In short: Kotaku feel it has, for a number of years, been blacklisted by Bethesda, and for the past year by Ubisoft, after leaking details of unannounced games. With calls and emails not being responded to, Kotaku's coverage of the companies' games has been - as you'd expect - compromised.
With Kotaku being one of the biggest gaming sites on the Interwebble, it kicked off a flurry of discussion. Much of it, inevitably, criticising Kotaku for being a bunch of crybabies, and inexplicably taking the side of the big games companies. Others were more sympathetic to Kotaku's journalistic right to report what it felt its readers would be interested in.
Question: Which of these "gourds" holds the most "water"?
I honestly don't get some gamers. I've never understood the blind loyalty to products made by faceless corporations and companies, who wouldn't think twice about running their customers through a mangle if they thought it would squeeze more money out of them.
You don't get that same loyalty to, say, Harper Collins, or Universal Studios, or Zanussi, or Walkers Crisps. There's something about games - or gamers - that inspires a sort of loyalty that borders on being mental.
What Kotaku did most clearly and positively was shine a light on practices that were going on as far back as the 90s, when I was still a professional games journo (as opposed to the unprofessional one I am now). The worst outcome of these practices - if not reported upon - is that the reporting you get on games is going to be skewed utterly in favour of a company that wants you to buy its things.
If games firms were able to get away with this en masse, they would be able control the gaming media. You wouldn't hear about buggy game releases. Everything would be "Woooh! 9/10!".
And it happens; some websites are clearly more "enthusiastic" than others in order to hang onto exclusives and advertisers. You might know which ones I'm talking about.
But then there are others which feel like they're on the side of gamers. Kotaku always felt like this to me. By revealing their troubles with Ubi and Bethy - which I dare say happened after considerable effort to resolve the situation amicably - they're even more on the side of gamers.
Or, if you don't like that label, the consumer. That's you, whomever you are.
I can sympathise with Kotaku's position. Back in the Digitiser days, we were finding it impossible to establish a relationship with Sony. It reached a tipping point when the company's PR department wouldn't acknowledge our request for a copy of Wipeout.
Not covering the biggest game launch of the year was making us look like real big idiots and, being perfectly frank with you, we knew we had a bigger audience than most games magazines.
However, we always felt sidelined by a clique. The journos and PR people of the day, it felt to us, were uncomfortably close. We were on the outside of that, looking in (and, if I'm honest, I still feel oddly on the sidelines).
While on the one hand we valued our independence and didn't want to socialise with coked-up "lads" who treated their job like something they were entitled to, on the other we sort of looked at the freebie trips around the world the CVGs and Mean Machines of the world were getting, and wanted a piece of that pie. We were young. Wouldn't you?
Not that we ever got those freebies, or pursued them that vigorously, mind. While there are many other journos of the time that I remember fondly, we went to just enough games events to know that we weren't like most of the other boys (so to speak), and getting the review software and press releases was enough.
When we got them, that is.
In our frustration, we wrote a piece about the Sony situation on Digitiser... and mentioned the PR person by name. Suffice to say, our bosses got a furious phone call within a few minutes of the piece going up. We got into terrible trouble (Teletext's bosses typically just defaulted to most things being our fault). But we also got the copy of Wipeout we wanted, and early Sony review copies from that point onwards.
So who is in the wrong in the Kotaku/blacklisting scandal? Well... nobody and everybody, depending on your perspective.
As Keza MacDonald rightly asserts: "Nobody is entitled privileged access" to a games company's products - not even a site as big as Kotaku. At the same time... Bethesda and Ubisoft clearly didn't want the release of information about their forthcoming games being taken out of their hands, and so you can sort of see why they might be pissed off.
I mean, back in the day we reported on Digi an exclusive about the release of the 32X that we only knew about because we'd eavesdropped on a conversation in the lobby of Sega HQ. Sega's PR weren't best pleased... but more than that they became paranoid about an internal mole. Which was funny.
When you're writing stuff, especially daily, you're always looking for content, wherever it comes from. Things are even more cutthroat now, with so many sites competing to stand out from one another. I can't really blame Kotaku for running the offending pieces. I'd have done the same if I'd heard through unofficial channels about Fallout 4 and Assassin's Creed Syndicate.
At the same time, I don't blame Bethesda and Ubisoft for no longer wanting to deal with them (though ignoring them completely does seem a little babyish and/or passive-aggressive).
Thing is, Kotaku's reporting seemed to be on the side of the gamer - excitement about the games in question. So all the grief they're getting, gamers calling the stories a "dick move" or whatever, strike me as coming from a weird place.
It's a strange time to be a games journalist (and I'm not talking about myself here).
Clearly, the big games companies don't need magazines and websites as much as they once did. Wining and dining of individuals - the YouTube generation - is sufficient to get them the positive word-of-mouth they need.
It's both a good thing and a bad thing. Individual, independent, voices is something that games coverage benefits from. At the same time, there are precious few checks and balances in place when it comes to that bold new world.
I'm pretty fascinated by the world of YouTube. Watch a random selection of vloggers and it's amazing how formulaic they are.
"Hey, guys" the videos usually begin with, before we watch them going off to get a coffee, playing with a puppy, then ending with some sort of life-affirming catchphrase, a tease of a big announcement, and request to follow, share and comment. Day in day out. The formula is the same across the board - as encouraged by the YouTube Creator Academy.
The big worry with a lot of the YouTubers is that it's difficult to know whether they're talking about things because they want to, or because they've been paid to, or because they feel obliged to.
Watching a YouTuber talk to his or her loyal, young audience - when it's pretty clear that they're plugging something they've been given money to plug - is deeply uncomfortable to watch, and sort of incenses me. Mentioning the sponsorship in the description makes little difference when you're plugging stuff to 13 and 14 year-olds.
But it's clear that this audience, this potential market, is going to become more and more valuable to companies (and not just games companies) - and reaching it often comes without all the issues of unruly journalists spoiling your marketing plans, or trying to maintain their integrity and independence while juggling that with not upsetting the corporate applecart.
I don't get those who seem to want to spend the whole time beating the gaming press with a stick. Least of all a site like Kotaku which does seem to have integrity. I can only assume the attacks come from a place of jealousy.
Games journalists, gaming websites, are no paragons of virtue. They're as flawed and prone to mistakes as we all are. Yes, even websites need to be accountable and transparent... but the alternative to the gaming press is something worse; secretly bought coverage without opinion.
Stay tuned for my big announcement! Please comment below and share, guys! Love you all!