Monday, December 12, 2011

Matt Leone Left A Note On The Door*

If you’ve not read Matt’s reply to my blog post from the weekend re ‘is it ok for developers to lie to the press’, please read that first if you don't mind? Thanks!
Here ya go!

Ok, so slammed with work and no time to edit so bear with the ramble and repetition please?- THX!

Ok, so here's my replay to's Matt Leone: 

Matt, hey.

You and I don’t know each other that well. We’ve chatted over the years here and there and I’ve always enjoyed those conversations and your work in general. Just wanted to take a sec to reply to your reply to me :). 

I see a big difference between holding back information and lying about it. And if someone asks you a question that you don't want to answer or can't for whatever reason, there's always a way to answer the question without lying.

As I said in my earlier post, I’m a fan of genuine, honest, great journalism and have huge respect for folks like Christiane Amanpour (yes, I had to look up how to spell it), Diane Sawyer, and- after watching Page One (the amazing documentary about the New York Times) I recently discovered the great David Carr and have been going through and loving his stories on the NYT website. On the entertainment side- be it games or music or movies- I think there are some fine journalists/writers in that neck of the woods, as well.  And if I may add: I still read an honest to goodness paper newspaper almost every Sunday and devour all kinds of news on tv and the net during the week (from politics to foreign affairs to entertainment to gossip). I’m a news junkie, for sure.

I say all of this so you understand my respect for your profession as well as understand that I come at this discussion as both someone who gets reported on from time to time but also as a voracious consumer and fan of the products that journalists create. And because of that, I 100% agree with you- in principal- with the idea that- as a reader- I want all the facts I can get and I do not want a subject to lie to a reporter because in doing so they are lying to me (a reader).

I also get that in the specific world that you report on- since only very rarely are there genuine news stories worth investigating and since most of your readers have shown again and again that they’d rather have previews and fluffier pieces vs. hard hitting news- that you guys sometimes have it tough. On one hand, you don't want to piss off the folks you report on because that means you may run the risk of being denied the info that your audience desires. On the other hand, even if you risk job security to bring your readers a true glimpse of the shady underbelly of the game making biz- on such rare occasions such an underbelly actually exists- you run the risk of 95% of your readership ignoring your story in favor of something much easier and safer to write about. 

NOTE: As an aside- I have only rarely partaken in any sort of ‘boycot outlet X’, fyi. And I would be embarrassed and hurt if anyone associated with the games we work on made this a common practice/threat. And I never would shut out the media- upon which our industry greatly depends- for things like asking hard questions and giving out poor reviews. That would be stupid of me and disrespectful of you and your readers. The only time I boycott reporters are when they’ve clearly, intentionally grossly taken my interviews way out of context (in a hurtful or mean way to either me or the teams with which I work).

In fact, in you look at my history and posts and rants from the time I started doing interviews and blogging, you will find me often pushing the game media to push us game makers more and call us out on our bullshit. You will find posts and tweets with me begging game reviewers to not be so easily be swayed by games that wrap themselves in artistic, ‘meaningful’ trappings derived from other successful mediums and thus promise that the game in question- simply because it wears the costumes of importance and meaning-is also meaningful and relevant itself. In short, I think for this amazing medium to thrive and grow and become all it can be (which is so much more than it currently is) we NEED the demanders of truth (aka you guys) to PUSH BACK and CALL US OUT when we are doing our ‘we’ve arrived/we are important’ touchdown dances but have actually not earned them.  I’m actually disappointed and frustrated that while we are doing these dances, you guys- way more often than you should- are cheering us on and gushing from the sidelines.**

All this is a long way of saying: As a fan of the games medium and a fan of journalism in general, I don’t want any journalist lied to. And in an ideal world, no journalist ever would be.

However, when it comes to reporting on video games, this is not an ideal world.

