#GamerGate: IGF Chairman, Nathan Grayson Financial Conflict Of Interest Uncovered

Nathan Grayson has been in the news quite a bit over the past couple of months. The guy has been put under a microscope ever since his original conflict of interest with an independent developer initiated the events that led to the start of #GamerGate. Well, a bit more digging has been done and it turns out that Nathan Grayson made a substantial financial contribution to a treatment fund while also covering the subject he donated to… the subject was none other than the IGF chairman, Brandon Boyer.

Ars Technica’s senior gaming editor Kyle Orland put up a post in the Game Journo Pros list on March 6th, 2014 notifying everyone that Boyer was undergoing some serious cancer treatment. He notified the individuals on the list, who immediately responded with articles and financial patronage for Brandon Boyer.

Over on Boyer’s GoFundMe page, he writes about the cancer treatment and the difficult task of asking for help, writing…

“It’s always been extremely hard for me to ask for help from anyone, but outside coming under the patronage of an eccentric billionaire (still working on this, no luck so far), I don’t have much recourse left to climb out from under this, and so I started this campaign to help tell my story and ask for some assistance.”

With Orland posting the message in the Game Journo Pros thread, various journalists helped spread the word and helped donate, with Patrick Klepek donating $30 and writing an article on Giant Bomb about it on March 7th, 2014, along with a few others such as John Walker from Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Klepek doesn’t disclose his donation amount but hints enough at the gesture for funding Boyer.

Enough individuals from across the tech and gaming industry donated to Boyer’s cancer relief efforts to help him out of his financial bind. Including current Kotaku journalist, Nathan Grayson. He donated $100 to the cause, as evidenced in the image below, and spotted by John Galt and IvyClover on Twitter. They listed many of the significant individuals who donated via a pastebin.

There’s nothing wrong with donating to a cause or to help a friend in need. However, after going through the treatment and getting healthier, Boyer showed appreciation to some of the Game Journo Pros with free invitations to the Horizon event he was hosting.

Grayson proceeded to give coverage about Brandon Boyer’s Venus Patrol Horizon event on Rock, Paper, Shotgun on June 12th, 2014. The same event he was privately invited to through the Game Journo Pros. However, he opted not to mention the invitation nor his $100 donation to Boyer during his treatment. It’s a very close-knit group where gifts, favoritism and financial ties are common occurrences. This creates a conflict of interest.

It’s a simple lack of disclosure that has carried through many of the interactions within the Game Journo Pros list. It was that exact measure of chivalry to provide coverage of Depression Quest for whom Grayson had personal ties to the developer – without disclosure that eventually erupted back in the middle of August, prompting for media to hunker down and for gamers to go on the attack. As noted in the New York University Journalism Handbook for Students

“Journalists must avoid all financial entanglements (stock ownership, financial transactions, etc.) with the people and companies they cover.”

Even if Grayson decided to fund Boyer’s cancer treatment or receive free tickets to the Horizon event, the least that could be done is disclose it. Then again, when Boyer was a journalist he too was also involved in multiple conflicts of interest. These COIs were logged by a bunch of anonymous information diggers, where Boyer used his connections to post positively about various friends through his Venus Patrol portal and when he was a journalist at Boing Boing. There’s a very long list of each of Boyer’s conflicts of interest, all of which seemingly went unchecked by his superiors.

Nevertheless, Grayson was also involved in other conflicts of interest and lacks of disclosure throughout his tenure at Rock, Paper, Shotgun and Kotaku. However, it appears as if he was never reprimanded for it, at least not as far as it was concerned for the public’s due interest in the subject matter.

In fact, Grayson was often the subject of praise, even in the Game Journo Pros, as evidenced in his move from Rock, Paper, Shotgun to Kotaku.


Unfortunately, Grayson has still never been publicly reproached by his superiors for the original conflict of interest that was brought to the public’s attention back in August of 2014. He appeared to have nothing handed down against him for his conflict of interest with IGF chairman Brandon Boyer, nor any sort of recourse taken to address his conflict of interest with Robin Arnott.

Sadly, this is typical behavior that we’ve seen dug up frequently since #GamerGate started, with only a few websites actually addressing the issue and opting to stray from that kind of behavior. A few of those who heeded the tolls of the bell includes The Escapist, Destructoid and PC Gamer. To the credit of some journalists, the conflicts of interest and corruption have waned over the past couple of months since #GamerGate started.





