The Price of Secrecy and the Cost of Game Journalism

I have long been a fan of Penny Arcade, despite almost everyone I know questioning that fandom, but a comic they did regarding game journalists and their relationships with developers really brought my blood to a boil. For those unaware, this is the comic here:


Now it is worth noting that when Penny Arcade puts out a comic there’s an accompanying text document to put the comic into a bit of context and they have said this is related to a report that the game news site Kotaku had been blacklisted by Bethesda Softworks and Ubisoft for leaking company secrets

When I read this comic, there was no such context, and as a game journalist this feels like a real slap in the face. I work hard to maintain my integrity and write in accordance to my own code of ethics. Most journos that I know do the same, so why this comic seems to paint us all with a black brush is beyond me.

With so much controversy swirling around about game journalism, without the proper context a comic like this only serves to perpetuate those controversies. I think Penny Arcade could have done a much better job focusing the comic towards Kotaku, rather than making it seem targeted to all game journalists.

Now, let’s talk about the Kotaku blacklist which I discovered a little more about in researching some of the claims of the comic’s context. Kotaku claims that they were simply doing their jobs as journalists, leaking info for the then-unannounced Fallout 4, as well as early rumors that Prey 2 may have been in development. They would have you believe that the evil corporate giants are pressing their dictatorial boots on them.

Don’t get me wrong, I agree with their statements that they serve their readers and not the companies they report on. I myself refuse to become a corporate shill and when a company is conducting shady business, I want to be the first to tell people about it (although Jim Sterling usually is). However, I don’t agree with them crying victim; Kotaku got what they deserved for exposing company secrets. They weren’t exposing bad business practices, they were revealing products before they were announced and those two things are not the same.

Kotaku claims in their article “many of these companies appear to believe that it is actually possible in 2015 for hundreds of people to work dozens of months on a video game and for no information about the project to seep out.” While this may be true, Kotaku, as a journalism outlet, shouldn’t be perpetuating such an idea. As I previously said, they didn’t release reports about shady behavior on the parts of Bethesda or Ubisoft, so for them to act like they’re some modern day Robin Hoods is just shallow. That’s not news, that’s gossip; it’s tabloid journalism.

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Whether you agree or not, I believe developers and publishers should maintain some right to a bit of secrecy around their projects. Honestly, tell me how the game industry, or gamer community suffers by not knowing Bethesda was officially working on Fallout 4 two years before it was announced?

fallout4insert5I think it’s easy to forget how these leaks might affect that the people making the games, the writers, the artists, the developers, etc. They might not like you sharing every piece of their game and might want a bit of secrecy around it. Maybe they don’t want people seeing early intro scripts, or leaked images and videos. Maybe they’re not ready for their game to be out in the world before they’re comfortable saying it is. Believe it or not, secrecy isn’t always a marketing ploy. Furthermore, how are people supposed to get excited for their game when people are leaking every little thing about if before they’re ready for a release; how are people supposed to be excited for mechanics they knew about years in advance.

Like I said, as a journalist, I don’t exist to please companies with my writing. If they’re doing something shady, I’m going to talk about it. I’ve long voiced my opinions about Ubisoft and some of their questionable practices. However, I would not leak or spoil the artistic intricacies of developing a game. There’s nothing heroic about leaking development secrets when that’s all they are: secrets about what’s going into a game, not the conditions in which that game is being created. There’s no controversy, there’s nothing journalistic about that; you’re just telling us Bruce Willis was a ghost years before Sixth Sense made it to theatres.