The Garbage Reporting Machine

Anyone who’s been paying attention knows there’s a problem with today’s gaming journalism.

Disregarding accusations of corruption, collusion, cronyism, and conflicts of interest, there’s still an issue with how games journalism operates at its core. Today’s biggest gaming sites treat their jobs a lot less like traditional journalism and more like fan blogging. It’s easy to find features and think pieces about the industry packed with opinions, but it’s hard to come by deep, facts-based, research-driven articles that inform readers of what they need to know.

You know, like journalism is meant to do.

A minor but notable example of this came to my attention recently when Jason Schreier of Kotaku tweeted a link to a NeoGAF post he called evidence of the “garbage reporting machine in action.”

Basically, a NeoGAF user by the name of Gameboy415 claims that around May 25, several major sites (including IGN, Destructoid, and PC Gamer) put up short news stories saying that a game of the year edition of Lords of the Fallen would be released on June 26. The game would include more content than the limited edition Gameboy415 owned at the time, so he tried to sell his unopened copy in the hopes of nabbing a GOTY version of the game.

While it’s true that Lords of the Fallen: Game of the Year Edition is real and did actually release, gaming sites left out one crucial fact: The title only launched in Germany.

How did so many sites commit the same embarrassing blunder by excluding this crucial fact? Here’s my theory: They forgot one of the cornerstones of journalism: fact checking.

The original source of the news likely came from Playfront.de, a German gaming site that claimed Lords of the Fallen was getting a game of the year edition. Lazygamer.net wrote an English article based on Playfront’s report without noting (or likely even checking) if the game is launching internationally. Like a bad game of Telephone, more and more gaming sites began writing their own articles, citing other publications instead of going to the source. And while the pieces published aren’t technically incorrect, they do mislead players by implying the game of the year edition is launching in all regions.

I’m a newspaper journalist, so I guess I don’t really know how web-only journalism works, but I would be fired if I wrote a piece of news in which my only source was a competitor’s story, especially if that story didn’t have all the facts. Part of being a journalist is having connections. Surely someone could have reached out to a source on the development team or the publisher or even a PR rep for confirmation. Playfront and Lazygamer appear to be hobbyist sites; the fact that games journalism powerhouses regurgitated this news without learning it firsthand is alarming.

“Hooray for fact checking!” —Gameboy415

Mistakes happen. I get that. I know I’ve made plenty. But when an error is committed, the first thing a reporter does is write up a correction. This accomplishes three things: It informs the reader of the whole truth, it exemplifies a publication’s integrity, and it rekindles any potential loss of trust. Of the several sites I found with a news piece about this fiasco, only PC Gamer edited their article to reflect the new-found info. That means the others still don’t know that the GOTY edition of Lords of the Fallen is a Germany-only product, which, nearly two weeks after its launch, seems unlikely, or they can’t be bothered to fix their mistakes.

I’m not sure which is worse.

Regardless, Gameboy415 wasn’t happy, writing in the post, “It’s absolutely ridiculous that dozens of game sites … reported that the GOTY edition would be released in the U.S. with no actual proof. Hooray for fact checking!”

Hooray indeed, Gameboy415. Hooray indeed.

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