The past few days has seen several recognised figures in gaming media called out for ‘conflict of interest’ articles, many of which involved the support of the indie developers they covered on Patreon. Patreon is a service content creators use to fund their work, it’s an open donation service that anybody can take advantage of to keep their independent endeavours financially afloat. It is a life-line to many indie developers, and a great place to find and support amazing new projects.
There is nothing inherently wrong with Patreon support – or even from journalists and prominent figures within the gaming industry supporting indie devs through it. The growth of the indie market has opened a lot of doors for hundreds of budding creators, and Patreon has been the monetary backbone of thousands of completed games and projects. It is something that should, I believe, be our number one focus. Indie developers are the future of this industry, and many struggle to keep their heads above water, simply for doing what they love.
The problem has come of covering the games and developers an author is personally supporting, and the lack of disclosure regarding that relationship. Unfortunately, when you choose to set up a repeat donation to a development you care deeply about, you do become tied to the success and completion of that project. You do not have to receive some form of financial or personal payout to be inherently invested in the success.
Many people have responded to the subsequent backlash and anger that has arisen from these conflicted articles by saying that Patreon support is no different to a pre-order, or even a post-launch purchase. As a writer myself, I find the notion of deliberately tying the hands of writers sickening. I would never entertain the notion that once you choose to support a game, you cannot cover that game at all. That’s ridiculous. If the situation is viewed from that point of view, of course it is no different to a pre-order. Because in that sense, you have chosen to support that title, and you have submit financially to it’s completion. Nobody would ever be able to write about anything they loved or cared about.
I believe that journalists, critics, and indeed anybody that works within the industry should be given free reign over what they choose to cover. However, this does lead to an inherent obligation to be completely transparent when your desire to cover a developer crosses a personal or financial relationship to their work. I have been incredibly disheartened to witness scores of writers claim this is no real infringement on journalistic integrity – it absolutely is, and I think the response and anger the community has felt in it’s revelation is more than evidence that it definitely crosses a perceived line of standards.
Kotaku recently attempted to face this problem head on, and in doing so has responded by formally ceasing and preventing any form of Patreon funding by any staff writers. The restriction of support is not the end of goal of this, our aim should always be to support indie developers and their projects while maintaining a level of integrity within our work, and to the respective readership. Unfortunately, I don’t believe this response either appropriate or effective, as Patreon is just one way in which you can support a project. Disclosure isn’t only necessary when you donate via Patreon, it extends to Kickstarter, personal relationships or any other possible ties to a project pre-coverage.
Honesty and transparency costs one sentence within an article, and is mutually beneficial to both reporter and developer;
“I have supported XXX on XXX, if you like this project as much as I do, you can contribute here XXX”
This singular sentence within any piece of work automatically discloses your pre-existing relationship to the project you want to discuss, it also gives the project the potential for further support from your hits. I really don’t believe that anybody should be prevented from talking about the games we like, at the end of the day, every writer in games began because we love games. We want to talk about things we love, and we want to support things that matter to us.
But disclosure is not difficult, it’s not optional, and a lack there of is inexcusable.
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