One of the conflicts of interest that came up recently regarding the IGF chairman, Brandon Boyer, was Steph Thirion, the maker of the app Eliss. It was originally discussed in an interview TechRaptor conducted with former journalist Allistair Pinsof. However, in addition to Thirion’s conflict of interest with Boyer, anonymous diggers also uncovered additional undisclosed conflicts between Boyer and the subjects he wrote about.
Following the TechRaptor interview with Allistair Pinsof, Kotaku did an article attempting to debunk the information brought up during the interview. One of the issues involved an award that Boyer handed out to indie developer Steph Thirion. Kotaku summarily “debunked” any wrongdoing when they interview Thirion’s partner Tiff Chow, who claimed that Pinsof was mistaken about any conflicts of interests between Boyer and Thirion.
According to Pinsof, Chow originally mentioned that Thirion would walk away with an award from the Fantastic Arcade because of his friendship shared with Brandon Boyer. Sure enough, Thirion did walk away with an award. In the Kotaku article, Boyer chimed in to state that the award he handed out to Thirion was just a joke award, stating…
“There seems to be some conflation here of how Fantastic Arcade awards work, compared to a competition like the IGF. There *is* one similarity: both awards are chosen by a panel of jurors. In Fantastic Arcade’s case, that year the jury was made up of three Arcade attendees who had an hour or two to come up with their funniest fake-award categories to give out to all eight of the Spotlight games.“
“That tradition of having a panel come up with “funny” “everyone’s a winner”-type awards to give to all eight of the games has continued since, for better or worse (here’s 2012’s, and 2013’s, and 2014’s), and so to an extent, I agree: it *is* all a joke.”
Things started back in 2009, escalating from Boyer presenting the Auteur Award during events like IndieCade to Steph Thirionback in 2009, as noted by Brandon Boyer in a tweet, stating…
“Just presented @stephbysteph his Auteur Award at Indiecade in the obscenely lavish Sony Pictures plaza.”
Tweets from 2009 onward show a close-knit relationship between Boyer and Thirion, such as this one below.
@stephbysteph It's Our Own Private GDC: all of the after-hours debauchery, none of the Moscone responsibility.
— Brandon Boyer (@brandonnn) August 7, 2009
Or this tweet here…
iPhone owners, if you don't buy @stephbysteph's Eliss at its ltd. time $0.99, we don't have much reason to talk any more: https://is.gd/1oYYH
— Brandon Boyer (@brandonnn) July 6, 2009
Thirion’s app, Eliss was also featured on Boing Boing back in 2009 on a couple of occasions, with Boyer even managing to squeeze an article in before the year was out. Boyer proceeded to give a bit more positive coverage to Thirion’s Eliss heading into the following year, with a January 28th, 2013 article on Boing Boing sheltering the iOS app with praise… all with no disclosure.
Steph Thirion’s conflict of interest may seem minor, but it became an established pattern. Other developers like Douglas Wilson also benefited from Boyer’s position after establishing a friendship with the IGF chairman and owner of Venus Patrol.
A few examples of how close they were… back on December 28th, 2013, Douglas Wilson tweeted…
“@Heather_R @brandonnn Brandonnn I wish you were here to go see Shigeto with us tonight ;-(“
On May 1st, 2014, Wilson tweeted…
“In May 2011, I got to play my dumb wiimote prototype w/ @brandonnn, on a boat! He (+ others) inspired me to keep working on it.”
As recent as January 6th, 2015, Wilson and Boyer spent the weekend together, as indicated by Wilson’s tweet…
“@tha_rami I’m hanging out w/ @brandonnn this weekend, give us a call homie”
They were obviously close enough to have a friendship extended from cyberspace to real life.
Wilson had various articles without disclosure written about the games from his development studio Die Gute Fabrik. Boyer included it in the Fantastic Arcade Selection via Fantastic Fest back in 2012. There were multiple posts about Douglas Wilson and his studio Die Gute Fabrik on Boing Boing, as well as multiple posts about Wilson and co., games on Venus Patrol. There were no disclosures in the above articles on Boing Boing, Fantastic Fest or Venus Patrol.
Ricky Haggett, a designer from Honyslug, the makers of Hohokum, Frobisher Says and The Wild Rumpus to name but a few, is another developer who found themselves quite well within the good graces of Boyer.
Back in 2012 Haggett and Boyer were set to engage in an evening of whiskey and cigars. They regularly hung out at bars and managed to spend some face time with the gang, including Boyer and Douglas Wilson, with Wilson tweeting the following invitation…
“@brandonnn @KommanderKlobb @v21 @zoewi @tigershungry You know you’re all welcome – encouraged, even! – to come visit again, right?”
Later that same year on October 16th, 2012 and November 2nd, 2012, Boyer published articles on Venus Patrol about Honeyslug’s games… the same games that Haggett had a hand in making. The same Haggett he hung out with for whiskey and cigars. He later included their titles in a compilation piece about the Venus Patrol Horizon Event on June 19th, 2013. The coverage was fine, the lack of disclosure was not.
Ben Esposito, designer of Donut County, is another close friend of Boyer. There were tweets about how they had dinner together and Boyer’s mom thought Esposito was cute. Tweets about getting postcards together, as well as this interesting tweet about them staying together…
earlier this morning i think i heard @torahhorse trip on a tambourine in his bedroom & i was all “that’s so @torahhorse”
On June 16th, 2014, a few days after spending some time with Esposito, Boyer tweeted out the following note…
“ps: thank you to @lazerlily & @torahhorse for letting me have the plague in their living room for 2 solid days & bringing me apple juice box”
On August 11th, 2014 Boyer proceeded to publish an article on Venus Patrol, covering Esposito’s Donut County, along with a few other notable indie titles. On that very same day Donut County received its very own standalone article on Venus Patrol.
Later on, Donut County was nominated as a 17th annual IGF 2015 finalist for “Excellence in Visual Arts”.
While some of the members on the Game Journo Pros didn’t mind engaging in financial conflicts of interest with IGF chairman Brandon Boyer without disclosing it, such as Kotaku’s Nathan Grayson, it appears it’s a two-way street of Boyer also not disclosing his close ties to the subjects he previously and continues to cover through his outlets. This is all compounded on top of the previous allegations within the indie community, involving the Indiecade racketeering claims and the IGF corruption scandal.