RPS shows you how not to interview

peterI’m very late to this, but I’ve been stewing over the now-infamous RPS interview of Peter Molyneux and have to say a quick thing or two about it. There seem to be two reactions among both players and other media outlets:

1. Unabashed glee that an unpopular game dev was taken to task for his failings, lies, and pattern of hype. Lots of “He deserved it!” sentiments.

2. Abashed shame that Rock, Paper, Shotgun conducted an interview in such a manner, sympathies or dislike for Molyneux notwithstanding.

I am firmly in the second camp. Listen, we need hard, unflinching questions in interviews. We need journalists committed to rooting out the truth and not lobbing complete softball discussions. But this wasn’t just a keen-eyed reporter going for the next Pulitzer; it was a ticked-off fan getting to flame a dev on the phone and then post it, knowing that it would get a lot of hurrahs because Molyneux is in the doghouse.

It’s so unprofessional that I’m shocked that other outlets have been praising it. The interviewer is completely emotional and antagonistic, a fanboy trying to pick a fight instead of a reporter looking for facts and explanations. It didn’t matter what Molyneux had to say; it was clear from the very first question that this was a witch hunt that could only have one result.

Actually, it could have had two results: Molyneux could have hung up, and he really should have. He was far too polite to do so and too polite not to get into a fight with the interviewer.

This interview could have asked most all of the same hard, fact-seeking questions but done so without an angry, petulant, bullying tone and been so much better for it. RPS should take that interview down, stat.

18 thoughts on “RPS shows you how not to interview

  1. Totally agree with you here. I don’t think what Molyneux has done with Godus is right in any way, but reading this interview left me cringing and feeling more sorry for him than anything else. It got to the point where this interview was walking a line of emotional abuse against a man who is obviously very, very emotional… and I don’t throw those kinds of terms around lightly.

    I was also really surprised Molyneux didn’t hang up, and that he held out through the whole thing. I felt he was just so desperate for his viewpoint to be heard and understood. I probably would have canned the interview after the first question. It was obviously super, super biased.

  2. I said elsewhere, opening up with the question, “Do you think that you’re a pathological liar?” was a big red flag for me. They could have easily take Molyneux to task with hard hitting questions without essentially going down the “have you stopped beating your wife” path of journalism.

    I have no particular interest in Molyneux, but that was just ugly and uncalled for and didn’t help press, gamers, or Molyneux in any way.

  3. Ditto. That surely had to be the lowest point in games journalism history, regardless of what Molyneux has done. (A couple of times I wanted someone to ask that writer if HE was a pathological liar.)

  4. You should do a blog post about interviews in game journalism that you thought had hard, unflinching questions without being antagonistic.

  5. I agree with most of your points, but I am still of the mind that we need tougher gaming journalism. This interview certainly goes too far, but I’d rather live in a world where we have some go too far, than have them all pussyfoot around without ever asking any serious questions.

  6. Like most things, interviewing doesn’t have to be totally soft or totally hard. You can dance on a spectrum and lure interesting answers out of your interviewee, especially when you’re not bringing heavy bias or looking for a specific outcome. Look at how, say, Barbara Walters would interview people. Soft question, soft question, get them comfortable, then segue into harder ones, then back to soft, then hard again.

  7. If you come out of the gate swinging and attacking your subject, then you’re either going to get a walk-out or a very defensive, closed-off interviewee. Neither of which is going to result in an informative interview.

  8. Sure, everything in moderation, but when you have an absence of any interviewers asking any serious questions, you have to start somewhere. RPS went too far, but it was still one of the very few interviews I have seen that wasn’t just more PR/marketing.

    Gaming doesn’t have a Barbara Walters, it has a bunch of Conan O’Briens.

  9. From what I’ve seen, the problem isn’t always that the journalist isn’t asking tough questions, the problem is that the game companies only answers the easy ones and hide behind PR speak for everything else. There’s only so much you can get someone to say if they aren’t allowed to provide any more information due to company policy.

    I’d rather see journalists be firm but civil and get less information than brow beat someone and get inaccurate or disproportionate information. People are too eager to see someone’s faults or failures, as if joy in another’s misdeads somehow diminishes the severity of our own.

