatre (my other main passion). If a critic comes to a show I produce and pans it, I don’t ban him from coming back to future shows. Just like I wouldn’t ban him if he came and loved the show. I know directors who have taken steps to either prevent a critic from returning or convince their loyal fans to harass the critic. This kind of action, again, only comes across as petty. I take the criticism and move on. My role is to produce the content for my audience, the critic’s role is to review it for their audience.

The debater’s response asked me to consider if I was co-producing a secret show and word got out; would I work with that person again? This was where I realized the person I was arguing with didn’t even have a grasp on the situation. Because in his mind now – per this analogy – Kotaku and Bethesda were somehow working together on Fallout 4 when the script leak happened and Bethesda blamed Kotaku for violating some kind of pact. I tried to express to him that I may or may not trust the producing partner(s) but I certainly wouldn’t hold the newspaper who reported on it accountable. If these companies don’t want leaks, they should (and probably did) tighten their internal security.  But it would seem they certainly also ended their working relationship with Kotaku just for reporting the news. This is a penalty to that one site, not a reward to all the other ones.

So if you suddenly find yourself with a copy of the script for The Elder Scrolls VI: Tamriel just be aware that you’re completely rational response of shouting that from the rooftops will also probably get you thrown in Bethesda’s doghouse with Dogmeat.

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