Daily Reaction: How Publishers Try to Control the Media

The long wait is finally over: The Daily Reaction crew of Seb and Dan are back at work and complaining about something. Today, a leak outing Microsoft’s plan to bring self-publishing to the Xbox One angered the platform holder because they were shocked that journalism had just happened.

Dan: Earlier today, Game Informer leaked Microsoft’s plans to bring self publishing to the Xbox One. This forced Microsoft to confirm the news, but their response to GI’s leak has caused a bit of a ripple. According to Game Informer’s Andy McNamara:

Even though we reached out to MS hours ago, we of course didn’t get the official statement as MS is reportedly “angry” about our story

MS reached out to a few publications to clarify the situation and it seems that, in a bit of a tantrum, they gave GI the cold shoulder.

The games industry has not always been known for its maturity, but for a publisher of MS’ size to blatantly respond to a situation that is the standard practice for most industries outside of gaming takes things to a new level. Games journalists rarely get a chance to shine in any form like the world media, as other ‘real-world’ publications break topics about the NSA spying on people, and we try to break information about announcements. Similarly, the outside world will not care about MS finally adding self-publishing to the Xbox One, so Microsoft should realize the leak just isn’t that big of a deal and it is people just doing their job.

This ultimately breaks down to a much bigger issue that stems to the reason for a publisher to become hostile towards their media: A lack of control. The games media does not have the power that other publications have – we are split between trying to balance the information we can obtain ourselves and what we can and can’t say through our embargo system. Publishers feel that they can manage the information that goes out to the press and only get out positive information in the time frames they want, but seem to forget we are a free press system still.

The most infamous and publicized event to represent this is the Kane & Lynch review by GameSpot, that launched journalist Jeff Gerstmann into the public spotlight when the publisher’s marketing team took issue with his score. Control over the media is far from a new concept, as the media in general usually relies on bigger powers for information, but they also act as a balancing force to keep those powers in check.

Moments like this may seem small and trivial to the general public, but the pressures of a system that allows retaliation for due diligence will have bigger repercussions for the audience much further down the line.

Seb: This is just depressing, so it’s the perfect topic to kick off DR’s return with. Sadly, this is nothing new – publishers have far too much control over the games press, and they believe they are entitled to it.

The games press mostly regurgitates press releases, covers events publishers hold, previews games at publisher preview sessions and reviews games sent to them by publishers. That’s mostly unavoidable, and not always bad – for example, E3 can be great for the press, and can be even better for the readers.

Publishers do this because it is essentially free advertising – every time we cover a game trailer, that’s thousands upon thousands they’ve saved on YouTube ads. But they seem to think that’s the press’ only purpose, getting upset like spoiled brats every time the press do their job – holding the industry to account.

Honest reviews are vital for obvious reasons – people need to know if a game is terrible, and it helps ensure publishers at least try to make something good. But covering what is wrong with other parts of the industry is just as important – for example, the press’ part in covering why self publishing was so great for the PS4 is one of the main reasons Microsoft has now backtracked and ‘embraced’ it.

In the past, when the press didn’t do as their masters bid them, they would be blacklisted (completely shut out of any press events, interviews etc) – Kotaku was temporarily blacklisted by Sony for leaking Home’s existence, while Activision reportedly blacklisted Gameblog.fr for writing about something viewable on Amazon. Despite both these being legitimate pieces of journalism, publishers contacted them letting them know they were blacklisted.

That doesn’t happen any more. Now, they don’t let sites know. Instead, they simply stop inviting you to as many events, don’t send over as many games, or agree to do as many interviews. It’s just childish, and pathetic.

However, Game Informer is huge, a massively powerful gaming outlet whose coverage can literally impact the sales success of a game (and platform) to a noticeable degree. Microsoft can’t afford to be petulant for too long to GI. Sadly, the same can’t be said for the smaller sites, and even here at a medium sized site we’re aware of missing out or review copies and event privileges suddenly, just after a scoop or a harsh review (according to Metacritic, we are noticeably harsher than the average critic) is published. Because they don’t outright say ‘you’re blacklisted’, we can’t outright say ‘Capcom is trying to blacklist us for being journalists’, but it is something that’s happening.

It’s a sad indictment of all that is wrong with the industry, but as publishers are reliant on the press, it is becoming increasingly clear that they don’t have as much control as they think they do. There will always be some members of the press who don’t just follow what a PR company is telling them to do, and if that number rises it will become harder and harder for publishers to try to exert any authority over them.

We need to draw attention to this every time it happens, as this bad publicity will put pressure on publishers as public support rallies behind GI/etc for covering the truth. Equally, the press cannot shy away from covering things that will make people unhappy – be they publishers or readers. The only thing that matters is the truth, and journalists should strive to uncover it no matter what enemies they make.

Do you think the press is under the thumb of publishers? Was Microsoft right to get angry about the leak? Should games journalists have the right to publish all news they find? Let us know in the comments below, email us at DailyReaction@PlayStationLifeStyle.net or tweet us your leaks at Seb and Dan.