Gaming press hoaxed over Xbox and surface rumours

Sites report hardware stories from fake Microsoft 'insider'

Several major gaming press sites have been hoaxed by a disgruntled gamer who pretended to be a Microsoft employee who seeded rumours about next-gen hardware.

Posing as an anonymous insider, the hoaxer distributed an email claiming to know details of the next Microsoft console as well as a dedicated Surface-based gaming tablet which was dubbed the X-Surface.

The mail was sent out to a number of gaming publications early yesterday morning. Eight hours later it was being circulated as a valid news piece, although qualified as a rumour by most who published it. Before long, it had spread to many major gaming specific and technology sites, a ripple-effect which the hoaxer aptly describes as "Chinese whispers."

In the flurry of leaks and rumours surrounding the forthcoming next generation of home consoles, nearly every site has covered at least one set of leaked specifications or another, including GamesIndustry International. By taking advantage of the whirl of information, pulling various stats from different reports to form a nebulous but semi-convincing whole, the hoaxer exposed one of online reporting's major flaws: the rush to be quickest to publish.

"It's all about being first," the hoaxer wrote on a Tumblr page exposing the fake emails. "To get such news out (whether you believe it or not) before any other publication does, will guarantee you page impressions, and that all-important advertising revenue. Gaming 'journalism' is completely broken.

"By tagging a post with 'rumour', most writers/editors believe they can get away with spreading false information for their own benefits. They are the only ones to gain from such practices, whilst the gaming fans end up with speculation and, sometimes, outright lies."

Microsoft declined to comment on the situation.

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Latest comments (24)

Kevin Clark-Patterson Lecturer in Games Development, Lancaster and Morecambe College5 years ago
Microsoft declined to comment on the situation.
And what about GamesIndustry International...
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Dan Pearson Business Development, Purewal Consulting5 years ago
Kevin, I think this is well within our remit for coverage. Not only is it clearing up a set of false rumours which are still being reported as true by some outlets, it also highlights some of the problems which games reporting, and online writing in general, faces thanks to the model which we currently operate under. The gaming press, ourselves included, is part of the industry and as such comes under our purview.
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Jack Nilssen Independent Game Developer, Dark Acre5 years ago
Let's play "spot the false journalists".
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Show all comments (24)
James Prendergast Research Chemist 5 years ago
Real journalists died out years ago along with investigative reporters and photographers. :p
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Dan Howdle Head of Content, Existent5 years ago
I'm not at all surprised things like this are allowed to happen out there.

Fact-checking is a lost art among many online gaming news publications. There are loads of exceptions, of course; why do you think I come here? But this is a sad thing yet another reason why I believe that if print goes, it will constitute a major blow to the quality of games journalism as a whole.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 5 years ago
Good journalism depends on access, the one thing the gaming industry never grants. At best you get access to deliver the story line PR has chosen to go public with.

Sure, you can write a great article about the procedure of any production, be it software or hardware. You can deliver a great read with all the ups and downs over a period of time. But that all depends on you living there, or being allowed to interview a lot of people for a story. However, PR has long since industrialized the perceptual manufacturing process. In it, there is no room for a journalist operating on the information he collects, there is only room for information being used as strings turning journalists into puppets.
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Dan Howdle Head of Content, Existent5 years ago
Well said, Klaus.
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 5 years ago
@Klaus Preisinger

We list all our development staff on our website and journalists are welcome to come here and talk to them directly.
Not only that, DD and I are willing to chat away on issues of the day or whatever the journalist wants to know.
As much access as is possible without giving away commercially sensitive secrets. Which is how it should be.
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Steve Peterson Marketing Consultant 5 years ago
There is intense interest in next-gen consoles, and naturally sites would like to publish information about them since readers are interested. The problem, of course, is that the next-gen console makers aren't talking, and the developers who are given info are under non-disclosure agreements. Sometimes developers speak to the press under promise of anonymity, but then fact-checking is impossible. The solution most sites adopt is to try to get some confirmation, and to label the information as a rumor, but if it seems credible to publish it with those caveats.

