Is It Okay For Developers To Tell Lies?

Is It Okay For Developers To Tell Lies?

So Platinum Games is working on Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, a fact members of the team openly denied when rumours of its involvement broke earlier this year. Members of the studio told some porky pies to our very own Stephen Totilo regarding the game — was this the right thing to do? This issue struck a nerve with God of War creator David Jaffe, who lied regarding the existence of the new Twisted Metal to preserve an E3 surprise. Jaffe wrote an interesting blog about the reasons for that lie, and the ethical dilemmas that come with working in an industry that thrives on rumour and speculation.

According to Jaffe, if he has to lie to protect his team, he will do it in a “heartbeat”, but would never tell a lie that hurts consumers or raises unrealistic expectations.

I think I’ve been pretty open over the years when game journalists ask me all kinds of things and so I think most folks know that I’m a pretty honest individual. But if I can make our customers happier and more excited by lying to a reporter and thus revealing a title at the right time, then that’s what I’ll do.

And if I can lie to a journalist in order to protect information that will hurt my team if I reveal it, I’ll do that in a heartbeat as well.

The only lie I would never tell is one that would hurt the customer (i.e. ‘yes, we are shipping with 30 vehicles in the new Twisted Metal’ when in fact, I know we will only ship with 17; or releasing screenshots that are CLEARY not representative of anything even close to the game we’re shipping or videos that clearly are not representative of the game or the game experience we are shipping). To me, those are lies that HURT the customer and hopefully – if we do engage in that brand of dishonesty- the reporters and- more importantly- our customers-will lose faith in us quickly.

But there’s a difference between a lie meant to entertain (i.e. you think the magician on stage sawing the woman in half is supposed to tell you ‘now folks, this is all bullshit and I’m not really sawing her in half’?!?) or a lie meant to protect the integrity of the product (i.e. ‘Oh Mr. Reporter, your question is ”does Neo turn out to be THE ONE at the end of the Matrix trilogy? Sure, let me tell you that he DOES even though the last movie is still 10 months away!”) and a lie meant to trick your customers into thinking what they are going to pay for is different from what you know you are selling (i.e. saying ‘our game is 100+ hours of gameplay!’ when it’s really only 12). I think reporters should blast the SHIT out of us and then never speak with us again if we lie like the later example because we are hurting their ability to do their job for their paying customers. I get that. But the former types of lies? I don’t lose a wink of sleep over them. And I’m just surprised reporters think they are owed those sorts of truths JUST BECAUSE they ask for them!

It’s an interesting dilemma — I fully understand the need for developers to protect their product at all costs, and don’t judge David Jaffe for his lie, but I have personally been on the receiving end of dirty tricks intended to make me, personally, look silly for breaking stories that ultimately y turned out to be true. That was not a nice experience.

A simple ‘we don’t comment on rumours and speculation’ is fine as far as I’m concerned. Jaffe seems to believe that isn’t enough, and consumers simply assume whatever story being reported is automatically true, but that’s not always the case. I’d rather have a no comment than an outright lie. In fact — I’d rather have a deathly silence.

Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire! []


  • Jaffe is one of the most sensible devs in the business. Every time he’s on the Giant Bombcast is a tonne of fun and everything here rings true. No-one likes to lie, but if you’re in a business where the eyeballs of millions of gamers and journos are focussed on your activity, then of course you’d lie. If the blogosphere exercised some self-control instead of rampant speculation there would be less need to lie to protect your livelihood.

    It’s part of the business. If a blogger won’t misconstrue your quotes, he/she’ll quote mine and short of that, just make up BS with no filtering or accountability.

  • If they all had a policy to never comment on rumours, it would be a lot simpler.

    As long as the lie doesn’t negatively impact expectations for the product, I’m fine with it. All this rumour and speculation stuff is nice and all, but all that people really care about is the end product. The rumours are long forgotten by the time people have a controller in their hands.

  • After seeing that trailer, if I was involved in making Metal Gear Solid Rising Revengeance (anybody else also feel slightly nauseated just typing that word?), I’d be openly denying having anything to do with it, too.

  • The problem with a “no comment” or silence is they are taken to mean yes or that something is up.
    When a politician says “no comment” it generally means “I’m in deep with my pants down but I don’t want anyone to know that.”
    While this is becoming less prevalent, with most now dribbling nonsense until the microphones and cameras disappear, a “no comment” is often seen as putting up defences which people feel obligated to knock down.

    • This is pretty much my thought process. If Jaffe was interviewed this very second about an upcoming Twisted Metal game and said “No Comment”, I bet you by this time tomorrow we’d have a post on Kotaku about how Jaffe was playing cheeky and hard-to-get but he totally winked, which means there’s a new game coming out!

