commentary and unused notes from my Motherboard article “Did Russia’s Vladimir Putin Just Endorse a Ukrainian Post-Apocalyptic Video Game?”
This post is recommended for readers
- who are already familiar with the Areal/Kickstarter/West Games controversy,
- read my relatively neutral news piece on VICE’s Motherboard about West Games and want commentary and analysis
I couldn’t help but notice that every media outlet that accused West Games of being a scam, or illegitimate, failed to mention the indie company is based out of Kiev. Cringe-worthy, I know. I get that West Game’s ineptitude at what appears to be all online media and activity is overwhelming to us Westerners, but that is no excuse to ignore context and plausibility. Are we really going to pretend that the deteriorating relationship between Russia and the Ukraine, where a few months ago snipers were firing on people in Kiev proper, wouldn’t affect a video game company trying to get shit done? Like maybe this is why they are still in pre-Alpha and don’t have any new concept art from this year?
But hey, I am primarily talking about video game journalism here, so I can’t really be that surprised by lack of context. I was shocked, however, by how big of a critic West Games made in Forbes blogger Erik Kain. (Check out hisseries of negative posts about the company, including his latest which urges “backers to get out now” as the campaign may or may not be “a total scam.”) Clearly he hasn’t finished scratching his “West Games sucks” writing itch. West Games PR is so shockingly bad, they’ve driven this blogger into a spiral of distrustful, angry posts about them and made an enemy out of reddit of all places, reddit, who loves the STALKER series!
Unlike Kain (and reddit), however, I am not enraged. This lack of anger allows me to see clearly what West Games biggest “red flag” is, and that is their PR person is a moron. To quote Hanlon’s razor,
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”
More on that stupidity in a bit, but first, I personally don’t think the Kickstarter is a scam. I base this viewpoint on my emails with Kim, and I think they will eventually finish their game as it sounds like they have a plan to do so.
On the use of the Unity presets, Kim wrote “many game developers use unity assets and presets to convey their game, with a more prominent example being Wasteland 2, from Inxile Entertainment.” Using Unity presets to show off a game in pre-alpha is not unheard of or unusual. STALKER didn’t have particularly amazing graphics any way.
Kim estimates Areal will be complete in late 2015 with some Kickstarter backers getting Alpha or Beta access if they choose those rewards. West Games plans to hire more people as “development ramps up” to help finish Areal, as their small team can’t handle the ambitious project alone. Kim wrote quite a few local game developers were interested in working with them, before adding “there are a lot of highly experienced video game developers right now who are out of work in Ukraine, and we’re more than happy to employ them.”
This spring, Polygon found most Ukrainian video game developers had been laid off because of the conflict, were considering leaving the country, or had escape plans ready should the situation worsen. “This might be the end of our country, so of course people are looking elsewhere,” game developer Sergey Galyonkin told Polygon at the time. In an email about the physical dangers in the Ukraine, West Games seemed more patriotic than earnest. They don’t have any escape plans at the moment because right now “it’s safe in Kiev!” but were quick to add “we do plan to move over time” though.
Now, back to how West Games doesn’t know how to Internet. They’ve already admitted they were woefully unprepared to run a Kickstarter campaign, but not being good at running one does not necessarily constitute a crime worthy of Internet harassment. If that was West Games only issue, than okay, I’d feel sorry for them.
The Kickstarter fumbling is not their only PR problem, however. Their entire team seems preoccupied with what is going on online rather than getting shit done. They’ve literally spent the bulk of their time since launch of their Kickstarter campaign in June proving they are who they say they are, instead of actually working on their game.
Unpublished quote on all the trolls, critics and haters:
“It has been incredibly difficult,” wrote Kim in an email. “It has definitely affected us from a monetary standpoint,” he added, and “it’s hindered development, but as you can see with the early gameplay teaser, it hasn’t stopped it.”
An example of a West Games troll that got the entire team worked up in to a tizzy:
If their PR person managed to do their job properly, the rest of the team wouldn’t be caught up in all this online drama, and in an “information war” between Ukraine and Russia. With the death threats, online impersonations, and known Kremlin-backed trolls paid to live on and disrupt Western media sites, West Games’ skepticism of all Western press and unwillingness to engage in most online activity is understandable, but unfortunately online engagement is necessary in order to run a successful Kickstarter.
