RPS’s Position On The Eurogamer/Florence Debacle

By John Walker on October 30th, 2012 at 12:00 pm.

Finally we get to post this pic.

Last week, as some may have noticed, Robert Florence wrote a piece for Eurogamer, criticising the appearance of corruption amongst some in the gaming press. Stressing that he believes the vast majority of writers are good and honest, he pointed out – inspired by an image of Spike’s Geoff Keighley sat surrounded by Doritos and Mountain Dew – that writers could do a lot more to put themselves above suspicion.

In doing so, he mentioned by name other games journalists who that morning had been on Twitter defending a dubious competition held for journalists attending the Games Media Awards. In particular he pointed out how Dave Cook had told me – as it happens – to get off my pedestal in criticising the competition. And Lauren Wainwright (employee of Intent Media, organisers of the GMAs) who had most vociferously been defending the competition, while, he observed, tweeting from a Twitter homepage so decorated in Tomb Raider images that it could be mistaken for a Tomb Raider advert. Wainwright, a self-confessed Tomb Raider fan, strongly objected to this, and issued a legal threat to Eurogamer to have the article changed. And then all hell broke loose.

We’re posting about this story now not because any new developments have occurred, but because it seems not posting about it was causing us more accusations than we can stand to listen to. We had previously considered the story to be one of internal wrangling amongst games journalism, and RPS is primarily about games. While we certainly do cover stories about the media, these tend to be about the representation or misrepresentation of games or gamers. So personally considering it a matter not directly within our remit, I chose to write about it on my personal blog (here, here and here). (I link it here because it’s relevant – I can assure you that with no adverts on the site, I get no benefit whatsoever from directing traffic there. Also, the opinions stated there are entirely my own, and not necessarily shared by RPS.)

This has been perceived as RPS’s trying to “stay silent” on the matter. Something that was never our intent, and something we’re confused to know why anyone would think would be in our interests. Many RPS writers have expressed their feelings on their Twitter accounts, and as I’ve said, I wrote extensively about it, and weirdly ended up being a source for almost every story written about the subject around the world. It didn’t feel to us like we were staying silent, and we have no notion of why we would want to.

And before I go on, to be completely clear, RPS has partnered with Eurogamer to provide our advertising. This means that Eurogamer employees acquire and organise the advertising you see on this site, and we split the profits. It’s a fairly normal practice, but one RPS ensured would and could never have any impact on our editorial freedom. We are completely editorially independent, and at the same time have almost no involvement in what advertising appears on the site. The degree to which we are involved is to have laid down strict rules about what types of adverts we’re willing to have (as in, none that play sound, none that obscure the site content), and to complain when an advert is inappropriate (for instance, depicts naked people).

(It’s also worth noting that Rab’s article discusses me in a very positive light. I find this very kind, and somewhat embarrassing. I want to stress that it has no bearing on my approval of the rest of the article, and would have felt just as strongly about how important a piece it was had he not mentioned my name. Which would have made life a bit easier now, I guess.)

Quickly, here are the details. At the Games Media Awards this year, there was a competition organised by Trion Worlds and GMA organisers Intent Media (owners of MCV, who happen to be Wainwright’s employer), where journalists were invited to tweet a hashtag mentioning Defiance in order to be eligible to win a PS3. 66 journalists at the event took part, an act condemned by many as compromising their position and inappropriate. This led to a Twitter argument amongst a number of the UK’s press, me included, that Robert Florence noticed and included in his article about journalistic ethics. You can read the original version of the article here.

This led to Wainwright’s issuing legal threats against Eurogamer. Eurogamer’s operations director, Tom “Tom Bramwell” Bramwell, told the Penny Arcade Report,

“Lauren told us that she intended to pursue the matter with her lawyers and made it clear she would not drop it until it was resolved to her satisfaction.”

