David Jaffe is a liar. Do we care?

Pants on fire“[W]e are not making a new Twisted Metal altho [sic] I think doing one WOULD be fun…but we simply are not. Also a game by Eat Sleep Play will NOT be at E3 2010.”
-David Jaffe, to Joystiq, on May 24

“Hey everybody, I’m David Jaffe and this is Scott Campbell and we’re the co-founders of Eat Sleep Play, and we’re really excited to show you guys the next edition of the Twisted Metal franchise [for the PS3].
-David Jaffe, on stage at Sony’s E3 press conference, today

The above quotes prove David Jaffe is a liar. This is not up for debate. There is no way he could show this game off today and truthfully say he was not working on it on May 24. The lie is a fact.

Given that fact, how should we, as journalists, respond?

My first instinct is to respond with anger. Our goal as journalists, first and foremost, is to report the truth, and Jaffe’s lie forced us away from this goal. I suppose technically you could argue we still told the truth (‘All we said was that Jaffe said he wasn’t working on Twisted Metal. Which was true… he did say it!’) but in effect Jaffe’s lie made us complicit in misleading our readers regarding this game’s existence.

In general, when a journalist catches a source in a lie (especially about something big), it’s a story in and of itself.  If a politician is caught lying, it can lead to resignation or even impeachment. If an executive is caught lying about his business dealings, it can lead to criminal proceedings. If a journalist is caught lying about the source of their writing, their credibility is forever ruined.

I know Jaffe’s lie doesn’t quite rise to these level of a lying politician or high-powered business tycoon, but even if we just hold him to the standards of our own profession, shouldn’t we at least have the deceny to never believe another word out of his lying mouth?

In a PlayStation.blog post that’s just gone up, Jaffe defends his lie by arguing it was all in service of the surprise reveal at the show. He wasn’t trying to maliciously lead us off the trail of his game’s existence, you see… he was just trying to maintain the “sense of surprise and discovery has all but vanished from the E3 experience.” (The post also suggests Sony urged him to lie to maintain the surprise, making them at least somewhat complicit in all this)

Sorry, but that argument doesn’t hold water for me. It’s possible to maintain secrecy about a project without outright lying about it. How many gamers knew about Retro’s Donkey Kong Country revival before it was revealed today? How many knew Harmonix was working on a dancing game for Kinect before it was revealed yesterday?

Sure, there were rumors suggesting both of these revelations, but there are rumors about all sorts of crazy things in the lead up to E3, and most members of the public have no idea which ones are going to turn out being true and which one are just so much hot air. There have been rumors about a Kirby game on the Wii for years, but they didn’t turn out to be true until this year.

Other companies, when asked to address rumors, almost invariably offer up a curt “no comment.” They don’t actively lie to the questioner (and, by extension, their readers). Instead, they just shrug it off and let everyone continue to do their job without obstruction. I know Jaffe knows how to do this — he did it with regard to this very question back in 2008, even adding an expletive for good measure. (Yes, I do recognize the irony of literally preferring a source offer up a “no comment.” Here’s how it works: When addressing a rumor, “the truth” is better than a “no comment,” which is better than “a bald-faced lie.” Still with me?)

Yes, Jaffe’s lie did help tamp down the recent rumors of the PS3 Twisted Metal game (rumors Jaffe himself helped start with his loose lips at this year’s DICE, I might add). But the lie didn’t remove the very question from all recorded history. Addressing a rumor with a lie is not a permanent solution. All lying does, in essence, is take the small problem of an inconveniently timed rumor and trade it in for the big problem of a plain-as-day lie in the very near future. Did you think we’d just forget about your previous statements? Did you think we wouldn’t care?

Maybe you did. And maybe we won’t or shouldn’t care. Maybe I’m being too sensitive and most of my fellow journalists don’t mind game makers actively lying to them. After all, Spong said they “expected that of [Jaffe]” after his lie was revealed. G4’s Andrew Pfister predicted Jaffe was lying just before the press conference started. Maybe I should accept that game companies are constantly lying to us and just loyally report whatever load of bull they hand us without worrying about whether I’m serving my readers or serving the companies I’m covering.

