Kotaku’s Editor-In-Chief Finally Acknowledges #GamerGate’s Fight For Ethics

It only took eight months, a lot of misrepresentation, plenty of media slander, and perpetual reminders from thousands of gamers that #GamerGate is about ethics in games journalism for the editor-in-chief at Kotaku to acknowledge this very thing in a long and detailed post on Kotaku.

Stephen Totilo, the editor-in-chief at Kotaku, made an article-length comment at the bottom of an article that dealt with an incident involving a group of people at the Calgary Expo being wrongly ejected for their association with #GamerGate. Totilo’s comment was in reply to a user who took Kotaku to task for their perceived lack of ethics and the pressure by the #GamerGate consumer revolt to get them to make any sort of change to elevate to the journalistic standards that gamers expect from them.

Majority of the comment from Totilo covers many of Kotaku’s major journalistic screw-ups, from Dragon’s Crown to the Max Temkin case, and a few things in between. I’m not going to quote the entire comment, because as I mentioned, it’s the length of an article. However, there are some choice bits in there that acknowledge what gamers, consumers and protestors against unethical journalism have been trying to point out all along: #GamerGate is about ethics in journalism. Totilo stated…

“I had long talks with my staff about disclosure back in August. And then I wrote this on the site, I said: “We’ve long been wary of the potential undue influence of corporate gaming on games reporting, and we’ve taken many actions to guard against it. The last week has been, if nothing else, a good warning to all of us about the pitfalls of cliquishness in the indie dev scene and among the reporters who cover it. We’ve absorbed those lessons and assure you that, moving ahead, we’ll err on the side of consistent transparency on that front, too.” From what I’ve seen, though, the Gamergate anti-Kotaku narrative is that we avoided talking about journalism ethics, that we didn’t acknowledge any mistakes. I hope you can see how that doesn’t square with me.”

If anyone from Gawker or Kotaku had bothered to interview someone like Sargon of Akkad, Christina Hoff Sommers, Mundane Matt, Ashton Liu, Adam Baldwin, LeoPirate, Allison Prime, Jennifer Medina, Daddy Warpig or any of the moderators from Kotaku in Action, it would have been made abundantly clear that it wasn’t that Kotaku avoided talking about journalism ethics, it’s that Kotaku avoided doing anything about their failure at upholding even the most basic of ethics principles in the world of video game journalism.

To this day, Nathan Grayson has not been publicly reprimanded for his blatant conflicts of interest with the developer for whom he had personal relations with while also paying money to this individual after their relationship ended, while infrequently covering the individual in articles. He covered the developer on multiple occasions and only added disclosure statements after #GamerGate made a stink about the issue. It is true that Totilo discussed ethics with TotalBiscuit and it’s true that Totilo did make a post about Grayson’s impropriety, but in the post from back on August 21st, 2014 Totilo writes…

“In recent days I’ve been asked several times about a possible breach of ethics involving one of our reporters. While I believe no such breach occurred, I feel it is important for Kotaku readers who have questions to get clear answers.”

If no breach occurred then why were disclosure statements retroactively added to Kotaku articles for Nathan Grayson and Patricia Hernandez?

The breach itself was the conflicts of interest that were not disclosed. And before #GamerGate, these conflicts of interest were not disclosed.

Totilo also further notes that #GamerGate’s obsession with ethics didn’t prompt Kotaku to address certain issues, but that some of the issues – such as affiliate link disclosures – was something Totilo was doing all by his lonesome outside of any pressure from #GamerGate, Gawker or the FTC, writing…

“Finally, no, it didn’t take “#gamergate to even make you guys disclose about making profit from sales referrals.” I know some people in Gamergate think that, but they also think that we didn’t care about ethics until they started talking about ethics.”

Well at least Totilo acknowledges #GamerGate is talking about ethics.

Nevertheless, Totilo steps up to take credit for disclosures of affiliate links on Kotaku, stating…

“[…] about the affiliate link disclosures. No one asked me to add them to our recurring lists of the Best games on each platform. No one in our company mentioned in. That was my decision, made on my own, without consulting anyone outside of my staff.”

“In November, I decided we’d refresh our Bests posts to reflect our tastes through the holiday releases. Around the same time, our Commerce team asked if I’d mind if all the links in the Bests were changed to affiliate links. I guess some had been affiliate links already, without me realizing it. I decided I’d be okay with that—we were giving readers multiple retail links for each game anyway and were recommending these games—but I knew that I’d be way more comfortable if we then also added a disclosure about the links. So we added it once all the links were changed. I know Gamergate was trying to make a thing about this around the same time, but as far as I know there’s no connection.”

For as far as Totilo is concerned, there may not be a connection, but during this time – following an e-mail campaign to the FTC – Vox Media decided to overhaul their disclosure policies as well.

