Activision resolves blacklist debacle with journalist

By Alexander Leach

Warning: Some links may contain French. And not the Quebec kind. They are included for the sake of reference, along with the English articles I found them through.

Just last week, we saw resolution to a little incident where Activision purported blacklisted a news site for reporting on a possible Black Ops 2. The site said that a leaked video showed hints of the new game. According to Kotaku’s interview with the journalist, Activision threatened to blacklist the site and withdraw invitations to events.

Activision has since denied blacklisting occurred, and the journalist has reported that everything is back to the way it was. So no more problem, people get to assign grades to games and everyone is happy.

The idea that blacklisting happens, however, is something I find deeply concerning in the gaming industry. In researching this, I came across an article about comment made on Twitter threatening to blacklist reviewers of Duke Nukem Forever (a game that needs little introduction, but here goes: twelve years of production, multiple companies, surpassed Daikatana in terms of disappointment).

I’m not entirely sure why the things mentioned in these articles would ever happen, and why any companies would even bother blacklisting reviewers or journalists. Game reviews are pretty much instant PR regardless of the score, unless the game itself is a failure (and even then, unless multiple reviews declare failure, it’s not really enough to break the game). Game companies provide advance review copies specifically so that they’ll get reviews. While these reviews can hurt a company that provides a bad game, the good PR vastly outweighs the bad, and denying any reviews at all is also a problem.

In the case of leaks, it’s a different story. A company often likes to control when it announces a game (it’s your product, after all, and surprise can be used to increase sales in other games). In this case, however, the site in question didn’t leak the info – it was revealed from another source. They merely reported on it.

The issue with this that I find interesting is that the journalist in question did exactly what a journalist should do when faced with such information – write about it. Specifically denying a news provider the ability to perform their function in regards to your company is a big deal in a world where there’s an expectation that you will. That it works both ways – a news site can blacklist a company – suggests a kind of power struggle that I find rather unsettling.

I may be biased, but I tend to side on the side of journalists when it comes to reporting on information. The leak itself is the problem, and should be fixed – punishing a news organization for reporting on something that’s already out there is counterproductive and will only engender bad blood.

I’m glad it resolved quietly, in this case. It could have gotten much uglier, and much more public.

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