This is a world in which for years my interviews have been taken out of context in order to generate a click heavy headline. Granted, the big sites have gotten much, much better about this but they have also been- and occasionally still are- guilty of this. And I do get it and I hate it but it’s the cost of doing business. I understand that a sexy headline that is ‘true enough’ is better business than a dry headline that clearly states what the story and interview behind the click is really about. Just like sometimes it’s better business for us to lie about what we are working on in order to generate a bigger 1st impression among gamers- which is a great building foundation to generating the all important hype. Our hype, your click- perhaps we both sell our souls just a little bit so we can keep doing the work we so love. 

This is a world where no matter how honest I am (and I feel I am more honest than a lot of folks when it comes to interviews…hell, at least I’m honest about being dishonest! How often does THAT happen!?! :)...) and no matter how many virtual pages I fill explaining my position, hundreds of comments will sometimes be generated from readers who have done nothing more than read the sensationalist headline.

This is a world where 90%+ of the comments generated from this story (on your 1up blog, on my blog, on Neogaf, on the recent Kotaku story) have all agreed with my stance that ‘no comment’- in this day and age- equals ‘yes’.

Someone pointed out that Blizzard says ‘no comment’ all the time, which means-for them- people can actually take ‘no comment’ as ‘no comment’. That’s a disciplined tact for sure and a hell of an admirable one. However, for me, ‘no comment’ doesn’t work as an answer when a genuine answer- that I can give without doing any damage to our game or the teams- will do.

I love letting players peek behind the scenes whenever I can. Not the ‘happy, nerf gun battles at 3am, riding scooters around the office, we’re all just friends all the time, every single person on the team has equal say when it comes to deciding what goes in the game and we vote on everything from what the story is to what color the main character’s shirt will be’ behind the scenes kind of thing (I imagine that is true for some devs, but I can tell you, I sure as heck have never experienced that). So I want gamers to get a peek behind what I consider the REAL curtain. 

 I grew up bamboozled by the Hollywood PR machine and vowed- in my own small way- that whenever I was fortunate enough to have the spotlight aimed upon me, I would offer fans of our work a true look behind the curtain. I’ve always wanted gamers to know that making games is wonderfully rewarding and amazing fun, but it’s also HARD ASS WORK and it’s stressful and there are fights and battles with teammates (fights that you lose at times and it fucking hurts to lose) and families get torn apart and physical health sacrificed because of all the hours we put in. I want to share the great, amazing times and fun times, but the hard stuff too. I’ve always wanted to share the truth of the journey. And I do it- I guess- because I would never want to do to a fan of games what the Hollywood PR machine did to me (as a fan of movies).

So when you say ‘no comment’ or other terms will do, I take issue because in truth, while there are better terms than ‘no comment’, we live in a  world where ANYTHING other than shutting the question/issue down with a firm ‘no’ will result in sensationalized headlines that damage your game’s first impression AND enter the gaming collective brain as a confirmation that the game is being made.

I don't think GameSpot should have to explain the Gerstmann/Kane & Lynch situation if they don't want to (I think it would have been in their best interests to do that for credibility, but that's unrelated), and well, I do think media should be required to disclose any kind of shady negotiations like Jaffe mentions, but that's also unrelated. My larger point is that there's a way to talk about things that you can't talk about without lying in the process.

I agree and said as much in my post. The gossip lover in me would LOVE to know what goes down in such tense situations, but I get I am not owed that information and the folks at Gamespot should not feel compelled- and I am sure they do not- to offer that info to the public any more than us game makers should feel compelled to tell reporters about the game designer who has a drug problem or the lead coder who got fired cause he was caught fucking a bottle of Clorox bleach in the supply room while singing showtunes from Wicked. Both of these, by the way, are true stories. Actually happened!***

My point was I feel it’s hypocritical for game journalists to demand a certain kind of behavior from the folks they interview while not providing the same kind of behavior in kind. I mean, at the height of the Gamespot thing (which- for the record- I have ZERO details on other than what was reported in the press), do you think if someone would have asked the head of Gamespot point blank, ‘Did Gamespot take cash from Eidos in order to give Kane & Lynch a higher review than the reviewer felt the game deserved’ and the subject being interviewed said, ‘No comment’ or ‘We don’t comment on speculation or rumor’ that fans would have taken that as ‘oh, interesting, they had no comment…I’m just as in the dark now as I was before’? Please, you KNOW that’s not the case. I think we both agree that that is unfortunate that it’s not the case, but it’s just not the world in which we live.