Totilo is also mistaken about the affiliate disclosures: it was for all of Gawker, not just Kotaku.

#GamerGate ran a consumer campaign operation to e-mail the FTC specifically about Gawker’s lack of disclosures regarding native advertising and affiliate link disclosures. This took place in late 2014, around November 1st, 2014. The FTC directly addressed the consumer complaints on November 27th, 2014.

On December 1st, 2014 one of the FTC officials who requested not to be named, stated…

“Although we were already planning on updating our Endorsement Guide FAQs to address various issues that have arisen with respect to endorsement-related practices, the fact that we recently received many complaints about undisclosed affiliate links has made it clear that the FAQs need to address that specific practice.”

[…] Although the pure number of complaints won’t necessarily affect our analysis of whether the FTC Act has been violated, we do strive to be responsive when we see a pattern of complaints in our database, and certainly we saw a pattern here.”

Shortly thereafter, it was reported on December 18th, 2014 that Gawker had a site-wide notice about their policies regarding affiliate disclosures being overhauled for a January 19th, 2015 issuance.

While the media has been silent on what’s been deemed “#GamerGate victories”, spinning stories to suit their own concocted narratives, consumers have been doing the legwork to get things changed in the media arena, regardless.

Totilo closed out his comment, stating…

“I’ve talked about most of this stuff many times before, and here and there I’m sure I’ll wind up talking about it again. Does this make us a bastion ethics? I have no idea. But I’d like to think that what we actually do—that the kind of approach we’ve taken even at our worst moments—reflects an outlet that is always trying to do its best.”

At this point, it appears many gamers see a bridge that’s been burned too badly to even consider crossing. After eight months of media slander and an entire Wikipedia page full of defamation and many blatant lies, it’s not surprising that one of the sites responsible for the entire #GamerGate consumer revolt blowing up has been hit the hardest when it comes to criticisms from the core gaming community.


OAG staff consists of writers creating content about video game and digital culture.

47 thoughts on “Kotaku’s Editor-In-Chief Finally Acknowledges #GamerGate’s Fight For Ethics

  1. It’s amazing how Totilo can say, on the same breath – or post – that Kotaku strives for ethical behavior, but has an ethics policy that is not viewable by the public. I guess that would harm the flexibility of their code of conduct, huh?

    It’s also funny to see that very comment in an article with Patrik Kleplek (the guy who, in the GJP, tried to blacklist someone from the media, I think it was Kevin Dent) states that GamerGate is a harassment group, obviously without showing proof of it.

    It’s also curious to see Jason Schreier to badmouth GamerGate, when he may be a much bigger champion of unethical behavior than Nathan himself is, not to mention the blatant lack of professionalism he exhibits outside of the website.

    I posted this and much more in Kotaku’s comment sections, but for some strange reason, both mine and a lot of other posts questioning the narrative with actual proof are residing in the unapproved gulag.

    I still left it there on disqus with this plugin that adds a disqus comment thread on top of any webpage, where it cannot be touched by hotpocketeers:


    A good one to use on places like Mary Sue, Kotaku etc, where free speech is merely a meme, and scrutiny is mutiny.

    1. All the GJP transgressions are completely ignored by the media; they used to say “it was just friends talking” and now they say “…”

      I noticed most of the top comments on the Kotakus and Polygons are — just as you mentioned — only toeing the party line. The comments offering a dissenting opinion will likely never get approved.

      1. yup that new system they put in place after that other site that shall not be named got porn gif spammed has all but killed discussion on kotaku. Its all one sided hugbox now.

      2. Project Deep Freeze or whatever it is called is going to be the most useful thing there is. List all Game Journalists and any unethical or anti-consumer behavior.

        The End. There is nothing to it. Sources and everything.

      3. Are you the one making the website for it? I remember an anon talking about it on 8chan, seemed interesting. We need an easy to reach and update dossier on those people online. We have the wiki, but I think a place focused only on this would be better.

      4. Ah yes “just friends”. Would that be “people you know in passing Mr Totilo”, “people you have drink in the bar with” or “people you’re familiar enough with to bonk”?

        His post reads like someone being proud of washing a spoon when the sink is still full of dishes!

    2. Speaking of Mary Sue, is everyone aware that the Mary Sue’s founder was recently employed by Polygon? Small world.

  2. To be quite honest, when you think about it we’ve accomplished most of everything we set out to do originally. Right now its just being a watch dog.

    1. yeah, despite the constant denial. it’s been a pretty good run:

      Leigh lost her megaphone

      Kuchera is in hibernation (still seeing how that goes)

      FTC stepped their game up and buckled down on disclosure

      More and more disclosures have been going up in the places that wouldn’t even give them the time of day before

      Adsense got Cheong to shut up

      Moot, in his years of all kinds of shit from 4chan, finally reached his limit (not really goo or bad IMO, but just odd to think about). Additionally, a whole new chan rose to power, enough to have journos acknowledge its owner and the site.

