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Heard Any Good Rumors Lately?

Posted by CheapyD, 22 September 2008 · 1048 views

On CAGcast #133, Wombat and I discussed how major gaming blogs seem to post any and all gaming rumors with little consideration given to the credibility of the source or the plausibility of the story. As an example, I talked about an Xbox 360 relaunch rumor that was posted by a random user on the forums of VGchartz.com.

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.

In response to our contest, I only saw two fake items posted on Cheap Ass Gamer (although now I'm told there were a few more); a forum post about 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.

Eventually, the story wound up on 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):

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.

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.

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.

I like Brian Crecente. I've socialized with him on several occasions and he has been nothing but polite and friendly during our encounters. I even took both Kotaku Brians (Crecente & Ashcraft) to a Sumo match during last year's Tokyo Game Show. However, I feel his comment "CAG [was] throwing their credibility out the window" is unfair, and judging by the whirlwind of comments on Kotaku, CAG, and several other gaming forums, many others do too. I can understand that Brian would feel a little embarrassed and betrayed, but really, what percentage of rumors like this get posted and turn out to be actually true? I bet it's insanely low. Do bloggers act similarly when they post other rumors that turn out to be false? Does it matter that those rumors were not inspired by a contest, but by an individuals' desire to spread misinformation? By throwing this one-time contest, we encouraged a few more people to post false stories in the community areas of CAG. Considering the huge numbers of false rumors that get posted by bloggers every week, I don't really see why this is such a big deal. The end result is that we publicly illustrated how anyone with no reputation whatsoever can easily spread a bullshit story through the blogosphere and some bloggers that fell victim to it are embarrassed.

I'm not telling anybody what they should do, but if I ran a major gaming news blog like Kotaku, i would make a few small changes. It would make sense to run a wide variety of rumors because they are fun, generate page views, and I wouldn't want my readers to potentially miss out on a big story. I probably won't have time to fact-check every (or any) rumor that comes along, but feel my readers deserve something more than just adding "Rumor" to a headline. I like the idea of establishing some sort of bullshit scale and adding a rating to every rumor post. This way, my readers still get access to all sorts of interesting rumors and the discussions that follow, and will receive the added benefit of a clear indication of its likely accuracy from the knowledgeable video game writer who posted it. The additional insight would be valuable and would add an extra level of fun (and all-important ass covering) to these items. On top of this, I would write up a few sentences about my site's policy on rumors and link to it in every rumor post. It might be worthwhile to add a rumor filter option so if my readers wanted to avoid these posts altogether, they could do so easily.

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.

CheapyD levels up... Respect +10.
Great post Cheapy. This whole thing seems like much ado about (almost) nothing to me. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for them to do the bare minimum of fact-checking by PMing you or the CAG who posted the fake rumor originally, but they didn't. He looked stupid and got embarrassed by it. End of story. Also, Wombat is awesome.
Cheapy, I give you a lot of props for approaching this with an open mind. Most people would simply have gotten angry and defensive. A response like this deserves a lot of respect.
I remember when I posted about the xbox 360 elite and it release dates (not a rumor it was a fact) on CAG no one ever contacted me, besides my manager saying I was about to be fired. I am glad this happened, gaming news was turning into all rumors I am glad someone got taught a lesson.
This whole thing feels like junior high. Kid A wants to show how clever he is by trying to prove what a fool Kid B is. Kid B is tricked and wants to beat up Kid A. In the end, Kid A and Kid B have both acted foolishly and both should apologize for wasting people's time as they make their own Web sites look much less professional.
^^ Then supergrass comes along as Kid C and acts like a self-righteous turd, pretending to be above all this.

There is definitely a right and wrong here, it's not a "everyone's dumb" situation that he's describing. Crecente had his ego hurt so he carelessly lashed out like a petulant little child.
Well said, Cheapy. I do agree that Crescente/Kotaku took a cheap shot at CAG because they were embarrassed and are trying to save face. I lost a little respect for them in the process not because they posted the rumor, but out of the way they handled it when they found it out was totally fake. That's where Kotaku lost a little credibility for me.

Also, after hearing Mrs. Cheapy's take on the whole situation, I got to agree with her 100%. If they want to run rumors that's fine, but I do agree that they should not pretend to be an upscale news source and pretend to fact check when they actually do not. I think most people don't confuse Kotaku or Gizmodo with the NY Times or the Washington Post or hold them to the same standards, so I don't see why they need to pretend otherwise. It's in their best interest to run rumors, and if they were more upfront about that, then it would be a win for everyone.