Eurogamer sought legal advice, and decided to remove the lines mentioning her and Cook, and publicly apologised on Twitter. Before making the change they consulted Florence, who understood their position, but also felt that he could no longer continue writing for the site if his article was to be changed. He stepped down. This led to an enormous amount of anger, directed partially toward Eurogamer, but mostly toward Wainwright, whose entire journalist history has been dug over for faults, mistakes and failures of integrity. As has been universally reported, in attempting to silence Florence, Wainwright invoked the full, cruel power of the Streisand Effect. In response to all this, Florence wrote another article discussing all that had happened, which was also published on my personal blog. In this he stated,

“I want to clarify here that at no point in my column did I suggest that either Dave Cook or Lauren Wainwright were corrupt. Their public tweets were purely evidence that games writers rarely question what their relationship with PR should be. In Lauren’s case I made the point that her suggestion that it’s fine for a games writer to tweet a promotional hashtag for personal gain could make everything she tweets and writes suspect. I was saying – “Folks, be careful what you say. You might make yourself look bad.” There was nothing libellous in that column.”

RPS’s position on this matter is as follows: We fully support Robert Florence (who is also a freelancer for us), and think his article raises important issues. We understand Eurogamer’s position that when legal threats are made, with the UK’s despicable libel laws, the burden of time and finances to fight any such threats is gruesome. However, we’re also disappointed that Eurogamer didn’t stand up to these threats and call Wainwright’s bluff. It is our opinion that the correct response from Wainwright would have been to request a response column on Eurogamer to make her argument, or at least post a response on any of the public outlets to which she has access. Silencing journalists is a terrible practice.

Of course this is an ongoing subject, and has raised many questions about journalistic ethics amongst the games industry. Those debates have raged since the 1980s, and they will continue forever and ever. As well they should. Scrutiny is a good and vital thing, and the perception of poor practice should always be questioned. (However, it should be questioned reasonably, and we will not tolerate any abusive comments below. We also suggest not libelling people, because we’re in the UK, and we can’t afford to go to court.)

PS. As I was just finishing writing this, weirdly, Eurogamer also have posted an article about this. You can read theirs here.

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317 Comments »

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  1. Duke of Chutney says:

    Woop go Rab

    As with all Libel cases Ms Wainright launches her self to infamy by trying to quash it.

  2. seattlepete says:

    A PS3 costs what? $300? This will buy you 5 minutes with a good lawyer. But what do I know, I dropped out of journalism school to program computers.

  3. Saarlaender39 says:

    I just read this (http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2012-06-27-lost-humanity-1-fighting-talk), and I think, in hindsight, it bears some prophetic foresight in itself.

    Some excerpts:

    By Rab Florence Published 27 June, 2012

    My name is Robert Florence, and we are going to have a fight.

    Not today. Today is a day for introductions and pleasantries and regrettable flirtations, but I felt it was only fair to warn you that somewhere down the line we are going to fall out. I will write terrible things in this body of text here, and you will write terrible things in the comments section below. You will pretend that you will never read my stupid column again, and I will pretend that I don’t read your stupid comments anyway and that you can’t hurt my feelings. We will make liars of each other. We will detest the very skin of each other. […]
    And now I’m frowning. Because this is a weekly opinion column. And we all know why opinion columns exist. It will be my job to annoy you and make you hate me. I will lose some humanity in the process, like that poor soul from one of the greatest games ever made. But I have been a professional writer for fifteen years, and when I get given a job to do I try to do it well. As a result, you will be irritated by the things I say.[…]
    See, the difference between me and other opinion columnists is that I will actually believe everything I type. Most opinion columnists just say things for effect, for cheap hits, transforming themselves into cartoonish hate figures to further their careers. You can trust that if I say something in this column, then I’m actually being honest with you on that day at that time. If you think I’m an egotistical blowhard who deserves to be shot, it’s because I actually am an egotistical blowhard who deserves to be shot. If I say, as I will say (right now in fact), that “video gamers are an incredibly unsophisticated bunch who will swallow any old crap and ask for more”, then you can be sure that any punch in the jaw you want to give me for that comment will be a fair one. There’s a beautiful old saying that I try to live by – “An honest punch for an honest face.” How lovely is that? Make sure you give me that punch if you ever see me. I’ll thank you for it.
    —————————————————————————————————–
    Here’s the truth. I’ve always felt that there’s been something missing in games coverage in the UK. I’ve always felt that there needed to be a prominent, regular column that asks the difficult questions about the industry in a really annoying way that winds everybody up and causes fights. ”
    —————————————————————————————————–

  4. hosndosn says:

    RPS has always been one of the better sites. I like coming here.