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

  • Jeronimo

    Well, thank you for informing us. But in my personal opinion, donating to someone’s cancer fund is arguably not “financial ties”. Anybody could donate for someone not to die without having any sort of connection with them. Thus, again, in my opinion, no disclosure was needed.
    This is just me, everybody can disagree of course.

    • I understand.

      However, some people take the same view for Patreon. They don’t see it as financial ties, just that they’re helping someone be creative.

      To me, I don’t look at why they’re donating, but the act of donating and covering the subject without disclosure.

      If we replaced “cancer” with a “new house”, would you still be okay with Grayson’s donation and subsequent coverage? Or would you feel it’s a legitimate conflict of interest?

      • Ms_Fortune

        They’re not even in the same league dude.

        A new house yes, obvious conflict of interest, but cancer? No.

      • Technically, that’s what the GJP said about people exposing the Grayson/Quinn COI. That it was unnecessary dirty laundry and that it wasn’t even the same thing as Max Temkin or Brad Wardell and didn’t deserve exposure.

        It was feels over facts.

        I’m not going to try to convince anyone what’s right or wrong, but if we’re going to be selective about conflicts of interest… is it really about ethics?

      • Ms_Fortune

        Where’s the conflict? Free invites to events are a dime a dozen.

      • Well it’s a free invite on top of a direct donation to the subject while covering the subject’s event.

        Are we saying this is less of a COI than Brandon Boyer’s COI with covering his friends… or that Grayson should get a pass based on feels?

      • Ms_Fortune

        There’s a whole pastebin of stuff Boyer has been involved in, Grayson is firmly established asshole to.

        Why go after this specifically, the connections are simply tenuous and if I’m reading your article correctly, Grayson had already been invited to the event prior to the donations.

        Even if he hadn’t, its a cancer fund, people will go to great lengths to save someone’s life and other deeply appreciative people will do anything to repay that.

        I’m not giving a pass based on feels, I’m giving it a pass cause the connections just seem to weak.

      • It was on March 6th that Kyle made the post, and it was in May that they received the invites, after Boyer’s treatment.

        Basically, it’s just a matter of a lack of disclosure for financial ties on Grayson’s. That’s all.

      • Ms_Fortune

        This is small shit considering the stuff Boyer is involved in.

      • Yes it is.

        I just wanted this documented.

        We haven’t stopped digging on Boyer.

      • Ms_Fortune

        You don’t see how this might poison the well on the solid info that’s been uncovered?

      • If we’re ignoring legitimate, albeit small, conflicts of interest for fear of PR or for the sake of inflicting self-censored tone policing based on how the outside views #GamerGate, then we’ve already lost.

      • Jeronimo

        >You cant expose that, it was for cancer treatment!
        >You cant expose that, it was for transgender surgery!
        >You cant expose that, it was about their sex life!

        If you cannot see the difference between those, we have fundamentally different world views, and we will always disagree on it. Sorry.

      • But it’s not a house, man. Okay, the free invites thing…maybe, but probably not.

        Inviting journalists to game events is how they’re covered, and I’m not really sure that’s the same as, say, a publisher flying a journalist to cover their game. The journalists being there benefits all attendees, not just the person who invited them.

        It’s not a house…it’s cancer treatment. I dunno…maybe there’s smoke with the invite but I’m having a hard time seeing the fire with the donation. To each their own I guess.

      • That’s fine. My main thing is: if we’re basing this on feels, what makes this any different from when the so-called “SJWs” base it on feels?

        Do we change how we address or see COIs based on topic matter or only when it affects something we don’t agree with?

      • Jeronimo

        It concerns me deeply that you would compare a cancer fund to “helping someone be creative”.

        The same way nobody’s going to die if they don’t have a house.

      • The issue is still about selective coverage. Are you actually saying that conflicts of interest that appeal to you on a different level emotionally are okay?

      • Jeronimo

        It’s not emotionally, it’s objective.
        There’s no conflict here.
        Donating to someone’s cancer fund CAN be some sort of financial tie over favors, it can even be things like money laundry or whatever. The problem is you didn’t provide enough evidence to support any of that. All you have is someone giving money to other person’s cancer fund without any direct or indirect relation to anything else.

        I’m not saying you shouldn’t report on it, I’m saying this is the sloppiest piece I’ve read from you yet.

      • The problem is you didn’t provide enough evidence to support any of that.

        https://archive.today/A3p1O

        No disclosure.

        That’s it.

        Would you agree, yes or no?

      • Jeronimo

        You made my point for me.
        This is all the evidence you got.

        How is this any evidence that the donation was a conflict of interest?

      • How is this any evidence that the donation was a conflict of interest?

