Reporter: Activision Blacklisted Us Because I Refused To Pull Call Of Duty Sequel Story

Yesterday, reports that a sequel to Call of Duty: Black Ops would hit this year circulated all over the internet, sourced to a product page that went live on Amazon. Gameblog.fr reported on this apparent slip-up, as did other French websites, but they refused to pull the story when asked by Activision.

That refusal resulted in Activision apparently cutting off Gameblog.fr's access to their titles and media events, effectively killing the site's ability to cover the biggest publisher around.

Kotaku reached out to Gameblog editor Grégory Szriftgiser (known on the site by the nom de plume RaHaN) to get his account of how this story and its repercussions happened. What follows are Szriftgiser's answers to questions sent via e-mail.

Kotaku: How long has Gameblog been around? How long have you been covering video games?

Szriftgiser: Gameblog.fr is has been live for five years now. We created and funded the company ourselves a little before launch. "We", here, stands for several journalists including myself, who have been covering video games professionally for 15 years or more, first in print magazines like Joypad, Joystick, the French PlayStation Magazine Officiel or later Gaming. Some did TV and Radio as well, and some of us have been writing about games professionally for up to 20 years now.

Kotaku: Can you describe the sequence of events as they happened? How did you find out about Amazon's product page? When did your article go up?

Szriftgiser: The journalist who wrote the first newspiece — "Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 confirmed by Amazon " — Julien Chièze (who is one of the co-founders of the company with others and myself), originally spotted the info on Twitter.

He then proceeded with verifying it, by witnessing it first-hand on Amazon.fr and getting a screenshot of their product webpage. The French website Jeuxvideo.com also had done a piece of its own, with their own screenshots, by the time our article was posted and this was included as another reference in our own piece. We also had confirmation later that several people had received the Amazon France newsletter in the meantime, with a reference to Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 in it.

Our article was posted at 1:05pm French time (that's CET). Activision first tried to call me at 2:16pm, but I couldn't answer, then sent an email (subject : "Pulling of a newspiece — URGENT") to both Julien and myself at 2:24pm, asking to "please take down the newspiece now", that "Activision didn't make any announcement", that "Amazon took upon themselves to publish this information without consulting [Activision]" and that it was "asked as a favour". I returned the phone call at 2:30pm, during which Activision asked the same thing, as a favour, insisting that this was a very serious matter to them for internal reasons they couldn't elaborate on and that the other major web outlets had already taken down their piece.

I explained that I couldn't do this and why (mainly, that Activision didn't have any right to intervene in our editorial, that it was newsworthy to us, that our job was first and foremost to inform our readers, that the newspiece didn't argue that it was anything official on Activision's end and was correctly phrased to reflect it, notably, with the question mark), at which point Activision argued that they were disappointed — they asked that we please consider it "with all the consequences this could lead to".

I agreed to do so, told them I would get back to them later to give them my final decision. They were unreachable for the rest of the afternoon. After business hours, I had a short text conversation in which I re-stated that we wouldn't pull the article, and asked if we should consider ourselves blacklisted as a result. It was around 8:30pm, and Activision answered we would resume the conversation by phone the next morning.

The newspiece stayed online untouched during the night.

The next morning, we talked on the phone. They tried again to explain they needed us to pull the article, I refused again. They insisted again that it would seriously deteriorate the professional relationship we had, that we weren't fully aware of the consequences this could have and that they had already contacted their advertising agency (which buys ad space for them). I asked them again if we should consider ourselves blacklisted, and more precisely if my journalist (another one) was still to attend the preview event of Transformers: Fall of Cybertron that was planned next week and to which we were already invited.

Activision said no. They also made clear that the relationship was to be severed, all advertisement plans cancelled, games not sent and invitations to later events cancelled as well. I explained that if this was their decision indeed, we had to inform our readers of it, and would do so later in the day.

We then proceeded with writing the article stating we were blacklisted, and we published it at 3:01pm.

Kotaku: Was there any other additional detail on the Amazon page about Black Ops 2?

Szriftgiser: There was no additional detail on the Amazon page other than the title "Call of Duty : Black Ops 2" and a pre-order price at €69.99.

Kotaku: What was the tone of the call from Activision?

Szriftgiser: The call(s) from Activision were professional, as we've been working together for 15 years. It was several phone calls as explained above. At no point did those calls sound "angry" on either side of the conversation, but I would say that Activision's spokesperson was rather agitated and preoccupied, obviously.

Kotaku: What did they say to you? Were you calm in your reactions? What was their justification for making these demands of you?

