The Rumor Mill

No High Scores

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I was a big fan of the show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. It was pretty much just me and a half dozen other Aaron Sorkin acolytes who are universally in love with what it says about our under-appreciated intelligence that we’re the only ones who really “get” the man’s writing. One scene I particularly liked from the show is when the character of Jordan McDeer gives an interview with Time magazine. She gets an inane question about her personal life, justified with the always popular, “talk in the industry,” and proceeds to take the man down a peg when she says, “I think you’re reporting on what you and the guy in the cubicle next to you were talking about at lunch. And that makes you a hairdresser and a cockfight promoter.” (See time code 7:37 of this clip.)

That line occurs to me a lot when I read about “rumors” or “talk” in the gaming press. Now, before I pull out my high and mighty pedestal, in which I pretend I’m somehow above the influence of mundane rumors, let’s be clear: I’m not saying rumors have no place in our discourse. They’re fun forum fodder. They can generate valuable discussion on more mainstream sites. They have their place. At the same time, I think a lot of big gaming news sites attach the word “rumor” to their stories anytime someone wants to justify writing about something that is completely unsubstantiated or only has the very loosest possible sourcing. This went on today with the “news” that Mass Effect 3 may in fact have a multiplayer component…

Multiplayer rumors have swirled around Mass Effect for a good long time, although they’ve picked up steam of late. But it was a specific story that caught my eye today because it then showed up on half a dozen other sites within a couple of hours. Hell, my Twitter feed was loaded with discussion about it. And why not, right? We’re talking about adding multiplayer to what has been a wholly single-player experience. The notion of that actually happening kind of makes me want to vomit in my mouth, but I get I’m in something of a minority there. I had even started to do my own write-up on it before I really read the story. That’s when I decided to throw my post out. Why? Well, let’s look at what they’re actually reporting:

– An unattributed lead that says ME3 is “rumored to feature four-player co-op mode.”
– An “understanding” by the site that it will have four-player co-op as a standalone feature (as well as “competitive elements.”)
– “Current reports” that say ME3 multiplayer includes a Horde-style mode
– A “source” that says Bioware Montreal is creating a multiplayer component for Mass Effect, but cannot confirm if it’s for a separate game or for Mass 3.
– A named source (Muzyka), from a separate interview by the looks of it, that does say, “We haven’t talked at all about multiplayer…” (emphasis mine)
– Mass Effect 3 was delayed from its initial 2011 launch, with a strong implication that the two are connected.

Now, I’m not going to name the site that reported this information because I’m not looking embarrass that site (or the writer) here. Chances are you know exactly what story I’m talking about. If you do, let’s leave them out of it in the comments. I respect the site in question a great deal and this sort of thing goes on everywhere. We’ve done it here. I’ve done it. There’s no nefarious intent and I’m more interested in the discussion than playing holier than thou. But here’s what we have in this story: Not a single named source in the “yay multiplayer” corner. Those first three bullet points? Completely and totally unattributed. Attribution is implied, but it’s not there. There is one person referred to as “a separate source” with absolutely no additional detail. What we do have is Muzyka saying they haven’t talked about multiplayer for Mass “at all.” I’ll grant you that statement strains credibility beyond the breaking point, but it’s the only thing on the record. And the shipping delay? Name for me a AAA game that hasn’t been delayed. One thing does not equal the other. I read all that and I think this is constructed to look like a story, and sound like a story, but it’s just not a story. It’s there because it puts “Mass Effect” and “Multiplayer” in the same title. It’s the epitome of, “there is talk in the industry,” reporting.

Look, rumors are fun. Speculation is fun. I just find it fascinating when something without a toehold of confirmed fact or credible source behind it catches fire like this story seems to have done. (When I say “credible source,” I mean something more than “a source” that makes me think this person knows what they’re talking about. “A source within Bioware,” for example.) What say the rest of you? Do you like it when sites post unconfirmed or only tacitly confirmed rumors or would you rather they wait until there’s something concrete to go on? How much does the tone of the story influence that opinion?

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Todd Brakke

Todd was born in Ann Arbor, with a Michigan helmet in one hand and a mouse in the other. (Never you mind the logistics of this.) He grew, vertically anyway, and is a 20-year publishing veteran as an editor of books on consumer tech and professional development for educators. Because that wasn't enough of a challenge, Todd was a 20-year part-time snob about video games, writing reviews, features, and more for multiple outlets from 1997-2015. Follow him on Twitter @toddsfoolery.

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