West Games could turn all this negativity around if they were actually honest about their situation and plans, and a good place to do this would be their Facebook and Twitter, but activity on both those social media platforms is practically nonexistent. Their AMA was a ruined opportunity to regain the public’s trust, as instead of actually engaging the community, West Games cut and pasted from their Kickstarter. Of course redditors freaked out and raged. Granted, the inaccurate online sleuthing on reddit reads more like a witch hunt than citizen journalism, but at least the community’s heart is in the right place. Reddit wants a new STALKER game, for crying out loud! By appearing shady and closed in the AMA, West Games added fuel to the skeptic fire and made more enemies.
Finally, West Games doesn’t know how to engage with press online. They’ve been going after media outlets for being critical of their Kickstarter but even if West Games firmly believes these outlets have been infiltrated by the Russians, they need to stop attacking the press. (Forbes quality deteriorated with the advent of their new blogging section, NOT because “of China,” this is known.) Every time West Games denounces an outlet, it gives the outlet’s post more credibility and legitimacy and makes West Games look even more paranoid than they already are.
Besides dissing outlets, West Games needs to stop demanding journalists do things for them, including changing things after an article has gone up. A personal example: Kim emailed me after my post went up asking me to change what video I linked to in my piece, because the new video they just made looks better, completely missing the point on why I linked to the crappy West Games video in the first place. I linked to the first video and called it “shoddy,” so don’t ask me to then link to a video that is not shoddy when I am pointing out how unprepared your Kickstarter game is.
To conclude, West Games needs to fire their PR person ASAP (their CEO Eugene Kim seems to be doing most of that work anyway) and focus more on actually building their potentially supercool game.
Update: This kickstarter was suspended due to West Games violating their rules and Terms of Service. I’m not surprised, given all the dishonest behavior.
TL;DR -> it makes AdSense obsolete.
I tried to sell a story on Subbable earlier this week. Oh gods how I tried. ReadWrite, the Guardian’s tech section, even Variety… but I failed to generate interest, and/or communicate just how drastic of an impact Subbable can have on the YouTube space, business-wise.
To most of the press, Subbable appears as a gentle, crowd-sourced monthly pay-what-you-want subscription platform funding web shows that already exist. Doesn’s seem that disruptive, until you consider the allure of YouTube. The heart of the indie YouTube dream is being free, or at least above, corporate influences. If successful, Subbable could potentially do away with the advertising/hit-mining rat race on YouTube. Hank Green doesn’t exactly say this in the video introducing the platform, but he might as well.
In a private chat, I got Green to elaborate:
“Advertising values all kinds of content the same, but different kinds of content delivers different amounts of value to users. We want there to be a system that rewards the creation of stuff people love, not stuff that people will spend three minutes watching when they’re bored.”
Subbable — which is unaffiliated with YouTube — changes the YouTube money-making game because it emphasizes community and a supportive fan base over viral hits with fleeting popularity & large monetary payoffs. It’s a slow, steady win as opposed to that big payday. (It’ll be interesting to see how the addition of Minute Physics, Wheezy Waiter, and Andrew Huang next week on Subbable will play out. )
Green never came right out and said this during our chat but it got me thinking: if a content creator worked it out with his fans, he or she could essentially never bother monetizing their channel…EVER. There’s literally no reason now to go through Google corporate to make money. Their high ad cut and ad sales team are already alienating users and businesses, so why bother with that hot mess? You don’t.
I, for one, still believe in that YouTube dream.
My favorite time to take selfies is when I am drunk and alone in the bathroom. I tend to take the majority of them while inebriated, actually, and online evidence proves even middle-aged women do the inebriated selfie in the bathroom too.
Yes, even the Boston Marathon Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, when he wasn’t sober, whipped out his cellphone and took selfies. And one of these non-sober self-portraits (speculatively) is on the cover of Rolling Stone right now and making a name for itself as the most controversial selfie on our planet.
Media critics are calling Rolling Stone everything short of evil for using his selfie photo as cover art, never mind that Instagrammed self-portraiture is becoming a legitimate form of art and feminist self-expression. This universality is exactly why the self-portrait of the young and handsome (and murderous, don’t you forget) Tsarnaev as cover art choice is outrageous. How dare we relate to a killer! How dare a magazine make us feel this way! If I were the art director over at the Rolling Stone right now, I would be creaming my pants: this is the type of feedback creative types have wet dreams about.
