NeoGAF’s Shadows III: Gaming the Industry

When it comes to NeoGAF’s place in the games industry, it walks a fine line. It’s not universally recognized as a symbol of authority. Analysts would look toward places like Facebook or Twitter to gauge the reactions to products before considering NeoGAF. But that doesn’t mean its word is without weight.

Bethesda, NintendoInsomniac GamesGuerrilla Games, SEGA, Bandai Namco, and even Telltale hold NeoGAF in high regard. Viral marketers have tried to infiltrate their forums for years. These sorts of things happen on a case-by-case basis and aren’t unanimous for the industry as a whole. But what draws them in? The reason for this is these companies see an enthusiast audience when it comes to the website. If they’re capable of winning over NeoGAF, it’s usually considered a safe bet that their product will stand up to criticism.

Generally speaking, NeoGAF is a place where some folks get their gaming news. As a result of the moderation cultivation controlling what’s allowed, it leads to a twisted world view. Threads themselves are all about who can be the best at being outraged, and if you’re not following the pack you’re considered an enemy of it. To put it another way, the reactions you see in NeoGAF threads are very one-sided.

NeoGAFWolfPack

To preface the discussion about NeoGAF’s influence on gaming, we’ll turn to an EDGE magazine article from April 2013. Titled “Meet NeoGAF, the hardcore community shaping the games media agenda,” it goes over key aspects of how the forum managed to impact the industry it talks about.

The article opens up with the news about Adam Orth’s removal from Microsoft. According to the author, NeoGAF played a big role in setting that in motion by finding Adam’s tweets and pushing them to the media’s eyes. It was a critical time for Xbox, as they were in the process of introducing Xbox One to the world. In addition to the firing, Microsoft’s Major Nelson was forced to make an apology.

Interviewing the site’s owner Tyler Malka, EDGE makes it clear that he’s completely aware of NeoGAF’s impact.

We ask its founder Tyler Malka if he worries about just how far NeoGAF’s members go in pursuing individuals in the games business. “If detective work strays into the realm of revealing personal information or facilitating potential for harassment, it is dealt with appropriately,” he tells us. “Holding the spotlight to asinine comments doesnt constitute harassment, nor do harsh characterizations. The NeoGAF userbase is not a uniform entity; at the times when thousands of voices align on one position, however, we can often see a tangible result.”

EDGE goes on to talk about earlier examples of NeoGAF influencing the industry and impacting media coverage.  In July 2007, Jeff Bell (Corporate VP of Global Marketing for Microsoft) became the first victim of NeoGAF “detective work” (a 26-page thread dumping his personal info, you need to log-in to view it) after he anonymously responded to a user who mentioned him in regards to the resignation of Peter Moore. At the time, Malka made an apologetic statement about the matter on his forums.  But Ars Technica and Engadget caught word of the incident and publicized it.

“And your contribution society is … what?” Jeff Bell told the user.

WithGAForAgainstGAF

In June 2008, Dennis Dyack decided to “draw a digital line” (since you need to log-in to see it, here’s a screenshot) when it came to people’s thoughts on Too Human. He said he was confident that it would be one of the best games he’s ever made, and that the media and gaming community would believe so too. That made him on the “For” side. Everyone who didn’t feel the same was on the “Against” side. Denis essentially made a wager. If people who claimed they were on the “For” side were wrong, they’d get tagged “Owned by the GAF.” People on the “Against” side, if they were wrong, would get the tag “Owned by Too Human.”

After that, the EDGE article gets the sequence of events wrong. They imply Dyack’s NeoGAF rant on the 1-UP podcast came after the release of Too Human (August 19th 2008), when the GAF thread talking about that (screencap) is dated July 3rd of that year. The EDGE article completely omits when the game came out and received poor reviews, Tyler Malka took to the forums to do a victory dance on Dyack’s career failure.

dyack

So what does it boil down to? EDGE describes Malka’s website as not only a major arm of the gaming community but that they’ve somehow managed the games media’s job better than they could.