I faced this issue last year when I was told by a developer that the Wii U was not as powerful as a 360 or a PS3. I sat on that information for almost two months, until I was heard from a completely independent source (who didn't know the first one at all) the very same thing. The second source also told me that the same info had come to them from multiple developers, and I knew they were in a position to hear that. So at that point I decided to run with the story, which at the time met with a lot of skepticism. As it turns out, the Wii U is indeed less powerful than the 360 or the PS3, at least as far as the CPU is concerned.

I think treading a careful middle ground is the best answer in this sort of situation. I will of course be looking for more information about next-gen consoles, as is every game journalist on the planet, but I will be very careful about what I write, and I'll try to put all appropriate cautions on the material.
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James Berg Games User Researcher, EA Canada5 years ago
As much access as is possible without giving away commercially sensitive secrets. Which is how it should be.
That's kind of the point though - hardware specs are commercially sensitive secrets, ergo the constant rumour mill.
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Graeme Quantrill Mobile App Developer 5 years ago
The sensible method would be to not actually report on rumours but as internet journalism is mainly about revenue and numbers I guess that's out the question. Like the original article said " How would people react if they found out the BBC got all their news third-hand from a copied article that had been changed twice along the way?".
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Chris Lowe5 years ago
FWIW it's not just game journalists who fall victim to the desire/need to get it first rather than get it right. I remember on 9/11 news reporters saying there had been explosions at the US Capital building. There were also several major news outlets who reported Congresswoman Gabbie Giffords as dead following her assassination attempt. In an age of 24/7 instant news and multiple outlets there's more incentive to be first and wrong than last but right. As much as readers and fans may claim to detest this the reality is they're the ones fueling it. When Princess Diana was killed the public howled at the paparazzi and blamed them for her death but it was this very same public who had an insatiable demand for photos of her and this caused the paparazzi to pursue her at all costs. Before people blame the media they should first try looking in the mirror.

As for providing information to the media "anonymously" I would strongly suggest against doing so regardless of where you work. Had this hoax email been real it would have been VERY easy for Microsoft to have figured out who sent it based solely on the content of the email. For starters, the writer mentions being with the team for 7 months. It would be very easy for MS HR to go back and look at who was hired or transferred at that time and from there figure out who would have had access to this level of detail. Even in an organization the size of Microsoft this would have been a fairly small number of employees. I say this as someone who works in staffing and has had to conduct employee investigations in the past. If you value your career you should seriously think twice before ever violating an NDA. Unfortunately a lot of people, especially younger people, don't seem to heed this lesson until it's too late.
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Alex V EIC, NGN5 years ago
@Chris Lowe

I don't think it's very fair comparing trying to break a story about video games, versus reporting on a tragic and national event... the latter has room for error due to sheer chaos and magnitude of the situation. The former should not.

@Klaus Preisinger

Well said
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Haha... what a surprise...? Or maybe not.
As I commented, these specs just seemed wrong, and the included documentation dodgy.

There is no point to discuss these things until they are released, or at least validated in some part by the manufacturer..
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Dave Knudson Sr. Technology Manager, Electronic Arts5 years ago
The funny thing about the Surface one was that no one batted an eye that it was 380Watts (enough to power a huge TV), or that it supported 22.2 channel surround sound. Quite the specs for a 7" tablet.

But as far a journalism goes, I saw John McAfee saying this on TV the other day. The media now has a constant deadline of "now" that can be exploited. There's no luxury of having days or even hours to fact check.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Dave Knudson on 25th January 2013 5:44pm

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Paul Jace Merchandiser 5 years ago
Don't feel bad GI. Many people still think that picture of Nessy up there is real, but not me. I know for a fact that Nessy has two heads...and a gerry curl perm.
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Sebastian Moss Editor -in- Chief, PlayStation LifeStyle5 years ago
Pretty depressing. Not because they fell for it, but because they didn't care. Putting Xbox 720 or PS4 into a title is a guaranteed way to make money, which is why you're ending up with "New The Last of Us Screens, Wouldn't This be Nice on PS4?" for titles to dominate google news.

