There has been quite the large, recent controversy involving Zoe Quinn, her game Depression Quest, and her ethics surrounding it. I spent most of last evening discussing this with individual readers. Let's address this as a whole, collectively. Integrity in journalism is important.
First of all, let me say that it's not really my place nor is it right for me to comment on the personal life of someone I don't know. I have no connection with Zoe, save a passing admiration for her and many others standing up to the sexism that did occur at Maker Studios' GAME_JAM filming that bombed out. I do not know her, and as such, all I could provide is an opinion on those things, which really is neither pertinent to the larger issue at hand, nor really the point of what I do here or write here. I'm not here to offer opinions about morality, unless that morality directly influences games. As you may imagine, however, that line gets a little blurred when someone involved in games journalism has this kind of controversy surrounding them.
It's impossible to comment on this issue without making some sort of commentary on what I think of things. So how do you reconcile that to not wanting to imfringe on someone's personal life? Well, to my mind, that's simple: seperate the facts and opinions, and be sure not to report opinions that seem inherently harmful.
Before we get any further, let me warn you: this is going to be a long article. There are a lot of different things surrounding this and I wouldn't be fair to all of this if I ignored aspects of it to make things into sound bytes or tl;dr material.
So what do you hope to accomplish with this?
Quite frankly, two things, first of all, quite a few of my readers have reached out to me, being the games journalist that I am, and therefore well-positioned to know what's going on, to clarify what this has been about. As best as I can, I hope to accomplish that here, so you my readers can at least be informed about what the accusations are, and know what's going on. Secondly, there's a very legitimate discussion to be had about the integrity in journalism. It's a trust-based business, reporting, and these accusations undermine not just the journalist in question, but the occupation of games journalism as a whole. Those of us trying to be responsible games journalists face a great deal of criticism on a daily basis, and having that called into question hurts .. well, everyone, really. It hurts the developer in question. It hurts the journalist, as this is the kind of thing that can end careers - publications take these kinds of things very seriously, if only for how it hurts their image. And it hurts other developers and publishers who will be subject to increased scrutiny by a consumer base that has been burned, and they will remember being burned.
And that leads us to the most important in that list: the people that trusted that opinion are the ones that are hurt the most. They're left either defending a review they trust against a large body of upset and unpleasant people, or .. well, dealing with being lumped in with those upset and unpleasant people.
No one wins.
It's dangerous to go alone! Take this!
My first inclination was to want to shine a light into that darkness, that we might somehow "fix" this and bring the matter to some sort of conclusion. It's a mammoth undertaking, because that's where we find our first hurdle.
There is no signal, only noise
This is the problem with most major issues now, especially those where suppression is occuring, is that finding reliable information is very difficult. Trying to research this controversy leads me mostly to a bunch of internet forums full of speculation, knowyourmeme, and a single actual article from Gamer Headlines which was basically aggregating available information with a great deal of editorialising.
It's not a good start.
After an almost Herculean amount of digging, reading a bunch of opinions masquerading as facts, and a lot of bile for and against Zoe, I managed to piece together at least that chalk outline on the ground where the corpse used to be.
The facts as I know them
1] A site was created by a person claiming to be Zoe Quinn's ex-boyfriend, accusing her of cheating with five people when she was with them. He did not name two. Two others were indie developers, but the important and contentious one was Nathan Grayson, formerly of RockPaperShotgun and now of Kotaku, who covered the game on both sites. At time of writing, you can read the whole thing here: http://thezoepost.wordpress.com/
2] This was reported on Gamer Headlines. Here is the link: http://www.gamerheadlines.com/2014/08/kotaku-and-zoe-quinn-accused-of-exchanging-positive-press-for-sex/
3] The coverage Nathan did on RPS that is available for reading is pretty harmless, simply discussing a batch of Greenlit games on Steam in which Depression Quest was included. It included no lengthy discussion of the game nor a recommendation for or against, though it did characterise the game as a "darling" game. You can read this article here: http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2014/01/08/admission-quest-valve-greenlights-50-more-games/
4] I was provided a link to a commentary on the game supposedly written by Nathan Grayson on Kotaku which does not work. It is impossible to say whether the link simply was a bad lead, or if the review was removed.
5] A lot of the controversy surrounding the issue centers around Zoe's infidelity, and I am not going to cover that topic. Her sex life is something that is between her and her partners and is only relevant to us insofar as it affects gaming, eg the allegations of biased reporting.
6] Depression Quest started out on Greenlight as something you had to pay for, and positive reviews or coverage no doubt would have resulted in a financial benefit to Zoe Quinn, without question.