However much one might disagree with this – and we do in the strongest possible terms – there’s no dispute over the fact that these views are out there, and they are dominant on NeoGAF. Perhaps it’s little wonder – when it digs up stories, as it has with the Orth furore, it is setting the news agenda, and beating the media at its own game. Malka is absolutely right when he tells us that “crowdsourced investigation and fact-checking can be extraordinarily potent tools” – it is the reason his community finds screens posted on obscure Russian forums first, and unearths references to next-gen games on LinkedIn before news sites can.
Despite Malka’s own praises of NeoGAF’s detective work, I’ve found examples of that impact being for the negative, and their influence waning. In May 2014 they were declined E3 passes because the ESA did not consider them an “active media outlet with ongoing coverage of the Interactive Entertainment Industry,” apparently. The admins declined an offer from Microsoft’s Major Nelson to come as guests on their behalf because they were concerned about neutrality. Later on, Kotaku’s Jason Schreier would ask Malka about the influence of publishers exchanging favors/money for the opportunity to advertise on the site. Tyler’s response? He accused Major Nelson of attempting to bribe him for that offer. Nelson himself expressed his displeasure at the inaccuracy of Malka’s claim.  The appearance of neutrality is an interesting phrase given a number of NeoGAF PS4 themes that are made by m0dus (a moderator). While some of these were free, the ones that come at a cost give money to Sony, NeoGAF, and m0dus.
Omitted from the EDGE article was the time NeoGAF “donated” a user’s post to Kotaku in October 2011. On the 27th, ScOULaris made a thread asking which game handles weather changes the best. This person was surprised to find a Kotaku article with their name on it on the morning of the 28th. Brian Crecente said he cleared it with Tyler Malka directly. EviLore justified it by saying this was meant to create an open dialogue with Kotaku. While ScOULaris said he had no problem with what took place, he also made it clear that nobody asked him permission to use his post to begin with. ScOULaris only found out after the fact. NeoGAF terms of service were revised after the article was published, with changes that gave Tyler Malka permission to use people’s posts in this manner.
PlayAsiaNeoGAF
There are simple things like games distributor PlayAsia laughing in their faces, but more in-depth scenarios play out too.
  • December 7th 2014: NeoGAF had a 28-page long meltdown about a character named “Lucky Chloe” in the upcoming Tekken 7 game, after her catgirl costume was revealed. By the end of that day, Tekken 7‘s director Katsuhiro Harada caught wind of the negative responses on NeoGAF. He questioned the notion that responses on one internet board somehow represented everyone’s opinion as a whole. The next day, Harada told people “Calm down and Don’t worry. That character are East Asia and Europe “Exclusive”. and I’ll say again. We’ve more new characters on TK7. She is JUST one of them. and She will be country exclusive (or region exclusive) character. We don’t include her for your region. That’s why I said Calm down and Don’t worry,” via Twitlonger. By the 9th, IGN reported on the story under the assumption that Americans weren’t going to get Lucky Chloe in Tekken 7 based solely on the responses Katsuhiro had given. But it turned out to not be true. At the start of January 2015 Katsuhiro Harada clarified Tekken 7 would be an equal experience for all players (Lucky Chloe included), and that IGN was wrong.
  • June 11th 2015: A few websites picked up a story implying the Devil May Cry series might not continue if the Special Edition of Devil May Cry 4 didn’t sell enough units. Their source? A NeoGAF thread. Some random lurker decided to take the Japanese text from the original interview with Hideaki Itsuno of Capcom, and stick it into Google Translate to read the piece in English. Never is it directly said that the future of the series rested on the sales of DMC 4 Special Edition. The other GAF users in the thread gravitated to that piece of loosely translated information and assumed what referred to sales of Devil May Cry 4 directly correlated to prospects of a sequel to the series. Folks bought into the rumor based on this, and with the game coming out later that month it was a critical time for Capcom to get everything right when it came to PR.
  • August 7th 2015: NeoGAF would butt heads with Nintendo Treehouse and help contribute to the termination of an employee. A GAF thread brought an excessive amount of attention onto employee Chris Pranger because of his appearance on the “Part Time Gamers” podcast. The program he went on was a small-time gig, but GAF found it and picked apart certain statements from Chris. One of these was the claim that Xenoblade wasn’t popular enough to back up the costs of bringing it to the United States. Another one was about NeoGAF itself, where Pranger brought up the site as a source of fan overreaction when it came to the impact of sales with the “Wii U” name choice. Places like GoNintendo and Always Nintendo picked up on the things mentioned in the NeoGAF thread, and a YouTube video got a lot of traction for talking about things mentioned. This overall candid approach to speaking about Nintendo as an employer was frowned upon, and the widespread attention led to Chris Pranger being let go.  In a now-deleted Facebook post on August 13th, he confirms his firing was a result of this podcast appearance. But furthermore, a section of it indicates the huge amount of social media/forum feedback plays a part in his grief. Kotaku’s article on the situation in addition to a follow-up thread on NeoGAF itself, suggest GAF had a role in making the whole ordeal happen.