      More and more developers are confirming the cliquish nature of not just people (which is unavoidable, ofc), but entire game dev associations.

      Some 6 figures of dough has been raised for all kinds of people and organizations.

      Makes it really hard to belive it when people claim GG did nothing. Only real cons of the whole thing (besides the whole misogyny narrative) were the “pro-gg” shills and the rise of the drama queens.

  3. Stephen Totilo should be ashamed of himself. He is their editor, and by way of that, their boss and yet the entire article is apologetics for people who have done wrong.

    Everything is an apology to cover that not a single one of them was punished in the least.

    You fail as a boss, Stephen. You may like these people, but you’re their boss not their drinking buddy.

    1. I see it partly as saving the face of their brand image and also partly as appeasement. We’ve shown them that our consumer revolt will seriously damage their bottom line and they just want us to get off their back so they can get back to business as usual. This is where “the ends justify the means” kind of thinking will lead you. Gawker doesn’t care about journalistic integrity any more today than they did back in July of ’14, but they’ll make the concessions that they think they have to in order to salvage their revenue.

    2. That’s the problem with Tortilla: he’s actually pretty good at his job, he’s just too spineless to actually BE their boss.

      1. Totilo can’t denounce certain practises on Kotaku because they are mirrored everywhere else on the Gawker network. I doubt Mr. Denton would find that agreeable.

      2. This so much. Totilo came so close to saying “Affiliate links are icky!” in his comment but weaseled around it quicker than a dancer dodging the snaky hands of a drunk customer reaching for the stripper pole.

  4. “Burned bridges” is certainly the correct term to place here. And, unfortunately, Kotaku and Gawker have debased themselves so thoroughly in my eyes that it would take the entire rest of that network burning to ashes and being rebuilt before I’d ever consider trusting them again. I first found Kotaku in 2011, and in less than a year I’d
    already written them off as a reputable source of news or opinion.

    It has been made abundantly clear by this latest piece from Totilo that Kotaku may have been humbled by Gamergate, but they are by no means repentant. Which then begs the obvious question, if we were to stop holding their feet to the fire over ethical standards, would Max Read and Totilo just go right back to the corrupt shit that was getting them clicks befoer? I’ll continue to scan archived links from them to aid our watchdog apparatus, but I definitely cannot take anything they write or say at face value and I don’t see my attitude changing any time soon.

    1. You don’t have to. One Angry Gamer posts all of GamerGate’s “do not support” site links as archive links, so they don’t receive any hits. Unless you mean you don’t want to have to parse through the propaganda yourself, which is entirely understandable.

  5. “GamerGate didn’t make us think to do this. They just happened to pop up right before we started doing it. Total coincidence!”

  6. I like how a rat close to dying is having its moments of clarity. Good for you, Kotaku, but to this day you’ve never apologized for your Gamers are Dead articles. I’ll never read your articles, still.

  7. I think the problem is, Gawker/Kotaku/Totilo hew to a variant of the “gonzo journalism” school. He said as much on TotalBiscuit’s show; the founding ideal of Nick Denton was that journalists are only telling the truth when they give their personal opinions about it.

    This is four-square against what #GamerGate stands for, which is classic Kronkite-era journalism — a position we have been pushed to by too many journos who don’t seem to understand: we are MORE FINANCIALLY INVESTED in honest news than any reader of the New York Times ever was.

    Fifty, sixty, seventy dollars for a game we were told — by our press — was so amazing we just had to buy it to believe it. Sim City Online. Kane & Lynch. Gone Home . The latter of which, to its credit, was not broken on launch nor did it have same-day DLC. And which was also “only” twenty dollars for a Game of the Year. Such a deal, right Polygon?.

    When an NYT reporter named Jayson Blair lied to his readers, fabricating stories from whole cloth, those readers had not plunked down FIFTY DOLLARS to be lied to. Not unless they bought the annual subscription for that rare privilege. In games journalism, not only is it not rare, we the readers are castigated for daring to complain about such lies, about incestuous corporate-ad relationships, about reporters who end up in the end credits of a game before they even put ink to pixels about it.

    Back in the 20th Century, the most anyone could do was write a snailmail to the editor, maybe phone someone who didn’t care, or God forbid, tear up your subscription. What were you going to do, switch to the Post? If the press didn’t pick up your story, you went nowhere with it.

    But this is the 21st Century. You aren’t owed silence when you abuse your customers. If you did it on principle, that’s fine, we have principles too.

    And they shall be heard.

    1. “He said as much on TotalBiscuit’s show; the founding ideal of Nick Denton was that journalists are only telling the truth when they give their personal opinions about it.”

