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Captivate 2010, Part 1: PR, Full Disclosure, and Integrity

Last week I went to Hawaii. I spent three nights in room to myself with two full size beds and a view that consisted entirely of ocean. I ate like a king, drank beer and cocktails while lounging in the Pacific Ocean, and sucked down the sunlight and mild climate as though I were an escapee from a Siberian gulag. I paid for none of it. Thank you, Capcom.

I bring this up as we’re about to launch several posts worth of coverage from Captivate, Capcom’s annual presser. Keep checking back over the next week as we’ve got several cool things to share. First, our thoughts on two great-looking DS titles: Ghost Trick and Okami-den. Then some cool footage from our time with the co-op mode in Dead Rising 2, and finally an extremely candid interview with Keiji Inafune about Japanese vs. Western gamers and game development as well as his new, big-whig post as head of Capcom’s R&D world-wide. Yes, a new Marvel vs. Capcom was announced at Captivate, but there was nothing to see but the trailer which you can find anywhere, so we don’t have anything new to show you.

I was conflicted about accepting the invitation to attend Captivate. Not conflicted enough, mind you, to not take a free trip to Hawaii—which, of course, begs the question as to whether I was actually conflicted at all or merely wished to be conflicted so that I could then write a blog post about how conflicted I felt. Most gaming websites and magazines (and those individuals with any sense of integrity whatsoever) have a standing policy to not accept gifts from publishers, developers, or their PR reps. Accepting travel and accommodations is more complicated. Some accept only air travel while others will simply not go to any event unless it can be funded entirely from their own company coffers. Bully to them, I say! Why even muck about with questions of editorial integrity if you don’t have to?

Not so simple a proposition when you’re faced with an either/or of paying your way to an event or paying salaries next month. Melody Pfeiffer—a Capcom PR exec who’s much beloved amongst gaming critics and journalists—was predictably candid when I posed these issues to her on our last day there: “If it wasn’t for us paying for you guys to come out, you wouldn’t be able to come out here.” “You guys,” in our case, means Cesar and I; there’s always a two-person minimum necessary to any video endeavor. She’s right, of course. She makes several other good points in this interview that I won’t regurgitate in text—we are, after all, a video team.

There’s another aspect to this. Robert Fisk, a journalist for The Independent in the UK and for whom I have the utmost respect, has said that one should never be “friends” with those whom he is covering. Granted, we’re critiquing products, not people and governments, but you understand the principle. You can get to know people. You can even get to like them, but being a friend is perhaps too far. Melody is my friend. I have several other friends in PR and amongst the game development community. How “compromised” I am is perhaps something I’ll never be able to answer, but if it’s a question of distancing myself from the wide variety of wonderful, talented people I’ve gotten to know so well over the years in order to maintain my untarnished image to the Internets, then compromised I shall remain.

I figure full disclosure is the least that we can do so that anyone viewing our content after this sort of event can have the information to judge for themselves as to how slanted or (hopefully) un-slanted we and our opinions appear.

In our defense, if defend I must, I get far better looks into games at focused press events than I ever do at E3, GDC, or even PAX. Also, Dark Void sucks.

Reader Comments (21)

Great interview Matt,

I'm never particularly concerned with whether a company has paid for events such as this. If your opinion isn't tainted by things such as these, then i'm all for publishers continuing to do this sort of thing. Nothing wrong with being friends with the people you're interviewing, it would just make the interview in question easier to conduct i'd imagine.

Also, and chance these videos could continue to be posted in the Co-Op feed in itunes? I still enjoy waking up in the morning, firing up itunes and seeing something new from you guys download. It's like those snacks you guys used to do, only more informative :-)


April 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBen Maltz-Jones

This is about controlling the message as closely as possible. And to say that a free, all expenses paid trip to Hawaii doesn't affect your coverage is enormously disingenuous.

Regardless of that, when she poses the question "Why Hawaii?", her answer fails to adequately express why the event is held there. Would it make more sense for them to fly their Japanese producers to SF where they could meet with press individually or to fly all of those press to a tropical island? And how about housing and feeding all those "journalists" (as well as all the Japanese producers) vs the expense of bringing said producers to California? If anything, this is enormously limiting in terms of coverage as only those who were invited get to write about these games. For smaller sites, there is no chance to cover the same content in a timely manner (is there a separate event for people who couldn't go? is the embargo on the coverage the same for them as it is for those who were flown to Hawaii? no!).

While I appreciate your disclosure, it seems unreasonable to assume most outlets' coverage wasn't tarnished by the fact that they were covering this stuff in Hawaii, being fed and housed by the folks they intend to cover "objectively."

