New update at end of the post
Turns out Platinum lied to Kotaku about making METAL GEAR: RISING. Truth came out at tonite's Spike VGAS.
I had an interesting Twitter conversation about this with the great reporter who was the one being lied to- Kotaku's Stephen Totilo.
He said there are alternatives to lying such as saying ,'no comment.'
I said in this day and age- and perhaps back in the day as well- saying 'no comment' is/was the same as saying 'well the answer is yes but I can't say yes to you because that would put me in a bad spot'.
Stephen offered up some less obvious phrases than 'no comment' such as 'we don't comment on rumors and speculation' and I think he has a point, that there are some things you can say that really do allow the interviewer and the interviewee to emerge from the conversation with their reps and responsibilities intact. So for me, that was a good lesson to me from Mr. T (ha! I crack me ol' pirate self UP!) and I was done thinking about it.
But then I saw this from Matt Leone, the talented and veteran 1up.com reporter. It's a question to his readers, asking if they dislike it when game developers lie to them. He cites tonight's MGS:Rising lie as well as the one I pulled in order to make sure the Twisted Metal E3 2010 reveal came off as a surprise.
Give it a read. It's pretty interesting, as are the comments from his readers (my analysis of the comments is the vast majority of Matt's readers feel lying is ok if it helps the game and protects secrets the team can't share but it's shitty when it hurts the customer...and I would agree with that view).
One of the things that bugged me about Matt's story was Matt's comment about 'the best spokespeople' are the ones who are able to distract the reporter or find loopholes to throw the reporter 'off the trail' when a reporter asks a question they don't want to answer.
I'm bothered by this because Matt's statement implies that it's accepted and it's simply how things are done that the experienced folks interviewed by the press have a bag of tricks that allow them to not have to lie but still allow the reporter to get a quote that's factual enough to print. I'm bothered that this is accepted and- it seems- and expected way to go about the job of getting and giving an interview.
Why would a journalist be ok with this and accept this status quo as anything other than shitty?!?
Plus, to me, an interview subject that uses 'loopholes' to get out from lying or telling the truth is the WORST spokesman, not the best.
Now look: I am as hard core a believer in journalism as you can get. I believe in the freedom of information act to the point that I would give my life defending it, I DESPISE the way government has treated journalists since the start of the Bush #2 term, I thought how the White House treated poor Helen Thomas- a national treasure, regardless of her views on Palestine- was the epitome of disrespect, and I am in awe of genuinely great reporters who risk reputation and sometimes life in order to give the world the truth. Oh, and Broadcast News is one of my top 10 movies of all time! So there!
But all that said: when did journalists begin to mistake themselves for judges speaking to witnesses who are legally under oath to answer questions truthfully? While there are certainly those great journalists- in every field, from super serious foreign affairs reporting to more fun entertainment reporting- who thankfully take their job very seriously to inform the public, I can say- speaking for myself- that I take my job to entertain the public just as seriously (and sometimes if I have to out and out lie to protect secrets that are going to make our product- that we've slaved for YEARS on, often times over 100 individuals working as a team- more entertaining for the people who pay out bills (i.e. the customers), then I won't even think twice before I do it).
I think I've been pretty open over the years when game journalists ask me all kinds of things and so I think most folks know that I'm a pretty honest individual. But if I can make our customers happier and more excited by lying to a reporter and thus revealing a title at the right time, then that's what I'll do.
And if I can lie to a journalist in order to protect information that will hurt my team if I reveal it, I'll do that in a heartbeat as well.
The only lie I would never tell is one that would hurt the customer (i.e. 'yes, we are shipping with 30 vehicles in the new Twisted Metal' when in fact, I know we will only ship with 17; or releasing screenshots that are CLEARY not representative of anything even close to the game we're shipping or videos that clearly are not representative of the game or the game experience we are shipping). To me, those are lies that HURT the customer and hopefully - if we do engage in that brand of dishonesty- the reporters and- more importantly- our customers-will lose faith in us quickly.
