Just when you think the Xbox 720 rumor mill is getting boring ...
An anonymous prankster named X-Surface has decided to punk some of the biggest gaming news sites in order to make a point about the haphazard nature of gaming news reporting. By claiming to be a Microsoft employee, the hoaxster managed to feed legitimate-seeming information to major sites like CNet, Gizmodo, Pocketlint, VentureBeat, Tech Digest, VG247, NowGamer and even Yahoo!.
And, truth be told, I was ALSO going to run a story based on this info. I was in the middle of writing it when my colleague Scott Craft sent me the tumblr link that revealed it was all a hoax. I guess that makes me part of the problem, according to the tipster.
Unfortunately, all the prankster accomplished (other than wasting my time and the time of a lot of other writers) was to point to what we all already know -- gaming news is often bullsh*t.
It's called supply and demand. Guys like me (and Nick Hide, Gary Cutlack, Devindra Hardawar, et al.) work for news sites that need hits to generate ad revenue and pay us to do these stories. There are a TON of people searching for phrases like "Xbox 720 release date rumors" or "PlayStation 4 news" and in order to meet the demand for news outside of what officially comes from a company (which is sparse at best), gaming sites have to rely on anonymous sources and insider tips. Here's what the prankster said motivated the hoax.
"By tagging a post with 'rumour,' most writers/editors believe they can get away with spreading false information for their own benefits. They are the only ones to gain from such practices, whilst the gaming fans end up with speculation and, sometimes, outright lies."
Often, these tips are close to the truth. Look at VGleaks recent story about the specs for Microsoft's dev kit for the 720, called "Durango." This information, as far as we know, is legit and comes from someone who works in the industry and is trying to give gamers the information they're looking for without compromising his or her job.
Gaming sites don't just "make up" stories or try to report deliberate BS info. A lot of the writers, like myself, ARE gamers. We ARE the ones who are interested in these rumors and slivers of information and we happen to be fortunate enough to work for a company that pays us (barely) to keep track of what's out there and report on it.
Do we want to be hobnobbing with developers and designers at their happy hour bars, cultivating real relationships? Of course. But this isn't 1975 anymore. News doesn't always work that way. There are so many people looking for information that demand would outpace supply if we all just waited for a press release and spent our time twiddling our thumbs.
And don't say we should just report on other things besides the big name rumors. I wrote two hard news pieces on the Tomb Raider achievements and the Last of Us special editions this week. Actual, real news on popular games. Total hits? 76 (for both.)
Words like "rumor" and "alleged" and "unconfirmed" aren't just CYA phrases. It's the truth. These rumors we find ARE unconfirmed, but that doesn't mean they're harmful or wrong. Pocketlint, the site that was first to be duped by the prankster, went out of its way to say the source was not confirmed by Microsoft and the information could be false. They've dealt with anonymous sources in the past, it's the nature of the industry.
To the tricksters credit, he/she provided info that came across as legit based on OTHER rumors leaked by (presumably) ACTUAL sources. It was a well-performed, well-informed hoax, but to what end? The trickster has some high-minded concepts about the nature of online journalism, it seems.
"Many games 'journalists' have no right calling themselves such things. The vast majority do nothing but copy & paste from other sites, and will willingly publish information without fact checking a single thing or attempting to verify the source.
"It's all about being first. To get such news out (whether you believe it or not) before any other publication does, will guarantee you page impressions, and that all-important advertising revenue. Gaming 'journalism' is completely broke."
And, surprise, surprise, Mr. I-Will-Judge-Your-Entire-Profession hasn't responded to my request for an interview. And he's hard to get ahold of. He has the balls to be completely anonymous and disable the messaging feature on his Tumblr page. I had to call in a favor to an inside source at Tumblr to figure out how to reach him. (She's my fiancé's best friend and an all-around awesome person. If you need more proof, maybe I can arrange for her to come physically shake your hand or something).