Heard Any Good Rumors Lately?
Even though the source of the rumor described it as "batshit crazy", "creative bullshit", and "practically complete bullshit", not only did the story find its way onto several major gaming news blogs, it was treated as completely feasible.
During our CAGcast discussion, I complained that these gaming blogs should at least do a little bit of fact checking (or perhaps some deductive reasoning) before posting items like these and that labeling them as rumors should not give them the green light to post any screwball story that comes along. We also mention that since bloggers are paid by the story, have quotas, and can even receive page view related bonuses, it can be in their best interest to post rumors.
In the middle of my rant, Wombat came up with an impromptu idea for a contest. He asked our listeners to post a fake news item in our forums and if a major gaming site ran it as a story, that listener would win a free game. You can listen to the entire 3 minute clip here. As you can hear, there was no premeditated intent of making anyone look stupid. There wasn't even much thought put into it all as it was just a little idea that came off the top of Wombat's head. I did have some apprehensions about the contest, but I said I would provide a prize to the winner. My biggest worry was that our site would be overrun with people posting bullshit stories. It turns out my worries were a bit misplaced.
Rock Band receiving Beatles DLC and completely silly user blog entry about Xbox getting a name change to Xbox Pure. Somehow, the silly one about the Xbox name change spread through the internets like crazy. Even though; the story makes very little sense and this particular user blog has no other legitimate entries, the photo of this "leaked memo" bears no resemblance to any corporate memo that I've ever seen, and the memo is devoid of any corporate letterhead, this source was deemed reliable enough to be posted on many big gaming news sites.
Kotaku and was even posted by Brian Crecente, the site's Managing Editor. Almost immediately, several of Kotaku's commenters posted about Wombat's contest and Crecente updated his post with the following text (which leads me to believe you won't be seeing any more CAG sourced items on Kotaku):
I feel it's important to note that this story originated from one of our users' personal blogs and was not promoted in anyway by the CAG staff. We did not submit it to any sites as news and it did not appear on the CAG front page where a big story like this would wind up if I was certain of its truthfulness. I'm proud to say that in the 5+ years that I've run CAG, I've never posted a false rumor on our front page. I'm not trying trying to blow my own horn here, just letting you know where I stand on posting rumors on my own site. We're in a different business than a typical gaming blog and highlighting rumors on our front page would be confusing to our readers. Oh, and in case you were wondering, although a huge number of sites posted the story, none of them bothered to contact myself or the story's author to check on it's validity.
UPDATE: It appears that this rumor story could be CAG throwing their credibility out the window as part of a contest. Kotaku's decision to run rumors is always based on the credibility of the site and the information contained within it. In the past CAG has proven to be a reliable site, having broken a number of stories through apt reporting. It appears that may no longer be the case.
After this all went down, I started explaining the whole situation to my wife. One of the great things about my wife is not only is she very intelligent, but she does not hesitate to tell me when she thinks I'm wrong. As I start complaining about gaming news sites posting any and all rumors, she starts shaking her head in disagreement, and after 5 minutes convinces me that I've made an error.
She tells me I have no right to complain about these sites posting unfounded rumors. Clearly none of them are pretending to be the New York Times of gaming news. There are plenty of (gaming and non-gaming) sites out there that post rumor after rumor, and people eat it up! Hell, there are publications that make their living posting nothing but rumors, many of them with little basis in reality. Ultimately it is up to the publication to decide its position on posting rumors. If Kotaku and other blogs want to run fast and free with rumor postings, it's really none of my business. I run my website according to my rules, and it's up to their management to make their own. When it comes down to it, there is nothing inherently wrong with sites like Kotaku posting unsubstantiated rumors if that is inline with their policy. Of course if a website decides to run articles likes these, it becomes a bit hypocritical for them to question other sites' credibility. After the Xbox Pure story made the rounds, it's quite obvious that most sites have little or no rumor vetting process, yet many seem to pretend that one is in place.
Even though we weren't out to teach anybody a lesson, I hope bloggers and their readers can take away something positive out of all this. I've certainly changed my mind about rumors and their place on gaming blogs. My expectations of blogs have definitely been altered, and that's not meant to be a snub to the blogosphere. I think we all read blogs to not just be well-informed, but also be entertained, and rumors are an important part of the equation.