Rumour: Grand Theft Auto Publishers Pressure Magazine, Writer Sacked [UPDATE]

A report on news.com.au says that a former editor for Zoo Weekly, an Australian "lads mag", has been sacked after making public an email from Rockstar, publishers of the Grand Theft Auto series, demanding more "favourable coverage" from the writer. Updated.

Toby McCasker, who used to be deputy entertainment editor for the magazine, says that Rockstar haven't been too keen on his coverage of upcoming Western title Red Dead Redemption, and posted an email his magazine received from Rockstar Australia on his Facebook page (which has since been removed), in which it's alleged the publisher wrote:

This is the biggest game we've done since GTA IV, and is already receiving Game of the Year 2010 nominations from specialists all around the world.

Can you please ensure Toby's article reflects this - he needs to respect the huge achievement he's writing about here.

Shortly after posting that on his Facebook page, McCasker was dismissed from his position. What's unclear at the moment is why he was dismissed; merely posting internal communications on an external forum could well have been enough to warrant a sacking.

McCasker told News.com.au, "I did not sign up to become a journalist to write advertorials masquerading as editorial. This 'cash for comment' culture that is fast becoming the status quo within print media bothers me a lot."

Rockstar Australia has so far refused to comment on the allegations, while Zoo's editor, Paul Merrill, could not elaborate on the specific reasons behind McCasker's dismissal.

This of course isn't the first time this kind of thing has happened, nor will it be the last time, especially when it comes to the "mainstream" press and its coverage of video games. It's just... the latest time.

Kotaku AU Note: I was actually interviewed for this story. Click through to the full article to read my comments on the topic.

Lads' mag editor blows whistle on video games [news.com.au]

UPDATE: Zoo's editor Paul Merrill has contacted Kotaku and provided the following statement:

I would like to make it clear that at no time has Rockstar EVER sought a preferential review in return for advertising. In fact no games company has ever suggested this. And Zoo would never give a positive review to a game we didn't rate in return for ad dollars.

Toby McCasker was sacked for a number of reasons, one of which was his decision to post a private email on his Facebook page. This email was not referring to a game review. He should not be considered a credible source of information on this matter.


Comments

    Aaaaand I just lost a little respect for rockstar.

    Holy Shit!

    Who'd have thought someone at Zoo had any kind of integrity?!

    Kudos to Mr McCasker!

    Good on the writer, this is why sites like GameSpot, and IGN cannot be trusted when reviewing games, because the more they get, the higher they score.

    Luke Plunkett was interviewed for the story, then quoted under the name David Wildgoose?? ;)

      I write the Kotaku AU Notes.

        Yep... I was just being a smartarse... :)

    Good answer Wildgoose.

    Given that Toby had previously had 2 official warnings and them published internal mail on a social networking website, I wouldn't want to jump to the conclusion that he was fired in response to Rockstar's request.

    On the other hand, if what was posted is correct and verbatim, Rockstar need to pull their collective heads in.

    (Also the image of him in the article makes him look totally shady).

    Just a note, either I am crazy or the hyperlink of "isn't the first time this kind of thing has happened" is just linking to this same page.

    Just thought you might like to know. :)

    Also, I am surprised anyone working at Zoo can even comprehend the concept of journalistic integrity... it doesn't have anything to do with boobs at all!

      Link now fixed.

    Don't lads mags typically review games without playing them?

      Yep, this would be the same mag that had a review of GTA 4 around a month or two before everyone else if memory serves me correctly. With nothing in it to say they actually played it other than info pulled off the net as well as screenshots from the net.

        FHM did the same thing with Haze. Gave it a glowing review one month before it was delayed.

    Good work Tony for standing up against this kind of publisher bullcrap.

    That said - bit of a rookie error posting the email on facebook. Getting sacked over stuff like that isn't exactly unique to the industry.

    I'm not sure that the snippet posted by McCasker can be considered a smoking gun. It could just as easily be taken as a publisher getting thinking that their game is awesome and that the reviewer has just phoned in the review.

    This does not surprise me. I've just picked up GTA4 and have been shocked to find how poorly made the game is. Control system is awful, and the player is punished for thinking outside the box rather than completing the missions the way Rockstar want you to - cars and characters are invincible until you follow the path they want you to take.

    Story is abysmal, as is the ending. For it to get such ridiculously high ratings, shenanigans such as these have been going on for a long time. Respect to Toby for standing up to it...

    Why was it pulled from Facebook? Have they got influence there too? Surely pasting an email doesn't breach their terms of service.

    I wonder when this article will be taken down from Kotaku too... timer:started.

