Kotaku Being Blacklisted Was a Good Thing

“News is something somebody doesn’t want printed; all else is advertising.” ~ William Randolph Hearst

Boy, am I a little late to this party.

It’s been almost a month now since Stephen Totilo wrote his piece on the blacklist, and it seemed that almost as soon as “A Price of Games Journalism” was published, everyone had an opinion. Some sided with Kotaku, saying that real, true journalism was something relatively unknown in the gaming press, and that coverage of the problems developing Doom 4, the leaking of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate (then called Victory) and Fallout 4 were all acts that should be celebrated, not punished.

This was the first image on Pixabay for “blacklist”. I don’t know why.

Others took the side of the publishers, arguing that there was no real public good in revealing those secrets that people had worked hard to keep. They claimed that by going behind the publishers’ backs, Kotaku were betraying a trust, and that they were simply using this as sensationalist news to garner clicks and attention. And what was the point of releasing them early anyway? Why not just wait for each publishers’ PR department to reveal them? That was their job, after all.

Some went even further and used it to justify their dislike of Kotaku. These arguments stated that Kotaku’s past behaviour had led to this moment – badly written articles with terrible arguments proclaimed that Kotaku’s own brand of “yellow journalism” made them the gaming equivalent of The Sun, or Fox News. Others pointed to Kotaku’s behaviour during the recent #GamerGate scandal, and reasoned that since some of their writers had been known to hound developers with unsuitable questions during interviews, it was no surprise that publishers would choose not to interact with them.

Some even chose to ignore the fact that Kotaku were really involved at all, and saw this as an excuse to continue the discussion of ethics in video game journalism – were the gaming press too often used as glorified advertisements? And if the publishers were able to hold back various benefits and negatively effect the readership of that publication, did the publishers hold all the power in this relationship? If so, that’s a terrible imbalance of power and should be examined.

All the arguments have their merits – even the badly written ones. Can it be argued that the information that Kotaku released was not necessarily for the public good? Well, yes, but “don’t shoot the messenger” applies here, and it’s also important to note the relative importance of video game news as a whole. Do we need to know anything except where and when to buy the games we want? In a perfect world, that’s all we would need. In this perfect world, every game would be exactly what was intended, every trailer would be a paragon of virtue, and every development would go smoothly.

But we don’t live in a perfect world. Things go wrong, games turn out shit, trailers lie. That’s where the media is supposed to come in – they’re supposed to lift that theatre curtain and reveal that the director is a bastard and treats his staff like shit, and that we should all “fuck Konami”.

“Hail Konami.”

We need a powerful and threatening press for publishers to stay honest. And that’s not a dig at capitalist society, or at the publishers themselves. It’s about needing consequences. Consequences are few in a world where anonymity and ignorance rules, and wrongdoings need to be dragged into the light to be witnessed. Examples need to be made so that it’s clear where the lines are. The press are meant to fulfill that role. They watch the publishers, and they tell us when shit goes down.

But who watches the watchmen? We do. The business model dictates it – we like their content; we visit their sites; they get paid. You don’t like what they write? Then don’t go to their site and avoid their content. It’s voting with your clicks, and it works. Don’t like Kotaku? That’s fine, lots of people don’t. You can make the decision to not visit them. But other people do like their stuff, and those who wish to mute Kotaku have no right to deprive Kotaku’s readers of the content that they enjoy. An adversarial opinion is not a terrible opinion – sometimes it’s the most valuable criticism you can receive, and it allows you to grow, whether it’s by reinforcing your own beliefs, or by making you question them. Cutting off that opinion may make you feel temporarily victorious, but it’s cutting off your nose to spite your face. Not only that, but it’s censorship. Pure and simple.

But you know what? The blacklist is a good thing. Not because I feel that Kotaku’s past behaviours deserve it, or because I think they should be punished for “biting the hand that feeds them”. And it’s certainly not just because I dislike Kotaku as a content creator.

The blacklist is a good thing because it proves to the rest of the industry that a blacklist really isn’t worth shit. Despite being cut off from two major publishers,  Kotaku still covered their games, reported their news, and reported about the stuff important to their readers. The blacklisting has not stopped Kotaku from doing anything that they do, and it certainly hasn’t stopped them from covering Bethesda or Ubisoft. Publishers can decide not to give you their stuff, but you can still talk about them. Nobody can stop the signal.

Especially when it includes bonking sexy robots.
I have no doubt that Kotaku took a small hit in readership when the blacklist fell into place. I imagine that a lack of immediate news and press releases hurt their numbers; the loss of a launch day review for Fallout 4 and the latest Assassin’s Creed must have been pretty devastating. But they went on with their business regardless. They wrote those reviews (after buying a copy and feeding the mouth that bit /them/), they reported the news, and they entertained their readers. And they did it all without the help of two major publishers. Searching for Fallout 4 on Kotaku provides a wealth of content – and that’s without the early code, the sneak peeks, and the interviews. Kotaku bucked the trend that said you needed to toeing the line all the time, constantly at the publishers heel. Instead, they stood up, proclaimed “fuck you”, and printed what their readers liked.

Whether or not you’re a fan of what they write, this is a big step for gaming journalism. It proves that games journalists can be independent of game publishers and still do what they do. Gaming as a hobby is expanding into a wider circle of interest – more traditional media have realised it, and they’ve realised that they need to adapt to an audience that is interested in these hobbies, or they’ll die. That’s why I read a guide on settlements in Fallout 4 in The Guardian the other morning, and that’s why we’ll end up seeing more and more of this as time goes by.

So is this a bad thing for publications dedicated to gaming? Not at all. Opposition is the spice of life, and it spurs people on to greater heights. Remember how great the WWF and WCW were during the Monday Night Wars? Opposition, baby. Traditional media getting involved means that gaming-centred publications have to adapt and step their game up. In the last few years, the rise of “new media” – YouTubers, streamers, and independent bloggers – has threatened to make major gaming websites obsolete. Honestly, they still might fail. But Kotaku’s continued success shows that brand loyalty is not dead, and that there’s life in the old horse yet.

You could also argue that the entrance of larger newspapers and websites into the gaming scene makes it even harder for websites like PC Gamer and Kotaku. If publishers have such big names willing to talk about their games on such a large stage, why even bother with the little guys? And you could well be right. Only time will really tell. However, those traditional media outlets have nowhere near the same scale of gaming audience that the purists do, and it’s unlikely that they will do for some time, if they ever do.

If they want a larger audience, all they need is radio towers. Bitches love radio towers.

The other problem for publishers is that these larger outlets know how to fucking play the game. Some of these newspapers been around since before these publishers existed, and they know what they can talk about, what they should be talking about, and what they’ll put up with. Forbes was one of the first places to come down heavily on the blacklist and side with Kotaku. Other large sites also weighed in on the side of Kotaku. Some YouTubers like TotalBiscuit sided with Kotaku, despite not agreeing with the majority of content and their brand of journalism. More media involvement in gaming works both ways – it means more talk about games, sure – but it also means more coverage of the shadier side of the businesses. And that’s exactly what we want.

So does this mean that the power will swing into the camps of the press? Probably not.

But does it mean that the rules are changing, and the press does not have to be so heavily reliant on publishers? I reckon so. Kotaku has proven that they don’t need to be spoonfed information, and their coverage on Bethesda’s and Ubisoft’s games has been as thorough as it was before the blacklist.

We need games publishers. We like the stuff they publish, and we’d very much like them to continue. But does that mean we have to hand them all the power in return? For them to decide that we’re going to play their way, or not at all?

Fuck that. If you take your ball home, we’ll find another to play with. And that’ll probably piss you off even more.

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