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The issue of credibility and Joystiq

David Stone's picture

Every so often, you hear the word "credibility" come up on a website. For whatever reason, people seem to forget what it means, and when it's called into question, people get awfully uppity about it. The problem is, credibility is subjective. And how to defend credibility is up to the speaker. 

Let's get one thing straight here. Credibility refers to the capacity for belief in one's word. Basically, if I trust you and your point of view, you'll have lots of credibility with me. I know that, as a critic, I strive to have as much credibility as possible. Without it, there's no point to you reading anything I have to say. It's my best tool, and my greatest liability.

So imagine my surprise when I found Joystiq's Top 10 Games of the Year list today, and saw that Fable II was its top pick. There were games that were missing that I felt should be on there, and vice versa. But to pick Fable II above every other game that came out in 2008 came as a huge surprise. So, like any good web citizen, I wrote in that I felt that the choice of Fable II for the top spot was a bit controversial, and the list was not a particularly good one. Basically, the site lost credibility with me.

Christopher Grant, the editor-in-chief, decided to reply by pointing out that Fable II's inclusion was not controversial. The way he phrased it, though, was to frame it with sarcasm and condescention. His main rebuttal? To point to Metacritic as the bolster to that argument.

Readers of Gamecritics know that we don't particularly care about where we stand in Metacritic. We've praised games that the rest of the world hates, and called out games that seem to be liked by everyone else.

Metacritic has little credibility with me.

When I went on to disseminate his entire argument as to why he felt Fable II was worth the top spot, his only replies were "that's your opinion." Of course it is, Chris. That's what gives your site credibility. In my opinion, prior to this list, I had the opinion that your opinion was one I could look to and believe in.

Another Joystiq staff member, Ross Miller, then replied with sarcasm that obviously I was accusing the site of some sort of bias. I want to state for the record that I never accused Joystiq of being biased towards or against anything. I simply stated that I disagreed strongly with the list, and gave reasons why, and ultimately coming to the conclusion that their opinions no longer held the weight they had. I even replied to Mr. Miller's false accusations directly.

I was not the one who wrote with a sarcastic tone. The initial animosity was from Christopher Grant. 

What surprised me the most, though, is how the staff of the site reacted so poorly to someone who stated that their words lost credibility. Believe me, I have been accused of being paid off by one of the Big Three at some point or another (still waiting for those cheques, guys!). I'm no stranger to this. What surprised me is the site's villification of someone who dissented with cogent, clear argument. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised given that this is the internet, but still. They are one of the world's largest videogame blogs. Surely that weight must mean something.

So how did all this play out? After replying to each and every criticism that the Joystiq staff tried to pin on me, all of my posts have been deleted. It also appears that I cannot post anything further from my IP. 

Again, for the record, I did not call any of them names. I did not sling any real mud. I did not actively antagonize. I called their credibility with me into question with clear, concise words. And for this, I got banned.

So as we move forward into 2009, and gaming continues to evolve, it is important that you always actively question the opinions of others. Without dissent, how would our culture be so thriving, vibrant and interesting? More importantly, how can criticism continue to evolve if we all shared the same view?

But when someone disagrees with you and your opinion suddenly means less to them, your job is to either let them slide off into the ether, or directly (but politely) address their concerns. Joystiq's actions today have shown their true colors. I have removed them from my RSS feed, and will no longer link to any of their stories. It is a shame that such a large site can be so easily broken down, and their only defense is censorship. 

Hope you believe me on this one.

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this whole situation is

this whole situation is completely ridiculous. I mean, their top ten was complete crap, but that issue aside, the fact that they would go so far as to delete all your posts and ban your IP address is totally unbelievable. I mean, i DO believe you since the aftermath of the comments is still apparent on some of the threads, but with deletion and banning being Joystiq's first response for they simple disagreement tells me that they are a site that I don't need to ever waste my time with again, not that I really spent that much time there in the first place.