        Because of this…

        “Journalists must avoid all financial
        entanglements (stock ownership, financial transactions, etc.) with the people and companies they cover.”

        Grayson should have added a disclosure to the article that he had financial ties to Boyer.

        That’s all.

      • Jeronimo

        donating to someone’s cancer fund is not a “financial entanglement” if you don’t have further evidence to support that.

        This is where we fundamentally disagree.

      • Well we’ll just have to disagree.

        As I said, if this was Kuchera donating $100 to Quinn, people would freak and say “COI!” (and they have) but if he said he was donating due to a cancer fund for Quinn, would that change the fact that he didn’t post the disclosure in an article about her?

        Let’s not get it twisted here. All this is about is a lack of disclosure. That’s it.

      • C G Saturation

        I don’t see why people are so against disclosure. Regardless of necessity, it’s a simple expression of honesty.

        When honesty becomes a concern, they could easily apologize and promise to be more transparent, but instead they attack and insult us.

        This immediately tells me that they are terrible people who don’t care, have no respect for anyone else, and likely have something to hide.

      • A-bob-omb

        If that’s all its about why lead with the cancer stuff? That’s exactly what everyone outside of GG will lead with. You could’ve simply stated he got given free tickets to an event, covered it and didn’t disclose he was gifted the invite.

      • If that’s all its about why lead with the cancer stuff?

        Because he donated money.

        That’s exactly what everyone outside of GG will lead with

        You’re concerned about PR now?

        If you’re going to start twisting facts to fit a PR narrative, have you not become like the GJP? Did they not do the same for Quinn?

        Facts > feels.

      • Elilla Shadowheart

        In many cases where ethics are taught, this is indeed a case of financial entanglement. Disclosure or recursing is required, most would be perfectly fine with discolsure. If it was the case of someone in government doing the same thing, they’d likely be investigated. In the case of policing at least where I live, it’s a action which you can be fired for.

      • I think that’s a fair thing to ask for.

      • Meittimies

        From SPJ Code of Ethics page:

        “The highest and primary obligation of ethical journalism is to serve the public.

        Journalists should:

        – Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.

        – Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and avoid political and other outside activities that may compromise integrity or impartiality, or may damage credibility.”

        You can read it here:

        https://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp

        Problem isnt Nathan helping Brandon out with cancer. Problem is him failing to disclose it afterwards when Brandon was doing a favor for him and vice versa.

      • A-bob-omb

        Huge difference between charity and patronage. You need to be aware of the difference, here. I get the final part where there should’ve been some disclosure from Grayson about getting free tickets for the event he covered, but that’s it. It’s paper thin.

    • Shane Phillips

      I personally have no problem with the donation, just the fact that he then covered him without it being disclosed.

    • Sergio Nacher Fernández

      I understand your point, but I’m afraid that I have to agree with Billy here. An informative journalist has to avoid being yellow press, but at the same he must analyze the issues at hand with the coldest lens possible.

      The
      problem here is not the cancer fund. Donating to help someone get
      treatment for their cancer is a laudable action, nothing rotten on it.

      The
      problem lies in the free tickets and the positive coverage. Those are
      the rotten thing. Because it smells of ‘I owe you because you saved my life’. He would owe him sincere gratitude, but that’s all. Donations are not worthy of compensation.

  • Kobeer Namtab

    I can’t see this in the same light as the collusion and nepotism we’ve come across. It’s one thing to donate to patreon on someone working on material you’d cover, or invest in a game that wins at your festival. In my mind it is different entirely when you’re donating to someone’s cancer fund. I just have a hard time putting the two on the same level.

    • Unbeliever

      But they are at the same level if the money reached him through different channels. Patreon is a tool to fund artist creativity, not to cover extraneous medical bills.
      Imagine this if a developer in kickstarter used the funds provided to him to pay his bills would that be ok? Would you be ok that when you gave your money for the project he started using it personally.
      If the guy has cancer they should had created a donation drive. it has no strings attached and it can bring more awareness.
      So why they didn’t and why they gave him the money using a reward system that provides monthly funds?

      • Parrikle

        It wasn’t a Patreon – it as a GoFundMe, which are regularly used to raise funds for personal assistance. As far as I can tell, there were no rewards offered for donations.

      • Unbeliever

        Ok i will correct that.

  • Audie Bakerson

    Was Horizon hosted by Boyer in the sense that he sent it up or was he invited by the organizers as a personality?

    • He runs Venus patrol and the Horizon event just like he runs the IGF.

  • Guest

    Good work, guys.

