Libel, alleged legal threats, and conflicts of interest: the twisted story of MCV and Eurogamer
Eurogamer ran an interesting article about, in part, game journalists and their connection with advertisers. The image of Geoff Keighley sitting next to all those snacks, labels facing forward, has been passed around the Internet for the past day or so. The story also discussed writers tweeting at an industry event in order to win hardware, and the writer brought up a few instances of behavior he found questionable on the part of his peers. That’s not news. What happened next however, makes the story much more interesting than the standard patina of fear and distrust that often surrounds those who cover the video game industry.
Intent Media, the publisher of MCV UK, reached out to Eurogamer to complain about comments made about their writer, Lauren Wainwright. Eurogamer has since deleted sections of the story, and it has been claimed that Intent in fact threatened Eurogamer with legal action if the offending sections of the story weren’t deleted. “Also, don’t blame Eurogamer for this,” Robert Florence, the article’s author, stated. “The threat of legal action brings unbelievable pressure. I am clear on who the bad guys are in this.”
Eurogamer ran the following statement: “Following receipt of a complaint from Lauren Wainwright, Eurogamer has removed part of this article (but without admission of any liability). Eurogamer apologises for any distress caused to Ms. Wainwright by the references to her. The article otherwise remains as originally published.”
So what was said that was so inflammatory?
It’s all about loving Tomb Raider
Florence noticed journalists winning PlayStation 3’s on Twitter, and was critical of the practice of promoting games in exchange for the possibility of winning prizes. He detailed what happened next in the original version of the story.
“One games journalist, Lauren Wainwright, tweeted: ‘Urm… Trion were giving away PS3s to journalists at the GMAs. Not sure why that’s a bad thing?’,” Florence reported. “Now, a few tweets earlier, she also tweeted this: ‘Lara header, two TR pix in the gallery and a very subtle TR background. #obsessed @tombraider pic.twitter.com/VOWDSavZ’”
Florence stated that this behavior made him skeptical of Wainwright’s motivations. “And instantly I am suspicious. I am suspicious of this journalist’s apparent love for Tomb Raider. I am asking myself whether she’s in the pocket of the Tomb Raider PR team. I’m sure she isn’t, but the doubt is there. After all, she sees nothing wrong with journalists promoting a game to win a PS3, right?”
Those two sections of the story have since been removed, although we’ve been told no legal threats were made. “Intent at no stage threatened legal action,” MCV UK editor Ben Parfitt stated. The site’s Editor-in-Chief, Michael French, also claimed that no legal threats were made when “his boss” was talking to Eurogamer.
Wainwright, in a tweet, stated that she had no issue with the “idea and content” behind the story, just the “libelous comments” about her that were “unfair and unjust.” In the UK the word “libel” is incredibly loaded, and libel suits can prove incredibly damaging to publications and individuals. Wainwright has since changed her Twitter account to private, blocking anyone from reading her present or past tweets.
After the story was amended, Florence stepped down from writing future columns for Eurogamer. He stated that he stands by “every word” of the original column.
There is a substantial conflict of interest at play
MCV might have been able to remove the criticism of one of its writers, but the downside is that a simple opinion article has now become news. Why is pointing out a possible conflict of interest between promoting certain brands or winning prizes such a hot button issue?
Lauren Wainwright’s Journalisted entry includes Square Enix as a current client for her freelance work. I contacted Wainwright to try to work out under what circumstances and for what kind of work she’s accepted payment from Square Enix, and have yet to receive a response. Her Twitter page was festooned with Tomb Raider imagery, and the tweet that made Florence skeptical of her motives was promoting Tomb Raider.
Wainwright has written about Tomb Raider for MCV in the past, without disclosing what seems to be a business relationship with the game’s publisher. I reached out to French to see if he could clarity Wainwright’s business relationship with Square Enix, and was not given a response.
“Let me categorically state that Lauren Wainwright certainly doesn’t have her Twitter page emblazoned in images from the forthcoming Tomb Raider game for any reason that could be understood to be corrupt. Yes, she vociferously defended a journalist’s right to promote a game for personal gain – in supporting the PS3 competition – on that Twitter page, and yes, if you were the sort of person who wanted to get threatened, you might mistakenly conflate the two,” Rock Paper Shotgun’s John Walker wrote in a column about the incident.
“However, Wainwright states that she is simply a massive fan of this unreleased game, and with what I believe to be naive enthusiasm, hasn’t thought through the negative implications of making her Twitter page look like it’s sponsored. It isn’t. Even though Wainwright publicly lists Square Enix, publishers of Tomb Raider… as one of her current employers. However, don’t point out that possible confusion.”
The problem with having content critical of your writers or site removed is that it shines an even brighter light on what’s being said. It’s hard to tell if Eurogamer was threatened with legal action, it the legal action was implied, or if MCV just asked nicely for the edits, but the result is the same: The story blew up. This could raise questions about what it means to work for the companies that you’re covering as a member of the press, or the disclosure of past business relationships. For now, the whole situation is messy and public. By trying to hide criticisms of a possible conflict of interest, a very real ethical issue came to light.
For the public record, we’re going to republish the removed sections of the original Eurogamer story in their entirety. We urge you to read the original and re-insert these sections after the sixth paragraph for context. If MCV has a problem with this, they can get in touch:
“One games journalist, Lauren Wainwright, tweeted: ‘Urm… Trion were giving away PS3s to journalists at the GMAs. Not sure why that’s a bad thing?’
Now, a few tweets earlier, she also tweeted this: ‘Lara header, two TR pix in the gallery and a very subtle TR background. #obsessed @tombraider pic.twitter.com/VOWDSavZ’
And instantly I am suspicious. I am suspicious of this journalist’s apparent love for Tomb Raider. I am asking myself whether she’s in the pocket of the Tomb Raider PR team. I’m sure she isn’t, but the doubt is there. After all, she sees nothing wrong with journalists promoting a game to win a PS3, right?
Another journalist, one of the winners of the PS3 competition, tweeted this at disgusted RPS writer John Walker: ‘It was a hashtag, not an advert. Get off the pedestal.’ Now, this was Dave Cook, a guy I’ve met before. A good guy, as far as I could tell. But I don’t believe for one second that Dave doesn’t understand that in this time of social media madness a hashtag is just as powerful as an advert. Either he’s on the defensive or he doesn’t get what being a journalist is actually about.”