Hello! I'm Tom. I designed a game called Gunpoint, about rewiring things and punching people, and now I'm working on a new one called Heat Signature, about sneaking aboard randomly generated spaceships. Here's some more info on all the games I've worked on, here's the podcast I do, here are the videos I make on YouTube, here are some of the articles I wrote for PC Gamer, and here are two short stories I wrote for the Machine of Death collections.
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For some reason the gaming news media have attempted to evolve from scratch, rather than taking any cues from the way actual news is reported. Stranger, the natural-selection process for which sites become popular seems to be horribly, horribly broken. Thanks partly to RSS and partly to free-and-easy link-without-reading incest, the headline has become the only important thing about a story. There’s a huge chunk of readers, myself included, who click links to news stories without knowing which site they’re going to until they get there. For that reason, the site’s reputation and integrity is irrelevant – all you know before clicking is the name of the story, and the more outlandish and unlikely it is the more you want to see how they justify saying something so patently untrue.
It’s getting pretty ridiculous. Right now, the most-clicked news story in the most-read game news aggregator, which pulls together the content of 186 news sites, is called “Rumor: WiiD Coming Next Year?” It’s a piece on Kotaku decrying this image as fake, since it clearly looks like a DVD player and Nintendo have announced the Wii won’t have one:
“The lesson here,” chides Brian Crecente, “is to check your rumors before you start creating fake images to pass around.”
Is it… is it a DVD player that straps to your face, Brian? Do you push the DVDs into your eyes to watch them? Is Wii-D a phononym for DVD that just misses out a letter or two? Because that thing, fake as it is, is quite openly a 3D stereoscopic headset. It would be bizarre enough if you were just picking headlines in order to state that they weren’t true in the body copy, but even the fake image you’ve posted isn’t suggesting the claim in your headline. You’ve just made something up, then insulted it, then reported it as a rumour, and backed it up with a forged image that you haven’t even looked at. A rumour is called a ‘false rumour’ if you know it isn’t true, and if you yourself made it up, the word for that is ‘lying’. That could be a useful new prefix for a lot of your stories, actually. And it probably wouldn’t stop people clicking on them.
I’m sure there was a time when Kotaku was the only offender. At time of writing the latest story on Joystiq is “Ridiculous “black 360″ with ridiculously cute cat”:
It’s the reporter’s cat. Could this be the best story since they broke the news that if one number is bigger than the other, then the smaller number is smaller than the larger one, all else being equal? The story here, again, is that their own headline is inaccurate, this is not a black X-Box 360 retail unit.
“This “black 360″ crap is really getting silly. That’s a test kit that my cute-ass cat is pwning. Nothing more.” Great. What am I doing here again?
At least Joystiq have the decency to be exasperated by their own mendacity, I suppose. To be fair, they do link another photo of the same type of unit posted on cousin-site Engadget, ruthlessly exposing the truth behind the lie! Except that the Engadget post they’re talking about, which they don’t link (but do hotlink the image from), is also one explaining that the image is really of a test kit.
“Can we move on now?” the writer sighs. Let’s see: you first posted this story on June the 11th, 2005. The outlook isn’t good.
That’s the other mind-numbing thing about gaming news: the zeitgeist is amnesiac. A major story becomes a major story again three months later, when everyone forgets that it ever happened. Again just using today as an example, and I apologise to Tom because this is not his fault, Eurogamer have the news that there will be X-Box 360 exclusive episodes for GTA IV. At least this story is true. I know because I was at the Microsoft pre-E3 conference when they announced it in May. I also know because I read it on Eurogamer the next day.
Jason L: Yep. I came late to VG news blogs, I think around the beginning of the year. I read Kotaku and Joystiq for a few months, but eventually I realised that every time I saw one of their stories, I was going in with the assumption that it was deliberately misleading and inflammatory, repeated from some earlier post, completely irrelevant and subjective, or all three. The only VG news feed I currently check is the aggregator at WiiGamer.com for factual updates like preorders and official release date changes, and it's sort of funny to see the same junk appear up to six times verbatim.