    • If you remember, BioWare has the “No Comment On Rumours” policy… they used this for The Old Republic MMO, but lets face it, there was no element of surprise when they announced that title. Even if a lot of us were desperately hoping for KOTOR3 single player.

  • I’m with Jaffe on this, basically. If the lie is something that makes me believe that what I’m buying is a different thing to what I’m actually buying, then it’s not on. I’m spending my money, you tell that truth.

    But if it’s a story question, say, then lie. Lie away.

    The MGR:R one is an interesting one, though. I mean, it’s still early in the game’s cycle; it doesn’t come out until next year. At that point, maybe they were working on it but were legally bound somehow not to say. I don’t think it’s a lie that actively hurt anyone.

  • I don’t see a problem with lying about whether they’re doing something or not, when it comes to people they’re not answerable to and have no business snooping in their affairs.

    It’s no different than if you ask your mother if she got you a new bike for Christmas. Maybe she did, maybe she didn’t, but if she did why would she admit it? Then she’s just ruining the surprise.

    Besides, like Lone wolf said, a non-response or a “no comment” is always taken to mean “ok, you have me, your suspicions are totally affirmed and I don’t have anything else to say” even when that’s totally not the truth.

    At my workpalce there is a standing directive to refer all questions to our PR department. We’re not even allowed to say “no comment” because of how damaging that can be – it implies you KNOW something but you’re hiding it. By diverting the question to someone whose job it is to answer those questions you’re accepting no responsibility for the answers.

  • I agree completely with Jaffe’s statement.The media try every trick in the book to gain an exclusive and if the only defense a developer has is to lie then they should do it.

    • The difference though being when a journalist posts a story that they believe has legitimate founding

      Then the companie comes out and says it’s a rumor and not true only for a month later for it to be proven that the article was legit

  • More to the point, if a party is subject to a non-disclosure agreement or other such censure, what other option to they have?

  • I’ve never understood the need for game releases to be such tightly held secrets.

    Really, game devs need to get over themselves.

    Your games are not that important.

    I knew a person who was really good at their job who was fired from Krome because they put on Linked In the fact they were working on Force Unleashed 2 on Wii.

    How is that “secret” worth firing someone over?

    Krome is dead, all the people at Lucas quit or were fired, FU2 never came out on Wii, and yet that guy had to spend months worrying about finances and his responsibilities because of a stupid game.

    • Maybe it’s because gamers’ expectations aren’t the only concern. Do you have any idea how beholden developers are to their shareholders or publishers? By breaking a company roadmap, you create all sorts of problems with their portfolio’s marketing, distribution or the date at which they want a product to stew before revealing it. You don’t think a dev deserves the right to decide when they want to announce their latest work? Or do you think impatient gamers are entitled to know that too?

      Take the iPhone 4 leak, that didn’t just damage Apple’s reputation for secrecy, it directly affected their quarterly report because consumers were actively shying away from purchasing existing 3GS knowing exactly what the next device was and that it was right around the corner. Sure, Apple probably made the money back from iPhone 4 sales, but it’s often not just about bulk sales but constant revenue stream. Which, in the case of small businesses is their livelihoods.

      • Anyone who was actively shying away from the 3GS would have been doing it anyway

        They release a new iPhone every year anyone who wasn’t expecting the new iPhone was delusional

  • Much obliged. Maybe this David Jaffe fella might like to answer a coupla questions about the Polo Lounge? Saturday night? A white Chevy convertible? He knows the rest. Much obliged. Maybe he’d do that for me. I don’t want to take up too much of his time.

    Truth and lies alike always reveal hidden motivations and agendas – that’s my way of thinking; the lie reveals something about a person that maybe even the truth couldn’t go so far as to uncover.

    Lies sometimes want to reveal as much about a person as the truth otherwise would want to do, that’s my way of thinking . . . on account of my line of work. One more thing – let me ask you: was anybody at the Polo Lounge on Saturday Night? It’s not so important, just asking around is all. Much obliged.

    I really appreciate this. You know, this is really wonderful.

    • This!

      Pretty much any time someone says no comment or give “deathly silence”, is generally a confirmation of what the question was asking.

      Besides, everyone lies…

    • Yeah, this. The problem with giving a “No Comment” is that people see that they are doing this but just not commenting on it. Once they announce it, everybody gives a collective shrug or lambast the game for not being what they wanted. If they don’t announce it, well, people get upset that they’re not doing it. It’s a sort of catch-22.

      • The problem I see in the future is when we see companies get busted lying about projects that are in development, and then from then on we naturally assume that no means yes. By then we have, yes means yes, no comment means yes, no means yes.

