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.



About

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

  • Etherblaze

    I feel sorry for Dyack. Every one fucks up. I doubt there is a dev with a perfect streak. But I feel that this Kotaku article ruined him hard when circumstances were out of his control.

    • Adam Wicks

      The sad part is the people who hate on Dyack, tend to be the same ones that defend Peter Molyneux as a boyish scamp. All the while unable to maintain any shred of self awareness.

      • anopolis

        Molyneux is a boyish scamp…that promises the moon ..and delivers, a rock…wait…this isn’t a rock, it’s hardened shit!!!..no its actually worse! it’s fable 3

      • boag

        Also remember 3.3 Million Dollar man

  • Dr. Evil’s Brother’s Evil Twin

    Yet, they will trust and support that faggot Tim Schafer who pissed away 3.3 million dollars and Anita who hasn’t finished her videos that were promised 2 years ago…

    • LeslieSHorn

      ♛★☆ $73.. per-hr @mi2//

      ,

      ➨➨➨https://WorldStarHipHopleep.com/tap/tab….

    • CM Dubya

      But they have the “right” opinions when it comes to gender politics, so they can get left off the hook.

    • C G Saturation

      Hah. I was thinking exactly that while skimming through the article.

    • ^THIS. So much…

  • JoeSislack

    And of course just recently they tried to do the same thing once again with Yooka-Laylee.

    Hopefully with this and Dyack’s interview will let more and more people know how sites like Kotaku, Polygon, and others operate using shifty yellow journalism. Even resident hugbox hellhole neogaf is raising a ruckus that their fanboy Jason Schreier is running around doing damage control.

  • beard

    What annoys me the most is that, at Precursor, Dyack was simply the creative lead. He had people above him calling the shots. Even if Dyack was bad at running a company, that should not reflect on the ability of Precursor to run a good business, or Dyack to design a good game.

    • Right, it turned into guilt by association. Basically anyone associated with Dyack was going to feel the wrath and burden of the game journos.

      It’s kind of sad in a way because people at Precursor who had no association with Silicon Knights were being punished for the sins of the father.

      • Jacob Tyler

        It wasn’t the woefully inexperienced team thrust into positions they weren’t even remotely capable of handling so Dyack could try to weasel his next game out the door.(Which we still don’t have any real information on despite being picked up yet again).

        It was a witch hunt.

        Right.

  • Ben (Broken)

    I feel that feel. I never was “big” in game making even on an indie level but I remember putting out my rpg multiple times with each re-edit and having it do well until a few social justice snoot types swooped in and added “doubts & problems” out of thin air. Comments like “These female characters talking in the kitchen is symbolic sexism!” or “You treat your characters like sluts because you draw them that way!”. I don’t mind being told my game is too easy or that there are bugs but ideologue loaded criticism always reeks of conceit and subjective bias to me. Dyak is right, it’s a very “yellow” approach. Luckily I’ll be re-releasing my rpg again (for free) and hopefully my awesome friends from #GamerGate can give it a whirl without me having to put up with sjw-nonsense! (But hey,if certain people still don’t like my game I won’t have a cow or anything. I know retro styled rpgs are not for everyone)

    • A Real Libertarian

      What’s your RPG?

    • Grahf

      Sounds familiar, lol.

      I am also an indie dev, and when I released my first 2d RPG back in the early 2000s, I had literal hit squads sent against me on messageboards everywhere. Not sure how it is now, but indies were very competitive with each other back in the day… To the point where they would send their groupies/fanboys against you in mass to create an artificial “consensus” that makes your project look bad.

      • C G Saturation

        I’ve been in various modding and game engine communities, and met lots of people like that as well. Too many assholes with HUGE egos who are literally out to destroy everyone else, just so they can have a little attention. I see the same thing happening in the gaming industry, not to mention other places as well. It’s utterly pathetic. People are too desperate for attention.

  • KLLRFRST

    I can’t understand why X-Men Destiny gets pissed on so much. It’s not a perfect game, but it’s not a shitty one either. Worth a rental, at least.

    • Ben (Broken)

      Seemed like a good concept….wasn’t the biggest weakness how “short” Destiny was?

  • Rory Mitchell

    Dyack also states that his speaking out early on against the press’s behaviour of giving awards to unreleased games and other shoddy practices was the reason he was targeted for these hit pieces. I often wondered why I was hearing nothing about how dumb and dishonest that particular practice was, but now I think that others feared this type of treatment from that vocal and dishonest clique of glorified bloggers. “Game of the Year!” for a game that was just announced as being in development last week???

  • Etherblaze

    Side note: I love how Totillo responded to this article about Kotaku by linking to an article by Kotaku.

    “Kotaku is not wrong (Source: Kotaku)”

  • nofsfo

    Why hasn’t some blackhat destroyed Kotaku or NeoGAF already!?
    Come on! I’m tired of waiting!!

  • Oto

    Ok, somebody contact the devs that fell victim of Kotaku’s perverted ways and tell them to get in touch with #gamergate, I’m sure we can rally the hundred to get them into Greenlight AND vote them into victory.

  • C G Saturation

    I was wondering what happened to that Eternal Darkness followup.
    Figures Kotaku screwed them over. As usual.

