The Kotaku Conundrum (or #FucKotaku)

In the vain attempt to “wait it out” I may have waited too long, turning in to one of those people who opine the never was or too late to have anything cogent to say. On this series of tubes called “The Internets” it’s a death wish to those who wish to make any sort of career having an opinion on things.

Who was I kidding anyways? The games press at large wasn’t going to talk about the tantrum-as-editorial screed from Kotaku Editor-in-Chief Stephen Totilo outlining the sites “blacklisting” via game companies Ubisoft and Bethesda over the last couple of years. Not from an apparent fear of being “blacklisted” themselves mind you…more a general apathy they share at any news that involves them in any way.

It’s the same sort of apathy that struck “AAA game developers” in the haughty afterglow of #GamerGate last year. SJW’s howled that they come out and “take a stand”…against the very people that buy their software. Of course no game developer that was interested in making money was going to go anywhere near that, and so followed the majority of the games press.

I too am struck by my raging apathy at this “news”. I tend to be anti-corporation in general, but when it comes to the “Kotaku vs. Giant Games Corporation”, I can’t help but hold up a teeny-tiny “Go Giant Games Corporation!” pennant.

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Kotaku has been the carbuncle on the ass of the games industry for over a decade, and their crimes (both perceived and factual) have rightfully put them in the rueful place they currently reside. Loved by few, hated by some, tolerated by all.

Unpacking the whole Kotaku “blacklisting” debacle is an arduous task. I think it’s reductive to go the “soft target loving pro-consumer” route and take the Kotaku element out of the topic. Of course blacklisting isn’t cool, but it’s because it’s Kotaku that makes the “blacklisting” a topic worth discussing in full.

To say “Blacklisting is bad for everyone” and “Think of the small guy…the underdog” is lazy and just what a “soft target loving pro-consumer” advocate would say. It’s essentially talking a lot…but not really saying anything.

As someone who’s predominantly worked for the “small guy” websites on the internet that attempt to have some sort of “gaming” wing, I find it laughable that any game developer “blacklisting” Kotaku would be bad for me. Ol’ “pro-consumer advocate” guy hasn’t had to expend any real effort getting review copies of any games for quite some time.

That’s kind of the point of being popular on The Internets and having a nominal following, the game companies want you to say something about their games, move some units…etc. And who are they kidding, at this point “pro-consumer advocate” guy is just as mainstream as the rest of the game press, hipster welfare free agency be damned!

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Some seeming fly-by-night gaming “website” with less than a million visitors isn’t going to blow up a “AAA game developers” skirt, and more often than not, they pass. Hell, most of the times they don’t even reply to inquiries, so no a “blacklisting” of Kotaku isn’t going to affect any other gaming sites “access”.

When Stephen Totilo writes about Kotaku I always feel like he’s describing an alternate universe version of his website that isn’t an infected, cesspit asshole of the games industry. That alternate universe Kotaku is actually run with some degree of journalistic integrity and competency. On top of this, the staff is intelligent, well-informed and understand ethical practices.

Sad thing is alternate universe Kotaku doesn’t let Stephen Totilo access their side of the Fargate, so he can only tearfully watch from this side, and constantly shave that ever-present evil goatee that perpetually grows on his face.

I’m sure Stephen Totilo wishes he had a better staff of writers. I don’t think Kotaku is necessarily evil…I believe they hire “cost effective” (sub par) writers and that in it’s entirety Kotaku is essentially pieced together in a shit eating Voltron resembling a “gaming” website.

Kotaku writers treat the term “games journalism” like a switch that you can just turn “ON” or “OFF” as the need arises. Several of the sites writers proclaim to be “journalists” and therefore needn’t worry about things like “ethics” and “professionalism” and they being journalists would truly know!

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And don’t get me wrong, I’m okay with the click-bait nature of these video game related websites, it’s the unfortunate truth and reality of the modern day. But when you’re the editor-in-chief you make the call as to whether to run click-bait tripe or not.

There is nothing about either of the leaks that may have led to Kotaku’s “blacklisting” that merited their release on the grounds of “journalism”. This notion that this information just had to be known by gamers and therefore the journalist side of Kotaku deemed them worth of publishing is horseshit. This isn’t Watergate or some redacted information that was being withheld from the masses. Kotaku wasn’t doing anybody but themselves any favors.

They chose to run the leaks, bathe in the click-bait money, and now they’re paying the consequences for those decisions via being “blacklisted”. Apparently waiting a couple of years and trying to leverage your readership to rabble-rouse is the only way to correct this “error”. Except, no one cares enough because…well…it’s Kotaku!

The more disturbing element to all this is the circling of the wagons within the games press around Kotaku and it’s “blacklisting”. Does Kotaku have blackmail material on some people? What gives with this perpetual defending of nogoodniks in the games press? With Kotaku, it’s not just a one time “Oops!”, this is repeat offenses! Not only to game developers, but gamers as well! They burn all the bridges that matter in the games industry and the only defense you can muster is that it’s bad for everyone if we stop putting up with Kotaku’s nonsense?

Nothing sums up my thoughts on all of this better than Penny Arcade. To be fair, I am long-windingly writing “Meh.” all up in this piece. It’s worth noting that it’s hard to parse the argument of general blacklisting and the very real notion that Kotaku, and other game press outlets that insist on propelling an ideological agenda in their coverage, are painting themselves in to a corner and have no one to blame but themselves for the increased marginalization in their own medium.

Do we as a consumer base just roll our eyes and wait for the “ideological” elements to ooze out of our respective games press? Like some SJW national anthem that you respectfully endure so you can get to the meat of a review or Podcast?

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In the Fallout 4 episode of Polygon’s Quality Control Podcast the first few moments are filled with reviewer Arthur Gies stating that the games radio soundtrack had more female singers in it…presumably this was a great thing? There’s an awkward pause before the host delves in to the Podcast proper and it’s seemingly so excisable that you wonder why it wasn’t edited out. Really, that’s what was holding you back from enjoying previous Fallout games, lack of female singer on the soundtrack diversity?

It’s the kind of stuff, on top of the whole antagonistic attitude to gamers, which I submit that game developers and publishers eschew the games press at large and focus on Youtubers and “social media presences”. Of course, this will mean that much of the video game pundit class will continue to enjoy their stations seeing as they’re viewed as “pro-consumer” and if they have any real beefs they will keep it in the safe “soft target” arena and be non-offensive in their banality.

While it still works, this whole notion of using press outlets to get over excited and build up a hype train over a games release has been a large part of the problem. The games press lords all of its “access” and has been essentially “blacklisting” gamers with it for years now. It’s given sites like Kotaku this authoritarian bent that’s become increasingly intolerant and agenda driven to thoughts and ideas perceived as counter to it, slowly eroding the very notion of any “journalistic” integrity.

It’s time for developers and publishers to take their work to the people that actually matter: gamers. This need for a middle man in the games press is antiquated at best. It has to be infinitely more cost effective to give review copies of games to people that will actually enjoy them and, shockingly, may play through the entire game when they review it? Instead of that one spike during the games initial release, how about the slow, grassroots word-of-mouth buildup from people that will actually play your game for days and months to come, and not this whole “Well, I only have so much time to play this game…I have to compile a “best of” list” or some other bullshit.

With The Internets being what they are, and the very real notion that the games press isn’t really catering to gamers any more, why not just empower the gamers?

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The Kotaku Conundrum (or #FucKotaku)

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