Personally, though, I’m not happy about our profession being used to willfully mislead people, even if it’s just in the service of “the sense of surprise and discovery.” I didn’t get into journalism to help maintain the timing of a company’s marketing plan. I got into it to report the truth. So I still get a little mad when liars prevent me from doing that. So sue me.

[Update: 8:34 a.m. BST, June 16 Commenter R Bee made an excellent point that I was probably too blinded by rage to consider in my original post. The takeaway from this is that journalists should continue to be extremely skeptical even of official statements from game makers. Especially game makers like David Jaffe.]

21 thoughts on “David Jaffe is a liar. Do we care?

  1. As much as I continue to push my “David Jaffe is a fat fucking cunt whose only redeeming quality is that he isn’t Cliff Blezsinski” agenda, I have to side with him on his “I lied to you to better the reveal” story.

    Did you really expect him to blow the big, important “one of our most beloved series is coming back” announcement just because you believe there should be some arbitrary level of constant honesty between developers and either gaming journos or a general public, neither of whom have done anything to earn said level of ongoing blunt honesty (unless you consider “existing” as enough of an accomplishment)?

    Honesty from devs is a cool idea, but it would have been more disappointing if Jaffe was douche enough to blow the surprise ahead of time.

  2. “Maybe I should accept that game companies are constantly lying to us and just loyally report whatever load of bull they hand us without worrying about whether I’m serving my readers or serving the companies I’m covering.”

    I don’t follow that logic. Surely it should mean “Maybe I should always critical of whatever bullshit they’re handing to me in service to my readers.” which sounds like a good start.

    What’s most disappointing is that you’re surprised that he lied but not surprised that so few people called him after he contradicting something he’d said just a few months prior.

    If the upshot is “I used to take everything at face value, and now when ever someone says something, on the record or not, I have to be critical of it and find supporting evidence” then good. Welcome to journalism.

  3. @Earnest: Like I said in the post, I wasn’t exactly expecting him to blow the big surprise, but I wasn’t expecting a direct lie either. In this case, a “no comment” is actually the happy medium I’m looking for.

    @R Bee: That’s such a good point I think I may have to update the post.

    @Nathan Smart: BUUUUURN!

  4. Maybe it’s my old-school print media background, but if a source lies to me, I’m never printing another word that comes out of their mouth without getting someone else who I trust to confirm it, first. And if Jaffe gets annoyed that folks are constantly refusing to reprint anything he says and asking publishers to confirm everything, well it’s his own stupid fault for lying.

    When a journalist misquotes a source, gets a fact wrong or misattributes something, sources freak out. Just as sources expect us to play straight with them and report what they actually say, in context, they have a duty if they’re speaking for attribution to either play it straight, offer a “no comment” or speak off the record. Credibility is all we have as journalists, and when our sources start actively sabotaging that credibility, it’s time to cut ’em loose.

    Let’s look at this another way. If you interview Jaffe and he later calls you about a quote you used and claims he never uttered those words, how do you know he’s not just lying and trying to expunge his words from the public record, short of going straight to the tape?

    Lying is weasely and awful, and it doesn’t matter if it’s the president, the pope, your spouse or David Jaffe. It’s just an icky business.

  5. Like R Bee said, journalists simply ought to be more critical of the information provided to them by publishers and developers, instead of reporting everything as a confirmed fact. It’s fucking ridiculous that publishers often get away with complete bullshit whenever they hype their titles because no one’s incredulous enough to ask whether the claims they making might not be the truth.

    Take Milo at last year’s E3 for example — it looked like a completely scripted presentation, which it probably was, yet most journalists failed to remark on this and instead followed the Microsoft debrief to the letter. It was bad enough that the mainstream media fell for it, but there’s little excuse for savvy technology and game journalists to fall for something so blatant given what we know about the technology it would take to make something like Milo a reality.