I do occasionally drop in to read one of Eliza Gauger's posts, as she often seems to
A. Write her own original interpretations or summaries of news events without formulaic misanthropy and vulgar humour,
B. Read sources which report facts or events,
and C. As a professional writer - paid to write - properly read, write and spell her own native language. If I saw Crecente, Eckhart, or any of the forgettable chimps at AOL Games/Joystiq say "take a peak" one more time, I was going to get ulcers.
So yes. VG blogs started out brilliant, but their laziness has now dropped them
Jason L: ack! "...below even a few of the better fora."
Jason L: Well, Eckhart calls your article a "nice little temper tantrum", but it would appear that they may have taken it to heart a little...in a way:
"Headline answer: yes! Real answer: no!"
Tom EG: On the above, I sent Tom an email and he suggested I post some comments here. Since I *would* jump off a cliff if he asked me to...
Rockstar's confusing press release in May began:
CHUNK: "This time, XboxÃ‚Â® Nation wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have to wait. Responding to the cries of millions of Xbox 360Ã¢â€žÂ¢ owners, Microsoft Corp. and Rockstar Games, the universally renowned publishing label of Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc., have struck a groundbreaking agreement that brings Ã¢â‚¬Å“Grand Theft Auto IVÃ¢â‚¬Â to the Xbox 360 platform on day one of its global release."
And then it went on to say:
CHUNK: "Separately, Microsoft and Rockstar Games are proud to announce a strategic alliance to provide exclusive episodic content for Xbox LiveÃ‚Â®, giving the community ever-expanding gameplay experiences that simply arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t possible on other consoles."
What it didn't do was clarify whether they meant content for GTA IV or different, standalone content. When I asked them about it (both companies), they said they couldn't remove the ambiguity for me, so we cut the line from the original EG news item strapline which specified the content was for GTA IV.
Hence, the X06 announcement technically was a development, albeit a very slight one. In this case, the majority had reported the original line on an assumption, and that assumption was proved right. S'not always the case, but even though it was here, it doesn't undermine Tom's point.
As I said to him, what we're seeing here is fairly typical of the internet games newsbeat, which is populated by an ever-growing number of websites - some small, some large - with differing degrees of journalistic ambition. Some simply parrot what's said elsewhere because they're just trying to keep their little band of warrior-readers up to date, and the checks and specifities are fewer. Others push harder and do "UPDATE!"s. What you generally don't see is people ignoring stories until everything's clear - something we're trying to do more often on EG, and currently getting about 40% right, I reckon.
(Publishers and platform holders are to some extent to blame for this, mind you - their continuing refusal to clarify things beyond "that's just rumour and speculation" often goads people into writing before all the ink's in the pen. Similarly, particularly on UK sites, regional offices and PR people's inability to comment often pushes us to write before we'd like to, simply because if we hold off overnight for a US response, that US response will have been given to a US website during that time, and we end up reporting on a statement given to a competitor).
Anyway, the wider point is that aggregation of huge numbers of sites writing to differing levels obviously means that the truth's harder to separate from the fiction without a bit of legwork on the part of the reader (and in that case, who needs the news sites at all?); the net result of this is that the least informed readers populate and empower the least informed sites. As I also said to Tom though, this is sort of good for people at websites or magazines like PC Gamer, which aims higher editorially, because it's bound to drive people who won't stand for it into their arms. That sector can only really grow as the other one pushes further and further in the direction it's already going.
In other words, we'll probably never be rid of aggregators going mental next month with stories we've already read today, but there are some benefits to the present situation. Plus, short of a cull, it's difficult to see how you reverse it. Blogs have lowered the bar; the adjustment will come readers, not writers.
Tom EG: Excellently, that was followed by someone sending me an email announcing that EA has bought DICE.
Jason L: Bingo, Tom of EG. That's why my American browser hits EG several times a day :)
Yep. "Two years ago...? What is this 'controlling interest' of which you speak? I don't follow."
Tom Francis: Cheers Tom. I retract my wild and handsome allegations.
I must admit this, from Kotaku's Eliza, just made me laugh:
"I am situated directly over the throbbing, gelatinous heart of the gaming memewad. It's swampy, rotten and opaque, but one gets to recognize the amorphous feelings emanating from the evil cesspool of incoming RSS. An RSSpool, if you will."