You are only one of many

You are only one of many people that are finally starting to wake up to a situation that has been there for several years. Joystiq, along with Kotaku are part of Gawker Media. Look up Gawker Media, it is kind of a sleaze bag operation. There is even a memo on the web from Nick Denton about how to sensationalize blog postings to get more click-throughs. And I know what you mean about Metacritic. Their explanation of how they arrive at "metascores" is total mumbo-jumbo. It has just been a really bad era for supposed game journalism. Maybe these types of incidents will eventually swing it around to be something more than a grown up equivalent of nasty elemetary school playground tricks.

Gawker

To be fair, Joystiq is owned by Weblogs Inc., a subsidiary of AOL.

Gawker did have a big downsize recently, and it was a little off-putting to read what they were asking their employees to do (more work for less pay from what I remember). Even Consumerist.com was sold off! But I haven't seen them treat their readers with the same contempt as this Joystiq incident.

Incidentally, I sent an e-mail to both Joystiq and Weblogs Inc., asking them to explicitly tell me how I violated their TOS. Guess the reply.

That's right. Nadda. Stay tuned...

"inarguably untrue"

Hi David,

For the record, I probably wouldn't have banned you, but I can provide some context behind this decision. This was *not* prompted by your dissent (we had plenty of that on staff already -- Fable II wasn't my game of the year either).

Anybody can pluck the definition of "credibility" from a dictionary, but there are more severe connotations when the word is leveled at a site that primarily delivers news. Do you also question our ability to publish news because we picked the wrong game of the year? I don't think you explicitly mentioned this, but it's something to consider.

As for picking the wrong game of the year, well, I thought your approach to discussion was rather abrasive. I'm sorry if this wasn't your intent, but asking us to point out the "inarguably untrue" elements of your criticism of Fable II is inviting us to run into a brick wall. This is worsened by the fact that we delivered a lengthy reasoning for our choice, which you never seemed to address.

Then, there's the Metacritic issue -- Chris explicitly highlighted it to argue your description of our choice as being intentionally "controversial." It's not controversial when many other critics rated the game highly. This isn't and was never the reason itself behind our choice of Fable II -- that's what all those words on our page are for. To be fair, perhaps you didn't see his follow-up post and misunderstood the intent of his Metacritic mention. Unfortunately, the discussion came across as attacking our motives rather than our actual reasons.

Feel free to delete this post and ban me, but I just wanted to highlight that there was more to this than censorship -- at least from my point of view. Still, I don't want anybody to feel this way about us. I hope I've adequately conveyed our side, and I hope you'll give us a second shot.

- Ludwig Kietzmann
Joystiq

Hi Ludwig. I don't presume

Hi Ludwig.

I don't presume to speak for David, but I am aware of the situation and I must say that your rationale behind the events that led up to his post being deleted and his IP being banned are pathetically weak. It's part and parcel of having a website that you will have people making comments that you don't agree with, or rustling bushes you'd rather not have be disturbed. Based on what you've said here, it seems like your site would rather eliminate the issue and simply avoid having the discussion altogether; hardly a stance that demands respect. GameCritics has been a site for nearly a decade, and I think in that entire time we've only banned two people-- both after multiple warnings, and both after egregious behavior that was orders of magnitude more intense than David’s comments. I appreciate the fact that you came to our site and posted the comment, but I have a hard time seeing the unnecessary deletion and the absurd banning as anything other than cowardice and a severe lack of spine on Joystiq’s part.

Brad

Re; Ludwig

Hi Ludwig,

I'm amazed you actually found this, but nonetheless, thank you for taking the time to write here.

My issue with your picking Fable II was more about my complete disagreement in your rationale behind picking it for your number one game of the year. Fable II is making the rounds as one of the bigger disappointments of the year from most other sites I've been to. It is certainly not a bad game, but quantifiably NOT Game of the Year material.

First of all, if you recall, I never used any four-letter words in my criticism of your pick. I just strongly disagreed with it in a VERY short post. Chris Grant decided to lob the first Sarcasm Bomb with his Metacritic defense. As I said in my comments on your site, just because something has a high Metacritic number doesn't mean that it's worth being a GotY. I then went on to point out my issues with the game. These were never addressed in any follow-ups. Rather, Ross decided to put words in my mouth with some odd "bias" nonsense.