    Just my 2c: First, I believe this is important to gaming as a whole and thus PC gaming, because this is about how games are presented and reported on. It’s appropriate to post about it here and I believe this is the reason people get upset about the argument that this issue is “not about games”. This is about how games are marketed, reviewed and, in the end, what games are successful and greenlit in the future. The games press has a lot of power and it’s good to see that position acknowledged and held responsible.

    Secondly, as much as I like RPS and as much as I doubt there having ever been any “brown envelopes” passed around, not even RPS seems to be immune of overly hyped preview-event reporting and being “best buds” with people in the industry. I’d yet have to see one major site, even one I’d respect, which announces actual consequences from all this outrage. Like refusing “exclusive” previews and other covering that clearly comes with an implied expectation for positive coverage. Again, I don’t think anyone ever says it out loud… but it’s hard not to assume any manipulation on a subconscious level if an article begins with “While sipping free cocktails and storing away our gift bags beneath our seats, we were shown the first in-game footage of ManShooter 3″.

    • Sleepymatt says:

      I’m sorry, I absolutely have to call you out on this one. RPS has a track record of saying *exactly* what they think on game previews, warts and all. I’m assuming you haven’t read many of them to have made the comment above.

      For example, try pulling up the most recent ones by searching for “preview” tags, and you’ll find that of the 6 previews on the site since all the X-com stuff (subsequently WIT’ed as a potential game of the year in RPS’ opinion, so not exactly “over-hyped” in the preview you would have to agree), exactly half are pretty ambivalent towards the game (Painkiller, Hitman, and Elemental). Sure, the previewers like some of the parts of these games, but they are also clear what they think is not working, what they don’t like, what needs to be worked on – ie definitely not over-hyping things.

      I can even recall them slagging off an over the top press-junket they were invited to a while ago, though memory fails which game it was for, perhaps someone can help find the relevant article.

  5. Ateius says:

    I’d assumed RPS was keeping mum over concerns of even more legal threats. Glad to see you’ve spoken up. As far as I’m concerned, you’re the most trusted name in games journalism.

  6. almondblight says:

    Corruption and the silencing of critics within the games industry is at least as important as posts about “are games art?” or EA claiming that someone wants to boycott Mass Effect 3. The state of game journalism affects the entire industry, and I don’t think that should be a difficult concept to grasp.

    Of course people should question RPS, just as they should question all other outlets and sources of information. Blind trust in people or institutions only causes problems.

    And of course the elephant in the room is the idea of access – when content relies on previews, interviews, and launch day reviews, then publishers have a lot of leverage over websites. There are certain things – like the lack of any mention of the ending in most Mass Effect 3 reviews, or the Metacritic score for Dragon Age 2 being almost double the user score – that lead people to wonder what the effects of this leverage are.

  7. Ultra-Humanite says:

    A slap fight amongst game journalists. How droll.

  8. AbyssUK says:

    I cannot find the articles, but RPS once made a list of things game publishers/developers must pledge to do.. things like support alt-tabbing quickly etc…
    edit found link http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2008/09/29/rps-demands-10-things-all-pc-games-should-do/

    Perhaps the minds at RPS could make a practical pledge for games reviewers a sort of standard? Get input from their many friends and colleges in the business aswell as from the readership. Then in future debate a journalist/reviewer can point at the pledge and state I follow these, companies could even hold their employees to such words of wisdom…
    expansion edit to not sound quite so dickish..
    This would also educate none journos to what the hell goes on behind the words; just how much shite PR they have to put up with am sure its not all cocktails and free hats.

