[Update 12/22/2015: N4G has reinstated the interview with Mark Kern and updated their interim policies regarding social issues in gaming.]
[Original article:] N4G, a gaming news aggregator with community curated content, has been ending up in the headlines for a lot of unpleasant reasons. It’s one of the top 3,000 websites on the internet according to Alexa, despite losing a lot of traffic throughout 2015. The most recent incident involves the N4G administrator Christopher, prohibiting content about or from League For Gamers, an online advocacy group that aims to represent the concerns and interests of the gaming community.
It started with an interview on The Gaming Ground, where they discussed League For Gamers with the founder of the organization, Mark Kern. The interview discusses Kern’s career as a game designer, his work with Blizzard and Interplay, as well as his activism through League For Gamers in helping fight for free speech and creative freedoms for developers within the gaming industry.
The interview was posted on N4G and approved by the community. Following its approval the interview was pulled from the site by administrator Christopher. It’s detailed in an image by TheGG that shows that the interview was approved and then failed.
What’s more is that Christopher suspended The Gaming Grounds for even posting the interview, sending them a private restriction stating…
“This is the third time I’ve reported you on this. If you’re not going to abide by the rules, you will get longer restrictions going forward.”
Now previously, I was unaware that N4G’s administrator was bullying website owners into not posting certain kinds of content. I was also unaware that you could be suspended from N4G for interviewing developers about certain kinds of topics.
They’re essentially censoring gaming topics about censorship in gaming.
In a separate editorial, The Gaming Ground revealed that Christopher stated that any topic about #GamerGate, SJWs, censorship or sociopolitical issues in gaming related to game culture are not allowed on N4G. There is a culture tab on N4G but gaming culture isn’t actually allowed there, unless it directly involves a publisher or developer.
Mark Kern is a developer and was recently involved with Voxelnauts for a brief period of time, amongst a plethora of other titles. However, according to Christopher, Mark Kern’s pedigree and previous work in the gaming industry did not afford for him to be interviewed…
“Mark Kern IS NOT CURRENTLY a developer and his site and the topics you present have NOTHING to do with him developing a game or publishing a game at this time.
“The goal here is to keep news about video games and not social issue that come from all sides. I have no stance on this other than maintaining a focus of news on N4G. You attempting to throw that as some bias towards the topic isn’t helping you at all nor does it help your cause to label everyone in such a manner because they have site rules that don’t accommodate every bit of social news items like this. Our site is not about social media as it relates to those topics and we made that rule because the site was being overtaken by such topics that spawn from social interactions outside of gaming rather than focusing on actual news related to video games.”
It’s interesting because they blocked individual developer interviews from The Escapist about #GamerGate even though technically it fit the criteria of their makeshift rule about that kind of content.
However, the news about TotalBiscuit having cancer had nothing to do with games and wasn’t game related but they allowed it on N4G and it was the top article on the site. I’m curious what their stance was on this and why it was allowed but not discussion about a pro-gaming advocacy group like League For Gamers?
Also, why was the Marcus “Notch” Persson article allowed if he’s not developing games anymore?
Also, there are no printed rules on the site at all about what questions you can and can’t ask a developer during an interview. The Gaming Ground’s interview was just that… an interview about Mark Kern’s career and his involvement with League For Gamers.
Does that also mean N4G doesn’t allow content about Twin Galaxies’ #Right2Game Campaign since it’s not directly related to game news?
In a separate case The Gaming Ground also pointed to an article about American McGee’s missing sister following anti-#GamerGate death threats. The article was approved by the community but was later failed by Christopher who stated…
“We don’t allow news that is continually “updated” on N4G like this. The real news is almost a month old, meaning no longer relevant.”
There are no rules or stated guidelines on N4G about not allowing submissions that are developing stories. In fact, with a simple Google search there’s an article that was posted on November 3rd, 2015 by DualShockers that continually updated and added new content as it was being revealed.
Part of the issue with N4G is that the rules are made up on the fly by the administrators, as evidenced in previous articles here at One Angry Gamer. You can be banned completely out of the blue for a rule you broke that you didn’t know existed.