7] With the death of Robin Williams, the game was made available free.
8] Irrespective of possible financial enrichment for a developer, it is to a developer's benefit if they receive positive coverage. This increases consumer awareness of them, the products they make, and makes them more likely to receive future financial enrichment through future games. This is how PR/marketing works.
9] It is claimed that Zoe herself has "doxxed" another outfit which was offering to help women who were seeking to get into gaming. This allegation was documented in a screengrab, given that this was well into suppression stage. Image: http://i.imgur.com/Gy2n50g.png Site of those affected, or were claimed to be affected: http://www.thefineyoungcapitalists.com/Voting
10] A smaller-time YouTuber by the name of MundaneMatt posted a video regarding this website that Zoe's alleged ex had placed online. It was removed by a copyright strike lodged against the vidoe by Zoe Quinn. It's possible it was made by someone impersonating her, but unlikely. The audio from this video was posted to the creator's Tumblr is still available at time of writing here: http://themundanematt.tumblr.com/post/95125556294/here-is-the-audio-from-my-video-hell-hath-no-fury At time of loading, a re-upload of the video is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Equc1QnQ9rw&list=UUxXUQuvoiIAlpM2osoAitjQ The old video included a publicly-available screenshot from Depression Quest as the background, which was replaced in the reupload. This background was allegedly the basis for the copyright claim.
11] A great deal of websites have been removing the posts about this topic. This include posts which have disappeared on subreddits. The rest of the angst about this appears to be centered around sites that have not reported on it.
That's the long and short of it. If all you wanted to know was what this controversy was about, dear reader, you can stop reading here. From hereon out are the opinions on this - but more importantly, the surrounding and important issues.
To suggest that there isn't cronyism in the games industry is patently false; it happens in any social circle, and gaming, games development, and games journalism are three intertwined social circles. There isn't anything inherently wrong with getting along with many other people in those circles; positivity is definetely favourable to it being one big hatefest, without arguement. When it becomes a problem is when people try to control who is "in" that circle, and what thoughts are "okay". There's an increasing and disturbing trend in journalists and developers both trying to tell us what we should think, or what is acceptable. Examples of this abound, and it's an increasingly systematic problem in the greater environment.
Censoring the critics is a big problem in the industry
No, really, it is. This isn't quite a new topic, either, but it tended to be small time cumudgeons that perhaps didn't have all the rights in order, or were using other copyrighted works like commercial music and the like in their reviews. There was a murkiness there that encouraged giving this thing the benefit of the doubt. Yet, now we have that trend reaching it's logical continuance, as we have seen example after example now. I reported on FUN Creators stifling TotalBiscuit's video on their game, Guise of the Wolf, but there was also a very great controversy over a previous claim made against his video about Day One: Garry's Incident, and more recently, Kobra Studios' copyright claim about Jim's video about their game, Island Light. And of course, most recently, the allegation that Zoe Quinn tried to stifle that commentary on Depression Quest and herself using a DMCA claim. A claim which would have been invalid on it's face, incidentally, since the video contained no game footage and the screenshots available are in the public domain and freely available.
Developers, indie developers in particular, have found out that if they don't have any ethical scruples, they can quite easily use YouTube's automated copyright claim system as a sort of sword, striking out about the criticism of themselves they don't like. You can easily milk the 30 day response time YouTube gives the claimant to respond to a copyright claim to ensure that video stays away for a while.
The indie circle has a reputation problem
just as much as games journalism does
The net effect of this, from my viewpoint and where I'm looking, has been that respectable journalists are increasingly guarded about how they cover indie games. You don't want to expose yourself to the legal headache that can be a DCMA claim and the court case that can come of that. A court case is an expensive undertaking, and even if you know you're in the right, most games reviewers, especially smaller time ones, don't really have the monetary means to properly defend themselves in a court of law. These kinds of indies are bullies; bullies that sour opinion of indie games as a whole.
And that's a shame. Most of the games I personally have found interesting in the past years have been from independant developers. From Mike Bithell's Thomas Was Alone, to Supergiant Games' Transistor, I have had a love affair for good indie games that I've worn on my sleeve. They're good games I enjoy playing and continue to play occasionally to this day. There's something to be said for the latter, especially as a reviewer with a seemingly never-ending backlog of games I need to play for purposes of review.
Integrity and disclosure are paramount
Personally, and at Highland Arrow in general, we take great pains to try to be above board about everything we do. We make sure it's obvious when we received a copy of a game at no cost. We disclose relationships where they exist (though typically I will get Beth to look at something I'm close to or vice versa). We even go so far as to add in editor's notes when we've edited reviews after release, or at the very least trumpted this fact over Twitter. That integirty isn't just important. It's paramount.
