Magazine writer fired after dustup with Rockstar PR

According to a story,  a deputy editor for Austrailian publication Zoo Weekly has been fired after publishing an allegedly internal email from Rockstar regarding Zoo's coverage of the upcoming Red Dead Redemption. The alleged email from Rockstar, which former deputy entertainment editor Toby McCasker posted on his Facebook, contained the following:

"This is the biggest game we've done since GTA IV, and is already receiving Game of the Year 2010 nominations from specialists all around the world," it read.

"Can you please ensure Toby's article reflects this — he needs to respect the huge achievement he's writing about here."

Above: "Well Pardner, looks like it's about time for me to be moseyin' on over to"

If true, the email/firing will be the latest chapter in the long running struggle between games journalists trying to protect their editorial credibility, and PR departments refusing to advertise on sites that give negative reviews to their products. It should be noted that Zoo Weekly is not strictly a games publication, it’s a men’s interest magazine a la Maxim, and the writer in question tends to favor a more casual/inflammatory writing style.

The official stance is that McCasker was fired as a result of the leaked email, not because of his negative opinion of Red Dead Redemption/Rockstar. Even so, the damage control stance taken by the publication’s editor is telling. Responding to Kotaku, the site’s editor Paul Merrill said:

“I would like to make it clear that at no time has Rockstar EVER sought a preferential review in return for advertising. In fact no games company has ever suggested this. And Zoo would never give a positive review to a game we didn't rate in return for ad dollars.”

He continues: "Toby McCasker was sacked for a number of reasons, one of which was his decision to post a private email on his Facebook page. This email was not referring to a game review. He should not be considered a credible source of information on this matter.”

Above: 2010 GOTY (I've got kids to feed!)

While it’s impossible to speculate on what relationship Mr. McCasker had with his former company, it’s somewhat disheartening to see Merrill so quickly and assertively attempting to discredit and abandon one of his own writers. The comment also confirms the fact that the worryingly strong-armed email was, in fact real, though not referring to the game’s review.

The reality of the situation is that websites are fueled by advertising dollars, and if a company takes issue with a site they can simply choose not to spend their ad budget money there. The opposite is also true, in that a website that’s seen as nothing more than a corporate shill will alienate gamers and become unpopular. There’s a thin line between criticism and advertisement, but it increasingly looks as if the only casualties in the battle are the writers themselves.

Apr 7, 2010


  • D0CCON - April 22, 2010 2:31 a.m.

    @oufour So it's ry? Anyways, I never thought Rockstar would do that. I never keep track of developers anyways, so it might have happened before without my knowledge, but I thought Rockstar and other developers could handle a negative opinion better than that.
  • Joshin69 - April 9, 2010 8:40 a.m.

    And there slips some of last slithers of credibility Zoo never had.
  • JohnnyMaverik - April 8, 2010 12:59 a.m.

    "And Zoo would never give a positive review to a game we didn't rate in return for ad dollars." Wait what? I've read that 10 times and it still sounds like the dude is saying they'd give a poor review to any game that they haddn't been essentially paid to review. @ Felix This isn't about whether or not it'll be a good game, this is about war mfer, rise up and riot... cuz... it makes me happy? O.o
  • Felixthecat - April 7, 2010 11:38 p.m.

    Red Dead Redemption will be an amazing game. That's all that matter's.
  • curly_jefferson - April 7, 2010 10:52 p.m.

    I really have an issue with with Zoo, the guys who read it on the train and it has some model on the front and the back has an ad for a game i like, it makes games look stupid. WAAAH, i'm done whinging. This seems really unfair, i should think that PR guy got his ass kicked for this.
  • And_ROOS - April 7, 2010 9:42 p.m.

    A cowboy game being GOTY? STFU R* and get back onto making more additional sh*t for your lackluster GTA.
  • Memph - April 7, 2010 9:38 p.m.

    the world would be an infinitely better place if anyone who had anything to do with 'PR' or advertising would just drop down dead.
  • kaiben - April 7, 2010 9:31 p.m.

    I believe R* on this one.
  • TheManWithTheGoldenController - April 7, 2010 9:27 p.m.

    Employee of the Month goes to...!
  • Tobli - April 7, 2010 9:24 p.m.

    This sounds as shady to me as the publishers who only allow early reviews if they score the game over 90/100.
  • WickedSid - April 7, 2010 9:16 p.m.

    Red Dead Redemption looks like a great game, although, I do not really believe that it will receive Game of the year. P.S. How many games of the year were there last year? I do think there should be a single reputable source to decide what the single game of the year should be, otherwise it just takes one magazine to name any game GOTY, then everything becomes convoluted, distorted and any other synonyms for those words, and there are multiple games of the year, which, in turn, causes some gamers to become confused in which game to purchase or ask for from their parents. I have to end this little "rant" of mine on a high note... reCaptcha: blamed physique, Blamed on what? being to great, that's what.
  • TheIronMaiden - April 7, 2010 9:04 p.m.

    thats sickening. If this really is true, boycott on this game. I don't need to play it.
  • TURbo - April 7, 2010 9:04 p.m.

    Sounds to me like it was a "suggestion" to write a positive preview, unless the game is already complete and Rockstar is waiting another 2 months and then releasing the game. @Mikel Reparaz When you speak to Rockstar PR people, are you speaking to the ones really low on the totem pole?
  • StoryofEverest - April 7, 2010 8:53 p.m.

    Wait, so Rockstar emails this guy telling him to make sure Red Dead gets positive press because they expect game of the year, he turns around and tries to show he's being intimidated by a big corporation, and HE gets fired for it. BULL. SHIT.
  • db1331 - April 7, 2010 8:49 p.m.

    Good for Toby if this is true. Shame on them for punishing a man for trying to maintain his credibility. If I was a reviewer I would PRAY that I got assigned Kane & Lynch 2 to review. I would give it a 10 and my review would read like an epic poem.
  • oufour - April 7, 2010 8:48 p.m.

    rockstar, you shady mother fuckers! sounds like bribery, without the bribe part.

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