  9. DickSocrates says:

    If any games website is reliant on access to preview copies then they are on shaky ground to begin with. There’s more than enough to talk about, more than enough decent developers who don’t play the blackmail game out there so that preview access is not worth thinking about.

    Anyone with integrity should be sticking two fingers up to EA, Activision, and every other corporation from day one. Too many people who call themselves journalists spend their time chasing after them and desperate trying to join their PR departments. Why? Money. While money can corrupt people, I fear quite a few were never in a non-corrupt position and only ever had money, power and “swag” in their sights.

  10. Mario Figueiredo says:

    Kind of reinstates my feeling that game journalists are ultimately incapable of seriously questioning their integrity at all times and making amends.

    When a reader (from whom they write!) questions their integrity everyone screams foul; Usually utterly ignored by the journalist and immediately assaulted by the numerous fans. But when a journalist write about it, suddenly it becomes an issue. And everyone takes their chosen side and everyone is concerned.

    As much as I sympathize with anyone with enough balls to write about it, I’m not at all confident anything positive will come out of this. This not about game journalism integrity anymore, for which only Robert Florence seems concerned. It’s a feud we are witnessing. And that’s a dying shame.

  11. Urthman says:

    Tom Chick makes a good point during his games podcast that Spike TV and Geoff Keighley never had any pretense of being anything other than a PR outlet for the games industry. We need real games journalists, but pointing a finger at Geoff Keighley is kind of a straw man.

    On the other hand, that is a hilariously pathetic picture that is a perfect symbolic illustration for Rab’s argument.

    • ResonanceCascade says:

      To be fair, Keighley has definitely plunged into games journalism — and is often shockingly excellent at it. His Final Hour series are some of the best games writing out there. You’d never guess they were done by the Spike TV Duderino Poster Boy.

  12. wodin says:

    We need a Gonzo style game journalist. RPS is close..but still not Hunter s Thompson.

  13. Premium User Badge

    oceanclub says:

    Even today I’ve had the displeasure of reading yet another article by an editor of a gaming site that suggests that people who agree with Rob’s article are merely misogynist bullies and that any discomfort with the idea of people involved in the PR and production of games reviewing said games is merely naiveity rather than a belief in the fundamentals of review journalism. (“But she said she worked on a game and never did reviews then did a review! ZOMG!!!111one”)

    http://www.videogamesinteractive.com/2012/10/in-defence-of-lauren-wainwright.html

    At least one good thing will come from this; I can set up my own personal blacklist of sites whose opinions I completely mistrust.

    P.

    • ResonanceCascade says:

      That author has fantastically missed the point. That he even writes something like “sure, I get tons of free stuff from Nintendo, but that would NEVER affect my review score!” in apparent seriousness makes me think that these people really, truly are totally oblivious.

    • pupsikaso says:

      Yeah, this is a big issue. Despite what both Rab and RPS are saying (most games journalists give honest, integral reviews), I simply cannot trust most websites to give a game a good and proper review unbiased by their connection with PR or anyone else in the game company.

      RPS seems like the only site left that’s a bastion of journalistic integrity. There are a few more out there, but honestly I’ve read too many reviews that sound more like a poorly veiled infomercial to be able to just trust any random games journalist on the web.

      And this is BAD. RPS and Rab will claim that it’s not as bad as this and that most of the reviewers are fine, but that’s not how it looks like from my side. When I go onto some random website to read a review of a game, how do I know I can trust the reviewer? Can’t you see the problem here? When the readers are inherently suspecting the source every time, rather than in special circumstances it speaks volumes about how the industry is viewed as a whole.

      And no, it’s not “just video games”, and it should not be ignored.

    • Robert says:

      I tried replying to that blog post, but I’m not entirely sure my point has come across.

      In short:

      I hope gaming journalism can learn from this.

  14. Wauffles says:

    I didn’t expect a comment from RPS on the matter, as I’ve always viewed RPS more as a blog about games by a few writers who do it for a love of games.

