We game developers and journalists are like a sewing circle with all the gossip and backstabbing. Today there’s news that Zoo Weekly (Australian dudes’ magazine) deputy editor Toby McCasker was fired by Rockstar’s upcoming Red Dead Redemption.
Okay, well, the game didn’t fire him. His boss did. And according to McCasker, the firing occurred because he posted an excerpt from an email Rockstar sent him on Facebook:
The email was allegedly sent by a publicist for Rockstar Games to staff at the magazine, concerning coverage of the company’s new title Red Dead Redemption.
“This is the biggest game we’ve done since GTA IV, and is already receiving Game of the Year 2010 nominations from specialists all around the world,” it read.
“Can you please ensure Toby’s article reflects this — he needs to respect the huge achievement he’s writing about here.”
Now, first off, anyone who works in a professional environment should know that publishing an internal communication of any kind on an open forum like Facebook is a no-no. If one of my employees published an internal email on Twitter they’d get… maybe not fired (depends on the content of the message, I suppose), but they’d get the fear of god put into them. Visits from the HR director and Legal and long lectures and everything. Notes in permanent records, etc etc etc. If by this point people haven’t realized that being 100% transparent on the internet can be dangerous, they never will.
I don’t like Rockstar, having once described the company as the Bob Guccione of the games industry (a comparison I’m quite enamored of and stand by), and I wouldn’t put it past them for a second to send out messages like this. The veiled implication – it doesn’t outright tell the magazine to give Red Dead a good review – is that a bad review would… not go unnoticed by Rockstar. Does that mean they’d pull advertising? Who knows. The general threat is loss of ad revenue as retaliation for bad reviews; it happened to Jeff Gerstmann during the Kane & Lynch fiasco at GameSpot, and it may well have happened to McCasker here.
This is why game reviews aren’t respected. Well, it’s one of the reasons. Here’s why game reviews aren’t respected:
- The audience assumes that the press is manipulated by publishers
- The press is manipulated by publishers
- A large number of game reviewers are illiterate morons or obnoxious fanboys
- Game “reviews” rarely go beyond that and into “criticism,” which is different
The whole “anyone with an opinion and a keyboard” argument is valid, but doesn’t have the impact that some claim; cream naturally rises to the top, though in this day and age it does so very slowly. Interestingly, if everyone read Tap-Repeatedly reviews, all four of those issues would magically go away. We take ads from Google, yes, and we’ll take ads from publishers too, but we aren’t in this for the money (God knows) so threats don’t impress us; none of our writers are illiterate morons or obnoxious fanboys; and we make a point to talk about what games mean, not just what’s in bullets on the back of the box. Clearly we are the solution to all game reporting’s woes.
As for McCasker and his Facebooked email, well, it was a stupid thing to do, publishing that. It cost him his job. And on the surface, Rockstar’s eagerness to point out positive elements of its own game isn’t even unethical. After all, if I made a game, I’d totally write to reviewers saying “hey, don’t forget this feature! And this one!” I’d drive them crazy. Now, offhand I’d say that McCasker was fired because he violated his magazine’s acceptable conduct policy – he made public a communication that was by implication internal and confidential. But was Rockstar partly to blame? You decide.