If you wanted to understand how much of a nuisance NeoGAF can be to developers, Cliff Bleszinski expresses it the best. “NeoGAF, I’ll let you in on a secret. Most of the (hundreds) of developers I know avoid you like the plague and think you’re mostly cunts,” he tweeted.

You can read more about the drama behind that in a GAF thread about Cliff that’s been going on for seven years now, where Malka himself would respond to Bleszinski’s statement directly. David Jaffe got banned in January 2014 after responding to a thread that NeoGAF moderators baited him into in the first place.

NeoGAFCunts

Despite the tussles, NeoGAF also became a notorious hub for insider information.

CBOAT (whose full name is “crazy buttocks on a train” according to his profile) has had a NeoGAF account since October 2004. His first leaks on NeoGAF pertained to Electronic Arts related documents, a contribution in light of the EA Spouse controversy back in November of that year. In January 2005, CBOAT came back with a morsel of information about EA having a hard time getting Xenon (the codename for the Xbox 360) to work with Renderware. The next month they followed up with an information blowout about Xbox 360 specs. It became clear by that point CBOAT was paranoid and a bit exotic. From there, CBOAT shows up sporadically all the way up until the end of 2009 with the EA layoffs, then again in 2010 when Ubisoft’s executive producers had some drama. He began making a name for himself for his style, giving just enough information for GAF readers if you read between the incoherence. 

Why did CBOAT speak like a drunk moron in his posts? “Makes it harder to be found by searching, and other websites and blogs aren’t likely to quote it,” is one logical explanation.

But then again, this is what NeoGAF’s moderators deemed to be a credible source.

AllHailCBOAT

When Xbox One rumors first started to arise in April 2013, CBOAT was back in business. The mysterious leaker correctly predicted EA going all in with Titanfall on the system. He’d chip into the threads with tips, such as when Black Tusk Studios (folks who’d work on new Gears of War games) was behind schedule. They helped rally NeoGAF when some of the original policies for the system were coming out, in the hopes of making Microsoft change their tune. Throughout the summer CBOAT kept NeoGAF in the loop when it came to Microsoft developments. Sometimes they were thoughtful enough to include European countries as well. CBOAT started to decline in October, with their posting style getting more erratic.

But by 2014, CBOAT was more or less gone. Their writing pattern descended into indecipherable gibberish. This was partially because there was an incident in which someone was implicated to be CBOAT, causing a controversy in itself. To back up a bit – on the 27th of January 2014 CBOAT posted a screenshot of a Valve powerpoint that showed off the Source 2 engine and what they said hinted at Left 4 Dead 3 (or at least a Left 4 Dead 2 remaster). They admitted to getting the pictures from someone else. But people who took a closer look found that the language Powerpoint was in, was German. This led to some speculation, which spiraled into a full-blown conspiracy theory. According to this blog, NeoGAF was originally able to connect some dots after they followed the image links in CBOAT’s post. It led back to a user by the name of ekim, who proceeded to erase any evidence of connections leading back to them in this situation. But ekim knew the jig was up and made a confession on the 29th. They told NeoGAF they gave the pictures to CBOAT in the first place. ekim said they apologized to Valve directly, and all they wanted was for NeoGAF’s witch-hunting to cease.