…an explanation of why you can't answer the question is better than both.

You know, I think you have a great point here. But again, it goes back to the way so many stories in games get reported on. Think about this: if a reporter would have asked if I was working on a new TM, I could have easily said something like, ‘You know, I really would love to spill the beans about what we are making and I know a lot of folks think it’s a new Twisted. Problem with me telling you what we are working on is it dilutes the surprise when we announce it and I think surprises and first impressions count. If it’s a new Twisted, wouldn’t that be more fun to be surprised when you were least expecting it? And if it’s a brand new franchise- the thing we started Eat Sleep Play to create, by the way- then in this climate where it’s tough to break thru the noise created by all the yearly updates of beloved sequels, I gotta do everything I can to make sure the first time people hear about our new IP that our game Veronica Lodges** deep in the mind’s of potential customers’.

Nice statement. Non committal to both possibilities. And a good journalist may have run a headline that says, "JAFFE WON'T SAY WHAT EAT SLEEP PLAY'S NEW GAME IS"...problem is, a lot of sites would run this:

"Jaffe doesn't want to admit he's making a new Twisted Metal"


"Jaffe would love to 'spill the beans' about Eat Sleep Play making a new Twisted Metal!'


"Jaffe doesn't want to 'dilute the surprise' by announcing new Twisted Metal now'

This is how we've been trained, Matt. I'm not saying YOU or 1up have created this culture but it's the way it is. How do you suggest we respond given that this is the culture in which we live? 

YOU WROTE: Jaffe and Inaba have lost credibility for telling facts. I still trust their opinions, but I'm no longer confident I can believe what they say all the time. From the majority of responses I've gotten to the previous blog, most readers don't seem to care about that that, because they just want to be entertained by the media. And I understand that perspective, though it bugs me as a reporter because it feels like there's a lack of respect from the interviewee towards the interviewer in these situations.

 Totally, I get that and I was willing to roll those dice. I think I was so willing to roll the dice cause I consider myself a damn honest interview subject (I’ve talked about everything from my struggles with weight and how the biz exacerbates that struggle to my fears about a game not performing) and so given this was a lie I felt most consumers- once they knew why I did it- would forgive me for, and given that I'm a damn honest person in the press and on my blogs, it was worth the risk.

As for being annoyed that most readers just want to be entertained by the media and what you perceive as a lack of respect from interviewee towards interviewer:

a-   Just like most gamers don’t want art games like THE MARRIAGE at 60 bucks, as good as those games may be for the gamer’s nutritional diet, most folks who consume entertainment media don’t seem to want hard hitting reporting, they just want to see screens and hear about features and have a nice, fun time flipping thru the mag or the site while pooping.  I agree with you that it sucks in some cases and I’ve always wanted a magazine or site that is more hard hitting and tough on us game makers (and to be fair, there are some that manage to be that while still staying afloat).  But at the moment, the majority of folks who consume your product are not looking for truth as much as they want entertainment.

     I’ve always respected the folks who interview me and I always thank them for their interest. That’s not a line I use, it’s genuine. I’m always surprised and grateful someone from your world shows up to report on a game we’re working on. I do have respect for game reporters. BUT as I said earlier in this long ass post, I would have MORE respect for the game journalist that pushed on me (and my colleagues) when I was making claims about how my game were emotional and moving the medium forward and how it would change the world; I would have MORE respect for a reporter that challenged me and got real answers about the WHY and the WHY NOT of the games we make. I want a reporter who is fair, of course, and who DOES write about the good and helps us trumpet the great, for sure. But we work super hard on the games we make and there is logic and reason for every decision we make and I would not take offense if someone drilled down and talked mechanics or process or wanted to know why we did what we did; I would not take offense from a reporter who called us out when we made claims that- while lofty- were not really evident upon playing the title in question. I think that would be GREAT for the biz because it would start putting that critical thinking in the minds of the gamers and so gamers would start demanding us game makers to really deliver on our lofty goals (and thus force us to either switch to goals that our media is better suited for OR figure out how to push the medium forward so we could actually- for reals- achieve those goals we were promising).
=  ++

Jaffe at one point compares himself to a magician pulling tricks on the audience for the audience's benefit, which kind of blew my mind when I started thinking about it. I think readers are used to thinking they can trust what developers say (whether they should or not), and the more they're aware that developers might be lying and might be saying things to mess with their expectations, the more I'm OK with it. [So if for nothing else but making people aware of that, I'm glad my blog and this topic are getting some attention.]