I tried reaching out to N4G about the matter but they have me permanently banned from their website and blocked on Twitter, and their higher-ups at Hava Media have refused to answer e-mail correspondence that was originally sent back on November 3rd, 2015. I did try asking Coolbeans, a moderator at N4G, for comments but he also declined.
@WilliamUsherGB I do but I don't foresee myself bothering to answer more interview questions.
— coolbeans (@c00lbeans21) December 20, 2015
[Update: A certain Andy Frogman did manage to interview Christopher following the publication of this article. The interview is here.]
I did manage to ask Mark Kern — whom I follow on Twitter and occasionally retweet — some questions about the unfortunate scenario involving League For Gamers’ content being banned from N4G. You can check out the Q&A below.
One Angry Gamer: How familiar are you with N4G and have you been aware of how they’ve been shaping and reshaping news based on what they feel the public is allowed to see and know?
Mark Kern: I was unaware of N4G until The Gaming Ground informed me that our interview was pulled and Gaming Ground suspended for 5 days. The article had previously been approved for posting by the N4G community until a moderator reacted quite severely to the news with suspensions, etc.
When I saw the reasons for it, they seemed exactly like what League For Gamers is fighting for. N4G ignored the clear wish of gamers on their site to discuss the article, and the whim of one seemingly biased moderator was enough to silence all these gamers. LFG is founded to give a voice to gamers, and one way we do that is by providing a free speech open social platform for games on our website www.leagueforgamers.com
I’m unaware that N4G was part of the authority structure that has evolved to censor gaming speech. I know that NeoGAF had been active in this, and certain subreddits on Reddit, but this was the first I heard of N4G having a history of this kind of censorship and authoritarianism.
OAG: I read through the interview on [The Gaming Ground] and noticed that it does discuss your career in game design and your involvement with various projects as a developer quite a bit. According to N4G administrator Christopher, content even mentioning censorship, corruption, SJWs or #GamerGate aren’t allowed unless it deals with a publisher or developer. So I’m curious, how does it strike you that they dismissed half the interview on The Gaming Ground where you actually do discuss gaming and game development from a developer’s perspective?
Mark: Its like they never even read the article. We discuss gaming and share anecdotes about Blizzard in the interview. We talk about welcoming Japanese games and voiced the concerns of members about how these games were being cancelled or changed. These all seem like highly relevant issues to gamers.
There is a lot I could talk about in term of general games. LFG also has developer learning programs and job recruitment built into our boards and profiles. I think a lot of this is of interest to gamers and game makers. I also have a lot of things I’d like to pass on to gamers and other developers. Things I’ve learned through shipping WoW, Starcraft, Diablo, and several other games. But someone this is deemed irrelevant to gamers by N4G.
Also, how can you censor discussions about censorship? Isn’t this an incredibly important issue to gamers? LFG thinks so. That’s why we’re here, to fight for what gamers want. And gamers do not want their games to be censored.
Why not allow discussion of this? Why can’t we talk about the most serious issues to have hit gaming in the past year…and pretend they don’t exist? I understand how its controversial, but this is why it needs to be discussed. Why not moderate the topic as usual instead of shutting it down altogether?
OAG: Banning news and content about League 4 Gamers basically means that a large amount of gamers who visit N4G will never know that there’s a pro-consumer advocacy site out there fighting on their behalf, unless they go looking for it. Why do you think certain administrators and some moderators at N4G are so intent on preventing people from knowing about an advocacy group that protects gamers?
Mark: Honestly I have no idea why N4G would want to shut down any awareness of League For Gamers. Is it intentional because we stand for free speech and creative freedom in game development? I don’t know. I don’t know N4G at all and have never been to their site. Yet they have imposed a blanket policy against even mentioning our presence on their boards. They suspended someone over it!
At LFG, we see this happening everywhere. Its an epidemic of hushed tones and closed door discussions where active discussion of the key issues in gaming are shunned. That’s why we created an alternative for free discussion on our website. That’s not our end goal, that’s not our core business. We don’t run ads or charge for it. We’re an advocacy organization, but we realized advocacy for gamers was not allowed as a discussion topic on many gaming boards. So we created our own and made it free. No ads, no fees, just simple honest talk about the biggest issues in gaming.
