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Opinion: Remember the last big games industry scandal? No, neither do we

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Opinion: Remember the last big games industry scandal? No, neither do we

Have you heard the latest gossip?

Apparently, if you mash all the buttons on your Xbox control pad while playing GTA V as Trevor, he bursts out of your screen and actually starts murdering real people.

But he only does it on Wednesday afternoons. And you have to hold the pad upside down when you do it...or something. Anyway, I think it's scandalous, and Rockstar should be ashamed.

Oh, and have you heard? Someone told me that REDACTED, CEO of REDACTED, denounced all left handed people as "subhuman", and suggested that those who prefer Pepsi to Coca Cola should be "deported to some kind of island somewhere" to keep them away from the "normal folk."

I mean, I wasn't there, and I haven't seen it reported anywhere, but that's what someone I follow on Twitter said. Apparently, he delivered this hate speech while riding naked on the back of an elephant through the Rotherham branch of Marks & Spencer.

Sounds unlikely, but that's what I read. It's absolutely disgusting. He should be punished for saying hurtful things like that. Maybe by being sent to some kind of island somewhere...

I'm being deliberately facetious, of course – I don't even know if Rotherham has a branch of Marks & Spencer – but the notion that seemingly ridiculous scandals have the power to spread like wildfire across the games industry won't be lost on anyone who uses social media.

I say all this as we fast approach the anniversary of one such scandal.

A scandal that was ignited on Twitter, spread across scores of editorials on a stream of different websites, before heading back to the social platform to be debated endlessly – and often fruitlessly – by the world and his wife.

One year on

Yes, last October saw 'Doritosgate' – the story of an apparently unhealthily cosy relationship between the press on one side and developers and PR on the other – explode across social media, fundamentally changing the way the games media operates forever.

Oh...but wait. You'd forgotten about it, hadn't you? It's coming back to you now, but, until I mentioned it, it had almost completely fallen out of your mind, hadn't it?

One year on, it's hard to say what Doritosgate achieved. It certainly hasn't had a big impact on how the games media functions from my perspective, and nor – I speculate – have developers or PR changed the way they do business either.

In fact, if Doritosgate highlighted anything, it wasn't the "corrupt" nature of games journalism, but just how susceptible we all are to getting whipped up into a storm over the 'scandal of the day' and completely missing the genuine issues that lie at the heart of it.

Though actually not connected to the original spark that lit the flames of Doritosgate – journalists posting co-ordinated tweets in order to win a free PlayStation 3 from a PR firm at an industry awards bash – some of the stories that arose as a result did highlight real problems with the way some in the press operate.

For instance, journalists that consult or help in any way on a game during its development shouldn't be the ones tapping away on their keyboards about it when it actually hits the digital shelves.

And, if a publisher offers to fly you out on a private jet to a lavish location at the same time as you're due to review one of its prominent releases, you should probably say no.

For me, all such lessons came down to common sense. I didn't understand the level of heat they generated across Twitter and numerous games forums because I couldn't really comprehend that any respectable games journalist would engage in such activities.

Given most people end up in this job with very little training, however, effectively learning their craft sat hunched up against the PC in the corner of their bedroom, it's perhaps not surprising that some people hadn't understood that there are some frankly obvious rules that you just don't break.

Unsatisified

These reasonable lessons didn't satisfy the internet, however.

Instead of simply focusing on the startlingly obvious cases where journalists had been brought into disrepute, online folk instead decided there was far more meat on the bone if they looked at the smaller, more fiddly things.

Should games journalists go for drinks with developers or PR? Definitely not. Should they be friendly with them? Well, they can't really be trusted, so no.

Should the press be able to pick up a free cup of coffee when working all hours at an event, or would such caffeine-fuelled delights colour their coverage unfairly? Well, I think you just answered your own question there.

Websites and magazines drew up guidelines that, in an effort to distance themselves from the more murky side of the debate, slapped a coat of whitewash over everything.

It reminded me very much of the political debate that recently rose up in the UK over whether NHS nurses should be allowed to wear burkas that cover vast portions of their faces while at work.