April 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBen Gilbert

I'm surprised there is even a debate. The fact is, PR people will ALWAYS treat press as good as they possibly can. If you say no to a trip to Hawaii, they'll send you some swag. If you refuse the swag, they'll send yo some more swag. If you refuse that, they'll just be really REALLY nice to you. It all comes down to them treating the press the best they can. Not to sway their opinion, but to make sure there are no other influences that will give a negative opinion. Of course that only works if the press members themselves are trustworthy. I've seen press members take advantage of the hospitality, ordering tons of drinks and room service, only to be 'forgotten about' politely.

April 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKid Samurai

@Ben Gilbert -- Like I said in my blog post, it's actually those smaller sites you refer to that are the ones that usually get paid for (like us). The bigger sites have the budget to pay for things themselves and usually do. If Capcom didn't pay for the little guys to come there'd be no smaller sites covering the event at all--and yes, the embargo is the same for them as it is for everyone else. I know you meant the sites that didn't get to go; those sites and magazines got press-release announcements and assets ahead of time and were given the same embargo dates. Unless, of course, someone was able to negotiate an exclusive on a particular announcement--which is why some outlets also never do exclusives. They'd rather not have that trump card held over their head, either.

@Kid Samurai -- You might be surprised. I'm not going to call out anyone specifically as that's a good way to alienate Area 5 as a whole, but there are some people (and some entire organizations) out there that have extremely harsh ways of dealing with anyone that's been even slightly unfavorable to them. It's very easy for a PR rep to simply pull access until the "offender(s)" in question come crawling back. It's debatable whether this tactic is more effective against bigger or larger outlets. They both have different fears that can be preyed upon and prey these people do. I've seen people and entire companies "banned." This means no access to the developer/publisher or the people within it. If they want to cover the games from said source they have to buy them at retail--which essentially means they lose out on launch-day coverage to all of their competitors. Critical in the 24-hour Internet age for ad revenue( fortunately Area 5 isn't so much concerned about launch-day coverage and a lot of the games we cover we don't acquire until retail). In the PR-press relationship, it's often difficult to tell who really holds all the cards.

April 21, 2010 | Registered Commentermatt chandronait

@Ben Maltz-Jones -- Unfortunately we won't have an iTunes feed back up for a while, yet. Videos that go out through iTunes have to be hosted somewhere (YouTube and Vimeo can't deliver to iTunes) and we have to wait until more revenue comes in (in the works) before we can afford a video hosting service. It'll happen within the next few months, but it's gonna take a bit. Sorry :/. iTunes is our #1 method of distribution, so trust me that we're motivated to make it happen again! That being said, we're not sure if we'll just start serving all our videos to the CO-OP feed (and rename it Area 5 or something) or if we'll start a new feed since we might bring CO-OP back some day. It's all a little up in the air at the moment :)

April 21, 2010 | Registered Commentermatt chandronait

"I know you meant the sites that didn't get to go; those sites and magazines got press-release announcements and assets ahead of time and were given the same embargo dates."

This is factually incorrect. We had to (quite literally) argue with Capcom to get access to the assets (just the assets, mind you, not the hands-ons we were missing by not being flown to Captivate) as we weren't there in person to sign an NDA (something that further ties our hands beyond an embargo should any news come out from other outlets). When I say smaller sites, I'm 100% not referring to sites like Area5. I'm referring to fledgling sites that have no ability to cover the stuff out of that event other than posting trailers/screens/announcements made AFTER the embargo lifts. Thankfully I work for a large enough site that is able to leverage readership with Capcom to retrieve even just the stupid assets (which are part of the controlled marketing anyway).

And this still doesn't explain why the event is on a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific. If anything, MORE journalists are able to cover your games should you show them in, say, San Francisco or NYC. Yes, your readers should absolutely trust you, but it's hard to trust someone who's being paid to cover something by the people they are covering. Unfortunately, as it would seem, readers expect little in terms of editorial integrity -- most outlets that were flown out to Hawaii by Capcom didn't bother disclosing that fact. Even if they did, does that make the perception of their coverage any less tainted? To me, it does not.

April 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBen Gilbert

Great interview

April 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGreat

I for one really appreciate the full disclosure. I trust you guys and your treatment of covering games enough that I can watch your videos without worrying about you being paid off. While the hawaii thing is debatable, I think she treated it with enough respect that I'll at least accept it as a factor to their reasoning. I know PR will always try to paint their stuff in a nice light, but that's to be expected. That's why I go to sources like area5 to get coverage that I trust. I think it's my responsibility to find news sources that don't get heavily tainted from something like this, especially when they are upfront about the situation surrounding the coverage.

