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Newscast #3 – when games journalism looked in the mirror

Friday, 2nd November 2012 11:50 GMT By Patrick Garratt

VG247′s Patrick Garratt and Dave Cook are joined by freelancer Rob Fahey to discuss a week in which the games media was forced to take a deep look at itself and the way it interacts with the publishing industry. Head below for VG247′s third newscast.

[Image credit - *Barrin84 on DeviantArt]

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44 Comments

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  1. Razor

    You missed a golden opportunity to say “The VG247 Newscast… brought to you by Doritos” :P

    #1 1 year ago
  2. Patrick Garratt

    I’m properly rubbish.

    #2 1 year ago
  3. Razor

    Probably best you didn’t though, some genius would’ve thought you were being serious :)

    #3 1 year ago
  4. Patrick Garratt

    I’d love to be sponsored by Doritos. Imagine being able to eat Dotiros all day.

    #4 1 year ago
  5. Dave Cook

    @4 hellish image. I’m trying to lose weight.

    #5 1 year ago
  6. Razor

    Not a fan of Doritos personally… whereas Pringles, now that’s a snack I can get behind.

    I could live off Pringles.

    #6 1 year ago
  7. PsiMonk

    “I’m sitting on a high horse in a rather inappropriate saddle”. Too right, IMHO Pat.

    a) All entertainment industry journalism suffers the issue of access being controlled by PR/marketing. And it’s not just entertainment – travel, motoring etc. are insane for freebies.

    b) That control of access will continue almost no matter what you do. If you don’t pay for flights or even accept early review code for games, you still will run interviews, still run ads on the site, still go to events that not everyone is invited to. What access you get, when you get it, how you get it remains controlled entirely by these companies.

    c) On national press, it’s pretty much The Guardian only that doesn’t accept free jaunts. So the national press, or even other media areas, are hardly to be held up as exemplars of good journalism.

    d) One of the major issues with games journalism that hasn’t been mentioned is pay. If major games media continues to pay peanuts we get impoverished journalists who view a 5* hotel stay as a perk and a free game as not just a perk, but actually a really useful boost to salary. It also means we get a pool of writing talent that are overeager fanboys. (Oops, just got to 27 mins – were this is covered a bit!)

    e) And all of this seems such a sideshow to the real issues here. i) How access is controlled, ii) How as an industry we still don’t do deep investigation or longform writing well, iii) the endless treadmill of access/exclusive/preview, iv) review scores and metacritic ratings being tied to developer payments, v) the lack of commentary and critique of some of the basic failings of videogames – dumb AI and interactivity, glorification of rightwing militaristic viewpoints, cheap misogyny etc. etc. etc.

    f) Finally, part of the issue is the ongoing sense of fanboy geekism we see continuously in the industry. Simply put, most games journalists shouldn’t be employed as consultants for games not because it’s somehow dishonest for games companies to use a pool of games clued-up talent but because most don’t understand anything outside games or how to reach audiences outside traditional gamers. As a wannabe scriptwriter for games it makes me hang my head in shame to see the standard of most scriptwriting in games (often by ex-games journalists – Martin Korda an honourable exception to that). We need to attract people to the industry that aren’t hardcore gamers who tote Sonic tattoos. But when we do attract them, gamers treat them abysmally (see Mass Effect/BioWare writer controversy).

    #7 1 year ago
  8. Dave Cook

    @7 we discussed pay in the podcast mate, and yeah I think that is a problem that absolutely must change as well. Shocking how little some games journalist get paid, just because they want to work in the industry so bad. It’s not just a slap in their face, the top brass are pissing in it.

    #8 1 year ago
  9. Gheritt White

    Thought you’d enjoy seeing this: http://ethicalreviews.wordpress.com/

    #9 1 year ago
  10. PsiMonk

    @8 – yeah, was only 20 mins when I saw that, edited my comment. Good discussion, btw. But really sad to see you and Lauren needlessly scapegoated. And as I say above, I really think this is not even the tip of the iceberg, but ultimately a sideshow to a deeper different issue that affects most entertainment journalism, if not most journalism. So I’m really keen for everyone to retain perspective.

    #10 1 year ago
  11. PsiMonk

    @8 low pay is not a slap in the face, it’s an endemic strategy – we pay peanuts, we get replaceable monkeys who are forced to then turn to PR, freelance for our other titles for low rates, and we keep ‘em bent over so we can ensure they don’t question why or how X exclusive came to be etc.