While the NeoGAF moderators acted quickly to help ekim clean up any fingerprints, there’s nothing suggesting ekim was a mod themselves. It leaves CBOAT as more of an open-ended mystery, seeing as there’s currently no conclusive evidence to suggest their identity.

CBOATL4D2

CBOAT didn’t get caught. But an NPD leaker named Aquamarine did.

Aquamarine had a fascination with sales and analysis and went to NeoGAF to talk about it because they considered it a place of influence. Take a look at their account for yourself and you’ll find post after post where she’d be head-first into discussions about that. Sometimes they’d talk about the numbers themselves (like PS4 sales), other times they’d explore the “why” instead. It was a known fact that Aquamarine knew how these estimation charts worked. They were so confident in themselves, they weren’t afraid to call out other websites like VGChartz for their projections.

Aquamarine knew NPD inside and out. If you don’t know what the NPD is, she once took the time to go over that:

the npd group receives direct, point-of-sale video game sell-through data from hundreds of retailers, including all of the major retailers in the united states.

so gamestop, gamestop.com, walmart, walmart.com, sam’s club, samsclub.com, target, target.com, best buy, bestbuy.com, newegg.com, amazon.com, etc.

their reports directly represent 90-95% of the entire usa physical retail market with direct pos sell-through numbers.

the npd group only extrapolates out 5-10% of the physical retail market (from the super-minor retailers they don’t track) using a variety of proprietary and sophisticated algorithms based on market precedent.

one could argue that driveclub had a larger-than-normal percentage of sales represented through digital sales from psn. that’s certainly a valid point.

but for what the npd group tracks (physical retail), they do indeed provide sales numbers.

NPD tracks sell-through from USA, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.

Aquamarine’s folly was they were too cocky about never getting caught. If the NPD went by Aqua’s posts alone, they’d find a lot: She’s likely a Microsoft shareholder, British but lives in Manhattan New York, works at JP Morgan Chase in a higher level position (going as far as to show everyone her credit card), age range is somewhere beyond 30 years old, net worth over $1 million, considers themselves Republican, uses Time Warner Cable internet service (going as far as to show everyone their cable bill), their father is a doctor, and used a Note 4 phone. Aquamarine didn’t just use NeoGAF to talk about numbers, but they shared a lot about themselves along with that.

To better understand what Aquamarine exactly got caught for – NPD’s numbers are normally only released to people who pay for them. To help curtail leakers the NPD allegedly modifies the numbers (within the single digits range) from client to client. Where the NeoGAF line becomes blurry is the NPD and GFK were reportedly aware of the site and used to give them exclusives on data before a change in management happened. According to Aquamarine, the NPD shuts down leakers only when situations become too high profile to ignore. By March 2015 she made it clear there was outside pressure factoring into her capability of leaking sales data.

AquamarineOnNeoGAF

On the 9th of March 2015, Aquamarine posted that they were caught. They explained their whole story. Starting their leaking in late 2012, they were under the impression that nobody would’ve noticed since NPD was more relaxed. But as the years went by, management cracked down on that in their policies. In response, Aquamarine changed up their methods in order to be more discrete. Regardless, NPD still managed to identify Aquamarine and accosted JP Morgan Chase so they’d deal with her. Things eventually calmed down and an attempt at negotiation was made, but it ended up with Aquamarine being forced to delete any public profiles they have. Since that’s impossible on NeoGAF, she requested to be permabanned (which the mods did).

While I argue it was fairly easy to identify Aquamarine based on their personal openness, a more direct alternative explanation as to how she was identified can be found in the NeoGAF terms of service.

Very last line:

D. We reserve the right to reveal your identity (or whatever information we know about you), typically in (but not limited to) the event of a complaint or legal action arising from any message posted by you.

With an email alone, NPD could’ve easily tracked Aquamarine’s identity down.

