Borderlands 2 and Shoddy Journalism
(This is another edition of </RANT>, a weekly opinion piece column on GameFront. Check back every week for more. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not reflect those of GameFront.)
Today, Game Informer announced Borderlands 2. Just like Game Informer announced Darksiders 2, and Saints Row: The Third, and that Bethesda one that we’ve all forgotten the name of. Game Informer is swiftly becoming the game industry’s surrogate PR agency, and the worst part about it is that I totally “get” it. I understand why publishers want their games announced in a magazine foisted on customers of the largest game retailer in the United States, and I understand why Game Informer wants exclusive coverage of the biggest games in the industry. It makes total business sense, and I can’t pretend I’m so noble as to not want to have that kind of opportunity for myself. The only thing worse than being pissed off about something is knowing that the thing pissing you off makes perfect sense.
Fortunately for myself, Game Informer’s exclusive Borderlands 2 announcement did give me something that I could be justified in disliking, and that’s the attitude of Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford. The man has not been winning many people over recently, with his Twitter account especially becoming home to increasingly bullheaded justifications for Duke Nukem Forever’s existence (short story: it’s selling well so critics can suck it), and he Tweeted last night to complain about Borderlands 2′s exclusive announcement being busted early. It seems Eurogamer saw fit to rain on the Game Informer parade, and Pitchford was none too pleased.
Now, let me stress that I like Randy Pitchford, I really do. He’s a showman, he’s honest, and he seems to genuinely give a shit about the videogames industry. However, he does say some crazy things I disagree with at times, and last night was one of those moments.
Basically, Eurogamer posted a “confirmation” ahead of the Borderlands 2 announcement, stating that a source told them the game was in development and due to be announced soon. It’s quite likely Eurogamer knew that the announcement was due today, and wanted to squeeze a few extra hits for itself before everybody knew. That’s perfectly fair enough, I think. The site had a hot tip from a presumably trusted source and informed the population. Unfortunately, not everybody appreciated Eurogamer taking the lime out of Game Informer’s Margarita, and the distaste was made public.
“I have long maintained that we will do more with Borderlands,” Tweeted Pitchford. “Shoddy journalism is not an announcement.”
Shoddy journalism? Really, Randy?
It’s an interesting industry we have, where “shoddy journalism” is defined by a publication that won’t play by a publisher’s rules. In “real” journalism, it’s considered pretty damn respectable to spread your information to the masses and damn the corporate bigwigs who get upset. When it’s about videogames, suddenly it’s shoddy. Perhaps if Eurogamer had gotten it wrong, it could classify as a shoddy report, but we have to face facts here — Eurogamer was right. It said a Borderlands 2 announcement was imminent, and there it was, no less than a day later. Eurogamer responsibly shared information with its readers and the information was correct. That’s good writing. In fact, it’s much more deserving of the “journalism” label than Game Informer in this situation. By contrast, Game Informer has been spoonfed information from a company, and is going to release that information on a predetermined date that the company is happy with. Again, Game Informer is not evil or wrong to do this, but it’s not f**king journalism. It’s advertising. It’s promotional material. To call Eurogamer shoddy for not waiting in line with its hands cupped, begging for its own scrap of corporate-approved marketing spiel is, to be quite blunt, f**king grotesque.
I understand embargoes and NDAs. I’ve agreed with publishers before about releasing reviews on set dates at set times. I see no harm in that. At the end of the day, these are videogames, not military secrets, and I am happy to work with a publisher rather than against it in the name of mutual benefit and ensuring I can continue to deliver useful coverage to my readers. I respect embargoes and I respect a company’s need for them. However, I also respect that if one writer was not under embargo and did not have to sign an NDA, then it owes a publisher nothing. I might agree to an embargo if a publisher shows me some new game content. However, if another publication wasn’t invited, but was able to get the same content, I cannot begrudge that publication running it. The company did not ask the writer to agree to anything, ergo the writer has no moral or professional obligation.
This is the risk you take when you lock all but one publication out of covering your games. They owe you nothing. When Game Informer runs an exclusive game reveal, that is the only outlet that signed an NDA or agreed to an embargo. Eurogamer didn’t. GameFront didn’t. Destructoid didn’t. We agreed to nothing, and if we hear about a game announcement before the preordained date, what the f**k do you have for us that should stop us running it? To not run it would, in fact, be shoddy journalism. If, of course, you actually consider yourself a journalist, which I do not. Hey, even less reason to abide by the Game Informer Code Of Honor.
Publishers enjoy an incredible amount of power and control in the realm of videogame media. They have tight fingers on the information valves and they distribute what they want, wherever they wish. When their fingers slip and some free Intel falls into the hands of the proletariat, they get angry. Again, I can appreciate being annoyed when things don’t go to plan, but attacking the integrity of those who distribute the information isn’t excusable. It’s not their fault you signed a deal with a magazine, and it’s not their responsibility to respect that. Just as Game Informer is looking out for itself when it locks in an exclusive, so too are the blogs running the news early. You can’t expect the rest of us to respect that you have an arrangement with another outlet. You’re running a business, and so are we.
To complain about shoddy journalism when someone was just doing their job is … well … I’d call that shoddy f**king PR.