April 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

aw poo don't be such a party pooper! i like watching you guys cover stuff all the time, but ultimately i decide myself if something is good or not anyway. also, hawaii is awesome!

April 21, 2010 | Unregistered Commenternartlee

You may worry about your "integrity," but the fact that you asked Ms. Pfeiffer for her opinion on how conflicting a situation it is to accept offers such as a paid trip to Captivate, I think says a lot. As long as you're upfront with your audience (which you are being with this post), I don't think you have anything to worry about.

I'll say it like this: as a journalist, it's your responsibility to be honest and upfront. You're informed on a situation, and as such it is your obligation to us, your readers, and anybody who will listen, the editorial responsibility to tell the truth about what you deem right, and in this case it's whether or not accepting opportunities such as Captivate is a good idea. As soon as you begin hiding behind corporate shadows or dollar signs, your integrity is compromised. Create no grey area between yourself and your audience, and you'll have their heart.

April 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNick Todd

The "Captivate" interview was quite captivating :)

@Matt how many videos is "Area5" going to dish out every week; once the new-improved website is up and running?

i'll would be such a whore send me to Hawaii. I'll rate all your shitty games 10 out of 10 as long as i get my free trip and food! =) PR would LOVE ME! LOL!

April 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShinAkumA21


Awesome insight into the world of PR. It's interesting to see how companies decide who and what to accommodate for on their special events.

April 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlex S

Hi Matt,

I cannot classify her reasoning as a good point when she said "If it wasn't for us paying for you guys to come out, you wouldn't be able to come out here." You should have replied, "what's the relevance of traveling to Hawaii to show a game?"
Her point is a highly decontextualized point of view game-wise, after all it's the games that matter, right?

What she is basically telling the world is that the journalistic sector of this industry needs publishers for their own survival. This may be true in most media sites or publications, but you seem to be embracing it and thus you can't eliminate completely any suspicion against integrity or independency. What most media should be doing instead was demanding seriousness in all this PR stuff and boycotting events such as these. Much like in medical propaganda, this is mostly disturbing for the videogame market and the consumer is the one who has nothing to win with this.

There's an old saying "To the wife of Cesar must not be serious only, but appear serious too."

A waste of money, if you ask me.

April 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFeralsapien

Wow, great interview.

April 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPhil

@Feralsapien - The point of doing the event in Hawaii is complete attention from the audience, away from the other distractions of producing daily content updates, or from having other publishers and developers pitching article ideas. When you're away from your office in (say San Francisco), you do give more focus to the products and spend more time with the developers without interruption.

It's also why companies do offsites when they want to work on employee training. No distractions.

April 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSeanK

What about video conferences? I know that sometimes Internet connection does suck, but still it would be great and journalists who have to pay for their own trips wouldn't waste a lot of money. I understand why PR would choose a place such as Hawaii, but I think that they could accomplish the same goal through live web casts. A great example of this is, obviously, CO-OP Live.

April 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRexly Peñaflorida II

This seemed to me to be a very non-confrontational way of exposing exactly how sleazy this practice actually is. I learned: These companies will stop at nothing to influence the press. Not surprised and got the feeling Matt wishes he could visit these things without being beholden to the game company.

April 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTheMAXX

That explanation is very weak if not a fallacy. You're almost trying to make a point that one needs isolation to avoid distractions but you fail to point out that the distraction from the games here is the setting itself. This is entice, pharmaceutical companies have been doing it for decades with success, otherwise cheaper generics would be the gross of the market share.

Do you remember MSG 4 PR session held in a complex near mount Fuji* for one week? Just go read GameSpot's review to see what wonders it produced.

* "No Country for Old Men". Edge Magazine (United Kingdom: Future Publishing) (188): 62–71. May 2008.

April 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFeralsapien

Something like this happened to my buddy Zach. Sony flew him and a bunch of reporters to E3 2009 and paid for everything. When they returned, the coverage was very Sony centric (it was not a gaming magazine), mentioning very little about Proyect Natal and dizzing the product beforehand. Also, he told me Sony ordered not to report about the PSPgo in any form. When I asked him to be impartial, he said: "Hey, they paid for the trip ". Sad, really.

April 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHighCaliber

Can't believe you guys accepted to go there to cover these games. I thought you were on our side, not letting PR of game companies influence your game coverage on the website. You guys don't even cover most high-budget games, so why bother going to Capcom's "Captivate"?

It's not like I come to Area 5 for Capcom coverage on this event, when I can get there anywhere else on bigger websites with more comprehensive coverage.

Sorry, Matt, you have pretty flimsy defense on this issue, but at least you admitted your mistake.

April 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMoeez

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