    #11 1 year ago
  12. GoingPostal13

    There’s a danger that there’s a knee jerk reaction over this and going too far the other way. Not eating PR food? What does that prove? It certainly doesn’t prove your rating on the corruption scale.

    People just need to be upfront and honest in their games coverage.

    #12 1 year ago
  13. Telepathic.Geometry

    Very interesting, and even a little dramatic. :)

    #13 1 year ago
  14. Dave Cook

    @10 well said, and yes indeed, low pay leads to many of the problems being discussed this week and previous. But the ingrained reluctance to recognise and discus such issues – and to palm off the odd free thing here and there as harmless is something the games media hasn’t questioned, just because its been part of the culture – the done thing – for so long.

    These people aren’t corrupt, it was just never viewed as a negative, but I think a lot more people will be questioning it now. Interesting times.

    #14 1 year ago
  15. tenthousandgothsonacid

    I thought that was going to say “are joined by Rab Florence” for one glorious moment.

    I still think Doritos and Mountain Dew lowered themselves by being associated with Halo4 :p

    #15 1 year ago
  16. Patrick Garratt

    I’m all about the drama.

    #16 1 year ago
  17. DSB

    I’m a secret Rob Fahey fan. There, I said it, it’s out there.

    Dude is hella smart though.

    #17 1 year ago
  18. Patrick Garratt

    @7 – One by one, then.

    a) Entertainment journalism will always be people reporting on commercial products, and those products are owned by their manufacturers. How they control their assets is up to them. If we want to see them early, we have to see them in an environment the manufacturers control. But we don’t have to constantly accept what amounts to gifts from the people selling games to do so.

    b) The fact that early access is controlled by publishers will never change. Not sure what the point is here. It’s the nature of what we do. We could just wait for the games to come out, buy them and talk about them then, but considering we’re a games news site that isn’t possible.

    c) I don’t have real experience of the “national press,” to be honest. I know all the guys that do the coverage for it, obviously, and I’ve done a bit of reviewing myself, but I really have little idea of what goes on at the Telegraph, etc.

    d) Voila.

    e) i) See b. ii) I’d argue against that in terms of longform. The quality of longer pieces has increased greatly in last few years. I agree with you on the investigative stuff. iii) The “treadmill” is simply PRs doing their jobs. We routinely turn opps down, as do most others. iv) That’s a pure trade issue. We have no control over how publishers pay developers. v) I’d wholeheartedly disagree with you there. VG247′s been plastered in articles on sexism, boothbabes, etc, for most of 2012.

    f) I have no knowledge of the consultancy thing, other than I know people do it.

    #18 1 year ago
  19. DSB

    I think it is a pretty common problem. The more you embed a journalist, the less objective he becomes. It doesn’t mean he can’t do good journalism, but it does mean the journalism becomes skewed in some way.

    Because of that, I really like Pats campaign.

    At the same time, I think it’s a really muddled grey area. Journalism is also about being in the right place at the right time, even if it’s uncomfortable, for access. Networks can be everything, and that brings me right back to the first paragraph, because building that network can skew the reporting.

    I guess the easiest way to mitigate that paradox is to keep the journalism edgy. You can hardly be accused of being too friendly if you’re also one of the most critical voices in the corps. Some PR spinners will always stab you in the back as soon as they can, others may appreciate that you cut through the bullshit.

    That’s not an easy style to assume, it may take a special kind of writer and a special kind of effort, but I do think it’s possible to have the best of both worlds.

    It’s like that ancient saying “There are no friends in journalism, only assets” – If you can live that, then the “Garratt ruleset” becomes a lot less pressing.

    #19 1 year ago
  20. PsiMonk

    @18 “VG247′s been plastered in articles on sexism, boothbabes, etc, for most of 2012.”

    I’d say that just like games becoming an accepted “art” in mainstream media, then we’re a long way away from tackling sexism, misogyny, violence porn etc. in games in games media. Yes, VG247 has brilliantly run a good few pieces of late. But even VG247 does not routinely consider the wider implications of games within its games coverage yet. That is changing, but slowly, and you’re to be applauded (as ever) for being at the forefront on that with others.