      That was probably the most jaw dropping statement of that whole interview. There’s a reason what the news reporter says at the bar and what they put on the page have to be different. When they aren’t, it opens the door to Yellow Journalism and that’s when you stop being a news outlet and start being sensationalist hacks.

  8. The strange thing is although we’ve been bleeding them of advertisers, word is the page view numbers at Kotaku and Polygon are actually up. I imagine much of it has to do with a new crop SJWs who have discovered a sudden interest in games journalism founded in spite. I fear GamerGate actually made them a little more popular despite our goal. I’m happy we’re still winning this fight but people are still finding their way to these sites who’s reputations should be forever tarnished. Someone hit me with a tranquilizer of reason, please.

    1. Ehh… the last stats from Gawker showed they were down… way down. Then Jason Schreier came in and said Gawker’s stats were wrong and that Kotaku was up… way up.

      So now you have to ask yourself: do you trust a weasel or a snake?

      1. Heh, I guess I was being silly. I don’t trust everything I heard but a prominent person at The Escapist, of all places, claimed the views were up so I didn’t know what to believe. But you seem like a pretty trust-worthy fella. 🙂

      2. Well, even if the views are up or down, it doesn’t mean it has anything to do with Gamergate.

        There will always be ignorant people who don’t know or care about the blatant corruption and enjoy being manipulated like mindless puppets on a string.

    2. Someone once explained that it could be due to links from the rest of gawker drawing viewers to the articles and other not so sunny practices. He mentioned that if we were to view that amount of actual time spent on average on the page then it could be seen that the majority of the views come from people who either misclicked or were just mildly curious and had no real interest in the first place. Wish I could find that comment but it was months ago…

      1. Maybe it’s because they’re registering popular domains somewhere and making them redirect to their sites, like Polygon was doing with Lego Dimensions.

      2. Views went up (about 30%), but the bounce rate (those who came in, looked around, and went “Nope!”) went though the roof (I think they quadrupled to 20% of all views) which meant the ad bucks didn’t grow.

        And that’s not counting the advertiser pullouts (resulting in ad money falling), and now views have fallen to where they were a year ago and still dropping.

        Add in the bounce rate staying high and every normal advertiser pulling out, and they’re screwed.

        So just keep going until they’re dead.

  9. I kind of like Totilo. He’s one of the few games media types that are actually trying to talk to us like a human being, even if I still disagree with a lot of what he says. His site’s still trash though.

  10. Going by the bizarro logic we’ve been subjected to, I guess this makes Totilo a woman-hating harasser neckbeard basement virgin who must now be blocked.

  11. I listened to the Totillo/Biscuit interview and he did come off as a nice guy but that is probably his biggest problem. He completely denied any conflict of interests existed and we are still getting reports of unethical behavior from Grayson and Schreier. I’m pretty sure it’s been stated but Kotaku’s biggest problem is that it is owned by Gawker who make The National Enquirer look reputable in comparison.

  12. Kotaku was of a very low opinion in the entirety of Gaming community even before Gamergate. People already knew before Gamergate that Kotaku consists of lazy yellow journalism and clickbait articles, where the quality of the writing itself would be garbage.

    But after Gamergate, now everyone also knows that Kotaku is not only lazy, but unethical in its media practices and has practised several shady dealings in the past that smelled of scams. Before Gamergate Kotaku was regarded as incompetent. After Gamergate Kotaku is regarded as incompetent, greedy and morally bankrupt.

  13. Following Kotaku afterwards, you can see them trying to get a new audience. They post a lot more “non-game” related content now and when you ask about it they say “It’s not ‘just’ video games we talk about.”

    I don’t think it’s slander what people are doing either. Slander would be falsely spreading negative light on their name. When you have proof to what they are doing, it’s no longer slander. Until they get a whole new staff I don’t think it will end, what they did is not really forgivable.

  14. My view: there have been a number of journalists, editors, and gamedevs who have known all along that this stank, this was wrong on too many levels to count, and maybe were finally emboldened when they saw the outright censorship and persecution of the Badgers. No person of good conscience, at all, could defend that and they know it. It was part of a one-two punch with GGinDC. The moral will of the other side is collapsing I think.

    1. Completely agreed about the one-two sucker punch they didn’t see coming. The Honey Badger Brigade and GGinDC is hard to ignore and completely stands against their narrative. The bomb threat really took them for a loop, and it’s marvelous seeing them trying to spin the news like professional weavers.

  15. It looks clear to me that anti-gamergate has lost control of the narrative and GG has outgrown their sphere of influence. Gamergate is now a thing, it has become part of the air the game industry breaths.

  16. Kotaku is still never going to get my subscription. Advertisers should consider other avenues for getting my money.

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