    I agree with the statement that publishers ought to stop using game journalists as PR vehicles, but it’s also the responsibility of journalists (that means each and every one) to be more discerning.

  6. If you check that quote on Joystiq, Jaffe tweeted that information. In other words, he broadcasted the lie himself, and journalists picked up on it. Then he emailed Joystiq confirming that (presumably they emailed him first; I can’t see why he’d confirm himself via email to a single publication otherwise).

    So, game developer lies, THEN journalists pick up on it. It’s hard to say that your profession is being *used* to mislead people when Joystiq asked him to comment on a tweet.

    I agree with you that it stinks when they lie, and it unnecessarily makes the people that interview him look bad.

    But here’s the thing: by discussing the lie, all that’s happening is giving him free publicity. If, say, the writers at Joystiq truly felt this was an issue, they could stop covering Jaffe; somehow, I doubt they care (it’s likely they’re happy to have more to post about).
    Another possibility is for the writers to call his bluff. If journalism is to “uncover the truth”, why not fact-check? Or even tell him they don’t believe him. Perhaps other writers would have, who knows.

    But especially with Jaffe . . . what did people expect? He’s well known for running his mouth and trash talking, so lying is no surprise, and the sort of lie he just did is really common in the game business. Lots of the commenters didn’t even believe him the first time ’round.

    So it sucks for the writers, but they could also have tried much harder if they actually cared, which I don’t think they do in many cases. [I don’t mean this about you personally, just about the average person who retweeted Jaffe’s tweet or posted about it, such as the Joystiq article]

  7. Oh, and the writers should also be less eager to pick up on things like developer tweets if they don’t want to be lied to. Seriously, a tweet weeks before E3 claiming “I’m not working on anything I can surprise you with at E3”? I don’t even know why it was reported on to begin with, but if they’re going to make entire articles on a single tweet, they’re just asking for this sort of thing, especially if they don’t do any of their own journalism.

  8. I’m with Kyle on this. I think it’s important that we all note that Jaffe lied so blatantly. He should have said “no comment” if he wanted to preserve the surprise of E3.

  9. So, no surprise parties for you then? I mean, if this were a case of misrepresenting the game in order to sell more copies under false pretenses, or lying about faulty hardware in order to prevent a loss in sales I could understand your point, but of all the misinformation we see in this industry this is by far the least upsetting.

    My wife threw a surprise birthday party for me last year and every single one of my friends told me about other things they were doing that weekend. When I walked in and saw them all sitting there should I have trashed the cake and stomped out, calling them all liars that I would never trust again? No, I should have done what I did: Laugh and say how they all got me good, because it was small lies told for the purpose of preserving my joy.

    Honestly, I think you need to relax a bit because you are getting worked up over what amounted to, at worst, a fun surprise.

  10. I’m sorry, but since when did journalists satisfy themselves with what people claimed? When did that ever pass for ‘investigative journalism’?

    Journalists have a responsibility not just to accept what industry folks say, but to INVESTIGATE. It seems this fact goes over the heads of today’s journalists. People lie all the time – that’s why we need journalists to dig deeper. I think part of the disappointment this journalist is feeling needs to be directed at himself. It’s not as if this stuff is hard to find out – talk to a few lower-level employees and you’ll get a lot closer to the truth. Seems no one bothered to do this. Instead they just took the easiest path and accepted what Jaffe said as gospel. If that’s journalism, then any idiot can be a journalist.

  11. @Jad and @Ian Cooper:

    I don’t buy the argument that the journalists are to blame because they didn’t independently verify Jaffe’s comment. Sure, there are plenty of times where a questionable assertion has to be independently researched and analyzed for truth. But this was a lead designer at a major developer talking about what project he was working on. If he can’t be trusted as a primary source, who can? Of course, now that we know he’s a liar, he can’t be trusted as a primary source, but there was no way of knowing that at the time.

    Furthermore, I think a statement like this is inherently pretty hard to verify or refute independently. The developer themselves is really the only point of information on whether or not they’re working on the game. Sometimes a trademark registration or ESRB rating will sneak through to reveal a project early, but it’s not like going to the Library on Congress and wading through reams of records like in All the President’s Men would have turned up evidence that Jaffe was lying.

