Why Kotaku Did A Bad Thing

Modern Warfare 3

Without a doubt, the biggest story of the past week has been the extensive leaking of highly spoiler-ish and relevant story and level details from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 by the popular gaming site Kotaku. Modern Warfare 3 is easily the most anticipated game of the year, in terms of popularity and, of course, financially, so a story like this would naturally attract tons of attention. It’s easy to see why: Modern Warfare 2 was the biggest game of all time at its launch, now surpassed only by Call of Duty: Black Ops and likely to be surpassed again by Modern Warfare 3. It’s not exactly a mystery why this leak generated such a huge response.

But something bothers me a great deal about this. I think this is a huge story, but not for the reasons that most others do. I think Kotaku erred in leaking these details. In fact, I would go as far as to say that Kotaku commited a very great wrong, one that not only damages Activision and the Call of Duty brand, but also the entire video game industry and its myriad partners, including the world of video game journalism. And the fact that only a select few have even noticed this bothers me even more.

You see, maybe I’m old fashioned, but I truly believe that journalism, even video game and entertainment journalism, is a noble profession with a set of ethics that all who practice it should adhere to. Journalism is there to protect people by exposing lies and keeping the powers that be honest. Reporters take the time to check the facts because we the people don’t have the time and resources to do so ourselves. They are a vital part of this world and one that should be embraced instead of marginalized.

Which brings me to Kotaku. I really have no idea what benefit they saw for their readers when they decided to post all this incredibly detailed information about a game series that, while it mainly lives and dies on its multiplayer, thrives on surprising people with amazing moments during the campaign aspect. Moments which are now ruined by this leak. And don’t even bother with telling me that people shouldn’t read it if they don’t want to be spoiled. As Ian Malcolm said in Jurassic Park: “You were so busy worrying about if you could that you didn’t stop to think if you should.” We aren’t talking about a screenshot or a leaked level name. We are talking about full details regarding every level of the game, including who lives and dies at the climax. This is an unprecedented leak and nothing else that has come before can compare to it. Remember the Whiskey Hotel reveal from Modern Warfare 2? It wouldn’t have had the same impact if you knew about it ahead of time, would it?

What bothers me is that only a disgruntled employee, perhaps ex-employee, would leak this information. After all, no one who is still actively working on this game would commit an act that is tantamount to artistic rape. Which makes this a malicious act, one designed to hurt Activision and perhaps the remnants of Infinity Ward. And Kotaku has given this vile act its implicit support by posting these leaks. Which is stunning to me because it is an act of blinding stupidity and short-sightedness while at the same time demonstrating a callous disregard to the very art and business of video games.

I think, in their haste to get more eyeballs on their page, that Kotaku has forgotten something very important about their role in the video game world: they are merely a vehicle for information. Nobody goes to Kotaku just for the sheer joy they bring to all the good little boys and girls of the gamer world. People direct their browers to Kotaku, to IGN, to Joystiq because they want information about video games. They want news. They want reviews and analysis and discussion about games because they love games. Video game journalism is a symbiotic relationship: publishers give these sites access to their games in return for these sites transmitting information about said games to the public. People read the site and people buy the games, if they like what they read. As long as the game is well-made and honestly reported on, everybody wins.

But Kotaku has violated that relationship, telling its partner in this case, Activision, to go suck on the barrel of an AK-47 and pull the trigger until it goes click. Kotaku did nothing noble here. This isn’t the Pentagon Papers and their source isn’t Deep Throat. Can you imagine Entertainment Weekly or Variety publishing massive spoilers about Inception or The Dark Knight months before release? They would never do such a thing, knowing full well that those studios behind the movies would cut them off, which honestly, is what Activision should do. They shoulf pull all ads from Kotaku and send no review copies of their games until a full and sincere apology is published on the website.

Activision doesn’t need Kotaku. They wouldn’t notice a single dent in their bottom-line if they did such a thing, even if Kotaku were to cry and post about how they are being black-balled. Which happened in the past with Sony and the leak about Playstation Home. Everyone on the Internet likes to compare it to the Wild West, but you know what? In the Wild West, if you messed with someone on this scale, you know what would happen? You’d get shot. So take that AK out of your mouth, Activision and point it at Kotaku.

What so many people fail to realize is that Activision doesn’t owe you a single bit of information about any of their products until they are damned good and ready. They answer only to their shareholders and even on the off-chance that one of you out there owns stock in Activision, you still aren’t entitled to confidential information about products in development. And just to take it away from the business side of things and mosey on over to the artistic area, it’s even more wrong. No one should have their art taken away from them and distributed to the masses in an unfinished state. It is flat out wrong and if I were one of the hundreds of people working on Modern Warfare 3, I would be in a state of rage at this moment.

Half Life 2

Art is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight, but takes many hours of pain and struggle to achieve something worthwhile. And say what you want about Call of Duty, but we all can agree that they have hit on something that people find worthwhile. But to have that shown before it is complete can sap all the inspiration out of someone. To give you an example from our own world of video games, look no further than Valve and Half-Life 2. In 2003, hackers stole the source code for the unfinished sequel to Half-Life and posted it online. People dissected and judged major elements of the game that were incomplete. Gabe Newell has stated that everyone at Valve was devastated by this violation and it resulted in a very difficult time for the company. We all agree that Valve is a community of artists that always seem to look out for their consumers. And they were repaid with a terrible violation, one that had a high cost at the human level.