I never compared MYSELF to a magician. My point was that a magician’s goal is to entertain with his tricks and that just because a reporter asks him ‘hey, did you do the trick by doing X, Y, then Z’ then the magician’s main job is not to be truthful because a reporter asked a question but his main job is to protect his trick- and thus his audience’s satisfaction and thus his own job and the jobs of all those who help him put on his show. And if saying ‘no’ does that, then I’m all for it.  But we’ve covered this. This is that ‘no comment’ issue again.


For instance, I think I recall Jaffe mentioning at one point awhile back (and huge apologies if I'm incorrect on this -- not at all trying to be insensitive) that he and his team had created a fake story about members of a Twisted Metal: Black 2 development team passing away in a plane crash, which if my memory serves me correctly he later said never happened. I find it strange that he's OK with putting out a story like that, while also criticizing puff piece behind the scenes making-of videos as "destructive" or something like that as he did recently (sorry, can't find the exact quote on this one either -- might be getting that word wrong), because to me that's essentially the same thing -- a company putting out a not-entirely-honest story to better promote their game.

 I never did what you are accusing me of doing. We never used- and I never would- a tragedy (real or fake) to promote ANYTHING. The story of the developers dying in the plane crash (totally fake) was never used to promote that game. That was simply the story OF the game that was only every discussed OUTSIDE of the game when a reported asked me about it being true or not. It was our take on a BLAIR WITCH set up but we never used it in promoting the game (other than when an interviewer asked me point blank about it and- frankly- I don’t recall if an interviewer even asked about it before the game had already shipped and all promotion for that title was done).

Sure my argument would be stronger if I could track down quotes of him admitting either of those things, but it's Sunday morning as I write this and I'm struggling to find them on Google, so I hope I'm not getting those details wrong.

Matt, you know that whole thing about you being annoyed that your interviewee doesn’t respect your interviewer? Or the idea that most folks look at game journalism just as entertainment? I can’t fathom why that might be…:)

BUT FOR THE RECORD, I’ve always had respect for you and your site. So don’t take this as me saying I personally don’t respect you (cause I do). But do you really want to admit the reason you can't get your quotes right- quotes that it seems you feel would strengthen your argument- because it's Sunday morning and you are too lazy to go beyond a Google search? Man, good thing Woodward and Bernstein came at things from a different angle :)...

I just wish more readers cared so developers would feel guilty about lying, because I prefer truthful behind the scenes stories over developer-created myths. It's a selfish desire, really

I prefer these sorts of stories as well. And again, from my past posts and my interviews over the years, I hope you’ve come to know me as a straight shooter that does not traffic in developer-created myths. My hatred for developer-created myths is the reason I am so open and honest about my experience with the process. I don’t see how the lie I told about TM negates all the credit in the bank- in this regard- that I have built up from being so honest- often times at my career’s expense- about the process of making the games.

Talk soon/see ya soon- gotta run. Thanks for this fun, educational, and stimulating (for me anyway) debate. It's appreciated!


* Yes, it's a Billy Joel reference :)...

** I do find this is more game centric than other entertainment media reporting. I'm always amazed that a Best Picture or Best Album Rotten Tomato aggregate rating can be in the low to mid 80's and still win such awards but with games, almost all GOTY contenders (and most 'almost GOTY' contenders) seem to come with 9/10 and 10/10 scores and heaps of gushing hyperbole.

***…actually not really, but that would be so cool!)…The Clorox story, I mean. The drug thing would be sad. 

****No clue why I suddenly started channeling Diablo Cody.