Friday, September 26, 2008

Conflict of interest

Gary Hodges at Joystick Division has an astonishing interview with one Richard Kain, the man behind games journalism site, as well as games PR firm TriplePoint. Kain comes off either as refreshingly forthright or embarrassingly unprepared, depending on your viewpoint, but what seems clear is that, until recently, readers of GameCyte were given no indication of the potential conflict of interest in the site's coverage.

Among the points of concern Gary raises:
  • GameCyte managing editor Jason Babler is simultaneously employed as a creative director at TriplePoint.
  • Richard Kain is an investor in Telltale Games. Telltale Games was once a client of TriplePoint. Neither relationship was disclosed in GameCyte's positive reviews of any Telltale titles.
  • GameCyte's review of Off Road, published by TriplePoint client Empire Interactive, was among the most positive to be found anywhere.

I'll be honest: I never heard of GameCyte before I read this story. If Kain's claim of 62,000 unique visitors last month is true, then it's not a massive site by any means. And it's well within the realm of possibility that the GameCyte staff is doing solid, independent work. But in journalism, transparency is everything.

Gary sums it up when he says this system is "designed in a way that allows for abuse." That doesn't mean it has been abused, only that the possibility is there. And once you open the door to that kind of suspicion, your credibility among your readers is shot -- or ought to be. The simple remedy is disclosure. That's standard practice for newspapers, and if Kain wants to defend the quality of his site's journalism then he ought to hold it up to the same standard.

It seems that since Gary started talking to the GameCyte and TriplePoint people, they have revised their About pages to include more information about the relationship. If you want to know what games journalism really looks like, read the whole interview. Incredible stuff.

Update: Dan Kennedy at Media Nation, writing on a different topic, shares a hilarious aphorism about conflict-of-interest that I'd never heard before: "You can fuck an elephant if you want to, but if you do you can't cover the circus."


Etelmik said...

I read it as if I were watching a car crash. Fascinating, uncomfortable, and couldn't take my eyes off it.

My favorite is Kain's comment at the bottom.

Mitch Krpata said...

That's funny, he hadn't posted that yet when I read the story. He does sort of protest too much, but again, the issue isn't so much the conflict as the lack of disclosure. I don't care what they do as long as they're open about it.

Kirk Battle said...

This isn't over by a mile for the game industry and PR folks. They'll stop calling themselves journalists and switch it to some amorphous title like game critic then buck the standards implied by the original title.

Good find though...I'd never heard of Gamecyte or the website that broke this story.