      If you liked the previous GTA games give Saints Row 2 a shot. Once you understand the story and characters meant to be ridiculous its actually a really good game. It strikes back to that whole Grand Theft Auto/GTA2 mayhem driven sandbox gameplay. It may seem like a GTA knock-off, and yeah it is, but Volition did a really good job with it. They seem to judge features by how fun they are and they take the extra time to make sure that the feature plays as cool as the idea sounds.
      For example, if they wanted to add a jetpack it would be either really cool Superman type flight or they wouldn't bother. You wouldn't get a GTA:SA 'the engine can do something that looks like flight, so we might as well put it in' half-arsed jetpack.

      Its a huge relief to play after Rockstar took GTAIV so seriously. I've got no idea how in the space between GTA:SA and GTAIV Rockstar managed to get the idea that people wanted to play in a authentic feeling environment with a depressing story featuring real, authentic characters but it really soured my love for the franchise.

      I thought it was a pretty brilliant game, and that's without getting bribes/women/cars from Rockstar or anyone...

      my thoughts exactly. the game was far from polished and just plain boring. rockstar are just not worthy of their great reputation, no more than michael bay is.

    There are definite issues with the entire editorial/advertorial argument. But I am curious to know why he doesn't like the look of the game? Of all the games I have seen in the last 12 months this is the one that I am looking forward to the most. My brother, who is now a very casual gamer, is actually going to buy this game. Most people I talk to are looking forward to this release. I can understand a healthy amount of skepticism about pre-game hype but what particularly is it that he does not like about this game?

    I think this needs some explanation. If he has a reasonable gripe with the game then fair enough. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But when your opinion is your job as with editorial staff then questions should be asked about why he would be sacked because of it.

      sean sorry if i missed something on another page related to this but on that page it didnt seem suggest he didnt like the look of the game anywhere

      he took more issue with the fact they were trying to buy him off and damn straight im sick of general console bias coming into reviews on some sites when for some reason the supermassive 360 fanboy reviewer gets given a sony game to play the review just reads its shit xbox rules

        Just from the Kotaku article from above:

        "Rockstar haven’t been too keen on his coverage of upcoming Western title Red Dead Redemption,"

        This is what I am asking about, he has allegedly been providing poor coverage of the game, what was the coverage? I don't read Zoo magazine. Have better things to do with my time and there are far better soft porn magazines out there. So, what is it that he does not like about the game?

    I don't know what's funnier about this story, the idea that McCasker is saddened that Zoo magazine is not a bastion of journalistic integrity or Rockstar's "our hype machine says its awesome so start calling it game of the year" email. Hopefully McCasker can get a real games journalism job somewhere else.

    I think Rockstar are really worried that no one is going to get Red Dead Redepemption. I know I'm not, I hope they're reading this and shaking in their boots.

    Red Dead looks awesome... I'm not surprised rockstar is asking Zoo to take their game seriously, I mean Zoo aren't known for their journalistic quality.

      Andy theres a simple solution to that

      Dont give them a Friggen Review copy

      sure they can review it later but who cares

      and B who buys zoo for the articles(actually who buys zoo)

    Jesus Christ. I feel bad for McKasker.

    Hey Mr Explody, nice brown-nosing of big business back there. I can see you're headed for big things in management, where those who can't do, command.

    2 previous warnings? A company can write a warning for anything no matter how ludicrous. Stay back an hour a day but arrive 2 minutes late once? Warning. It doesn't mean anything.

    Can he do the job? Does he have integrity? YES, and YES. That's what's important. Not how many f***ing warnings he has.

    Zoo never write anything good, but saying that they should have the right to write anything they want. I hope Rockstar doesn't turn into the next EA or Activision.

    Probably worth mentioning that the e-mail was sent by a publicist at Rockstar - I know that doesn't make the idea better, but it probably wasn't the fault of the people who are actually responsible for the game itself; just an overzealous idiot in the marketing department.

    Sounds like McCasker was already up shit creek without a paddle and needs a new job. Why use a recruitment agency when news.com.au can do the work for you. He just needs to contact an acting agency because he could totally be a body double for Antonio Banderas if there are any future Zorro films.

    Kudos for doing the right thing.

    I'm personally going to go with the editor's statement here. I don't really trust any journo from Zoo magazine when they try to create a scandal; particularly when the one pouring cold water over it makes a lot more sense.

    Take it with a grain of salt. Could be a case of sour grapes from a sacked employee.

    Zoo is a horrible magazine, a horrible magazine with less content then most toilet paper.

    I couldnt careless what someones promotional office does, that doesnt reflect on the devs, andsometwo bit back page reviewer should not be taken that seriouslyto begin with.

    Journalist? In Australia? With how our media works? And at Zoo?

    You gotta be kidding me.

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