    I really appreciate the fact that you’ve done so, though, as it belies a great amount of respect for your readers that you can see how, in your position as a ‘gaming news website’, to tell your readers about how the site as an institution feels about what’s happened would be nice.

  15. Bob says:

    The whole business does show that on the internet, raising any good points or matters worth debating, can get buried under a big pile of smelly, sludgy, vitriol. It’s a shame it’s developed into ‘you’re either with us or against us’, instead of a ‘what can WE do to make things better?’

  16. LintMan says:

    I’m glad RPS addressed the situation not because I had any concerns about where they stood, but because the more exposure this problem gets, the better. Too many in the games industry would just like this whole story to just go away.

    Ben Kuchera at The PA Report has done some good coverage of the situation:

    1st article

    2nd article

  17. Premium User Badge

    alphager says:

    What you (the RPS-team) should take from this is: at least some of your readers don’t think that you just report about games. IMHO, they are right: you also report about game-culture (notice I didn’t write gaming-culture!)[ex.: tax breaks for british games, video game museum] and game-development-gone-bonkers.

    • The Random One says:

      Hear, hear. It seems silly and short-sighted to use that stance to choose your editorial line when the games themselves don’t exist in a vaccuum and are naturally affected if a development house turns out to have abusive corporate culture, or a certain area of the world has a certain financial policy that causes it to become a hotbed of devs and pubs, or a scandal in a gaming convention causes industry bigshots to question or defend what they or others are doing, etc etc etc… This position is like a town doctor who says he sees no problem with burying toxic waste under the schoolyard because his job only begins when the children start to get sick. Surely the unique position of trust RPS readers put its writers in, despite the fact that their money does come from the ad-peddling devs and pubs, (God this sentence is a moutfhful,) means they should have the liberty and duty to address such matters on this glorified blog; no one is asking you to cover the release of Halo Ramen in Korea, just wanting to know the opinion of people whose opinion have been well pondered before.

  18. FunkyBadger3 says:

    Love FLorence, and love RPS.

    Keep up the good work, all of youse.

  19. Phantoon says:

    Games reviewing isn’t games journalism.

    I didn’t honestly care for Rob’s writing style, but it’s good to see he had uncompromising integrity. It’s far too rare to see someone actually stand up for their principles.

  20. pertusaria says:

    Having thought about RPS’ coverage in light of this (because I read it more than any other gaming site, and because it’s generally pretty honest), this is my 2p:

    I think the review articles are generally solid and well thought out, and don’t fall under the spell of marketing too much. However, I think the extent to which the hype created by the publisher and creators of the game is reported by RPS before release is sometimes off-putting, and can wind up being a lens through which the review comes out more positive than it’s meant.

    In the case of Dishono(u)red (to pick an example), it felt like RPS had a new teaser up about the game (and how brilliant it was going to be) on most days for weeks before release. Some of these had real content, like short playthroughs, but a lot of them didn’t. The Wot I Think was fairly balanced (I think, haven’t played it myself) and mentioned negative points about the game. It just felt like after that hype, any review that wasn’t strongly negative was kind of implying that the hype previously reported was accurate.

    RPS is a very good site for coverage of indie games and small developers, but if (to pick one) Gaslamp Games’ upcoming release were reported on as much as Dishonored was, it would look bonkers. Every time they released new concept art or described how a playthrough of the game might go, it would get a mention. I like Gaslamp, but if I want to know what they’re up to, I only have to go to their site. I only expect them to be covered when they do something really cool, like releasing a demo or beta.

    I guess I’m saying, maybe you could tone down the pre-release nonsense around many blockbuster games a bit in the interests of not being the publishers’ mouthpiece? But maybe you have readers who’ll berate you for not carrying every single morsel of news about a game. Sorry to be long-winded.

    • The Random One says:

      I kind of see your point and agree. No one who comes to RPS expects it to cover every single tidbit of PR drivel Activision deigns us to have about their next fish game, right? Why should we expect they do give that treatment to other titles?