    #20 1 year ago
  21. Patrick Garratt

    We’re trying, yeah. That’s all any of this is. We’ll keep trying to be better, and you’re right, there’s a long way to go. Journeys of a thousand miles, and all that.

    #21 1 year ago
  22. daytripper

    I think yesterday was a good example of good sourcing with the ps4 dev kit story and would like to see more of that if possible also kotaku and their denis dyack piece was very interesting – things are looking up. now £500 to the first who records a angry pr phone call ;-)

    #22 1 year ago
  23. OlderGamer

    I don’t know folks, I still stand by my statement from http://www.vg247.com/2012/10/31/doritosgate-after-the-storm-lets-clean-ourselves-up/

    I think sites like this one need the games industry far more then the games industy needs you. Regaurdless of your reader base size. And the networking aspect is a big deal. If you snub the PR guys, aren’t you concerned about being snubed yourself?

    PR is often the voice of the industry, and the media is just the microphone.

    Also as far as remaining objective, VG247 doesn’t tell readers if games are good or bad. If they should buy it or not. You folks don’t do reviews. You report on news. I do fully understand the sensitivity of comercial interests, but I just find it hard to rally around this one.

    I just don’t see it as a big deal. I would rather you guys play the game by the PRs set of rules and be able to report back then to be not invited to play at all. It needs to be pointed out that much of what gets reported(and draws in readers) are things not found in open public forums. Much of the going ons are by invite only.

    #23 1 year ago
  24. ZeGerman1942

    Great newscast – very open and honest from you guys! Hopefully this will shake up the entire games media environment a bit.

    Loved the comment about games media not being part of the games industry, but having to sit outside of it, being objective.

    #24 1 year ago
  25. DSB

    @23 Honestly I don’t think you see the wider implications.

    A review is one article with one very important number attached to it. But before that you may have 40 posts run on the same game. That’s VG247s staff telling you that that game is one to watch, which in my opinion is just as much money in the bank as an 8/10 review.

    If the standard of what’s worth watching is dictated by PR, then the publishers are the ones being served, instead of the readers, which in my opinion completely eliminates the point of reading anything like this.

    I can keep up with upcoming releases myself, I can watch ads if I want to, but if I want any meaningful information, it should be from a somewhat credible source, instead of a dictate from publisher PR. I get that through ads already.

    Like Pat touches on in the podcast, this whole question is about legitimacy for people who venture to call themselves journalists. Can you really call yourself a journalist when you’re just pushing products? I think that title requires a certain level of professionalism and analysis.

    And the argument that publishers should be accomodated because they’re rich and they make games is just fucking nonsense. Should politicians get a free pass to do whatever they like because they’re richer and more powerful than you? Fact is, politicians need you to be elected, just like the industry needs the press to sell their crap. One doesn’t work without the other, and so it is a relationship with terms that merit consideration.

    #25 1 year ago
  26. Dave Cook

    @DSB “Can you really call yourself a journalist when you’re just pushing products? I think it takes more depth than that.”

    +1

    That’s why I refer to myself as a critic whenever I remember. The old habits come back at times and I call myself a journalist, but I think I’m predominately a critic, save for the odd investigative piece. But that’s rare. Would like to do more but they’re a bit ‘industry’ for VG247.

    #26 1 year ago
  27. DSB

    @26 Of course I went and edited that out.

    Or as we refer to it today, Wainwrighted it out.

    … Too soon?!

    #27 1 year ago
  28. Dave Cook

    @27 why man? It’s a valid point.

    #28 1 year ago
  29. DSB

    @28 Well, reworded it. Depth is all kinds of things.

    Neurosis of the words I guess. It’s just not good until you rewrite it at least three times.

    #29 1 year ago
  30. OlderGamer

    “And the argument that publishers should be accomodated because they’re rich and they make games is just fucking nonsense.”

    Slow down cowboy ;) I didn’t say that.

    But I do think that in many cases the publishers hold most of the cards. So in that regaurd sometimes you have to be a tad accomodating. Your covering their games. Your readers want to know about their games. Readers also want to read interviews. And get inside scoops. These things take a certian amount of access. That is what I am saying.

    Just the nature of the beast.

    TL:DR warning, and possible semi off topic ranting. But food for thought.