You never addressed the points I brought up. I said the control is loose (it is) and the co-op is broken (it is also). The story is way too cookie cutter when you look at the original (it is) and very few of the day-to-day decisions actually matter (they don't). The world isn't particularly alive compared to a lot of other games out there. From what I recall, Chris' defense was "Well, I think you're wrong, and it's my opinion." Fine, but don't expect me to have any greater depth of belief in your opinions in the future.

To be honest, I don't care what your motives are when picking a GotY. They are a matter of opinion. But when I strongly disagree with your opinion, they lose weight.

I *never* commented on Joystiq's ability to convey news (although I'll never totally forget Summagate). What I said was that your *opinions* won't hold weight with me, since I felt that your beliefs in what makes GotY material as a whole no longer reflect how I feel about gaming these days, and won't take your reviews (few though they may be) as something I will use in discussing games in the future. I only thought you were wrong in your choices.

Far be it for me to worry about the motives of a site when comments like "wow fable II over MGS4. Someone has a hard on for really retarded bread crumb shit. :)" or "top 10 and no GTA? are you fucking kidding me?I can totally understand not giving it #1. but not even on the top 10? are you fucking kidding?" are allowed to stand.

Quick follow-up (Okay, not so quick)

Someone pointed out to me that there's a discussion going on at PS3Forums about this whole thing (hi y'all!). It's very amusing to read what people think may or may not have happened, and what my perspective or angle could possibly be.

Let me get some facts straight.

Am I perfect? Well, I am to myself, but not likely to the rest of the world. That's okay. When I had the audacity to give MGS4 an 8/10 (a score I now feel is too high, but I won't go back and change it), I was told that I was bought by Microsoft. Cool, huh? Check out some of these nuggets:

"Raiden wasn't mocked for MGS3, dumbass, it was MGS2. BTW he wasn't even mocked, losers like this reviewer mock him."

"I get the feeling the reason you wrote this review was to get negative feed back from hardcore fans to visit your site and comment on your poor review or the fact you might have been paid off by a Microsoft employee or xbox fanboy. I dare you to review this game again when the directors cut comes out within 6 months or so."

"As for you review David, I thought this was the worst review of all the average reviews that MGS4 has been given. And your line at the end with the score, my jaw hit the floor. How in God's name could you give a lower score than the one you wanted to give. That was probably the dumbest explanation I have ever seen."

And then there's my fave:

"You guys love the arrogant pretentious fags who think that going against the crowd and posting low scores means you're smart and you don't give in to the hype. That's the biggest fucking joke ever."

Look, I'm not a victim. I don't care enough. But don't think for a second that I'm two-faced about any of this. I have *nothing* to gain by lying here. And if I were, this is a public forum. I could be sued for libel if what I was saying is untrue.

To be honest, I don't really care whether or not I'm allowed to make a comment on a blog or not. I didn't write this out for site hits (which was accused of me by someone over at PS3Forums).

I will admit that I probably didn't address Joystiq's points about Fable II enough directly in the thread. But I *never* once baited anyone. I have been on this site both as a user and as staff for the better part of seven years. If you know me at all, I'm a snarky bastard with an opinion. I just happen to convey it clearly. I don't care whether you agree with me or not.

What I disagree with is the action taken versus any of the discussion that took place. I never insulted anyone personally. Compared to what else is on the internet, what I wrote is positively civil. Heck, even under the biggest scrutiny, I could be seen as a douche, but I never violated their TOS by any stretch.

Have I spoken to someone privately about this? Of course. Brad and I have been working together (along with the rest of the available folks) on the end-of-year coverage. As he's also an admin here, we were discussing a recent incident that occurred on our site while simply sending e-mails to each other. The timing of this is completely co-incidental. There's no mystery or conspiracy on Gamecritics.com's end, or my end personally.

Of course I'm going to laugh at this in the forums here. The level of reaction is comical, to say the least. I have pointed out other people who've said far worse things to the Joystiq staffers in the same topic than I did, but they are still viewable online. I'm *definitely* not humble (as someone over at PS3Forums thought I was trying to be here on the blog).