        At that point, games journalists will have fee reign, because they can just say anything and it will be taken as gospel, regardless of the dev team. It’s a hard situation to deal with.

  • If it doesn’t affect the end product or mislead the buyer at the end of the day, then no harm, no foul.
    Lies like “this game won’t ship with really nasty DRM”, “all DLC will be available on all platforms”, or “get another game for free when you buy on a particular platform” – these hurt the consumer. I acknowledge that (currently) this is more of an evil publisher thing than a dev thing, but how long until the instruction to “lie to protect the product” is expanded to “lie to protect the product sales”?

    • Problem is that stuff like DRM when they say it will be DRM free it might be a year from release then 3 months before publisher rocks up and says DRM that shit

      Some things arent lies when they are said especially things like DRM which are just added at the end and not made by the team

  • When I was working in the industry, we lied all the time. Why? Because you Joe Public don’t need to know. Why do you think you have any right to know what I’m working on right now? We’re making games, not passing laws.

    • >Why do you think you have any right to know what I’m working on right now? We’re making games, not passing laws.

      Wow, defensive. Good thing your salary isn’t paid for by the people who buy your product. Oh wait…

      • That’s my argument exactly – you’re actually not my customer yet – I haven’t finished my game. Hell, I don’t even know if you’d be interested in what I’m making. And somehow I owe you?

          • I’ll show you my game when I’m ready to show you my game. I won’t reveal any of my work until I’m confident that the one chance I get at a first impression isn’t wasted. Don’t want to buy it? Fine, but at least that decision was not made on some bug-ridden milestone 2 build that I was forced to reveal prematurely.

  • not commenting on rumours only works if you NEVER comment on them. like blizzard, and gain a reputation for legitimately not commenting on rumours.
    you cant just say we do not comment on rumours and speculation when the rumour is true, otherwise it will be seen as a confirmation.

  • All sorts of legal reasons for saying no.

    And basic game details may not be decided at that stage, or they may be trying to get funding. At that point there is no game, or it’s so early if could get shelved for a number of reasons.

    Not to mention I prefer to hear of new games no more than a year before release, the wait can be pretty painful. I’m looking at you C&C G2.

  • It’s all to do with Marketing. A company will have usually have a very specific plan and a very tight schedule when it comes to their marketing, where each piece of information released is done so at a very specific time in order to best promote their product and ensure the most amount of anticipation for the title because of hyped announcements. These companies don’t usually come up with these plans on their own, they pay a marketing team to plan out and manage these Marketing schedules. i can’t really blame them for not wanting to throw away the huge amount of effort time and money already invested in their plan because a blogger has asked them to blow it all open due to a leak.

    Long story short, it was a little white lie in order to best protect their investement. It may be seen as dirty tricks, but these days a “no comment” can be seen as practically a confirmation, so personally i don’t blame them.

    Oh, and am I the only person who is a MGS fan but still thinks this game looks pretty awesome?

  • I would have kept this game a secret myself if I was responsible for it. The game looked soooooo bad. Just really, really bad.

  • Perfectly fine, because journo’s report anything as facts mostly if they can get away with it. If more Dev’s did it then it would make good journalism more appreciated instead of “How many hits will i get if i say [FACT] Kojima retiring!” And then when i click on it, it’s a flat out rumor. Get my drift?

  • Maybe once upon a time journos were beacons of truth for society but these days most can even bother to fact check stories and will print any sort of gossip and rumour no matter what the consequences. Any fallout then becomes yet another story. Or the classic interview question “Sources say..” or “some people are saying…” when in fact the only person saying that is the interviewer to get a reaction. They will misrepresent the facts in any way they can to get a catchier tagline or for entertainment purposes.

    I have had first hand experience of jounos representing themselves on the phone as Police or close relatives of accident victims to get information.

    Based on this, I have no problem whatsoever with lying to journos. They tend to have the least amount of credibility when it comes to telling the truth.

    If someone has such a penchant for truth then journalism is definitely the wrong game to be in.

  • It’s called Confidentiality. To protect a project from potentially harmful coverage (and yes, even good media coverage can be harmful if it comes at a bad time or in an uncontrolled way), you lie about it. You deny it exists, or that you are working on it, or that you’ve even heard of it. It’s the same basic principle that governs Classification in the military, except applied to civilian industries.

    So no, I don’t think there is ANYTHING wrong with lying to the media and the public.

  • It’s okay to lie in the means of confidentiality. It is NOT okay to pull a fucking Ubisoft.

    Yeah, this game wont have our draconian DRM
    *It does*
    I never said it wouldn’t have our draconian DRM *deletes previous post*

    Yeah, Ubisoft are fucking disgusting.

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!