How Kotaku’s Bad Journalism Helped Kill A Kickstarter Project


One of the things that a lot of people have been coming out of the woodwork to speak out against is Kotaku. Yes, Kotaku. Brad Wardell, once on the receiving end of a Kuchera and Kotaku sexual-allegation sandwich, was partially vindicated when Breitbart did a piece condemning the journalists who ran hit-pieces on Wardell. Max Temkin, creator of Cards against Humanity, received a smidgen of public acquittal when Kotaku’s editor-in-chief Stephen Totilo offered a backhanded apology of sorts for the coverage Temkin received regarding unconfirmed sexual allegation charges under the publishing moniker of Kotaku. And now, Quantum Entanglement’s Denis Dyack seems to be in tow for some karmic justice following a recent interview with Niche Gamer where it was revealed that he, too, was on the receiving end of a hit-piece that may have helped kill his Kickstarter project when he was with Precursor Games.

The interview Denis Dyack had with Niche Gamer, which was recently published on May 23rd, 2015, talks about a number of topics spanning Dyack’s impressive career in the industry that spans back to the golden era of gaming decades ago. He’s worked on numerous titles across multiple systems, including Eternal Darkness, Legacy of Kain, Too Human and X-Men Destiny to name but a few.

In the lengthy interview, Dyack notes that he’s sympathetic to #GamerGate’s efforts to right the wrongs of the industry when it comes to raising the ethical bar in video game journalism. Dyack praises IGN for not getting on the badger-and-belittle bandwagon, as the site has avoided a lot of the gossip within the gaming industry despite many gamers accusing them of being in cahoots with publishers and partaking in paid reviews. However, Dyack spares little inhibitions when articulating the problems in games journalism that have come at the hands of sites like Kotaku, where “social justice warmongering” has come first and foremost before laying out the facts. According to Dyack…

“Kotaku, in my opinion, they stand as a prime example of a group that partakes in yellow journalism. That hit-piece that they wrote about me where I was forced to create a video about it to respond and defend myself. Everyone I worked with at the time was disappointed and felt it was unfair what they did. I never answered that initially because we didn’t think anyone would give it any credence, because it was so far from the truth. At the same time, we were so busy working away on the demo for Shadows we didn’t bring our heads up for air.”

When Precursor Games was up and active they were working on Shadow of the Eternals, which  was being prototyped for a Kickstarter campaign. During that time there was a Kotaku piece titled “What Went Wrong With Silicon Knights’ X-Men: Destiny?” that was written by Andrew McMillen and edited by Stephen Totilo. The article went live on October 26th, 2012.

According to the Niche Gamer interview, McMillen had been threatening to publish the piece and was apparently shopping it around to various outlets but only Kotaku took him up on his offer. The article was basically a lot of anonymous ex-employees taking opinionated digs at Dyack and Silicon Knights, painting him as an evil tyrant and the entire structure at the company as a mess.

[Update: For posterity purposes, on the Quantum Entanglement’s forum Dyack links to a quote about journalistic ethics and the SPJ on a topic regarding “Ethical Issues Related to Sources” from the University of Iowa [via Times of Israel] where it states that anonymous sources should only be used with extreme caution and “Never Solely For The Purpose Of Expressing An Opinion About Someone Else”.]

Denis Dyack posted a response to the Kotaku article seven months later with a lengthy video you can view below.

https://youtu.be/Lm6gGFLMr_o

Kotaku’s Stephen Totilo posted a response to Denis Dyack’s video response, writing an article and addressing some of the comments brought up in Dyack’s video; the article was published on May 20th, 2013, a few weeks after the initial Shadow of the Eternals Kickstarter went live. Unsurprisingly, the original campaign in May of 2013 garnered little heat or fanfare and was canceled before hitting its goal.

What’s more is that there was a thread about Kotaku’s response to Dyack’s video in the Game Journo Pros list, where two of Kotaku’s editors were known members of the list and often participated in discussions about various topics. However, Kotaku editors Tina Amini and Jason Schreier opted not to chime in with any comments about the situation. [Correction: Previously the article noted Luke Plunkett was on the GJP list but it was Kotaku editor Tina Amini. The article now reflects this change.]

