http://www.gamesetwatch.com/nintendowii.jpg The question of game journalism, page views, and Digg hyping was brought home to me again this week, after a Gamasutra post that I made about Electronic Arts' post-earnings analyst call was picked up by a whole bunch of people, and at least in one case, notably distorted. How, why, and when? Let's go through the timeline.

Now, I'm not claiming any particular 'skill' in going to listen to the webcast of the earnings call - other people do so, too, but the thing I wrote that eventually got transformed into a Digg-topping headline was this:

"Regarding Wii pricing, EA execs simply commented that publishers would have to decide on pricing themselves, but that Nintendo had indicated that first-party Wii titles would not be priced at more than $49.99 - suggesting that Electronic Arts games may debut for Wii at $49.99 at launch, though they did not state this specifically." I'll reprint the exact EA quote later.

Most people who picked up on this, as part of a more explicit announcement that EA were doing more Wii and DS games (actually the subject of my Gamasutra headline), understood the greyness of the EA comments on price - for example, Joystiq commented, using my post:

"First party Wii titles won't be more than $49.99 "suggesting that Electronic Arts games may debut for Wii at $49.99 at launch." They weren't saying though." Right.

However, then UGO affiliate GameWorld Network came out with the following article: "EA Drops Bombshell: Wii Games 'No More Than $49.99'". The article is completely uncredited (not even saying where the comments took place), and specifically says:

"EA announced "...we have ramped up [game] production for the Wii and DS Lite' following significant excitement over the Nintendo-created consoles at E3." The spokesperson also went on to say that Wii games won't cost more than US$49.99 at launch. Well, we would hope not."

For reference, an earlier part of the original Gamasutra post says:

"Talking in the conference call following the announcement, EA executives particularly noted that "...we have ramped up [game] production for the Wii and DS Lite", following significant excitement over the Nintendo-created consoles at E3."

So GWN's story takes half of EA's quote and half of my own sentence and conflates them, and then changes the whole 'first-party games are $49.99, we're not saying exactly' statement to be much closer to 'all Wii games are $49.99'. Suck.

Then, even more confusingly, the GWN folks submitted the story to Digg, where it currently has 1423 Diggs (and has never been flagged as inaccurate!), and used quotation marks incorrectly again, this time directly suggesting:

"EA dropped the news during a conference call "...we have ramped up [game] production for the Wii and DS Lite' following significant excitement over the Nintendo-created consoles at E3. Wii games won't cost more than US$49.99 at launch."

Which is simply not true. To other sites' credit, they then attempted to unravel this mystery, with IGN doing a creditable job of explaining the confusion, getting a denial from EA that pricing has been set, and noting:

"In an earnings conference call yesterday, Electronic Arts CFO Warren Jensen responded to a question about Wii pricing, referring to comments from Nintendo president Satoru Iwata: "The only thing I heard is the CEO of Nintendo saying he could not imagine any of their titles being sold beyond $49.95."

This goes most of the way to explaining the confusion, but I went back to an archive of the EA earnings call just now, and here's Jensen's full answer to the question, for the record:

"All of the companies in the industry are going to have to make a decision about that. The only thing I heard is the CEO of Nintendo saying he could not imagine any of their titles being sold beyond $49.95. So again, everyone is going to have to make their own decision about pricing on that platform."

So, you can't hear Jensen saying that, but as I mentioned in my original report, I feel that a 'make up your own minds, first-party is $49.99, make up your own minds' answer indicates that EA is at least considering similar pricing. (Now, having said that, first-party Xbox 360 launch titles were $49.99, whereas most third-party launch games were $59.99 - but now, the first-party Gears Of War is apparently launching at a $59.99/$69.99 pricepoint this Xmas. So there's plenty of messages here!)

But overall, it bothers me that GWN has taken a statement I made that was not, in itself, explicitly newsworthy, and changed its message so that it's practically a scoop. It makes _me_ feel nervous about expressing these kind of nuanced opinions, which I think are perfectly legitimate, in news.

FWIW, I actually submitted our article on the EA earnings call to Digg hours before GWN's, but under the headline 'EA Ramps Up Wii Game Production'. So naturally, it got 9 Diggs, compared to 1423 for 'EA Drops Bombshell: Wii Games "No More Than $49.99"'. Unsurprisingly.

And this is exactly why I find completely reader-driven story choice a major problem at times - and I'm seeing it everywhere. Massive aggregators like Digg make it much easier to attract readers, as a one-time surge, to completely unknown sites with carefully skewed, sensationalist stories (as GWN has been attempting very successfully since), and it makes it all the more difficult to practice balanced journalism and get any notice.

So, is the era of Digg the age of the troll? I think we should be told.