    I listened to the podcast too. I just dissagree with it here and there. Esp when it comes to what readers want. I honestly don’t think most readers care too much. Some do, and they are prolly a vocal bunch. Silent majority and all of that. Hell look at Gameinformer, pretty widespread print mag, and you can get it for “free” at Gamestop with an edge card and a deal. I read it every month. It doesn’t bother me that it is aflieated with a retail store(that advertises within).

    There is another side, somewhat seperate to this, but still connected. As far objectivity goes. I don’t think all gamers want honest reviews. Lets take CoD(could be FIFA, Madden, NFS). CoD fans don’t want to hear about the wornout game engine. They don’t want to hear that game is a formula. That the game lacks inovation. That the things costs 110usd(with DLC). That the game is a souless reincarnation of last years game, or the years before it. Why?

    Because they like the game, flaws and all. Fans want previews not objective reviews. They don’t want to hear that the game stinks. They want to know when it comes out, what new features it has, what the maps are like, where the campaign is set.

    Now people that hate CoD want to read reviews that burn the game down. In a sort of justification to why they have always loathed it to begin with.

    But actual fans? They don’t want objective. They want fan service. People like to feel good about their game purchases. And a review that praises their fav franchise will be better recieved then one that picks said game apart.

    And that has zero to do with freebies. It has more to do with knowing your audiance and the physcology of them.

    Sorry to seemingly get off track there, and I am not trying to offend anyone, but…I see objectivity as a reader friendly buzz word. But in truth, I don’t think readers en mass are that interested.

    BLOPs 2 is coming, bash it and people that like it think your an idiot and are turned off.

    Halo 4 is coming, rip on it and fans tune you out.

    Look at the Nintendo forum wars as an example. People don’t want what they like and enjoy to be put down. A site can get away with readers riping on other readers. But if the site itself rips on a game or company there are risks. I think that is one reason we don’t see poor reviews. Someone somewhere is a fan of that game. Some sites draw in their demographics based entirly on being the out spoken. But the majority of gamers, I believe, don’t care if the review is objective, they just want to see the screen grabs and watch the videos.

    Most CoD, Madden, FIFA fans are going to buy the new yearly versions already. They actualy want to be hyped up about them.

    Getting back to the topic at hand, I think it is important for game jurno to understand that covering the games industry is not the same as being on the nightly news. And it isn’t so much news as it is entertainment. Can’t really take it too seriously. Not the job I mean, but the content being covered. They are just games. A national health care debate, a staggering global economy, or political corruption just aren’t on the same level as asking the question of is the new CoD game cool or not.

    In my eyes, not that big of a deal.

    #30 1 year ago
  31. DSB

    A lot of people don’t care about a lot of things. Lead in paint, road maintenance, government administration. None of those things weigh on my mind on a daily basis.

    That’s why it’s a good thing that there are people who do care, and who manage all of that on my behalf.

    Same thing with journalism. It doesn’t matter whether anyone cares about it or not, there’s still a right way and a wrong way.

    Whether a corporation wants their guys in the news or not is their business. A publication is still free to write about those guys, or reference statements of theirs that are part of public record.

    If a corporation chooses to rely on the latter, quotes and opinion, then it doesn’t have a say. If they put their guy up for an interview with a medium, they do get a say.

    Arguably that’s a problem with games journalism at the moment, because no one follows up with critical questions, and there’s little in the way of opinion. But in other forms of journalism, it’s common practice to challenge your subject.

    I just don’t think you’re really seeing the dynamic. Anyone is free to misrepresent themselves any way they choose, but it won’t produce results, and some are going to be smart enough to realize that.

    If you stand on the sideline and let everyone say what they want, you won’t be serving yourself as well as you could.

    #31 1 year ago
  32. Cobra951

    The Forbes article (“All The Pretty Doritos: How Video Game Journalism Went Off The Rails”) remains the definitive white paper on all this for me. It was quite the eye-opener. I’m thinking the relative ease of entry into the blogosphere is partly to blame here. It’s too easy to set up shop and start disseminating opinion, without prior training, vetting, or cutting of teeth. Traditional print media had stronger barriers to entry, resulting in a higher average journalistic standard? As with any other diluted selection process, the result is most unfair to those who truly deserve to be insiders. They get badmouthed along with the rabble who should still be on the outside looking in.