OAG: Over the past year and a half N4G has been selectively culling articles that expose corruption and unethical behavior and, in some cases, illegal behavior. It took a very large outpouring of e-mails from #GamerGate to the Hava Media CEO to get them to reinstate the article detailing the extreme conflict of interest between PC Gamer and Ubisoft. However, N4G seems to have slipped back into old habits. What more do you think gamers need to do to bring awareness to large gaming communities where moderators are abusing their position and enacting censorship over the community to maintain a certain status quo?
Mark: I didn’t know that about N4G and the failure to alert their audience about ethics breaches by Ubisoft and PC Gamer. I’m glad they eventually reinstated the article. I know gamers care about their games, and want better business practices, better business models, less censorship. Its time to start talking about these things. And if your favorite board refuses to let you discuss real issues about games, then get noisy! Take it to the mods, tell them we have to discuss these issues and that you will no longer be silenced. Take it to social media, or take it to us. Let us know what’s going on so we can help.
Anyone can e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org, but better yet, sign up and send me, @Grummz a DM on our site. We encrypt your direct messages and signup e-mails so your privacy is security. Think of it as a gamer’s tipline. Devs too. Let us know what is happening so we can help.
Finally, join our ranks. Its free to signup at leagueforgamers.com and by forming a large collective voice, we can take your concerns to publishers, press, boards and devs. Sign up, talk freely on our social media platform, and let us bring [up] your concerns. I have the contacts from my industry experience. I just need the membership and we’ll get through. We’ll get our voices heard.
OAG: There’s been some contention over the policies at N4G. Some site owners have defended N4G and believe it’s a good site with some quality features, but they feel as if the lack of proper rules and lack of guidelines allow the administrators and moderators to bend the rules as they see fit. Do you think it’s actually important to have grounded user and moderator policies in place to curtail wanton conduct from management? Or is it better to keep the rules lax but consistent?
Mark: The past year has shown that unfettered moderation leads to gross corruption of discussion on many boards. You can have lax rules, or you can have strict guidelines. For whatever reason, what seems to happen is that 1 or 2 people rise to great authority in the moderation crew and start to rewrite the rules to suit them, instead of their community. They set themselves up as the arbiter of taste or what is proper or improper to discuss. Some have even signed contracts with the publishers of the game they discuss…contracts of which we know little about the terms as they are private. We have a serious problem in free discussion of games right now. Its about time we start to ask some hard questions about why this came about and if its beneficial or harmful to games.
LFG’s view is that excessive moderation that silences legitimate gamer concerns is bad for games. We can’t pretend our problems don’t exist. We have to come up way for moderators not to abuse their power, and to be accountable for their members who they serve as guides. N4G willfully ignored the wishes of their own community to ban the LFG article. Their members voted to see it, but were denied.
At LFG, people can start their own boards, but we only allow 1 board per account. We do this to avoid a small group of moderators dominating multiple key topics. We also log all edits, suspension, bans and moderator actions with the intent of providing these logs publicly in the future. This is so that members can audit what their mods are filtering, and have more input and say in the process. This should be the standard everywhere.
OAG: From Reddit to GameFaqs to N4G to NeoGaf to Giant Bomb to Rock, Paper, Shotgun, the topics and issues of censorship and media corruption seem to be taboo these days. What would you suggest for the gaming community to do as a course of being proactive about important issues in gaming that are being silenced across major gaming communities all around the web?
Mark: Join LFG. I have no stake in this. We’re not here to turn a profit, we don’t charge a dime or run ads. We’re just here to help gamers get organized and form a collective voice that we can advocate for. Our goal is to reach 50,000 members by middle of 2016. We’re at about 10% of that goal now, and we grew 30% last month. If we can keep that up, we’ll bring your concerns right to the doorsteps of devs and pubs and press.
If you’re a creator, then fight for creative freedom. Express your opinion in your games, or your art, or your memes. If you build websites, create more alternatives like LFG for gamers to have freedom of expression. Get noisy!