    A journalist could easily be skeptical of Jaffe’s comments, and present them skeptically given Jaffe’s previous slip up at DICE, but actually PROVING he was lying at that point is a very different matter. Ian: If you think a journalist can simply walk up to low-level employee at some developer and expect that employee to publicly contradict his boss, you do not understand this business.

    There has to be a certain level of trust and honesty between a developer and a journalist on these sorts of fundamental issues of fact. If the developer breaks that trust, there should be some sort of penalty, or at least some sort of outcry from the journalists.

    @Steve T: Those are all fair points and well made.

  12. “But this was a lead designer at a major developer talking about what project he was working on.”

    All the MORE reason to verify. He has a vested interest in misleading us. A journalist must NEVER take official sources at face value. That’s what journalism is all about. If journalism were merely about recording what officials said, there would be no point in journalism courses teaching anything but shorthand.

  13. Here is some food for thought: Why is pulling out surprises at e3 so important to platform holders? Is the momentum of unannounced games suddenly showing up in the e3 press conferences really going to give them that much more momentum in the holiday season? does that mean they should hold exclusive games and never release them before e3? The whole “winning” e3 thing is a PR stunt with questionable value, but is apparently worth lying to preserve.

  14. Steve, I’m confused about your comment. How would Jaffe uttering a simple “no comment,” or “you’ll see what I’m working on at E3” have spoiled the surprise? Your analogy doesn’t hold water with me, either. Obviously, your friends don’t have the luxury of issuing a “no comment” when you ask them what they’re doing on your birthday. Game developers and publishers, however, are frequently bound by nondisclosure agreements and do that all the time.

    Also, the whole concept of the surprise is ridiculously overrated, as R. Bee says. No one was surprised that Nintendo was working on the 3DS, yet it was easily the big story of the show.

  15. Kyle: “If he can’t be trusted as a primary source, who can?”
    For pre-release discussion, nobody. This is why this is such a silly issue. Of COURSE Jaffe can’t be trusted to spoil a big surprise, especially via Twitter. IMO, if there was something to be discussed here, it’s why so many sources reported his tweet as fact, and even that it was worth reportingon.

  16. Lie, damn straight. If you want to keep somethin secret LIE.

    Imagine telling a journalist, NO COMMENT, ‘so they dig deeper’, maybe I am working on something”dig deeper’, I am working on something ‘dig deeper’, nah,I’m not doing anything, sucking up the sunshine “and the lazy journalist says OK’.

    This is why you lie, to keep private, personal information as far away from journo’s as possible. If you want to report news, do more homework!

  17. I agree with Steve that *what* he lied about is the important thing. If the game was coming out next month and Jaffe said “Online play is a major feature of this game” and then you go out and buy the game and it’s offline only, then that’s a pretty big deal and Jaffe should be taken to task for it. But this lie affects basically no one, except the ego of the journalist who is convinced that they have some kind of right to know private information that has no real impact on anyone.

    Let’s take this outside of games journalism for a second so I can demonstrate why we shouldn’t really care about this particular lie. The NHL entry draft is tomorrow, and there are all sorts of rumours bandying about in regards to which teams may be working on trades. When a general manager is asked something like “Are you working on a trade that involves sending Abe Lincoln to New York for George Washington” the GM will usually say “There is no truth to that rumour, we are not in discussions with New York.” It will often come out a few days later that, in fact, Abe Lincoln does get traded to New York for George Washington. Does the sports media get angry with the GM for lying about the deal? Of course not, because everyone understands that talking openly about the deal before it goes through could potentially harm all parties involved. So comments made by GMs are taken with a grain of salt.

    Similiarly, if a game developer lies about something that essentially amounts to a trade secret, we should be neither surprised nor perturbed. What we should do is operate under the assumption, probably accurate in most cases, that there are some kinds of information that you simply are not going to get an honest answer about.

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