Here at Kotaku, we love insider info. We like getting information both from random tipsters and our own sources. And because of those people — to whom we grant anonymity in our reporting — we're able to tell you stories you might not otherwise know about, and give you all the details about games like Titanfall and Alien: Isolation before they're even announced.
Of course, we're not the only ones: other outlets have also reported some terrific scoops using secret sources.
But the danger of anonymous sourcing is that when not handled judiciously, it can allow false information to spread.
Take "Nintendo Fusion," the recently-rumoured "next Nintendo console" that you might have seen reported on major gaming websites like Destructoid, The Escapist, and VentureBeat. The rumour is this: in the wake of a rough 2013, Nintendo has started development on their next console, Nintendo Fusion, which will have two parts, called the Fusion DS and Fusion Terminal. There's also a giant list of specs for the system, including some questionable bullet-points like "Thumbprint Security Scanner with Pulse Sensing Feedback" and "SDHC 'Holographic Enhanced' Card Slot up to 128 Gigabyte Limit."
The timing is suspect, given that news just came out about Nintendo's rough 2013, and given that the company's last console launched just over a year ago. But while the list is full of red flags, the premise is certainly possible — plenty of pundits and observers would love to see Nintendo use its mighty developer talent for one hybrid console, rather than two. (Nintendo, when asked about the rumour, told me they don't comment on rumours and speculation.)
There's one bigger problem with this rumour: sketchy sourcing.
Where did all this come from? The above gaming sites all cite this article, written by Kevin McMinn for a website called Nintendo News, which says that this Nintendo Fusion rumour came from "an anonymous tip from one of [their] very reputable sources." Nintendo News presents the specs and information as a possibility, not a guarantee, and they warn readers to be sceptical about what's written there.
But when reached by e-mail last night, McMinn told me he doesn't actually know who gave him this Nintendo Fusion story. Although he believes that this is a "very reputable source," McMinn said he doesn't know who they are or how they might be privy to so many specific details about a new Nintendo console.
"I know little to nothing about the person who sent the email with the information," McMinn said. "All I know is that the person has been proven to have inside information and has given details to other sources as well; not just Nintendo News."
McMinn didn't elaborate, but said he hasn't published everything he's received from this anonymous tipster in the past, and what's more, he seems to regret allowing a rumour like this to spread.
"I'm really not sure why the Internet is blowing up right now over this," McMinn told me. "I've made it completely clear on numerous occasions throughout the article that the information is not 100% guaranteed and for readers to take caution when viewing the contents. I'm at a point now where I'll probably just keep tips to myself and not publish the info. This one article has been nothing more than a pain in the neck, really."
But the rumour might not have even started at Nintendo News. Yesterday, a website called GaminRealm also published those same specs, complete with one hell of a warning:
Before I go any further though, let me make a disclaimer: Take all of this with a huge grain of salt. I'm not going to lie and make it out to seem like I have inside industry sources, because I don't. The information you're about to see comes from an anonymous origin, and an acquaintance of mine brought this to my attention — I'm just being honest with you. Yep, it's one of those situations.
In other words, GaminRealm's tipster could have been anyone ranging from Shigeru Miyamoto to a 14-year-old 4channer. Both websites list the same spec breakdown for this alleged Nintendo Fusion, and neither writer seems to know who provided the information in the first place.
It's not our norm to ask other reporters about their sources, but when a rumour is spreading and the origin of that rumour seems potentially suspect, we have to ask for any context that will help us size things up and discern what's worth sharing with our readers. So in an attempt to distinguish fact from fiction and untangle the confusing sourcing here, I asked GaminRealm founder Marlon Reid for more context.
"Our information came from one of our own sources whose information I cannot disclose," Reid told me in an e-mail. "I am well aware of [Nintendo News]. Unfortunately for them, my reporter was the first to have that info and has had that info for a while now."
Reid wouldn't elaborate on who sent GaminRealm the information or why they put a disclaimer like that, insisting in a follow-up e-mail that he "can not disclose source information," although the article itself makes it quite clear that writer Jahmai Williams did not know who sent in this info or whether it's real or not.
Meanwhile, Nintendo News's McMinn said he isn't sure whether the rumour he reported is legitimate.
"With regard to the hardware specifications, I can't give you an accurate answer," he told me in an e-mail. "I don't know enough about the listed hardware to provide you with an educated answer. For that reason alone, I cannot tell you if I think it holds any weight."
This is how the sausage gets made — from one or two anonymous emails to some of the largest websites in gaming. Flimsy rumours like Nintendo Fusion illustrate just how strange some of this stuff can get.