To much of this is about the business, not the art.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 5 years ago
Ha and ha ha. That's why I don't do specs, speculations or other nonsense until I have a damned controller in my hands and see what's what. Did these rumors also have fake girlfriends that fake died as well? Yeeah. Get it together, gaming press and do the legwork before running with the ball... Trying to scoop each other over easily disproved junk makes everyone who jumped into the latest leaky pool look bad...
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Keith Andrew Freelance Journalist, Keith Andrew Media5 years ago
I think there can only be two reasons why the original sites emailed by the hoaxer ran this story:

Either they knew the source was likely dodgy, didn't care too much and ran the story anyway because it fitted in with other rumours and the headline would grab them hits aplenty. If so, that's rather crappy.

The other suggestion is that this is just how a select bunch of those writing for major sites think this is how things are done. Pocket-Lint - which I consider to be a good site, generally well written - defended the article in an update later on by stating that, because what the hoaxer was suggesting seemed legitimate, that it was perfectly fine to run the story.

That's really worrying. In reality, it doesn't matter what was contained within the email - the big question is who the source is. Do you know him? Can you validate who he is in any shape or form? If you can't, they however 'legitimate' the rumours seem, you have no right to run it. I'd argue you shouldn't even run it in a "take this with a massive pinch of salt" capacity.

The job of a journalist completely breaks down if he or she isn't bothered about sources.
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As the independent studios crumble, and the core consumer sector stumbles, we also see the holes that are prevalent in the consumer media scene. As an observer, it is apparent that there are serious problems in the media reporting in this sector - all of its own making, the industry moved to a 'paid' advertorial model, alienated its core audience, and became precious of coverage and creation.

As has been described as a 'closed shop' operation - the E3 press room resembles a university dorm room more than a international media suite (the churn rate in writers amazing, a factor in the "wiki" poor quality of writing. Linked with protective practices and dubious business activity - no wonder the consumer game media are easy targets for hoaxing thieving out of each others pockets.

Lets hope that the following months will bring a time of change as the new Gen-8 hardware materializes and the restrictions on coverage and reviewing are addressed. Because if there us no change then the sector will crash and burn!
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Caleb Hale Journalist 5 years ago
It's always best when the journalist can personally vouch for the source. The whole world doesn't have to know who it is, and legally speaking there aren't many ways (in the U.S. at least) a journalist can be compelled to reveal their sources, but if you're going to be the one to deliver the message millions read you'd better make sure you feel good about the credibility of the information.

I can appreciate Steve's approach on the Wii U tip. With this Xbox gag, someone jumped the gun too early and the wrong information got amplified quick across multiple outlets. This phenomenon isn't unique to the games media.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 5 years ago
But this is the what, second or third stunt from the SAME guy... Who wouldn't pick up a phone and call Microsoft at some point before running the articles to point out what you're hearing and asking for a confirmation. Let them handle the hoaxer on their end if it's a legal matter.

I dunno - it just seems we're in an age of believing junk just because one wants to have a "scoop" when the REAL scoop is (once more) seeing something with one's own eyeballs. You don't NEED to be the first, folks. Sometimes, you just get lucky because you're talking to the right (official) person at the right time.

Anyone can fake this crap up and too many people can't spot the obvious. OK, here the deal: internet ONLY info that's too good to be true (or flat out weird) with no reliable way to double check and a source who's previously fooled the "gaming press" (or any press) with a similar bit of fluff? That just makes me roll over and go back to sleep.
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development5 years ago
Someone above mentioned fact checking in the context of the internet. That made me LOL
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The climate that the games media has created to suit their needs fuels this problem - depending on scooping each other, and depending on 'exclusives' just creates a hot-house atmosphere that leads to failed stories. There is also a vested interest for the publishers and manufacturers to encourage this 'scoop' mentality - helps to sell the product (free marketing) but also allows them to hide behind under-performing reality. Reviews and exclusives claimed a lot of features on the Wii-U for example that have yet to still materialize - the whole debacle over TVii-U and its failure to do 60hz and have half the features promised leads many readers to wonder about how far in the pockets the jouno's really are? (so obviously no rumors will be confirmed from companies).
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