Dyack and the rest of Precursor Games went back to the drawing board and re-launched the Kickstarter for Shadow of the Eternals. The game was often promoted as a spiritual successor to Eternal Darkness, a popular niche title for the Nintendo GameCube.

However, coverage for Shadow of the Eternals was not quite as rosy or as prevalent as the team had hoped, as noted by Dyack, who told Niche Gamer…

“Like, when you look at Shadows, many people look at the game and comment back to us that they don’t understand why this didn’t get funded and comment that the demo looks so good. And the answer is because many sites refused to talk about the game and put too many doubts in peoples minds. They were making these accusations of ‘I wouldn’t trust Denis’ or ‘I’d be really careful about where this money is going’ etc”

This is actually true. Multiple sites picked up on the original McMillen piece published by Kotaku. Anonymous ex-employees running their employer into the ground is juicy news. Game Informer, Polygon, and a few others weren’t shy in parroting the news, even though the information from the anonymous sources were neither vetted nor confirmed.

shadow_of_the_eternals_touch

Worse yet is that even in articles from sites like Xbox Achievements or GameSpot, where they’re just reporting on Silicon Knights in general or tangentially related topics, the Kotaku article from McMillen is often copied and pasted into the comment section to remind people how “terrible” the former CEO of Silicon Knights was. For instance, on Xbox Achievements user Opiate42 writes…

“It’s also well-documented that SK’s CEO is a megalomaniac dictator idiot disconnected from reality. SK’s troubles stem from terrible top-down leadership. Or more accurately, lack thereof.”

He links to the McMillen piece from Kotaku.

Megamandrew in the Gamespot article also offered a bit of wisdom about Dyack and Shadow of the Eternals, writing…

“After the messes he’s caused, no publisher or investor with a functioning brain would give Dyack more money. “

He links to the McMillen piece from Kotaku.

You’ll find that the topic was talked about quite a bit on discussion threads and sites like NeoGaf, GiantBomb, GameFaqs and just about every other major gaming site out there. In short, Most people remotely interested in Denis Dyack, Silicon Knights or Shadow of the Eternals knew about the Kotaku article.

On Reddit, there’s a thread on /r/Games/ linking to a Polygon article about Shadow of the Eternals failing its second run on Kickstarter, which became widespread news on August 24th, 2013. One of the Reddit users, ihopeicananswer, stated…

“There was absolutely no buzz about the game. People seemed to think it a novel idea that there was a semi sequel to a game for the game cube that nobody except die hard fanatics remember.”

It’s true that positive buzz was a rarity for the game but there was definitely buzz about the game… just not the kind that most developers find flattering.

SotE-Crowd-Launched

Reddit user SentientTorus returned the conversation to familiar territory, stating in the /r/Games/ thread…

“Also Denis Dyack is not a man I trust to make a game. That Kotaku article utterly soured people’s opinions on his ability to be a professional.”

Some people took the information a little far off into the deep end, conflating some issues together and making some fairly damning charges against Dyack, with one user on a different Reddit thread writing…

“That’s what happens when the face of the project becomes known throughout the industry for releasing a decade’s worth of horrible games, for self aggrandizing behavior, or for his flat out insulting people for not liking his horrible games, maybe how he siphoned money from projects funded by publishers to get cash for his own personal projects, or for how he spent money from Canadian taxpayers on hookers and cocaine.”

As one might imagine, users on the Kickstarter page were not happy about Shadow of the Eternals failing to hit its goal. Many of the backers were well aware of the negative press surrounding Dyack and Silicon Knights, and offered their own lament about the project falling short of expectations. A certain Christopher D. Jacobson wrote on the Kickstarter page on August 23rd, 2013

“Shame that (presumed) false hearsay seems to have doomed this project; or perhaps “Eternal Darkness” doesn’t really have the fanbase I thought it did. Either way, it’s really sad to not see this game get the support it deserves.”