Szriftgiser: See above. Again, there were no insults or angry talk or anything at any point, the conversation was obviously tense, but professional. Their justification for making these demands remains unclear, other than it was a serious issue for them, and that it was, it seems, putting people in difficult positions (though I don't know at this point if they were meaning people at Activision or Amazon).

Kotaku: Did you speak to anyone from the sites who took down their coverage? Why do you think they capitulated, if that's what happened?

Szriftgiser: Regarding Jeuxvideo.com, with whom I haven't had any contacts regarding this whatsoever, I don't know what their exact position is. All I know, from my discussions with Activision, is that they were contacted in the same way we were, and agreed to take down their piece.

Regarding JVN.com, I also know from the discussions with Activision that they were contacted and subsequently took down their article. I didn't speak with JVN.com until after we posted the article "Activision blacklists Gameblog". I then had a written conversation on a wider angle about our views on the work, in which JVN argued they pulled the piece, after being asked to do so, because they couldn't verify the info first-hand and additionally that they didn't consider the info to be important.

It is important to understand that we talked about those sites pulling up their articles (and proved it with screenshots) in order to clearly establish that there was pressure put on several outlets by Activision, and not just us; that we were not making this story up. It was important to us, as well, that we made it clear that such pressures were unacceptable and we hope that this event will help everyone in refusing those pressures. Obviously, we regret this course of events, but we had no other choice than to proceed as I explained.

Kotaku: Were you a fan of Call of Duty? Are you still? If Black Ops 2 winds up being this year's CoD game, will you buy it?

Szriftgiser: I am a fan of Call of Duty (as my reviews of the previous games in the series show). I remain a fan of Call of Duty. I will buy Black Ops 2 if it turns out to be this year's CoD (but at this point, I think we're all pretty sure it's going to be), and would buy it as well if it was something else. Most definitely, we will buy it in order to be able to review it, as we know we will not be invited to any official event related to this game, or any other Activision game for that matter.

Kotaku has asked Activision for comment on Gameblog's supposed blacklisting and will be happy to include their comment if they provide any.


Comments

    What a shame. I'd already become disillusioned with COD as a franchise, now they've gone and done this, which will make me re-think buying any of their games - which would only hurt developers of good games. I might still go ahead and buy the game, but Activision really need to re-think their approach when biting the hand that feeds them.

    It can be safely assumed that every year a new CoD or 2 will be out, Don't know why this is surprising. They basically are mostly about 2 games only these days and whatever quick cash movie tie in they can pump out.

    Don't put 'us' and 'I' in the title.. I thought Kotaku was banned and was very confused.

    Activision acting like a Bully...big surprise this happening...good on Gameblog for holding their ground.

    So from now on Activision won't give these guys free beer in exchange for a favourable review for their game. This might mean these Frenchman are the most unbiased games reviewers out there.

      ^^this.

    Wow, Activision is so bitchy about what is essentially a non-news story. Any gamer who didn't think a new CoD game was coming out this year is completely delusional. And now someone see's what's quite possibly a placeholder on the french Amazon site, and reports that this has happened, gets cut off from all access to Activision.

    It's good to see Activision respecting journalistic integrity here. Understanding that their responsibility isn't towards publishers selling products, but their readers. OH nope, no they're not.

    The most astonishing part of this whole story is that the journalist or Activision think it is newsworthy that the next CoD will be a incrementally updated rehash of the CoD-before-last, it's kind of a given isn't it?

    I need to side with Activision here - there's nothing to confirm with here. Had it been a leaked interal neno from the company, it would be a different story, but Amazon has all credibility of Wikipedia does.

      Huh? Your comment doesn't make sense. If there was nothing to confirm then Activision shouldn't need to flip out and blackball a site over it. It says the information was presented as a rumour, if Activision hadn't done anything then everyone would've ignored it and moved on.

        seems like someone at activision messed up and was trying to do damage control.

      Except that in that case why does activision have an issue with the piece.

      Fact is official or not. It's something game related that happened. To sweep it under the rug would be poor journalism.

      Amazon may or may not be credible. But that is up to the reader to decide. whether it's BO2 or something else this year a couple of articles saying that amazon put a page up isn't a negative thing.

      Problem is that it throws a spanner in the works for Activision's carefully planned marketing scheme. To have a reveal 6 months before the release(May) and then slowly build on the hype train.

    Maybe it can be a good thing for that site's journalism. Exclusive access for game journos is a lot like embedded war journalists. Exclusive access...but you only get spoon fed what they want you to have.