Part of NeoGAF’s fragile ecosystem are the leakers that appear and spice up the website. Whether it’s someone like ntkrnl going into extensive detail about the Xbox One or Abdiel from Best Buy giving NeoGAF perspective from behind the curtain. Naturally, there are wannabes thrown into the mix. People like Thuway have tried to pretend they’ve had insider information with Naughty Dog, only to get called out directly after the fact. In cases like Pete Dodd, who claimed the director of Drive Club was replaced for not delivering on time? They’re responded to by the developer themselves directly on NeoGAF, telling Dodd that they are sharing false information.

Thuway

Of course, the moderation manipulates this system. When Hatred was first revealed, the controversial video game was barred from any discussion on NeoGAF. Later on, the reason for this decision as given by the mods themselves would be contradictory. In November 2015, a localization specialist at XSEED Games got the NeoGAF banhammer. His name was Tom and he went by the handle of “wyrdwad” on the site. In a thread about fan service, he argued that diversity was a thing that was coming to the gaming industry naturally and that it’s something which shouldn’t be forced. Tom was optimistic about the position of indie gaming and encouraged an open way of thinking when it came to the diversity those titles offered. Overall it was an enlightening conversation. He was calm about how he addressed other people’s disagreements, and even politely bowed out when he felt like it was appropriate.

For doing that? Banned. People have speculated as to what triggered the moderators. But we can never know for sure based on the obfuscation in place with NeoGAF’s ban system.

MoxxiRapp

A further example of this double standard can be found in the contrasting responses between how NeoGAF handled the Alison Rapp controversy with how they treated Nikki Moxxi. In the former, Rapp was fired from Nintendo Treehouse after it came to light she had a second job, which is against Nintendo company policy. The statement from Nintendo points out that her firing had no relation to any criticisms leveled against her from members of GamerGate. Rapp’s own tweets suggest that moonlighting was not against Nintendo policy and that her removal from the company was politically related. In the NeoGAF thread discussing the matter, the moderators went into a full-on lockdown on the topic. They established firm ground rules and took an aggressive stance towards suspicious behavior. They were keen on shoveling all the blame onto GamerGate, of course. In the latter, the Daily Beast released an article in September 2016 detailing Palmer Luckey’s involvement in a Trump-related campaign group. The moderators did nothing to prevent the harassment of Nikki Moxxi, doing a complete 180-degree turn from how they handled Alison Rapp. While the article didn’t mention Luckey’s girlfriend, NeoGAF soon picked up on the fact Nikki Moxxi was a GamerGater and targeted her. On top of the attacks Luckey received (like vandalizing his Wikipedia page), Moxxi was the victim of NeoGAF moderators taking a hands-off approach. Moderators like Besada and Bishop were there in the thread and they let posts attacking Ms. Moxxi slip on by while they joined in on the dogpile. They did have time to ban the person calling attention to the fact that NeoGAF was responsible for harassing Nikki off of Twitter. You can see a full list of posts from users and moderators being asleep at the wheel here.

“Your concerns, while misplaced, have been noted,” said the ban message to the user who spoke out against NeoGAF’s dogpiling.

That looming NeoGAF influence isn’t just a thing for gaming. With the off-topic section of the website opening the doors to discussion for anything else, the potential for impact in other areas of interest is prevalent.

MalkaMeetsObama

Take politics, for example. There are posts of mods openly soliciting donations to the Hillary Clinton campaign in the Summer of 2016. At the end of that August, VICE reported that NeoGAF was one of the top 5 referrers to Hillary Clinton’s campaign website. Tyler Malka himself got the chance to meet President Obama in March 2016 and threw a couple grand at the Democrats (and then some) during Election season. After the US Presidential Elections didn’t swing in NeoGAF’s favor, bans were swiftly handed out to anyone supporting the outcome.

Who exactly are some of these moderators? What kind of direction did they influence the discourse on NeoGAF?

Part 2 talked about how Boogie went to war with NeoGAF.

Part 4 talks about some of the moderators on the website.

Click here to return to the hub page.

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3 thoughts on “NeoGAF’s Shadows III: Gaming the Industry

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