#GamerGate: ‘This Has The Appearance Of A Conflict Of Interest’ Says Game Informer Editor


Battlefield Hardline

Conflict of interests is where a lot of people have issues with the current landscape of video game journalism. There are several people involved with the gaming industry that span a leap across one field to another. One of the discussions in the Game Journo Pros private e-mail list centered around a conflict of interests regarding those who write about the gaming industry and work in the field without disclosing the fact that they are writing about games and sometimes working on them.

Game Informer news editor Michael Futter started a thread called Tom Bissell on Hitting the Battlefield with Hardline. It was about writer Tom Bissell and the potential conflict of interest for him writing about games – contributing to places like Grantland – while also being a writer for Battlefield: Hardline, EA and Visceral Games’ upcoming first-person shooter. Bissell’s pieces on Grantland don’t (or didn’t) readily disclose the fact that he is, in fact, someone who also works on games, including being the co-writer for the 2013 release of Gears of War: Judgment. Bissell is also known for being the author of the book Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter (something that is disclosed on the site).

Futter stated in the thread…

“Not sure if you all received/saw this, but I figured I’d bring it to the group’s attention. In the first paragraph here, EA shines a spotlight on the very thing that people have been accusing us of” […]
“Gamergate or not, this has the appearance of a conflict of interest. I’ve heard a lot of people talking about what a great writer Tom is (and they may be true).”

The article Futter is discussing is this one on the Battlefield blog, where the first paragraph reads…

About eighteen months ago, Battlefield Hardline creative director Ian Milham and I exchanged a series of emails. The ostensible reason for our communication was my review of Dead Space 3, which I had greatly enjoyed, for Grantland. So what, I asked, was Mr. Milham working on these days? “Funny you should ask,” he said. “What’s your schedule like?” Having just rolled off a game, I didn’t know whether I wanted to jump into yet another AAA cyclone, but the chance of working with Visceral wasn’t an opportunity I was going to let pass by. A few days later, my co-writer Rob Auten and I were sitting in the Electronic Arts atrium. All day Rob and I had been throwing out guesses as to what project we were going to discuss with Ian. Dead Space 4? Dante’s Inferno 2? Some new IP altogether? Then Ian finally said it: “Battlefield.”

Keep in mind that Bissell is talking about working for EA after having previously reviewed Dead Space 3. I’m sure someone seems to understand the conflict of interest that may be present… right?

Chris Dahlen, director of application development at Mad*Pow, and former editor-in-chief at Kill Screen Magazine, went ahead and dropped his own admission following a jab at #GamerGate, saying…


Dahlen further added…

“FWIW I also spent a few years writing for games at the same time that I was writing in one capacity or another for game publications – for example, running Kill Screen while I worked on Carmen Sandiego.”

The Carmen Sandiego game Dahlen is mentioning refers to a Facebook game that was designed by Blue Fang Games. Of course, you’ll easily find this kind of disclosure on his Mad * Pow page. But how about on Kill Screen? Nope. Dahlen ultimately pulled an Anthony Burch on us.

The interesting thing about it is that Kill Screen deals with video game news and culture . So I decided to check out the website and see what it was about (their about page says more than enough). Chris Dahlen’s author page is still available; but there’s no mention of any of Dahlen’s work within the industry as someone who worked on games. In a review he did about Warlight, there didn’t appear to be any mention that he, too, worked on a browser-based title… it’s just business as usual. There’s no mention of this on the Killscreen about page either (but then again, there’s no Wayback capture before February 9th, 2014, so there’s that, too).

Keep in mind that the issue of making games and writing about them isn’t the issue per se, but doing it at the same time without disclosing that fact to readers can be an issue. In fact, that’s why Game Informer’s Michael Futter mentions that it appears – in the case of Tom Bissell – to potentially be a case of conflicting interests.


 

Well Chris, we didn’t bring it up because we didn’t know… until you brought up. Thank you. We’ll definitely be sure to start digging more into the backgrounds of writers and journalists now that you mention it.

What’s more is that a pot, kettle and color issue seems to arise within the Game Journo Pros group, as they pick and choose what kind of conflicts of interests actually apply, with Jason Schreier crassly making it known that Jessica Chobot’s contributions to IGN while starring in Mass Effect 3 was “actively” angering…

For those of you who don’t know, Jessica Chobot co-starred in EA and BioWare’s Mass Effect 3. Not only was her likeness used but she also provided voice-over work for the character. In addition to this, Chobot also  actively promoted the game by contributing content to IGN. In other words, she was promoting a game she starred in at a place where she was being paid to inform the public about video games. Polygon editor Ben Kuchera and Joystiq editor-in-chief Susan Arendt also chimed in…

One of the biggest problems is that there appears to be selective issues of ethics enforcement. How can they label one case okay and not the other? Bissell and Dahlen can get away with it but not Chobot? Are they being… sexist?

Anyway, one member stated…

“To be honest, when I saw this thread, I thought 100% that this was going to be about an ostensibly very thoughtful and talented writer writing what appears to be one of the most tone-deaf games”

Dahlen had a quip ready in retort, mentioning…

Well, some of them thought it was simply a matter of individual choice. That the ethics of disclosure and transparency should be left up to the writer and not mentioned as a service to the reader, with some of the members stating the following…


The policy of transparency, truth and disclosure is not an individual thing. It is not for the writer to decide whether or not they will disclose if 40,000 people had their personal information hacked because they’re friends with someone who works at a company where they don’t want to compromise their relationship. It is not for the writer to decide whether or not they will disclose if they have close personal relations with someone whose game or product they write about on multiple occasions. It is not for the writer to decide not to disclose the facts or to actively falsify information in order to push a biased and one-sided agenda.

Folks, games journalism is broken. The attitudes of those who control the platforms are in synch with the kind reprehensible behavior that stands in  need of reformation.

If YouTubers must adhere to the new FTC guidelines, the least that those in the print and digital media sector can do is adhere to proper disclosure policies.

[Disclosure: I was a former member of the Game Journo Pros e-mail group]



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Billy has been rustling Jimmies for years. The GJP cried and their tears became his milkshake. Contact.

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