Game Informer versus Rock, Paper, Shotgun (guest starring Lara Croft)

For those not up on their game press drama, Game Informer recently made itself look like a bit of a villain by threatening Rock, Paper, Shotgun with legal action. The reason? RPS had cropped several watermarked images belonging to the publication as part of an exclusive Tomb Raider reboot reveal. One of the bylaws of the Internet seem to state that the first man to throw litigation into the arena loses the fight. That man was Andrew Reiner, Game Informer’s executive editor. It didn’t help that Reiner first mistook a Retweeting RPS fan for an employee and issued him with the threat first, but regardless of that little error, was Game Informer in the wrong to flex its legal muscles over some sniped images?

If you believe the majority of online commentators, the answer is yes. Game Informer are absolutely in the wrong. To quote an insightful member of VG247′s community on the subject (with his grammar preserved), “game informer act like a knob i dont buy your mag, simply equation there for you.”

I was asked by this fine outlet to provide my own take on the situation, which is why I’m sticking my oar where it doesn’t belong. Now, I’m a working class hero, always ready to fight for the downtrodden common folk with a smudge of soot on my cheek and a twinkle in my eye, but I’m going to have to be the one contrary bastard who actually makes Game Informer at least partially right on this. Those images belonged to Game Informer, and Rock, Paper, Shotgun writer John Walker knew it. In fact, he boasted about it, stating, “I’ve chopped off the logos from four of them and made them RPS size because THAT WILL SHOW THEM.”  I’m no master criminal, but I like to think that if I stole something, I’d be a bit more keen in downplaying the crime.

Now, did Reiner overreact when he threatened legal action right off the bat? Quite possibly. In fact, it would have been far better for all concerned if he’d privately contacted RPS with a polite request, rather than bring out the knives straight away. There are few things in this business that can’t be resolved with a simple email. However, Walker’s outwardly hostile approach to taking the images was more or less a firing of the first shot. Obviously intended to be lighthearted, but nonetheless confrontational. While I don’t think Game Informer was right to respond in the way it did, it was more or less baited.

I won’t deny that Reiner went in heavy-handed and attempted to catch a fly with vinegar. However, his miscalculation does not excuse what is, to be frank, a little bit of a dick move. Not a massive dick move, but it would be wrong to claim there wasn’t at least a little penis in the pudding. Cropping one image for a header, I can understand. We’ve all done that. I’ve actually gotten in trouble for my random Google Image Search header images in the past. Cropping multiple ones and then showing off about it? I can see how that would annoy someone. I personally would have likely let it go if I were Reiner, since RPS did at least link the source, but I don’t exactly fault him for wanting the images taken down, since RPS simply didn’t own them. And RPS isn’t automatically in the right just because it doesn’t have a team of lawyers.

Fact is, the gaming press can be a bitter, vindictive bunch. Game Informer, IGN and GameTrailers aren’t the most popular of people among my industry peers, and sadly, jealousy is a big reason for it. Whether or not RPS was being lighthearted with its “THAT WILL SHOW THEM” proclamation, it’s actually how quite a few of the lower-level bloggers genuinely feel. I cannot claim to be innocent of this, either. I’ve found myself scowling at those big corporate monsters for nabbing an exclusive or two, or getting better access than me. It’s not their fault, really, but it makes me feel better to rag on them for a bit, despite the fact that I have no justifiable reason to do it. Sometimes, it makes writers do twattish things like break embargoes or nab exclusive assets, and we don’t realize that in our race to look like the better “journalist”, we’ve essentially screwed with somebody else’s job.

Case in point: I work for Destructoid, and we recently had an exclusive game reveal of our own. It was Renegade Kid’s ATV Wild Ride. This game was confirmed to nobody but ourselves, yet the day before our reveal, a certain website ran the headline, “Renegade Kid’s Next Game Is ATV Wild Ride.” Had the developer gone behind our backs? Had this site found some secret source that we hadn’t plugged? Nope, in fact the outlet had merely guessed the reveal based on some evidence and, rather than run it as a rumor, ran it as a confirmed fact without backup. It did this with seemingly no reason other than to get the scoop and fuck up a world premiere that my colleagues were very excited for. Safe to say it put a massive damper on something my friends had worked hard to put together. But it doesn’t matter so long as someone gets to play journalist for a day, right?

You get this a lot in the gaming media. Another popular tactic is the breaking of embargoes. When we preview a game, we’re often asked to agree to a time and date for our coverage to go live. Most of us stick to it, but there’s always one little shit who posts several hours, sometimes a day, early. They do it so they can be first, just like an idiotic Youtube commenter. And the sad part is, they probably justify their douchey behavior in the same way people are justifying RPS — the big sites are dicks, they deserve it, we’re the little people and thus always in the right!

Actually, the little people are not always in the right. In fact, sat atop their moral high horses, doing whatever they like because life isn’t “fair”, they’re more often than not quite wrong. But we’ve seen the movies, and we’ve been taught to believe that the corporations are always evil, the poor people are always good. Anybody bigger than you is Cyril Sneer, while you’re the noble Bert Raccoon. That’s not what real life is like, however, and nine times out of ten, your justifiable action against some nefarious corporate bully-boy is just you being an asshole.

If it sounds like I’m casting harsh judgement on RPS, I’m not. I think RPS is a great site and I read it regularly for my PC news. I don’t think what the site did was especially nefarious or immoral. I don’t even really care about what they did. It’s more the reaction from gamers that I’m worried by, this automatic, simplified assessment of what happened with a clear antagonist that was already decided upon by sheer virtue of the fact that Game Informer is the big, bad magazine.

Like I said, I don’t think Game Informer, for their part in this silly chicanery, handled this the right way. The magazine was not totally in the right. But like with so many things, the online gaming community decided to take this as a straight black/white issue, where Game Informer was the inherent bad guy and RPS was the plucky young hero with a heart of gold. That really wasn’t the situation. David wasn’t totally in the right here, and Goliath wasn’t totally in the wrong.

Sometimes, Bert Raccoon is just a prick.

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5 Comments on Game Informer versus Rock, Paper, Shotgun (guest starring Lara Croft)

R.S. Hunter

On January 6, 2011 at 11:16 am

Wonderful article. I hadn’t heard of this “controversy” until reading this. I agree with you. A polite, private email asking to take the pics down would have been a much better first response.

Tom Zander

On January 6, 2011 at 11:26 am

Maybe he sent an email? That’s the part we will never know. I have a feeling that he sent an email first. If you look at the site, clicking the author’s name brings you directly to an email.

dr. feelgood

On January 6, 2011 at 3:14 pm

what site stole the renegade kid exclusive?

Shadylikeatree

On January 6, 2011 at 8:58 pm

Since this is the real world, and things are copyrighted (I’m a professional journalist with a degree and everything!) legally they have the total right to take them to court.

While I do agree that sending an email would have been the best first choice, they still stole the images without asking permission and that violates copyright law.

Ron Whitaker

On January 7, 2011 at 5:21 am

The amusing thing about this whole situation is that if anyone was going to take legal action over it, it would have to be Square Enix. That’s who actually owns the images, not GI.

I think Jim hit this one on the head. The images shouldn’t have been posted by RPS, and GI should have handled it in a much different fashion. Luckily, there’s plenty of fail to spread around.