    #32 1 year ago
  33. ManuOtaku

    #30 fair point, a one that is a very important part of the overall equation , as any other stated in this thread too, nice read OG

    #33 1 year ago
  34. OlderGamer

    “Same thing with journalism. It doesn’t matter whether anyone cares about it or not, there’s still a right way and a wrong way.”

    But if the bulk of your readers don’t care(and we came here before Doritogate) then wouldn’t you just be punishing your staff? And for what?

    “Whether a corporation wants their guys in the news or not is their business. A publication is still free to write about those guys, or reference statements of theirs that are made on the public record.”

    Agreed. And that is sort of one my points. Is Steph eating a few chips at a presser going to change her coverage of it? I don’t think so.

    But the real heart of my position is that much of what we read about isn’t public record. Not until some jurno gets an interview or attends an invite only event. Then what gets reported is made public. You could run a website running quotes from other sites with links to their articles, or you could get those exclusive interviews yourself. And to do that requires a certian amount of finesse. I don’t think being brash and a poster child for what will be seen to some as anti PR boat rocking, is the way to earn favor and be able to be relevent enough to continue to get the scoops your readers visit you for.

    There is prolly a bigger more rightious picture somewhere, I just have a hard time focusing on it. Behind almost every moral cause is a reality, a reason why things are the way they are. Sometimes those things are slow and hard to change. In this case, I can’t see the harm in the way things currently are.

    Pat has to send two staffers to an event in the states, would you rather he use funds from publishers to fly/accomadate his staff or would you rather he adds extra advertising on the website to raise money so he can pay his staffs way? Which one is more reader friendly? Is one any better or more objective then the other? Hard to rip Blops2 when an Acti add is running a mid page on your site, isn’t it?

    No, not any harder then it is to be objective when attending a presser sponsered by MS, Doritos, MNT DEW featuring a new Halo game. I say we live in a corperate world and games is a corperate run industry. It is a huge grey area. But to fashion a banner and wave it around, I feel is niave.

    Also, I have to wonder if free swag(games) were an accepted norm, and now that stops, does that mean that VG247 will now buy their staffers copies of said games so they can stay relivent and upto date and knowledable? Seems silly when the game pubs themself are more then happy to supply the copies.

    #34 1 year ago
  35. DSB

    @34 But if the bulk of your readers don’t care(and we came here before Doritogate) then wouldn’t you just be punishing your staff? And for what?

    For the sake of doing the job well. Doing a good job shouldn’t be considered punishment, it should be considered something to strive for, and take pride in.

    Your opinion shouldn’t stop them from serving you to the best of their ability, and it shouldn’t take away from their sense that they’ve done a good day’s work, by rising above.

    A hack doesn’t deserve that satisfaction, and whether you realize it or not, you also deserve better than the underhanded tripe he has to offer.

    Whether you actually appreciate the difference or not is irrelevant, and there are lots of hacks to choose from if you really despise an honest representation of a subject. Fox News has quite a lot of viewers.

    #35 1 year ago
  36. OlderGamer

    Well my friend, I guess we can agree to dissagree.

    #36 1 year ago
  37. Telepathic.Geometry

    To be honest, the highlight of this whole debate is that we as the readers have to decide if we can trust the media we consume. But even if we can trust it, and we can trust VG24/7 we should never lose that critical thinking, that cynical view where we are constantly checking and re-evaluating whether that trust is well placed.

    My dad used to say, “if you’ve a name for gettin’ up in the mornin’, ya can sleep all day!” and I think that that’s the kind of over-trusting thinking we have to avoid.

    #37 1 year ago
  38. Cobra951

    “In this case, I can’t see the harm in the way things currently are.”

    @34

    The harm is that it becomes untrustworthy. Does Halo 4 really deserve that 98% review score it got from IGN before the game is even available to the public, or are there some seedy elements in play? We don’t know, so we have to take it with a grain of salt. After the game releases, and has been evaluated more widely, we’ll get a more credible sense of its worth.

    #38 1 year ago
  39. OlderGamer

    I understand what your saying Cobra, but VG247 doesn’t do reviews.

    As for review scores, Halo is a top teir franchise. While I am not a fan of it anymore, many are. So the score would likly be justifed for folks like Poly. And as far as reviews go, I think too much emphises gets placed on %s and numbers. Is Halo any less of a game if the review score is 88% instead of 98%? My point being that reviews(paid for or not) are subjective. And if the score is 88% the review is possitive. If you are a fan, you are going to enjoy the game.