Now some may call all of this a case of envy, as we can all probably face the sad truth that GamerSushi will never be as large or as influential as Kotaku. But you know what? I’m fine with that. Because I know, at the end of the day, I can look into the mirror with a clear conscience and say to myself, “Today, I didn’t do anything to purposefully cause harm to the art and industry I love.”

But Kotaku can’t.

And that kind of integrity has more value than all the website hits and page views in the entire world.

Shame on you, Kotaku.


Written by

Age: 34 PSN ID: Starkiller81. I've played games since before I can remember, starting with my dad's Atari and I haven't stopped yet. Keep them coming and I will keep playing them.

10 thoughts on “Why Kotaku Did A Bad Thing”

  1. Very impressively written. A lot of good points in there. And you are right that no one’s art should be shown before it’s ready. So on that note, I am sorry for any writers or level designer’s whose work is now in the open. But I am not sorry for Activision or the Call of Duty franchise or “gaming as a whole”. Kotaku was thinking about hits, and I’m sure they got plenty. I don’t visit their site myself, and I / am / going to say that if you don’t wanna know, don’t read it…

    It is a shame, they broke an unspoken ethical code, but I expected no less from the internet or humans in general.

  2. Just wanted to register my concurrence with your sentiment here. It seems videogame journalism has an ethical standards issue across the board, and this just highlights the fact.

  3. Gamersushi Integrity ftw! That’s why I love you guys, that’s why I keep visiting this site and reading the comments; because the folks that run and comment on this site are stand-up guys. Thank you for caring, Gamersushi guys.

    As I was reading this article, Anthony, I got really pissed off. I kept thinking about what if this happened to one of my game ideas, especially if it was one of my new IP’s or – even worse – one of the games in my trilogy (into which I’m pouring blood, sweat, and tears). Even if just the twist in my story was revealed, let alone THE WHOLE GAME, I’d be so fudging mad I’d storm over to Kotaku’s headquarters IRL and yell at ’em. Well, I wouldn’t to get thrown out, so I’d very calmly tell them how terrible the leak was. Gaah, I mean, looking at MW3 now, this is a project that Infinity Ward, Sledgehammer, and Raven have been working on for…well only about a year, but still! Seriously, this is their hard work, and Kotaku just murdered its thunder with an article.
    This leak is like one of the ultimate evil sins of journalism; one of the textbook examples of what NOT to do. These are the kind of things that bring political careers to an end (until they get hired as heads of a corporation, zing). I really hope this never happens ago, otherwise, video game journalism just lost another big handful of respect from me.

  4. I’m no fan of Kotaku. I especially have no tolerance for their insistence on printing video game violence stories that in no way reflect the attitudes of 95% of the population and pretending that video games are under attack by society. However, in light of this MW3 leak, I think it’s important to point out that Kotaku is a blog, not a newspaper or magazine. Therefore, they’re not held by the kinds of ethical laws Entertainment Weekly or others are held by.

    That said, I do agree that Kotaku should have thought twice about printing the information. It’s now up to Activision to take some kind of action if they desire. I have no love for Activision (or the Call of Duty franchise for that matter), but pulling ads may actually have an effect on the way Kotaku does business, and it may resonate with them, so we’ll have to wait and see.

    I’m also going to agree with Julez and, even if you don’t want to hear it Anthony, tell gamers that if they don’t want to know, they don’t have to read it.

  5. With great power, comes great responsibility. Kotaku did not use it responsibly.
    I’ve long since stopped going to that site. The reveal was actually the first time I went to the site in about half, three quarters of a year just because I thought it was a joke. As soon as I saw ’twas true I closed the tab and came back to this site and commented… then went back to see what weapons were in it. My inner gun-nut couldn’t be controlled.
    I regretted it instantly as I had a lot of fun guessing and finding out one or two in each trailer for MW2 and seeing the full list when I actually played it. The UMP was a very nice surprise. Now there are none 🙁

  6. “Can you imagine Entertainment Weekly or Variety publishing massive spoilers about Inception or The Dark Knight months before release? They would never do such a thing, knowing full well that those studios behind the movies would cut them off, which honestly, is what Activision should do.”

    That is the only evidence you really need to show how wrong what they did is. I cant believe they did it and despite posting the article about it, I didnt read it and never will. I dont want to ruin something that will only be strong on the first go. It will ruin the game if I read it and Im sure a lot of other people are pissed off they had it ruined. And for those that arnt, Im sure there are a large number who when they play the game, will feel let down when nothing amazing happens and its like reading the newspaper all over again. Its sad and I agree that they should be boycotted by ANY game company. No one should give them material.

  7. The unfortunate thing about all this is that the COD series and Activision have a very poor stigma associated with them, so many people will look past this series of events because they feel as if they “deserve” it.

    It’s just true, as there are some very valid complaints against Call of Duty as a franchise but I feel as if everyday the hatred reaches new levels of ridiculous-ness.

  8. There wasn’t a single thing in that article that I did not agree with. Very well written article Anthony.

  9. [quote comment=”16557″]There wasn’t a single thing in that article that I did not agree with. Very well written article Anthony.[/quote]

    I very much appreciate it. My goal wasn’t necessarily to preach at everyone, but to at least make you think about this whole mess from a different angle than just, “OMG LEAKS!”

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