Credit denied: The failure of videogame news sourcing
You probably saw a story last week in the gaming press about 1C-SoftClub’s decision to halt distribution of Company of Heroes 2 in Russia. It came after complaints from Russians about how their countrymen are portrayed in the real-time strategy title. I saw it too, and it’s an interesting story. But that’s not what this article is about. At least, not directly.
I first saw the story reported on RockPaperShotgun (a site, like this one, that’s dedicated to things of interest to PC users.) At the bottom, there was a credit given to PCGamesN. Not unusual, as they too are a PC-specific site. One of the primary ways news proliferates through the gaming press is when writers from one site read the news on another and think it will be of interest to their own readers.
So off I went to PCGamesN to see where this Company of Heroes 2 story had originated. At the bottom of the story was another link, this time to Destructoid. So … maybe Destructoid broke this, and RPS accidentally gave the nod to PCGamesN instead?
Not quite, because at the bottom of the Destructoid news piece was a credit for Polygon. Those guys can be pretty quick with the news, I thought, so maybe that was the case here. Did Polygon break the story?
Nope. They offered credit to Videogamer. Correctly, as it turns out.
Videogamer, to the best of my knowledge and abilities (and yes, I accept that this can sometimes be tricky,) were the gaming news site that actually had this story up first. Based on the Google News time stamps and the date/time listed on Videogamer’s piece, they broke the Company of Heroes 2 news. But they only received a fraction of the credit.
Ok, in actual fact the details of the halted sales first went up on 1C-SoftClub’s corporate site over at 1csc.ru (rightly sourced by Videogamer,) but that’s what counts as “breaking” a story in the frivolous world of videogames. A few very rare occasions aside, the games media stories that have any legs consist of information that has been dug up on forums, twitter, or (in this case) foreign language websites. We don’t get many dramatic insider exposés because there are no games writing publications with enough money to create dedicated investigative journalism divisions.
That’s why we’ll probably never know for sure if that Valve office in Luxembourg is legit or part of an elaborate (and probably ‘legal’) system of tax dodging. But that’s a whole other problem.
Back to the story of the Company of Heroes 2 story. Videogamer located (or were tipped off about) the news, wrote it up and set off the chain of events by which news filters through the rest of the gaming press.
The Associated Press style guidelines are pretty unambiguous about what to do when citing sources and providing attribution or credit. Their updated guidelines from September 2010 look like this:
We should provide attribution whether the other organization is a newspaper, website, broadcaster or blog; whether or not it’s U.S. based; and whether or not it’s an AP member or subscriber … This policy applies to all reports in all media … If some information comes from another organization and some is ours, we should credit ourselves for what’s ours and the other organization for what’s theirs.
The organisation made this change after several incidents where the AP was credited as a source for stories, when in fact the information had first appeared in smaller publications like local papers and blogs.
While the Company of Heroes 2 story doesn’t ‘belong’ to any single news outlet, Videogamer appears to have been the one to find and report upon it first. It was not a generic press release sent to all sites, and would not have made it to the general press domain without somebody spotting it to begin with. Under AP guidelines (broadly accepted as decent journalistic procedure,) Videogamer should at the very least get a courtesy credit for bringing it to everybody’s attention. What seems to happen all too often in games writing is that credit is instead given to the first site (often one with a wider web ‘presence’) that the author sees the news story on.
The chain of misplaced credit that I followed for the Company of Heroes 2 story wasn’t the only one out there (though it was the longest.) Gamepolitics credited Gamespot for the news (who, in turn, gave correct credit to Videogamer.) Newgamenetwork pointed towards Joystiq, who also got it right and sourced Videogamer.
Eurogamer did some actual journalism and (like Videogamer, who ended up with much the same quote) contacted publishers SEGA for their take on the affair. What they neglected to mention, however, is Videogamer’s original report that got this story into the wider press in the first place. Eurogamer’s piece links only to the 1csc.ru page, making it appear as if they just happened to be independently reading Russian-language distribution sites a day after the original story had spread, and then decided to ask SEGA about it. Possible. But unlikely.
If it seems like I’m trying to single out specific sites here, that’s not really the intent. Every gaming site in existence has been guilty of mis-crediting sources (by accident or malicious design) at some point in the past. IncGamers certainly isn’t immune. We’d made our share of mistakes.
But this stuff matters. It matters to readers, because if a site is regularly failing to provide correct credit to sources it probably isn’t an outlet you should be paying too much attention to. It suggests the writers there are either overworked, sloppy or just don’t care. Every time it happens, it validates the lack of trust readers place in games writing.
It also particularly matters to specialist sites like this one. The oddities of Google’s ranking system mean that regular links (like news credits) from more established sites provide a boost for the other news pieces and articles. Effectively, if other sites in your area of expertise think you’re credible enough to link to Google can nudge you up the rankings. That creates a bit of a cumulative effect. In theory it means your hard work will be rewarded with an improved standing, but it presupposes that the writers at other sites will always do their job properly.
Inaccurate sourcing messes with this system and can screw a site out of the bump (in both readership and ranking) it may deserve. There are few things more frustrating to a writer than seeing the story he or she first reported on being incorrectly credited to one of the usual suspects of the gaming press. Especially in cases where you’ve actually syndicated that very story, and been ignored.
It hurts readers, it hurts sites and we can all do a great deal better. Mistakes happen, but the solution is simple: just give credit where it’s due.
Lynx/Bobcat image courtesy of public-domain-image.com. Would’ve been pretty ironic not to credit that, eh?