  • Daigoji

    While the cynicism contributing to yellow journalism is an issue in gaming journalism (a result of a vile and increasingly gross sense of entitlement) blaming Kotaku for Dyack is total bull. I don’t like Kotaku personally, but Dyack’s legacy, every product since Eternal Darkness has being medicore, incomplete and broken crap. This article is utter sensationalist bullshit. Dyack’s games since Eternal Darkness were mishandled, poorly executed and often incomplete. When VENTURE CAPITALISTS who have a long history in the industry REFUSE to invest (they care little about allegations and more about ROI for their investment) because of Dyack’s track history, you know there is a significant problem with any enterprise he’s involved in from a strict execution and returns perspective. Allegations be damned.

    So spare me this victim’s tale. Dyack is no fucking victim..

    What a crock of shit.

    • Allegations be damned.

      So it was okay to help ruin an opportunity for everyone else at Precursor Games based on unconfirmed allegations?

      It may have been a hit-piece against Dyack, but it was a bomb that landed right in the compound of Precursor Games and it was based on faulty intel.

      Regardless of Dyack, you don’t see a problem with that?

      • Daigoji

        Come on Billy, really? That is an unfair question.

        It sucks for anyone to have a job opportunity ruined, period. I lost my job when bubble burst and it sucked. That said, if they are talented they will land on their feet.

        That said, if you look at Kotaku’s dwindling traffic numbers and growing backlash against “Gawker journalism” as a whole, I argue a lot of people moaning about Kotaku are crediting them with more power and influence than they actually have.

        Do they get exclusives and such? Sure but that is more of a calculated PR/marketing move with risk to drive reach, awareness and impressions and not to win hearts & minds entirely.

        The reporting of the allegations was mishandled and damn sloppy & shady, but to attribute the failing Kickstarter to a Kotaku article willfully ignores the rep Silicon Knights and Dyack earned. Go to Internet time machine & do a search on Too Human. X-Men Destiny, etc… Silicon Knights & Dy were getting shit before Kotaku even existed and the social justice warriors emerged. Period. The last noteworthy game they did aside from Eternal was the awesome Twin Snakes GameCube remake. After that their rep & Dyack went down hill BY THEIR OWN HAND.

      • Come on Billy, really? That is an unfair question.

        I don’t really think it’s unfair, it just kind of puts you on the spot 😛

        I argue a lot of people moaning about Kotaku are crediting them with more power and influence than they actually have.

        Partially. But an article that spreads enough based on something that shifts the general view of a topic can be the one thing that makes or breaks someone’s reputation. Just ask Brad Wardell about that.

        The reporting of the allegations was mishandled and damn sloppy & shady, but to attribute the failing Kickstarter to a Kotaku article willfully ignores the rep Silicon Knights and Dyack earned.

        Whoa, look I don’t dismiss Silicon Knights’ past history. I’m just saying that in their attempt to rebrand as Precursor Games they had an article that was put out there that many people were quoting whenever Shadow of the Eternals came up in discussion. As evidenced with the quotes above, you couldn’t talk about Dyack without someone linking to that Kotaku piece.

        In the past, I kind of steered clear of writing about Shadow of the Eternals for part of the same reason. All I heard about was Dyack being a liar, a thief and that Kotaku article.

        This isn’t to say that their Kickstarter would have succeeded above and beyond without the Kotaku piece ever being published, but following that piece that’s all anyone seemed to talk about in regards to Silicon Knights from that moment forward. Heck, NeoGaf is still bringing it up as some kind of bastion of stellar reporting when people tried discussing the Niche Gamer article on there.

      • Daigoji

        You have to remember how NeoGaf started – there are a lot of journalists that lurk in there. When I first joined (in , what, 2004?) I had to provide the email address of the publication I was writing for; my personal email was rejected.

        That said, I give you credit for hopping into the forums and engaging in conversation. Something I feel that has been lost over the past few years where some gaming journalists feel that they are above or better than engaging their readers. There was a time when it felt more like a two way conversation (write article, review, etc – hop into discussions with fans) than it is today, or maybe I am looking back at the past with Ruby sunglasses.

        Also, I’ll concede your point about Kotaku’s reach and ability to influence.

      • It’s all good man. I also agree with you that it felt like back in the olden days there was more of a two-way connection.

        That was part of the reason I started this little side project because I was no longer able to comment at another certain place and it seemed like that’s just heading toward the Polygon/IGN/Gamespot route where it’s like you preach from a podium but don’t engage with the people. Also, to me, the comment sections usually contain a lot of stuff that’s sometimes helpful in finding new stories or just getting better informed about current ones. So yeah, I agree with you about that.

  • Thanatos2k

    Whether or not you think the Kotaku article was the whole truth about X-Men Destiny, Dyack’s history beyond that, especially with Too Human, is undeniable. There was no false journalism that made him insult his own audience or say the reviews were fraudulent, when everyone who played that crap knew they were true. He also has a RICH history of lying about his games, with tons of quotes over the years.

    Dyack dug his own grave, Kotaku just helped.

  • Wobblypops

    Sue he living shit out of these scumbag sites! Start doing that and all these bullshit spewing retards will think twice about the kind of articles they write.

  • Pingback: IGN, Gamespot, Eurogamer Publish False Stories About The Division Glitch | One Angry Gamer()

  • Pingback: Star Citizen’s Chris Roberts On #GamerGate: I Believe In Ethics In Journalism | One Angry Gamer()

Skip to toolbar