August this year, I had a functioning PS4 Slim Model Console. That console was still almost two weeks from being announced.
I pitched a professional games criticism outlet a review of the hardware, a Q&A feature on things people might not know, and an unboxing video. They tentatively accepted and set a price, but then cancelled their offer upon discussions with their legal department. They were scared that the article would be taken down before it was seen enough times, and more importantly they were scared of publisher fallout. They pulled back.
They were one of three outlets who expressed an interest in coverage, then backed out over legal concerns.
I eventually self-published here on LPVG. All of a sudden games media wanted to cover my review, embed my unboxing, interview me, and cover my coverage. At least a few outlets who did not want to pay for my coverage for legal fears later covered my reports in some way without having to pay me. I’m avoiding sharing names here as to ensure I am still able to find work as a freelancer going forward, but I have to express the fact that the ways traditional games media plays nice with publishers sometimes concerns me.
Outlets see the desirability of coverage, but don’t want to be in the crossfire for making the choice to post things themselves. They know there’s a valid public interest angle in coverage but they’d rather let someone else take the brunt of the damage and simply report on reports afterwards safe from publisher fallout instead.
They were happy to talk about the PS4 Slim once I had done, once it was published and out there, but they didn’t want to fund investigative journalism like it. They wanted to talk about it safely, for free, and without being in the firing line for breaking the silence.
They will often sit on known information rather than share it to avoid risking a publisher blacklist. They’ll share it when someone else does first, but they won’t bite the bullet.
A decent number of the reports I have written this year have been on information known to other outlets. I’m not the only games writer on the internet to make connections and find sources willing to break non-disclosure agreements. I am far from the only person who found out about Until Dawn: Rush of Blood before Paris Games Week last year. I was, however, the only writer who chose to write about it ahead of reveal. I asked numerous games media colleagues before publishing that particular leak, and at least two different outlets told me they had heard about “Until Dawn VR” existing but that they were not planning to cover the game ahead of its announcement.
When I hear information about the Nintendo Switch ahead of announcement, there are usually a decent number of other outlets who learn the same information at the same time. I know that at least two outlets heard about the Switch getting a Mario Rabbids RPG before I did, but they didn’t want to upset PR by talking about it. At least one outlet claims they were even shown footage.
Having sources doesn’t make me unique, but acting on the information those sources share is apparently not a common practice within a number of larger outlets, and that deeply concerns me. The fact that even with a clearly, demonstrably working, unannounced video game system in my hands I could not get one outlet to commission a review suggests a worrying lack of willingness to stand up to PR when legal threats are (potentially) on the table.
When there is a clear angle of public interest, which is very often the case in pop culture coverage, we as an industry should not be basing our reporting on avoidance of legal threats. We should be writing, confident that we will be covered by legal journalistic protections as part of our duty as journalists, of any kind, to report the truth and act independently of third parties.
We shouldn’t have to start reviews the way I began my review of the PS4 Slim.
Before we start this review, we must acknowledge the elephant in the room: the PlayStation 4 Slim has not yet been officially announced by Sony, nor is it meant to be on sale at this point. Our review unit originated from a retail store manager who sold the unit on eBay. The retail store manager claims that while they broke street date, they did not steal the stock. I believe the public interest angle of reporting on this piece of hardware should be protected under UK journalistic protections. It is in the public interest to know about a piece of upcoming technology that can be verified to exist, even if that confirmation did not come from the manufacturer itself.
I do not own the unit reviewed here, nor is it any longer in my possession.
Basically, please do not sue me Sony. I am just doing my job as a journalist. Issuing takedown notices when many other outlets have reported on the existence of the new model does nothing to hide its existence and only serves to harm the state of journalism within our industry.