As a journalist or a publication, your reputation is what sells. You can have all the clickbait in the world, but without establishing that relationship of trust with your readers, its' for naught. How do you develop that reputation? You make sure you do things in the ways that your readers are okay with. The best I feel you can do for this is to put all your cards on the table, and let the readers decide. I look at it as giving your readers all the tools they need to properly consider your opinions and decide if they're for you. If you don't do that, and a reader finds out that they trusted you because they didn't know something about you that you withheld - the allegation of someone sleeping with a reviewer for good coverage made about Zoe, for example - then they will be angry with that reviewer, and they won't be wrong to be angry.
"You can't win this fight."
This comment, made to me discussing with Mathieu Dugon of Gaslight Games over Twitter called me to some certain action and passion regarding this matter. Now, don't get your jimmies russled, the context of that comment was the daunting prospect of responding to accusations of impropriety. It's difficult to conclusively prove those accusations wrong. (The full comment: https://twitter.com/MathieuDugon/status/501819173740486656 context: https://twitter.com/MathieuDugon/status/501818473245597696 ) And he's not wrong. When it comes to an accusation of being on the take, I or any other games journalist (or any journalist at all for that matter) cannot conclusively prove we are not on the take. It's much more difficult than that.
Again, to me this falls back to making sure you are as honest and forthright as you can be with your readers. If you put it all out there, then there's no big reveal for them to be upset about. Moreover, if you establish over a length of time that you take pains to have that degree of honesty and integrity, you will have people who recognize that, and you will establish that reputation of integrity based on that. It isn't something to which there's an instant 'integrity' mode, it's something you earn over time. It's like a suit of armour: takes forever to polish, but throw it in a vat of acid and it'll be irreperably damaged almost instanteously.
Journalists face allegations of being on the take on a daily basis. I can speak for no one but myself, but I see it around me regularly. People in this day and age are increasingly sensitive to being marketed to, and incidents like Jeff Gerstmann's firing from GameSpot have provided all the evidence anyone could need that this does happen in the gaming industry. With this becoming more prevalent, with things like Yogscast's paid coverage, I expect people to become all the more discerning about who they decide to follow.
Let's face it though: this might make life harder for indie journalists like me, but its a good thing for consumers.
By all means, question your sources. Find reviewers who you trust and follow them. It's only to your benefit to be discerning about whom you listen to, don't let anyone else tell you so.
And that's the end of that, folks - I'm not going to comment on the allegations beyond saying that I find it ridiculous that someone would use copyright claims in that kind of way, because you can't erase stuff from the internet. The industry has problems. We need to learn to seperate things better and have a professional barrier when it comes to critical content. It's something that's been on my mind since the start, and creating Highland Arrow was an effort to try to fill a lack of ethical coverage by creating, rather than just complaining. It'll be on my mind well into the coming days much more presently, given this controversy, and no doubt I'll write further on some of these overarching issues, but I'm going to stop myself now before I write a novel.
Obviously, I can't really link to deleted content that was deleted before I could view it, but if you have screengrabs of things please send them to our PR email and I'll add them here.
"The Zoe Post", WordPress, retrieved 2014-08-19, http://thezoepost.wordpress.com/
"Zoe Quinn Accused of Exchanging Positive Press for Sex", Gamer Headlines, retrieved 2014-08-19, http://www.gamerheadlines.com/2014/08/kotaku-and-zoe-quinn-accused-of-exchanging-positive-press-for-sex/
"Zoe Quinn's Kotaku Staff Cheating Scandal", Know Your Meme, retrieved 2014-08-19, http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/events/zoe-quinns-kotaku-staff-cheating-scandal
"Depression Quest dev claims harassment and misyogny. Facts come out to show she's lying", r/tumblrinaction, Reddit, retrieved 2014-08-19, http://www.reddit.com/r/TumblrInAction/comments/2dt5hu/depression_quest_dev_claims_harassment_and/
:Depression Quest harassment campaign", Christopher Whitman, Storify, https://storify.com/SeeBeeWhitman/depression-quest-harassment-campaign
"Zoe Quinn Fake Doxx/Hack", Tumblr, retrieved 2014-08-19, http://thespectacularspider-girl.tumblr.com/post/95179284529/zoe-quinn-fake-doxx-hack
"Zoe Quinn and the Surrounding Controversy", The Escapist (forum thread), retrieved 2014-08-19, http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/18.858347-Zoe-Quinn-and-the-surrounding-controversy