Others also chimed in to support Jacobson’s assessment, with Mystic Raven writing in reply…

“Hearsay can gain a lot of momentum. I’ve seen before how false accusations can ruin lives, even if the accused get acquitted of any wrongdoing. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if ‘mere’ hearsay is the reason this project got snuffed.”

Circling back around to the hearsay that kicked things off with that Kotaku article — in the Niche Gamer interview Dyack goes into great detail about why things fell through financially on the development end of X-Men: Destiny, why the layoffs occurred (hint: it had to do with Disney buying out Marvel) and why there was a Mexican standoff involving Activision, Disney, Marvel and Silicon Knights over X-Men: Destiny.  Keep in mind that two of the aforementioned companies were publishers and neither wanted to relinquish control of the property so the other publisher could profit from the Marvel property.

McMillen tried placing the blame of the publisher’s responsibilities on Silicon Knights, writing in the original Kotaku piece…

“As release day approached in late September 2011, marketing for the title was nearly non-existent. Review copies were only sent to major gaming publications the day before release , in an apparent attempt to smother the chilling effects of negative press. Sales were woeful”

Dyack’s explanation of Activision and Disney butting heads over publishing the game explains the poor marketing (which is the publisher’s job) and the lack of review copies being sent out (which is also the publisher’s job).

Dyack also explained that the staff’s hands were tied, they were hit with layoffs and budget cuts and they were still trying to get a game out of the door.

Shadow of the Eternals

In the end, a lot of false allegations from behind-the-scenes dealings were made by anonymous sources in the Kotaku piece, and the information wasn’t properly vetted or fact-checked, leading to many people coming away from the article seeing  the entire X-Men: Destiny project being the fault mostly of Dyack and poor management, when in reality there were more elements at play. Combined with some of the other issues surrounding Silicon Knights and coming off the poor reception of Too Human, it wasn’t much of a surprise that the Kotaku article helped drive home a nail in the coffin.

Nevertheless, Dyack states…

“The X-Men: Destiny article that Kotaku published is an excellent example of why ethics in journalism is important and why yellow journalism should be unacceptable. It’s also an excellent example of how much damage this kind of journalism can do in the future.”

I did reach out to Stephen Totilo who noted that the comments made in the Niche Gamer interview didn’t change his view of the situation involving the Kotaku article, where Totilo Tweeted

Stephen Totilo on Twitter

I reached out previously to Totilo about Kotaku editor Nathan Grayson, asking about how Totilo felt about one of his writers having sex with a developer while also paying large sums of money to the developer, all while he wrote about the developer without disclosing it until #GamerGate started – a clear and gross violation of even the most basic of principles of journalistic ethics – but Totilo offered no comment on that particular situation.

The ensuing chaos that spawned from Grayson’s indiscretion was responsible for much of the turmoil associated with #GamerGate, including Gawker potentially losing millions of dollars from the Operation Disrespectful Nod campaign, as well as the incompetently structured article on Wikipedia leading up to the Law & Order: SVU episode called “The Intimidation Game”. In a way, we can see how the ripple effect of corruption can truly harm an industry for a long time to come.

Dyack addressed the issues of corruption and ethics by finishing off the interview on Niche Gamer by saying…

“I personally think it was really wrong and it was awful what [Kotaku] did to not only me but everyone at Silicon Knights. #GamerGate has brought a lot of karma for Kotaku. Kotaku is no longer highly regarded at all anymore and I believe they fully deserve the criticism they have gotten. I think it’s their own doing. They continue to write articles like this. They continue to publish articles that are not well researched, fact checked, and are completely inaccurate and inflammatory. I would hope after all the feedback from #GamerGate that they’ll consider cleaning their house and striving for better journalism.”

Dyack may not be blameless in everything that has transpired over the years, but it’s also obvious that shoddy, bad journalism in the gaming sector can severely hurt not only the careers of a single developer but also for everyone working at the studio, as well as future projects hoping to get off the ground, like Shadow of the Eternals.

You can read the entire interview with Denis Dyack, who is now heading up Quantum Entanglement Entertainment, by paying a visit to Niche Gamer.



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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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