The Echo Chamber, and feeding the animals

I wish


One of the most common disagreements within games journalism is about whether companies should be referred to as singular or plural. Valve is a great company. Valve are a great company. Is Valve a singular entity, or a group of people? Clearly it’s both, with each somewhat defining the other. But that doesn’t quite answer the question.

I always come down on the side of the singular, but I understand why others don’t. Especially now. The other night on twitter I went on a rant about Future Publishing, something reckless that has subsequently given rise to much commentary, and a pretty eye-opening Neogaf thread. My motivations were simple and ignoble: I’d been treated badly by some of the company’s employees over the past year or two, it had happened again recently, so I thought “I’ll show them.” It’s strange how the majority of the time, twitter feels like bitching to your mates – and then something like this shows you it’s anything but. 

Am I proud? Time was when I dreamed of becoming Edge’s editor, rising through Future’s ranks to be in charge of the magazine I’d loved since I’d first clapped eyes on it as a spotty 14 year old. Instead I left Future on the verge of a nervous breakdown, having worked myself to the bone as part of an editorial skeleton staff, reaching a stage where I literally couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. The company just didn’t advertise for new people until it was far, far too late, and one can only guess at management’s motivations for this. But three people ran the editorial side of Edge and Edge Online over this period and did an incredible job, I think, even if it’s not one they ever should have had to.

I’ve deleted almost all of the tweets from the other night, and obviously people have been asking why. Backtracking? Simple cowardice? There’s an element of both, of course, but far more important was my shock at how one man’s unverifiable ranting had turned into evidence for a narrative that people had already decided on.

I have seen and worked with bad people. Bad journalists, bad ad-men, bad managers, and not just at Future. As a percentage of the number of people I’ve worked with, however, they don’t even register a single digit. The vast majority are nothing like this. But what I failed to realise is that when you talk about bad apples, people think you’re talking about the barrel. There is already this suspicion that games journalism is totally corrupt, with every score available for sale, and I fell right into the trap of adding grist to this mill.

There’s one tweet I especially regret, can’t even remember what it was in response to, but I basically said ‘Future is bent.’ That is an outright lie, and I deserve to be pilloried for it – not just because it’s untrue, and I am telling you now it’s untrue, but because I’d have no way of knowing. I haven’t worked there, in the building, in years. This is a point many people seem to have missed: all of my firsthand knowledge is based on a company from three or four years ago. The management of Future’s games division has changed entirely in that time. Hell, most of the staff in Future’s games division have changed.

Did my motivations give people pause before reporting? The fact I’m a disgruntled ex-employee with a grudge, clearly taking down a bridge with several tonnes of dynamite and all guns blazing? Of course not! One of the most amazing things about this whole affair, which caught me totally off-guard, was that of all the outlets reporting on this, a single solitary one got in touch to try and check the veracity of what I’d said. Do you know who it was? Kotaku. Fucking Kotaku! I have criticised Kotaku in the past for their addiction to lady pictures and Bomberman cakes, but here they were the one place that actually thought it was worth trying to establish the truth of the matter beyond a nobody’s twitter feed.

Neogaf, of course, is a law unto itself, full of wiseass cynics and anonymous authority figures claiming to have insider knowledge of everything. Well, I certainly gave them what they wanted. A friend of mine made a good point about this:

You’re not just poisoning Future’s well, I’m afraid. When people are given license to assume that every opinion is purchased, every editor is a liar or a pedophile, you’re tainting the ground water in its entirety.”

That made me think more than anything else. I don’t regret having a go at Future, because the behaviour of some of its employees towards me has been abominable, and I’ll be damned before I sit down like a good little freelancer and take it. But I do regret failing to make that distinction between the company and them – Future is not a singular entity, but in my anger I treated it as such. And you can’t depend on others to be able to parse those things when you haven’t.

Let me spell it out. Is Future bent? No. Have I seen individuals do bad things? Yes. And to be honest, I’ve just as often seen people TRY to do bad things, and get slapped down by management. 

So draw your own conclusions. But don’t take one angry man’s twitterings as gospel, and don’t mistake score-settling as the truth about score-selling.

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4 thoughts on “The Echo Chamber, and feeding the animals

  1. Nick Gillham says:

    You may not have made the differences between singular and groups in your tweet, but you’re only granted limited space to put your thoughts.
    You stated your thoughts about individuals at Future in latter tweets and as such many would have known you weren’t talking about the entire organisation.

  2. Andrew Owen says:

    In news journalism the convention is that companies are singular but sporting teams are plural. Staffing seems to be an issue across the video games press. I can think of a number of titles at one publisher with no staff writers at all.

  3. Grant Rencourt says:

    You’re entitled to express your grievances Rich. And for the record, I worked as a freelancer at Future in the mid 90s and was less than impressed by how some individuals within the organisation saw fit to treat freelancers. I lost count of how often I had to chase payment for work done months prior and I also recall being dropped like a stone from one magazine without being offered the courtesy of a reason why. Still, overall my experience was positive and I take some good memories from my time there; although I still believe that this publishing niche and the games industry in general needs to do a lot of growing up.

  4. searanox says:

    Regardless of the total accuracy of your comments, I think it is very important that your experiences are communicated to others. Games journalism is very much a walled garden, an elites’ club where it’s impossible for the average person to really tell what’s going on. This is often where suspicion tends to come from – they’re not really privy to all the *other* stuff beyond the games that goes into determining coverage, hence they are mistrustful. Stories like yours inject some much-needed skepticism and *humanity* into the field, and I wish there were more like them out there.

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