Tsarnaev’s selfie effectively normalizes him, and as the three-day long controversy has shown, we just cannot deal with that. We would rather depart reality and delude ourselves into thinking national-headline-making killers are ugly and have nothing in common with us than see them engaging in everyday behavior. If we could somehow magically teleport to a place where we all believed Tsarnaev didn’t know how to operate a phone, we would.
In fact, to portray Tsarnaev as ordinary is dangerous, they imply, because in order to feel better about the bombings we need to see the differences, not the similarities, between ourselves and the cruel killer. It sounds absurd, but this is more or less what the critics are saying. The New York Times thinks this kind of madness is a result of the heatwave. Possibly. I think it might be a combination of Tsarnaev’s image making fresh the horror of the bombings, much like that just-healing summer scrape you accidentally pick at only to have it start oozing.
The selfies we share on the web are supposed to be the best reflection of ourselves. This skewed mirror is precisely why the Boston Globe in a Thursday post echoing the collective rage calls the use of the selfie “ill-advised” and “irresponsible.” While many of us cannot fathom Tsarnaev’s terrorist intentions, we can all relate to photographing ourselves and dare-I-say-it, creating a typically blemish-free personal brand online. The self-portrait via cellphone is a “language we all understand,” but …we don’t want to understand a bomber. Please don’t make us understand one.
This now infamous selfie, originally displayed on Tsarnaev’s twitter profile, was the “mask” he chose to portray to the world and glorifying it by featuring it on a rock-and-roll magazine is akin to “collaborat[ing] with Tsarnaev in the creation of his own celebrity,” continued the Boston Globe.
Need I remind everyone, Tsarnaev was already a “celebrity” before his Rolling Stone cover, having graced the front pages of newspapers the world over with some even featuring that same image. Rolling Stone is not responsible for this mass media interest, the spread of the photo, or for Tsarnaev’s fanbase of young girls cooing over the soft locks in his approachable selfies. To suggest Rolling Stone is appealing to Tsarnaev’s misguided female fans by choosing this already-widely circulated photo when this same criticism was not levied against the New York Times, is logic I’d only be able to process if my head was in the sand.
CVS banning the sale of the magazine in its shops (and now Walgreens too), and folks celebrating this decision, is akin to saying “monsters must be clearly portrayed as monsters, or else.” Who wants to live in that black-and-white society, presumably filled with bad art? Not me. (Not to imply Tsarnaev’s selfie as cover photo of a magazine is good art — it is in fact the opposite for a variety of reasons and not just because of the bad captions.)
The disconnect between the villain within and the exterior shell of Tsarnaev as a potential sweetheart through his selfies is precisely why the self-portrait should be used for feature-length pieces about his descent into terrorism. But don’t just take my word for it.
Cover Think points out Rolling Stone’s cover is “doing nothing more than reflecting back to us the vanity of a young man’s narcissism, complete with his Armani Exchange T-shirt.” The Washington Post writes “the photo in question jibes with the impression of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev that has emerged from countless interviews with friends and schoolmates” before calling the cover art choice “an accurate and journalistically responsible portrayal of this young man.”
To not use the photo as cover art because it humanizes, then, reveals a willful ignorance on the modern human condition. It is not only “irresponsible,” but bad journalism too. Art that elicits strong emotions is powerful, but banning it only increases its strength.
We can’t will away Tsarnaev’s cellphone, his looks or his seemingly normalness, just like how we can’t will back the lives and limbs his actions stole. And maybe that’s okay, because sometimes we need to see the similarities between ourselves and the villain in order to help us understand the differences. Cellphone selfie and all.
As for the cellphone selfie as legit art form, well, this controversy took care of that.
This is a guide for people who are more interested in the cultural and societal implications of technology from a non-technical background. (I’d recommend attending all the “future of TV/media” talks as a beginners guide to video distribution and social media use.)
Thursday, June 27th:
The US First Robotics Challenge, from 12pm – 4pm.
“US First’s mission is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.”
“The debate around how we should view the concept of intellectual property and copyright in the digital age has continued since the launch of Napster in the ’90’s until today. Why is file-sharing still so limited and how has it affected the world at large?”
Friday, June 28th:
Funny or Die‘s “When Humor is Serious Business,” from 11:00am – 11:30am, featuring Funny or Die CEO Dick Glover. (I have an inkling what Glover will discuss, but being as I have never heard him speak, he might surprise me.)
