NOTE: this is not a piece by me. It was done by my friend Steve Burns. I am just posting it here at his request, as he;s too lazy to set up his own blog.
EDIT: Since this piece was written, Eurogamer has amended its original story. I won’t be getting into that right now, as the situation is changing and very complex. I still believe this piece is relevant.
Another day, another round of game journo in-fighting. This is not unusual: in an industry of opinions and instant feedback, it’s par for the course. Yesterday was different, however, because Rob Florence had written this, and Eurogamer had published it: a powerful, influential combo. The internet, predictably, exploded. John Walker wrote a wonderful response to it, which really made me think about how game journos are perceived: please read it.
So then, if John Walker has covered this ground already (and with far more style, I might add) then why am I bothering? Well, a close friend of mine was mentioned in one piece, as was Lauren Wainwright.
I can’t speak for Lauren, because I don’t know her. But I can speak in defence of Dave Cook – if not the industry as a whole. Dave Cook is not corrupt. I know this because he and I have been friends for years now. We worked at the same publishing firm for most of that time. We’ve shared far too many drink-fuelled nights putting this industry to the sword, for every reason under the sun. Dave Cook works harder and faster than most and has been rewarded for his efforts by his current role at VG247, where he works tirelessly to serve its ever-growing fanbase. I’ve never seen him take a bribe, nor a backhander. The only thing he’s ever taken that I didn’t agree with is the moniker ‘VG247’s Dave Cook’, like he’s a member of The Beatles or something. But that’s a minor irritant, and he’s a good friend.
Dave Cook is not corrupt. But then, I’m not sure Rob Florence was saying that. Wasn’t his article about how we appear, when we’re tweeting any old shite, in our minds innocently or not? I think so. That Dave’s name was mentioned stings for him (as well as Lauren Wainwright, no doubt) because it looks like he (and Lauren) are being singled out. Not a good look. I spoke to Dave this morning, and he sounded in rude health for a man who had just been (character) assassinated.
Harsh times, but the tweets were public, and Dave has admitted it was a mistake to tweet that nonsense. Why did he tweet it though? Because he wanted a PS3? Nah: he’s got one, and if he ever wanted another he could call any number of people and get one shipped over faster than it takes internet commenters to call a columnist a ‘fag’ because they disagree with him.
No. Dave Cook is a self promoter, like most (but, importantly, not all) of the most visible people in this game. Twitter, Facebook: his name is probably scrawled in graffiti all over London, Paris, Milan and of course, Edinburgh. If he wasn’t at so many events, ‘VG247’s Dave Cook’ would be so all-encompassing as to pass into legend. Does Dave Cook have major reconstructive surgery to conceal his identity, like Tyler Durden? Are there many Dave Cooks, like James Bond, and one simply replaces the last? Does he, in fact, have two hearts? No. He’s a Scottish bloke with a questionable beard who loves games, goes to events. He’s a friendly sort, enthusiastic. You’d like him. You’d like to have drinks with him.
Again, however, he’s a self-promoter. In an industry where your name is your calling card, he’d be silly not to be. You know why? Who actually, really, reads everything you come out with? Not a lot of people. Reputation is everything in the games industry, because this is access journalism. We’re not on the frontlines in the Middle East. Botherer, as usual, was right about the GMAs being a love in, with PR’s setting it up and voting in it. If you want to make it to the top, then you’ve got to be in the game to some degree.
Those are the rules, and they need to change. The hard part is, those involved don’t see the game. They don’t see it as corrupt, because it’s actually not. Having worked in the industry myself, I’ve flown around the world. Done the 5 star hotels. Been out on the after-event drinks. The closest I’ve seen to someone crossing the line on a trip was when a journo ordered lobster for main and lobster for desert, Sean Bateman-style. Our PR guide looked aghast. But again, that’s straight up taking the piss, rather than demanding cash for good scores.
So, I’ve been around the block a bit. Has any of this hospitality ever changed my opinion of a game? No. I recently flew out on a trip with a major publisher, to one of the greatest countries on earth. I saw the sights, basked in the sun. I had free drinks. I came home and said that its direct competitor was better. It is.
Again, from the inside, that’s the game: you fly out, see stuff, have a laugh or two. Meet some nice people. I know that my opinion won’t be affected. But do my readers know that? They don’t. Because of this, I try to minimise the amount of dickswinging I do on social media. I don’t take pictures of promos and post them on Facebook. I rarely tweet about being on a trip, or at least I try not to. It makes you sound like a cunt, in my opinion.
And where has this gotten me? Nowhere. I’ve written for magazines for years. No-one knows who the fuck I am. That’s fine: I’m not good enough to give it the big ‘un about everything I write. I don’t play the game to its full extent, and I’m out of step. But I know it exists, and even though we’re not corrupt, it can bloody well look like it. I have friends in PR. Good friends. That’s all I see it as. Others don’t. Maybe it’s time we had a big think about that. Dave Cook isn’t corrupt, and Rob Florence isn’t wrong. But something has to give. Will it? No fucking way. As John Walker and Florence stated, look at the knee jerk responses from people. We’re not above suspicion, nor criticism, like all journalists – even if we’re not doing anything wrong. But the more we swan around the world, telling people to fuck off when they ask if going away to the world’s best hotels with your mates who look after these games might be a conflict of interest, the more we do ourselves a disservice. We love games, we get excited about games. But we need to remember where the line is. Our readers will.