      The obvious answer is ‘Because Disho(u)no(u)red is good’, but when those teasers and trailers were coming out we didn’t know that yet.

      • Sleepymatt says:

        That’s all very nice to say, but t if you actually check back I’ll think you’ll find RPS *did* know Dishonored was that good in the run up to release. Let’s check the timeline:

        Aug 22nd, 2011 – Alec sees developer play through (there are only 5 posts in total about the game before this)
        April 26th, 2012 – Alec sees another developer playthrough
        July 6th – Jim has hands on session
        July 20th – Alec has hands on session
        some point between August 9th and 22nd – Jim has second hands-on session
        August 16th – Nathan has hands on session
        Aug/Sept/Oct – pre-release “hype/teasers” flood occurs
        Oct 8th – WIT hits.

        At every single eyes-on and hands-on, by at least three different RPSers, every single time they came away thinking “this game is going to be amazing”. Now does it surprise you that when the pre-release PR engine cranked up in the weeks before release (i.e. Aug/Sept/Oct), they therefore happily advertised it to their readership? It would seem pretty weird if they didn’t hype up a game they personally thought was going to be a huge hit.

        Incidentally I haven’t included there the post on July 27th , where John completely slags off the many many outlet-exclusive release bundles as totally ridiculous – not exactly PR-friendly fare, eh?

        Seriously guys, RPS holds itself to a higher standard.

  21. Grim_22 says:

    I really wish that RPS covered all platforms so that I wouldn’t have to visit any other sites. I find myself trusting RPS completely, while often doubting most other sites I visit.

  22. Sorbicol says:

    Libel Reform. Go here and sign the petition and then write to your local MP.

    Ultimately what has happened here has blown up in to such a stink because of the nature of the libel law. Eurogamer got screwed by lawyers, Wainwright / MVC had a nuclear option they were clearly only too willing to use and there is something you can do about. Question is, will you?

    • The Random One says:

      Your link ain’t working, mate…

    • Sorbicol says:

      You ain’t wrong. Sorry iPhone related issues, will try and fix in the morning. Damn the biological need to sleep. Googling “UK Libel reform” should bring it up first link though.

  23. benkc says:

    As soon as I read about this whole thing over on Penny Arcade Report, I thought to myself, “Hasn’t she ever heard of the Streisand Effect?”

  24. JuJuCam says:

    Considering I had no idea this had happened (I honestly thought that Stone’s article last week was a bit of fun weirdness apropos of absolutely nothing) I just wanted to add my voice to the chorus of those who appreciate the publication of this particular article. I don’t think games journalism is unique in the world of journalism for its murky interpretation of journalistic integrity, but it does seem to be a domain where there is quite a lot at stake on every side of the equation; games are apparently quite sensitive to metafiltration and journos apparently love free shit (and advert dollars and scoops and sources and all that other stuff that publications genuinely need to survive).

  25. Baresark says:

    Dan Ariety wrote about this very same situation in his recent book: The Honest Truth about Dishonesty. A great work where he points out the extent to which people can lie in a given situation while still considering themselves honest. People lie or cheat in degrees. He brings up instances such as lobbyists in government, financial advisers suggesting Mortgage backed securities, all kinds of interesting situation. People also have a natural tendency to feel pleasure in returning favors, and it’s quite subconscious. This is what makes free things given to journalists so dangerous. It’s not bad journalism, it’s natural human instinct. It’s not this one person or that one person who causes the chaos like this, it’s a bunch of people doing it that causes trouble.

    I can see why people attacked RPS over it though. It’s that same misguided idea that you aren’t saying anything so therefore you are guilty of it and simply not saying anything to avoid being noticed. It is mob mentality at it’s worst, if you aren’t saying anything it’s because you need to cover your own wrong doing. I almost don’t think it was even worth writing this article over it because your devoted readers who trust you would not question you, but I also understand why it was done. I actually enjoyed reading about the up to date news on this without reading 10 different sites.

    This is a late entry here, we had a huge hurricane and it’s wiped out the entire state where I live.