“Funny or Die is now synonymous with Internet humor…What makes their business model so successful? How do they acquire high quality content with a low budget? What does the future of Funny or Die—and Internet entertainment in general—look like?”
Digital Art; From Easels to Pixels, 12:00pm – 12:30pm
“Art infilitrates everyday life, and every surface, object, or open space is fair game for medium. See how artists are incorporating technology into their work, whether as a means to an end or as the finished product itself. These people are innovating on what it means to be a traditional artist and the burgeoning interest in creating art meant to be consumed in digital form.”
The very ambitiously titled “How the Second City Can Become the First in Fashion,” 5:00pm – 6:00pm
“Take the tech from the West and the high-end fashion from the East and meet somewhere in the middle. Where do you end up? Chicago, of course. Combining the best of both coasts, a slew of Chicago startups are leading the pack in terms of the merging of high-tech and high-fashion.”
Saturday, June 29
In the wake of Hasting’s mysterious death and the conspiracy theories suggesting his car was hacked I feel compelled to attend “Driverless Cars: Speeding to the Future,” 12:30pm – 1:00pm
“While flying cars are still just a figment of our collective imagination, self-driving vehicles—such as the Google Car—are on the imminent horizon. Not only does this technology have the potential to prevent millions of injuries and save countless lives, it also has the power to disrupt the flow of trillions of dollars in industry revenue. Nearly everyone will be affected: suppliers, automakers, service-and-repair shops, insurers, energy companies, hospitals, and car rental companies, to name a few. Undoubtedly, there will be huge implications for all transportation and logistics—the backbone of every company’s supply and distribution chains.”
Entrepreneurship in Eastern Europe, 1:30pm – 2:00pm
“Eastern Europe’s tech scene is small but growing. Find out what Google is doing to facilitate the growth of the tech sector in Poland and beyond, what ideas are brewing in that corner of the world, and how they plan to impact the future.”
“Is the Internet Destroying the Middle Class?,” 2:00pm – 2:30pm
Most inappropriate PR pitch ever, connecting John Lennon movie “Genius” with Sandy Hook Elementary shootingPosted: December 14, 2012
Okay, so I am just cutting and pasting this in full.
Something tells me John Lennon would not approve.
Los Angeles, CA, December 14. Those who murder all have one thing in common, says the producer of new movie on the death of the Beatles’ John Lennon.
Based on initial reports, a masked gunman murdered more than 25 people—including 18 children—at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday morning. Two guns were found near the shooter, who was discovered dead inside a classroom, according to law enforcement officials and media reports. Witnesses said the shooter was wearing a mask but his identity was still unknown. This is the second deadliest school shooting since the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre claimed the lives of 32 people.
Just two days before the Connecticut shooting, a lone gunman had entered a crowded mall in Portland, Oregon, killing two people and wounding a 15-year-old girl, before taking his own life. In what appeared to be a random rampage, police noted that the killer, Jacob Tyler Roberts, 22, had no significant criminal history. His mother said that she had “no understanding or explanation” for what he did and that it was “so out of his character.” According to a statement issued by the shooter’s high school, “The motive for such a horrific act is likely to remain a mystery to us all.”
Most experts are as baffled as those who knew Roberts. However, Ray Comfort, the producer of a new movie called “Genius,” believes he knows why people are willing to take innocent life. Comfort said, “His friends say that Roberts was a nice guy and that he lost his job and broke up with his girlfriend. No doubt the Connecticut killer suffered some sort of rejection also. But those things have happened to millions and they haven’t gone out and murdered people.” The best-selling author and TV co-host added, “‘Genius’ points to what every murderer has in common, something the ‘experts’ either don’t recognize or avoid talking about. But it’s there.” In the movie, which is about John Lennon and why he was killed, 15 youths were asked if they would murder for money, and those who said yes all had one thing in common. “Something tragic is happening in our country,” Comfort noted, “and most people don’t know what it is. Those who want to understand why these tragedies are occurring—and are likely to continue to occur—should watch the free movie.”
Nearly 170,000 people have viewed the 34-minute movie since its release on YouTube a week ago. Watch the trailer to see those who would murder for money: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZW2lhWfa28g
So I did this photoshoot thing for ReadWriteWeb’s new redesign, done to their specs:
From there I got a new Facebook and Twitter picture:
And then things got wacky, because this is a photoshoot, and people get wacky on photoshoots duh.
I started channeling “Overly Attached Girlfriend.” Read the rest of this entry »