Anyway, great work as always Cheapy and Wombat. :D
I'm just glad I was here/reading while this was going down.... I still don't get the glitter jokes (even though I was lurking @ the time), but this THIS is going to be referred for a lot longer, I think.
The whole thing is ridiculous. Kotaku has always been the fastest to post and it's obvious why. Being first and page views have always been more important than fact checking. They love sensationalized headlines and their snark always seems to be intended to simply rile up the commenters. Most blogs are guilty of this to some extent but Kotaku maybe the most egregious offender.

I'm fine with this. Blogs serve their purpose. You take the good with the bad and everything, outside of a press release, should be taken with a grain of salt. My problem with this situation is the buck passing going on. Instead of simply accepting the fact that they made a mistake and apologizing to their readers for not doing the most basic fact checking, they put the blame on CheapyD and CAG. Cheapy ran a contest to test a theory; are videogame blogs willing to run any rumor from any source?

They suggest that the CAG user blogs were such a reliable source that no investigation was needed. This is user created content. It will take you less than five minutes to go to Kotaku and find a user made comment that is complete and utter bullshit but these comments aren't removed from their site. Should Kotaku's reputation be based on these comments? Do they expect CheapyD to delete or flag user blogs that may contain inaccurate information? I'm sure Cheapy doesn't expect people to judge the reliablity of his site on user created blog posts.

Now Brian Crecente says CAGs reputation is damaged because a random forum poster made up a rumor and they blindly ran with it? VGChartz has always been seen as a completely unreliable source for rumors or even sales numbers for that matter. They ran that rumor as well. Truth is, any source is reputable enough, as long as, the story is juicy enough or the news day is slow enough. If he just would have fessed up to that fact then I wouldn't have a problem with the situation.

I wouldn't worry too much about it, Cheapy. The next time CAG breaks a story about another price break, Kotaku will run it.
oh goodness, Crecente is going to get cheapy kicked off next years E3 list. Cheapy you aren't getting invited anywhere.. anymore.
Kotaku was the one who fucked up and they have no right in blaming CAG for their own mistake. Kotaku is just trying to save face but they did a piss poor job by blaming someone else instead of simply admitting that they were wrong about it. maybe they should've done more research before posting such a ridiculous rumor anyways.
Nice work, Cheapy. I think the contest is great, and I hope it doesn't end up biting CAG in the ass. It shouldn't, since you still have great contributers who post real stuff instead of a few fake rumors.
boo on cresente. kotaku has been a little too glib for me lately. it used to be my main videogame news source but lately I've switched a lot of my page viewing to joystiq and even dare I say it ugo. maybe kotaku should stop taking themselves so fucking seriously if they aren't serious enough to do their job.
I'm totally with Cheapy on this... As soon as I read Crecente's update, I lost respect for him and Kotaku.
Bravo. I can't wait to listen to the CAGcast later today :)

p.s. Wombat is awesome.
Hey Wombat, sorry for not stating the obvious: You're incredibly awesome and if it wasn't for you, this story would have never been an issue in the first place. I think you deserve an award of some kind. Keep up the good work (and just think, in many ways your own blog is even more reliable than the majority of them out there...not bad).
I think you are missing the point of what the blogsites are really upset about. Its not that they were fooled by someone who posted on your site, it was that you (Cheap Ass Gamer) would promote a contest doing so. Your original rant about sites posting rumors without fact checking did not call anybody out, however, your contest did just that. You specifically targeted Kotaku, Joystiq and Destructiod. You said your BS story had to be picked up by any of them and the person won a free game (initially Wombat wanted 2 of the 3 sites, nut cheapy you said any or if it got a lot of diggs) .

Essentially the flavor of your contest was "these blog sites are so stupid to run rumors, i bet one of our listeners could fool them". So you endorsed a contest to do so. The whole nature of your contest could not be taken any other way than you wanted to teach them a lesson, otherwise what was the point?

Kotaku's point was that they trusted you, Cheapy, and you promoted a contest urging listeners to create false stories to intentionally try to trip them up. What if Kotaku held a contest on their podcast to come up with a fake game discount and see if you picked it up. In essence, you did not make a point about blog sites and their fact checking, your contest ended up promoting the very problem you ranted that you hated.

You can't hide behind the fact you did not promote the "pure" rumor on the front page or anywhere on your site as clearly you did not. You just promoted the contest to come up with what turned out to be the "pure" rumor. And not only did you promote it, you rewarded the winner. That's like saying, "I don't condone teenage smoking, but if you can trick 7-11 or Short Stop to sell you a pack, I will give you a $60 gift card."
type it should say It would make sense to run a wide variety of rumors because they are fun not I would make sense to run a wide variety of rumors because they are fun
Oh man, I lol'd so hard when Kotaku posted this and I commented on how they were taking it too had. I can only hope Kotaku grows up a little about this and let's it slide.
Wow. Nice post Cheapy and this really just makes Crecente look like the whiny biatch he is


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