Games Journalists Could Learn A Lesson From IGN’s The Last Guardian Report
This piece was written before IGN’s formal apology. The message has remained the same, but appropriate credit has been given to IGN for owning up to its mistake.
I’m sure you’re a PlayStation or Team Ico fan your depression might have reached somewhere near maximum when IGN appeared to confirm that The Last Guardian had been cancelled. IGN allegedly got this from one of its credible sources who had inside information at Sony. After the initial blow-up of this story, Sony’s Scott Rohde quickly moved to tweet that the news was false, which made the initial sad tears turn to angry tears directed at IGN – and rightfully so. This prompted IGN to issue a public apology for what had transpired. While we can all anxiously move on and wait for some kind of announcement from Sony, I feel that I’d like to talk about a few things relating to the issue and explain why I believe IGN were out of line, and talk about the implications of what happened.
Firstly I would like to establish that IGN were not inherently wrong to post the actual rumour itself. It’s alright if they believe that their source was credible and thus had exclusive access to potentially relevant information. Of course it’s believable as well that The Last Guardian could have got cancelled. While this would be crazy to announce just before E3, the game’s development hell would definitely make it easy to believe that there would be nothing at this year’s E3. Furthermore, gaming sites want to bring you the latest information and encourage an interactive and knowledgeable community. Rumours are part and parcel of this, and part of the process of getting people to ask the right questions of these companies when given the opportunity. Sometimes believable rumours also end up being true.
However, the problem lies in the manner in which IGN actually did it, and this tweet from them encapsulates the entirety of the problem in one single sentence:
The Last Guardian is officially cancelled http://t.co/7B7JRxAqnq
— IGN (@IGN) June 8, 2014
I’m sure you can immediately see what the problem is. The very first time I read the original article, after my colleagues and I went into a big discussion about it once the story broke out, I said “What the
fuck potato are you doing, IGN?” You’re telling people the game is officially cancelled but in your article you credit an insider as a source! Where’s the Sony quote? Where are the facts? Obviously, you simply cannot call something official when it hasn’t been confirmed by the appropriate authority itself. That is basic journalism. Seriously, it is elementary. Even if your source is the most honest and credible on the planet, the only time something ever becomes official is when the appropriate company releases a press statement. An insider, no matter how reputable, is still a rumour as far as anyone else is concerned. No matter how good their track record or how credible they are as people, there is a chance they could be wrong, there’s a chance something could change and of course they are not the official voice for the company, whether they work there or claim to know anyone who does.
It can’t be simpler than that.
IGN’s standards must surely be better than that. This isn’t some minor thing that can be brushed aside, and I’m glad the website took measures to issue a public apology and admit to its mistake. But IGN, and websites like it, must understand what a massive responsibility they have when reporting on news, especially when it comes from an insider or a rumour. Other sites around the internet, like us, will use them as a viable source, and soon that rumour gets turned into something believable. Made ten times worse in this situation where IGN proposed to begin the rumour as if it was already fact.
The lesson is really simple. I am not proposing some irrational ban on rumours. That is unrealistic, unreasonable and unnecessary, especially since some rumours can always become truth and we want an interactive gaming community on the ball with what is happening. Of course we also want journalists asking the right questions to executives and company representatives when the opportunity arises to do so. Rather, I am proposing that basic common sense and courtesy be taken into account. Perhaps another lesson would be to always read and think on the information presented to you carefully, and not to jump to conclusions or knee-jerk reactions. I myself would definitely like to take that lesson away, as I can have knee-jerk reactions quite like anyone else.
I understand we aren’t robots. We are allowed to have opinions. I am passionate about my own opinions. We are also allowed to discuss rumours and report on them. But never are we allowed to make a rumour fact, or take anyone’s word as official when it isn’t straight from the company it relates to. That is disrespectful to the company, disrespectful to readers who trust in you and what you do and disrespectful to the actual developers, who could very well be busting their asses working on The Last Guardian, or crying over its grave. We cant know until the official announcement comes.
I am not without my own mistakes and regrets. But I am not a professional journalist being paid a salary and with a massive entertainment website that strongly represents gaming and the industry. I am a gamer with a passion for the art and for writing itself. And without formal training I know that there are some mistakes that are unacceptable. This is one of them. IGN needs to make doubly sure from now that it wins back the respect of its readers, because they are at the top in terms of the largest gaming websites. You expect this sort of thing from some shady site looking to stir up trouble. Not IGN.
Even if it turns out that The Last Guardian actually is cancelled and we can turn our anger towards Sony as well for “leading us on”, that wouldn’t at all vindicate IGN, because they were out of line to begin with, with regards to the manner in which they handled their information. If I have to be really blunt there is enough distrust and dishonesty in the gaming industry already. Insiders and secret sources are great for generating discussions and lighting the speculation fires, but the standard brand of common sense that comes with it is to take everything said by them with a “pinch of salt”. It is not to use their words as fact, and make the public sour towards the things they say.
All that this has done is create more pressure on The Last Guardian, and potentially more distrust towards gaming websites as well as insiders in general. IGN has owned up to its mistake, and now it’s got to just do a better job. And perhaps all of us as well should think very carefully on what we read, and all games journalists out there can take a very valuable lesson from this when dealing with insiders.