By the way, as far as my soon-to-be-public choices for my favorite games of the year: I fully expect my credibility with many people - what little I probably have given my lack of worldwide stature - to dwindle with my choices. But I also hope is goes up with some folks too. That's the great part about criticism. You can choose who to listen to, and who not to listen to. Don't listen to me if you don't want to. I fully expect there to be a number of trolls who will probably throw my "credibility" line back at me. I'm more than ready for it, because I know that the site as a whole had ludicrously good credibility in the editorial department. I'm a part of this site because I agree with this site. I'm not a part of Joystiq because I don't agree with Joystiq's opinions. Period, end of discussion.

I'm also not afraid to admit if I'm wrong, and to apologize. I don't go out of my way to antagonize anyone. But if someone starts something, I don't see why I should crouch down and take it, particularly if it's from someone who is an administrator/editor, and who should know better than to pander or reply with sarcasm.

A couple of final points:

Ludwig, I never said the choice was "INTENTIONALLY controversial" but you have to admit that Fable II isn't a very cut-and-dry GotY. Going to Metacritic to back up your point when the game hasn't broken 90 there shows that there are many other games that could have taken that spot.

If Joystiq is to be primarily a news site, then it would be a really good idea to not give a hardfast opinion on anything, unless you're going to be more of an editorial site. If so, then you have to state this to your readers. As an example, the reason why a lot of people are ragging on you - particularly Chris - about being anti-Nintendo is, by and large, we've seen a lot more negative stories about the Wii collecting dust. I even googled "Joystiq dust Wii" and found some hits. I understand it's humor, but know that doing so instantly gives you an angle, and will damage your credibility in that department with some folks if you're to be seen as a straight-up news site.

I will also state for the record that, prior to the GotY thing, I checked Joystiq at least daily for my news and other interesting things. Hell, if the ban hadn't happened, I still would be going there. Losing credibility on the op-ed side of things doesn't mean the whole site is "bad" (for lack of a better way to put it). How many times do you pick up a newspaper and read the movie reviews, and don't take someone's opinion seriously because their opinion in the past was completely off the mark from yours? Does that mean that the paper is bad? Does that even mean the writer is bad? No, of course not. It just means that, to you, the writer's opinion is no longer a credible opinion, and at worst, you probably stop reading their movie reviews. You can even write to the paper, telling them this, or write it in their online forum. You don't get banned from being able to write a letter to the paper ever again just because you say this.

In conclusion, gaming "journalism" is beyond nascent, and barely taking baby steps from its origins from Nintendo Power of the 1990s and other PR mouthpieces. (Jeff Gerstmann is a testament to this). Quite frankly, it simply hasn't been around long enough. With the internet, everyone and their mother gets a voice.

Where was the ToS violation?

Ludwig, after reading your response I still don't see how what Joystiq did was anything other than a particularly capricious and arbitrary case of censorship. Why you chose to ban this particular poster is especially mind-boggling since you apparently had no problem with other comments that questioned your GoTY choices in a far more vitriolic, vulgar and mindless fashion (see the examples in David’s article.) Surely if all you banned David for was “abrasiveness” then you haven’t finished the job you started and need to ban a ton of other posters on that thread as well.

It shows class on your part to respond at all to try to clear the air, but with all due respect, I’m more interested in hearing from the person who was directly responsible for the banning offer an explanation for it, and preferably point to the exact place(s) in Joystiq’s Terms of Service that were violated.

Ludwig Kietzmann wrote:

Anybody can pluck the definition of "credibility" from a dictionary, but there are more severe connotations when the word is leveled at a site that primarily delivers news. Do you also question our ability to publish news because we picked the wrong game of the year? I don't think you explicitly mentioned this, but it's something to consider.

If Joystiq is so deathly insecure about losing credibility as a news outlet over people disagreeing with the opinion pieces it publishes, then the solution is simple: stop publishing reviews, game of the year roundups, and all other articles where opinion is the driving force. Be a news outlet. Or, be a blend of the two but understand that as reviewers you ARE going to be called out on a regular basis by others who have different opinions than yours. I feel silly even having to explain this.

~Erin Bell

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