It was a debate that ran across the media for days - with anyone and everyone taking a position on one side or the other - before anyone actually questioned whether they'd ever seen an NHS nurse wearing such a garment in the first place.

In the same way, Doritosgate served as a source of unlimited fuel for people who like to have a good debate online.

Suddenly, Twitter users and entire publications alike were forced to take public positions on issues they'd never even considered before – issues that came out of nowhere because, in the vast majority of cases, they didn't really exist.

It's little wonder then that, when the dust finally settled, no-one really came away feeling satisfied. Those who felt they'd been let down by the games media were neither convinced that they'd got to the bottom of the issue, nor believed that the reaction from journalists had been strong enough.

On the other side, websites and magazines found themselves signed up to guidelines that had very little connection to what they did day to day, meaning there was no real change to how they operated.

The opportunity to actually deal with the minor, but nonetheless relevant issues Doritosgate had briefly brought to the surface was missed.

History repeating

It's the nature of the web, of course, that the only thing that matters is right now.

As an editor on a games website I know that, if we're even half an hour late on a story rival publications have already set live, we might as well not bother. People will have read the news elsewhere already, taken a view and moved on.

Twitter is much the same, if not worse. The disposable nature of tweets means that you're forced to react to any burning issue there and then, lest you be left out of the conversation entirely.

The problem is, when a story breaks across social media, all of the facts aren't usually to hand off the bat and, as we can all admit, our initial judgement on any issue isn't always the most appropriate in the long term.

As a result, games industry 'Twitter storms' continue to break out to this day.

The end of the Eurogamer Expo in London last weekend, for instance, saw Twitter awash with allegations that a comedian charged with hosting the Xbox stand at the event was transphobic and had used inappropriate remarks when referring to a woman who took to the stage.

Before any of the facts were out in the open, leagues of Twitter users were demanding that said comedian be bombarded with hate messages and general abuse. There was no possible excuse for what he did, they claimed, and he should be punished.

Anyone who called for a more reasonable approach – perhaps giving the comedian himself the right to reply, or waiting for the event organisers or Microsoft to get to the bottom of the issue – was charged with also being transphobic, and therefore ripe for some personal abuse of their own.

Yet again, the real issue – the undeniable problem the games community has welcoming gay, bisexual or transgender people – was overlooked in favour of a witch hunt that promised to be far more juicy.

People who weren't at the event (nor had any access to impartial accounts of what actually happened) were forced to take stances that then they couldn't openly back down from, even when the facts – which appear to have come out today – suggested the initial allegations were some way off the mark.

No doubt, we're not the only industry to suffer such embarrassments, but the logical tie most of us either in games development or the games media have to our PCs (and the social media that saddles them) means we seem to be more susceptible to falling into the same traps, time and again.

So, if this piece has annoyed you, or you disagree with any of the points I've made, don't rush yourself into firing off some sort of a response.

Take a few minutes, breathe deeply, collect your thoughts, and then give me a thorough trashing. Ultimately, we'll both have forgotten what the other one said in a week or two.


With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.

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Simon Munk
Great piece.
The situation is not unique to the games industry by any means. But what I think is unique to the games industry is the level of both entitlement "fans" (ie those not directly employed by the industry, but consumers of it) feel and the level of reaction from many of the parties in the industry.
In other words, the cosy relations between games PRs and journalists are as nothing to the motoring industry, film, celebrity etc. etc. Yet a) you don't see fans of Top Gear hounding the presenters constantly about their freebies etc. and b) even when those fans do get upset about something, the industries involved tend to just ignore it.
It is both to the credit of and detriment of the games industry it seems, fairly uniquely, to listen very hard to gamers. Sometimes that results in the industry making more of the same games, or in introducing fan-servicing features that don't enhance a game and even make it worse; sometimes that results in sites producing ludicrously stringent access codes of conducts or becoming over-touchy about their coverage of LGBT people or issues (although, frankly, that is one where not many sites have been over-touchy - and a fair few are far too unaware or LGBT-phobic); sometimes it results in a vocal minority of hardcore gamers getting far too big a say in the industry. But would we trade those issues for just saying "we're not listening"? I'm not sure.