  • C G Saturation

    Boyer was a journalist at Boing Boing, huh? I guess that explains Boing Boing’s slant towards misinformation on all of this. And how does one go from being a journalist to the head of the IGDA? Has he developed any games?

    It’s hard to feel compassion for Boyer’s cancer when the people on his side are actively trying to destroy a legitimately nice and honest person like Totalbiscuit, who himself is struggling through cancer.

  • Brian Hall

    I don’t think this is a conflict of interest, just a charitable donation.

    • John Cobalt

      and that in itself will be a CoI in the mind of some people including myself. I wouldn’t have had a problem with it if it had been disclosed though hence it really comes down to lack of disclosure.

    • From what I gather, it didn’t become a COI til Grayson decided to attend the event. The original donation then looks like he ‘paid’ for the ticket, even if both parties did not intend it that way. If they were brokers that would land them in the SEC hotseat for a few days.
      Then he goes on to make it worse by (as he did with zoe) writing overly positively about the experience, almost as if he feels he owes a favour back. That’s how these chains of corruption among friends get so long, always falls to “I was only doing a favour for a friend!” Not as serious IMO as most other things we’ve found, but it fits the pattern..
      The gamejournos literally CAN’T learn they’re doing bad things because they never saw a single incident AS a bad thing, rule of law be damned..

  • Hedger

    I think a lot of commenters are getting confused about the purpose of this article.

    This article is highlighting a situation where a relationship is becoming more then just professional. It doesnt matter why money was passing around, it doesnt matter why the invites were handed out, Grayson was obligated to inform his readers of these things when he covered the subject but he did not.

    Billy does a fine job of informing us that these events occurred but were we not informed at the time they occurred. Billy is under no obligation to excuse his or Graysons actions, Billy’s job here is simply to make us aware that it happened.

    It is the readers job to decide whether this information makes you think any less or more of all those involved in the event, whether that is Boyer, Grayson, or Billy.

    GJ Billy.

  • Fenrir007

    I`m really thorn on this. On one hand, I get the “its charity” argument. On the other, the press members still got together privately to boost this and donated, and were later invited to an event and gave it coverage as a result (which they might have been invited to anyway, but this matters as much as saying “he would have died anyway” about someone recently murdered).

    I think this article is more important regarding the issue of boundaries than the supposed ethical breach itself. Where do we draw the line? Personally, my answer would be to disclose everything under the sun where even an inch of doubt might lay, so it would include this situation. Exercising caution is what is best here, as its your reputation that is at stake.

    Were there articles being published by GJP members at the time raising awareness to this gofundme?

    • Were there articles being published by GJP members at the time raising awareness to this gofundme?

      Some were, yes. As I mentioned, Klepek did do an article about it while donating. The only one who did an article about it after donating more than $50 and after the invites to the Horizon event were sent out and without disclosing it, was Nathan Grayson.

      There’s definitely no argument about this being gray area for some people, but if we strip this down to the bare facts and look at it this way:

      Did Grayson have financial ties to Boyer? Yes

      Did Grayson receive the invite from Boyer (along with others)? Yes.

      Did Grayson do an article about Boyer? Yes.

      Did Grayson disclose his ties to Boyer? No.

      From those basic facts would you gather that a simple disclosure is needed?

      • Fenrir007

        I would always err on the side of caution and include the disclosure, as this is something that doesnt detract from the article and helps you stay on the safe side on the ethical aspect.

        What I’m a bit torn on about is the fact that a charity is not something you do to boost someone’s patrimony, but just a charitable act to fix a certain issue, usually in the form of a medical condition, as well as the fact that the invites would most likely be sent to the journos anyway, as this is in the best interest of the event organizer.

        However, as I said, I would still be in favor of the disclosure.

        Edit: As I was writing this, I read Hedger’s comments below and this sent me even further towards expecting the disclosure.

  • Ajt

    Yeah, I’m sorry but while I generally find Grayson to be an unethical piece of shit, I think it is reasonable to not expect full disclosure on kind hearted donations for Cancer treatment. Calling someone out for kicking in on a public Cancer fund is a bit much. Should Grayson have mentioned it? Maybe? But I can see strong reasonable reasons for not doing so. Far from the least being it is equally unethical to disclose someone else’s health information without clear public interest. In this case I believe Boyers medical privacy would trump any ethical disclosure issues, and Grayson really should not be penalized for kicking in on a Cancer treatment drive. That just sends the wrong message in every way possible. There is plenty of real shit to question in Grayson’s record. This one just feels petty.