    Cushy relationship between game journos and publishers has given us.
    Embargoes and Questionable scoring, where AAA titles seem to rarely rate poorly on the biggest sites.
    Maybe something else I'm not remembering.

    I remember being able to open a magazine like Hyper, and they'd be reviewing a game sent ahead of release by publishers...embargoes prevent any reviews going out before release...and even if you wait for post release reviews...they're overwhelmingly positive...you have to hit a game's forums to try extract tidbits of truth from the trash.

    Game Journalism at some point sold it's soul for access to publisher events and the official teat.

    /waffle

      +1. Game journalists need companies like Activision far more than Activision needs journalists.

    Sounds like he was being a dick.
    Unfortunate for him Activision can be a bigger one.

    Very odd. I wonder if there's some specific reason, with deals, law suits, rights or something. As to why they don't want any sort of announcement yet.

    Another option is, they pump these COD games out to quickly they may make and release an entirely different cod game by the end of the year.. lol

    Grats on someone growing some brassies and standing up for their own values and integrity. Sure it was a bit of a non-story anyway but in a world where most sites have their lips grafted onto Bobby's hairy cheeks it's just downright refreshing to see. As for the 'consequences', anything Activision puts out is far from the be-all-and-end-all of gaming, despite what everyone makes it out to be. If RPS can still make a healthy living without Activision's support than these guys can.

    Disregard Activision, acquire balls!

    Not to defend Activision, who I'm not particularly a fan of, but it sounds like this guy was kinda baiting them.
    "Whatcha gonna do? Blacklist us? Are we blacklisted? Should I consider us blacklisted?"
    It almost sounds like the story of Black Ops 2 (which no one should really care about any more) spawned the opportunity for something more interesting, and this reporter pushed it to create a story about the evils of Activision.

      They paint the Activision rep in too good a light to say they did this just to make an 'look how evil they are post'. From what they've said both sides knew where this was going and neither of them wanted it (GameBlog.fr don't want to loose very important ads and events, Actisivion are well aware they look like douchebags when they do this).
      If anything it seems like they're sucking up.

    i but the latest version of CoD just for the online maps. i dont care about the storyline. i see it as a form of DLC with a lot of new maps lawl.

    i suspect that they are going to announce more DLC for mw3 and they didnt want people to know there is one around the corner and hold off purchasing it.

      Cmon, people will still buy the DLC anyway :P

        yes true but as an accountant (kill me now) this is exactly the "suits" would have been thinking.
        Dont understand why people buy DLC its always so bad (of course there are exceptions to this rule). Also can't understand why people still buy COD games. played MW3 on the free weekend on steam. It's so easy! It also just feels like MW2 but slightly worse and less balanced.

    Good on you Gameblog. More people need to stand up to petty bully-boys and just do their job. Activision is shit to someone, that someone is a journalist, everyone learns that Activision is shit. People buy their games less. This is all just ordinary and appropriate. Wonder what Activision thought they'd gain...

    How long will it take before Publishers get it in their head that gaming news sites are not part of their marketing department.
    Give a unfavourable review, your blacklisted.
    Report news they don't want you to see, blacklisted
    Don't bend over and spread, you better believe your blacklisted

      "Give a unfavourable review, your blacklisted."

      Have there been any cases of this? I'm just wondering, because if something like this is allowed to slip through unnoticed, it could VERY well be the reality that journo's face.

    Sigh, and now they've Barbra Streisand'd this story and everyone is going to soon be aware of this information anyway. Great job, Activision!

    No one is surprised by this sort of bs anymore.
    What would be surprising is if the worlds gaming media actually grew a pair and didn't show up to their crappy "event".

    It happens because the gaming media let it happen. You know what you need to do to stoop it happening. You don't. Self inflicted wound. No sympathy. Piss off.

    On a related but tangental topic I'm really glad Steam just had a free weekend for CoDMW3. It let me see how truely monumentaly these guys have cocked up what was quite a nice shooter. ....... once.
    The P2P hosting was a joke. So were the amount of hackers.

    CoDMW3 makes CS look like .... where in the world is Carmen Santiago.

    Sgtart a movement Kotaku. Just don't go.

    Activision behaves like a angry baby! They have no right to TELL a site what to do.

      The *asked*, and nicely too by the sounds of it.

      Was Activision within their rights to ask? YES
      Was Gameblog within their rights to refuse? YES
      Was blacklisting them a bit harsh? Also yes, but Activision can do that if they want.

    I want to play this game

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