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.

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10 Comments on Borderlands 2 and Shoddy Journalism

Tobbii

On August 3, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Once again a great read. I was sort of expecting you to write up something about the Shoddy Journalism thing after reading your tweets, glad you did since I had not gotten the full story until now.

Jono

On August 3, 2011 at 3:05 pm

All this should be seen in the context of Take 2’s blacklisting Eurogamer over it’s pre-release coverage of Duke Nukem. I don’t imagine the publisher’s too thrilled with their bête noire publication pinching an exclusive announcement off one of their tent-pole franchises.

Derangel

On August 3, 2011 at 3:15 pm

“Game Informer is not evil or wrong to do this, but it’s not f**king journalism”

THANK YOU! Thank God someone in the game press f**cking gets it! I could spend hours ranting about the bastardization happening in modern journalism and how stupid it is to call rehashing PR press snip-its reporting, but Jim you cut it down to one sentence. If all you do is “report” on “news” handed to you by a company you’re not a f**cking journalist! You’re a GD glorified PR mouth piece.

As for Pitchford, I like his honesty and bluntness, but he needs to realize he is still the face of Gearbox. This reflects poorly on him and his company and it’s going to piss a lot of people off. His reactions towards people’s dislike of DNF has been disgraceful as well and he is coming off like a child with his statements. His refusal to admits the game’s problems gives me very little hope for the next one and it dampens a lot of my excitement for Borderlands 2. If he isn’t willing to listen to issues with a game he barely worked on I see no reason to believe he is going to listen to problems on a game he was deeply involved in developing. So good job Randy, you’re childish actions and d-baggery has made me less interested in the sequel to a game I’ve put nearly 80 hours into.

Mark

On August 3, 2011 at 3:15 pm

Good read, and fantastic points made throughout, however I didn’t take his comments the same way you did. I thought it was more of him saying “covering a sequel as if its breaking news is silly because we supported the first game for over a year and said we have a sequel in the works”… or something along those lines. Of course news sites were gonna cover it, but right now, there really hasn’t been much to cover… outside of the GI art and some very basic info.

And I think that every game site just running that little bit does look a little bit like shoddy journalism. Not because it is, but because they aren’t releasing details that are needed to make it look professional. It’s their fault as much as it is anyones.

PopeJamal

On August 3, 2011 at 3:19 pm

Totally agree. Although I somewhat agreed with them in regards to the Duke Nukem kerfuffle (I agreed, but I still didn’t think they handled it very well) this wasn’t a very classy move on his part.

I’m beginning to like Pitchford less and less, and that means absolutely nothing other than the fact that I won’t pay full retail for a game made by someone I consider to be a jerk.

You might want to keep that in mind, Rand-o before you go shooting off at the mouth next time. It might not hurt sales much, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t help them either.

Geoff

On August 3, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Why is this on the front page? Tell me about the game.

Shawn

On August 3, 2011 at 7:28 pm

Thanks for this, it’s a great read. Magazines like Game Informer are simply advertising platforms that need subscriptions to stay alive. It makes you wonder how they keep getting those exclusives. Or how much it costs them.

Heru

On August 3, 2011 at 8:39 pm

Seems like Pitchford’s ego is just getting bigger and bigger by the day, although Cliffy B.s Jupiter sized head still eclipses everyone.

yourfavoriteredhead

On August 4, 2011 at 8:23 am

*slow clap* Well done, chap. Well done.

youalllose

On August 4, 2011 at 9:57 am

Where do they find these publishers and developers again? Oh right… China.?

Journalists and Internet publishers often discover that they have crossed the line only after their online presence is blocked, their bylines are blacklisted or they are detained or summoned to “tea” with government security officers who deliver coy but unmistakable warnings…like “Shoddy Journalism”

lol