    In todays world of franchises, I could even make the case that review scores are a bit outdated. In the traditional sense. What I mean is that this a halo game. If you like Halo, you’re pretty much going to enjoy the experience. If you like CoD samething.

    Most of us know what to expect when talking about our fav games. Esp where big name franchises are concerned. Games just dont need the score system really. How much better is a game at 98%, 92%, 88%? Is 70% a bad game? The whole rating thing could use a good look at.

    I think previews based on release code once the game goes gold is prolly the best idea. Sometimes you just need to know the details about a game rather then someone trying to critic it. For example, I almost missed out on Forza Horizan because I thought it was just a another same old Forza game. I was wrong, the game is much more arcade friendly(which I enjoy). So fellow readers set me straight, and then I read some previews, played the demo, and now have the game on my xmass list.

    We still need that. But I am never going to look at a game review score and think to myself if only that score was 2%, 5% or 10% higher I would buy the game. You have to think for yourself. You know what kinds games you enjoy.

    Your example of Halo4, if your a Halo fan, your interested. Score doesn’t matter really, so long as the review is positive. If the game is broken, you have to be able to say so. So some level of objectivity needs to be used. But in the end, if the reviewer is a Halo fan, then Halo4s score would be higher then if reviewed by someone that hates FPS games. All subjective, it is after all just someones opinion.

    #39 1 year ago
  40. DSB

    Do you want information or misinformation?

    The independent writer provides the former, the hack provides the latter.

    #40 1 year ago
  41. OlderGamer

    DSB it isn’t a choice between one or the other. Taking a few perks doesn’t somehow morph an honest writter into a hack. It is just biz, it isn’t as black and white as your making it out. Esp where plane tickets and hotel digs are concerned. That is between Pat(or the biz owner) and the event planers(MS, Sony, Nintendo, whomever). Either VG247 pays for tickets with donations/perks or he pays it with site revenue(advertising from the same said group of MS/Sony/Nintendo/whomever). Either way the trip is paid for from the same sorces. I don’t see how one is any better then the other.

    If I ran a biz, I would want revenue from both sorces. Trips are expensive. Basicly turning down one is taking food off of my table. This isn’t just some hobby, it is a job were one can make a living.

    As far as swag goes, I would filter most of that back to my website. With contests for readers to win.

    As for free copies of games, I would feel that my staff needs to play the latest games to be upto date and informed. Either I need to buy those copies, they need to buy those copies themself, or I can allow the PR folks to privide those copies for them.

    Like I said I don’t see it as a pure clear cut black and white issue.

    #41 1 year ago
  42. DSB

    If you review the discussion, it’s obviously about so much more than that.

    If you serve a corporation, then what you’re doing isn’t reporting, it’s just advertising dressed up as reporting. Proper reporting may count as cheap publicity either way, but the main purpose is still to inform the reader. Unlike advertisement, where the only purpose is to make something look as attractive as possible.

    And that’s the whole point. If the reader can’t trust you, then as a journalist, you have a serious problem owning your title.

    This is why Pat is making those rules as strict as they are. Not because those trips instantly turn you into a borg PR, but because it raises the question of just how much you’re getting from these corporations, and by extension whether your readers should believe what you say.

    A hack pitches products. A journalist covers the news. It’s a key difference, and every form of payola you take from a corporation only serves to blur the lines.

    It doesn’t matter if you’re Ed Murrow. Those barriers exist in journalism, because if they didn’t, no one would have any guarantee that what they’re reading is actually genuine, instead of just a favor to some guy with the money to pay for planetickets and tasty hors d’oeuvres.

    #42 1 year ago
  43. Dragon246

    @41
    I completely agree with what you are saying. Although DSB has some good points also. A line needs to be drawn somewhere.

    “As far as swag goes, I would filter most of that back to my website. With contests for readers to win. ”
    Especially this part! Reader contests would be awesome!

    #43 1 year ago
  44. OlderGamer

    Thanx Dragon, and I agree too, DSB does have some valid points. It is a tuff cookie to crack. In the end it is Pats biz/site, he needs to do what he is comfortable with. And he is.

    #44 1 year ago