    • Calling someone out for kicking in on a public Cancer fund is a bit much.

      In this case I believe Boyers medical privacy would trump any ethical disclosure issues

      Those two statements kind of contradict each other. If it’s public then why would privacy play a part in Grayson disclosing his public contributions?

      Grayson really should not be penalized for kicking in on a Cancer treatment drive

      He’s not being penalized for kicking in on the cancer treatment, he’s being penalized for not disclosing it in an unrelated article he wrote about the subject whose cancer drive he kicked in for after receiving a free invite to the subject’s event.

      That just sends the wrong message in every way possible.

      They said the same thing about the Quinn/Grayson scandal. You’re giving in to your emotions because of how you feel about cancer. I understand that. However, let’s not start bending the rules based on feels… that’s precisely why GG started.

      • Ajt

        The problem is that disclosing it creates an ethical conflict with Boyers health care treatment and privacy of such. In such a conflict of competing ethical issues the key question is whether or not Grayson’s Editor knew of the donation. It would then be their responsibility as to whether or not it was an item that warranted public disclosure. Personally I would agree with the decision not to publicly disclose in this particular case. Disclosure would mean publishing info about Boyers personal health into any article that mentions him. Something that should only really be done with Boyers express permission, barring a deep and clear public interest. Now should Grayson be recused from writing about Boyer then? Once again an editorial call to make. Does a $100 donation made to a whip round “help the guy with cancer” fund rise to the level of a major conflict? Probably not without some other overlying clear COI or personal relationship. if they were close personal friends or had a great deal of contact and interaction than that should have forced disclosure or recusal. But the Cancer Donation? I think the ethics of Boyers privacy would trump the others in that case, but it is one for the editors.

      • The problem is that disclosing it creates an ethical conflict with Boyers health care treatment and privacy of such.

        Except Boyer made his cancer treatment public via GoFundMe. Several people wrote about it specifically in their articles to promote the GoFundMe. They’re linked in the article.

        Disclosure would mean publishing info about Boyers personal health into any article that mentions him.

        No, it would mean writing “Disclosure: I’ve donated to this individual’s GoFundMe in the past”.

        I don’t see how that talks about his health issues.

      • Ajt

        Simply saying “I’ve donated to his “go fund me” changes the implied nature and tone of the relationship. The implication without further details is support for his work or business as opposed to a “humanitarian” gesture in support of an organized cancer treatment drive.

        Further it really does not matter if Boyers cancer is publicly known or if he is even running a charity to support treatment. His health information has no business being permantly attached to a review or article about his product unless it is a clear and specific element of said product. (Such as if the game involved the illness as an element or was going to fund cancer research.) the ethical boundaries of private health care are a bit strange at times. But ultimately the privacy is Boyers. Just because he reveals it in one area does not make it ethically sound or appropriate for a publication to do so in another. It’s very very dependent on context and circumstance.

        Normally you are correct, disclosure is key and important. I fully agree with you 99% of the time. But we will have to agree to disagree on this one. I feel this is a good example of a legitimate situation where editorial oversight, review and discretion remains crucial. i would say editorial discretion should weigh a bit more towards non disclosure on this one. But that’s just my opinion. Granted I deal with Medical Privacy issues for a living so will be far more prone to view this through that filter than one of simply journalistic disclosure.

  • This is just another example of the “conflict of interest” issues that happened. These kind of things would best be classified as minor issues at most. Yes, the shouldn’t happen. No question. But they’re almost trivial since it’s evident that there’s virtually no “tit-for-tat” reciprocation. There’s a lack of transparency for sure. But to call this corruption is, well, like calling a hand grenade a nuke.

  • benjamin hardy

    thanks for using the GG banner i made guys

    • Hey do you have a website? I can link it into the article.

  • Ori Klein

    Brandon Boyer…with all we know about his Hollywood style life and how the IGF judging go and the money it rakes in (thanks Polytron fiscal sheets/contracts leaks)…with cancer bills (by many various creditors since he blurred out the service provider names but you can compare the inkblots and the lengths) for $100k, gets $100k+ (with goal set limit of over a year). Miraculously recover completely.
    $118,128 of $110k requested
    Raised by 2,466 people in 15 months

    Tom Chick, an actual reporter and lover of games with a lot of insight and respect in the community, gets stage IV cancer, diagnosed early, only asks for pittance allowance, still fighting hard and not doing too well.
    $28,042 of $10k requested
    Raised by 439 people in 8 months

    “HMMMMM….!”
    And I’ll leave it at that.

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