    That said I want to see businesses stay (relatively) honest and scrutiny and confrontation from the press is part of making sure that happens. But then who watches the watchmen when they start behaving like this interviewer did? There needs to be someone keeping journalists in check and I think that can be other journalists and bloggers but mostly it’s up to the readership to support good journalism and use the bad stuff to line the hamster cage.

  10. I normally like reading RPS, and still do, but I agree with you here. The interview went too far.

    Not sure I’d call it out as being a pissed off fanboy though. I suspect Walker was going for the hardline journalist angle, but missed, and ventured into cruelty instead. The question in my mind is: do the RPS staff, and John Walker in particular, actually have any journalism training?

    If they don’t, then perhaps it’s a good idea to get some (or perhaps some mentoring from a pro-journo) before they attempt this again.

  11. I have to disagree with everyone here. Was it a fun read? Oh Lord no. It was brutal. It was painful. It was what it was.
    Peter Molyneux talked to John Walker for over an hour after that first question. He could have hung up. Like you said Justin, he should have hung up. If he was insulted.

    Peter Molyneux also gave interviews that week to Kotaku and The Guardian. He’s Peter Molyneux after all, it’s not like there’s any shortage of people who would interview and give him a platform.

    This was all a game. Peter could have hung up or RPS could have been softer. Neither happened but in not leaving it said all I needed about Peter Molyneux. He had to know what sort of interview that would make but didn’t try to back out of it.

    No, he tried to spin and win.

  12. I’ve been having mixed feelings about this interview.
    On the surface I agree that leading with that question is a faux pas.
    But then there’s the fact that for one-and-a-half hours all the things Molyneux says add up to a clear ‘yes’ to that first question.

    So while I would agree that this kind of leading question goes too far in most cases, I think it was rather relevant here. In this particular instance.
    Molyneux’s an exceptional bird, who’s been asked to account for his “I was wrong but I don’t think I lied” gaffes frequently in both soft and hard ways and just keeps going. At some point the question whether he’s a pathological liar becomes pertinent. And I do think it was answered as “yes” by Molyneux through this article, so that makes it valid.

    The question, while blunt, did not pain me. Molyneux’s responses to many of the follow up questions were painful, an inverted schadefreude, I felt ashamed on his (Molyneux) behalf with nearly every paragraph. And the slow inexorable realisation that yes, in fact, he is costantly lying without realising and/or acknowledging it even to himself.

    Whether John Walker knew this’d happen going in, I don’t know. I do think he too considered it a valid question to ask of Molyneux at this point in the farce that’s been Godus development.
    And no, I have no personal investment in Godus, I’m neither a fanboi or a Molyneux hater. I’m someon who follows the industry and have been (subconciously) wishing someone would pose him that question.

    Bad journalism? No, not really. Blunt, yes. A blunt instrument that was used with accuracy nd precision though.

  13. I had no previous knowledge of this, but I just read the interview. I loved it. Somebody needs to send John over to talk to the crew at Hex next. I’d love to hear what they have to say about their MMOTCGRPG vaporware when someone actually backs them into a corner like that.

  14. Welcome to gonzo reporting/interviewing! Where you can accuse people and expect unreasonable results when you know nothing about how long a game takes to be developed. Nor what kind of “speed bumps” can crop up during the development cycles.

    Point me to a comparable game being developed by less than 50 people for under $5 million that took less than 5 years to complete….please.

    A new car model – which doesn’t include new engine, transmission, nor chassis redesign – takes 4 years and hundreds of millions of dollars…with hundreds working on the new model (which includes all the outsourced suppliers).

    When an interviewer doesn’t understand the development of games, they will be bound to look like fools…angry fools if they DONATED money to a Kickstarter (because people don’t INVEST money on projects through crowd-funding).


  15. @Dolnor – Point to me what other comparable game with a veteran development team of less than 50 people with a budget of less than $5 million also promised to deliver that game, not in 5 years, but in 7-9 months. And then tell me if you think they were smoking crack, really bad at development, or running a scam. The questions needed to be asked. And there were some telling answers, even if the interview was not “Barbara Walters” style with tidbits tantalizingly teased out.

  16. Late to this particular comment section (well …week old articles aren’t late imo!) but slightly disagree that this was a bad interview, even though I DO think John needed some advice from colleagues and/or someone else helping him with it. There came a point where he clearly got lucky that Peter was demolishing himself and the interview questions no longer mattered, but overall I think the tone was acceptable and ultimately good information. Peter was a fool all over himself.

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