But there's a difference between a lie meant to entertain (i.e. you think the magician on stage sawing the woman in half is supposed to tell you 'now folks, this is all bullshit and I'm not really sawing her in half'?!?) or a lie meant to protect the integrity of the product (i.e. 'Oh Mr. Reporter, your question is ''does Neo turn out to be THE ONE at the end of the Matrix trilogy? Sure, let me tell you that he DOES even though the last movie is still 10 months away!'') and a lie meant to trick your customers into thinking what they are going to pay for is different from what you know you are selling (i.e. saying 'our game is 100+ hours of gameplay!' when it's really only 12). I think reporters should blast the SHIT out of us and then never speak with us again if we lie like the later example because we are hurting their ability to do their job for their paying customers. I get that. But the former types of lies? I don't lose a wink of sleep over them. And I'm just surprised reporters think they are owed those sorts of truths JUST BECAUSE they ask for them!
Tell you what, if you expect us to answer those kinds of questions, then we should expect the same in reverse. I want to know what EXACTLY went down with the Kane and Lynch/Gamespot/Gertsman-gate deal. I want to know which magazines and websites have gotten favors and cash in exchange for good reviews. I want game journalists to publicly stamp a big, digital 'YELLOW JOURNALISM' sticker atop every headline that they intentionally sensationalize just to get clicks. I want to know the sources of all the anonymous tip offs you journalists are given. I have a feeling that if I phrased all of those above desires as direct questions and then asked them to reporters point blank, those reporters would not run the risk of hurting their businesses- and thus their customers- and so would not answer the questions. Be their answer an out and out lie or a 'no comment' (which I would really advise them not to do because- as I said- 'no comment' to a direct question equals a 'yes' in the minds of today's readers), I don't think we'd get a 100% truthful answer from the majority of journalists in the majority of cases. And I would not blame the journalists one bit for not answering. We're not owed those sorts of truths.
(Note: I don't really WANT answers to these above things...well, I mean, I DO, but I respect journalism enough to respect that I will never get those answers, nor should I). But it just seems hypocritical for journalists to feel the world should be laid bare at their feet just cause they ask a question, but they don't want to reciprocate in kind.
I've had- and hope to continue to have- a fantastic and fun relationship with most game journalists in this biz, but I have to say: I am surprised that a reporter thinks they are just naturally owed the truth by people they interview. If they want the truth, they have to be willing to demand it and fight for it in the cases where they think they are being lied to. When you interview the President of the United States and you feel he's lying, pushing back when you feel he/she is dodging your question (or is out and out lying) is good for your audience. But in entertainment journalism I would imagine it's a bit different.
If I told someone we were not making Twisted Metal- which I did- and they had a gut sense I was full of shit (which I was, 100%!)- is it justified for them to sneak into the Shrine to watch and record rehearsals for the Sony E3 Press Conference just to prove I am lying?
I guess for SOME journalists it would be, but is that really what their customers want? Sure, that reporter may have caught me in a lie (a lie that I was happy to turn myself in for 30 min after the press conference started) but is it worth doing that at the expense of being banned from all future Playstation press events for sneaking into a private rehearsal? Speaking truth to George Bush or Obama and not giving a shit about the consequences is good reporting, because getting to the truth trumps all because that is what the people want and need! But doing the same in entertainment reporting? To me, that's a bit nuts. But that's easy for me to say cause I'm the guy who gets to lie and is justifying it :)...
Anyway, interesting topic to me (clearly) and I just wanted to ramble on it. Eager to bump unto my journalist friends in real life soon and get their views on this in person. My mind is willing to be changed; again- big supporter of good, hard news and am in awe of reporters- but at the moment, I'm more surprised by this article than anything else.
While I stand by the above 100%, in my almost 20 years working in video games, the ONLY time I have lied- far as I recall- was when asked (by press and by fans) was a game being made (i.e. TWISTED) that I knew was being made but that I could not talk about. So I lied and said no. I DO think there are other kinds of lies that are acceptable (and I've gone into detail on what those are above), but for the record: I've never used any of those other kinds of lies. Not that I should expect some of you to believe me at this point :)...but hell, what are you gonna do. At least I'm being honest about the lying, I suppose.