Apr 14, 2017
Last week’s ethical debacle with games website Brash Games has only gotten worse since the outlet was rightfully accused of removing the bylines of their writers. After coverage of this situation from Kotaku, ourselves and other outlets got out into the wild, it seems that Brash Games’ owner Paul Ryan has only dug himself an even bigger hole full of even more ethical problems.

Following on from the events of last week, games aggregate website OpenCritic opened an investigation into Brash Games and its owner. The document which spans thirteen pages details events such as the removal of bylines, edited review scores, blocking the IP addresses of OpenCritic team members, and removing Brash Games from the internet archive website, Wayback Machine, in an attempt to cover up edited posts.

Paul Ryan stated to OpenCritic that “we (Brash Games) DO NOT change scores and all of our reviewers score the games themselves.” This, of course, ended up to be another lie from Ryan as writer Meg Bethany Read allegedly had her review for Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash changed from a 4/10 to a 5/10. To add insult to injury, writer Graham Sherry had allegedly written a full review for the minimalist platformer 140, which he claimed to have awarded a 2/10. Graham claims that Paul Ryan then gave a review code to another writer, Mat Cooper, who then gave the game a higher 4/10 score after Ryan was unhappy with Graham’s original score.

After this investigation, more allegations continued, this time from YouTuber KiriothTV. In a pair of videos entitled Brash Games – Secret Gambling Addicts, or a Non-Diclosure Nightmare and Brash Games and The Link to Online Casinos and Brash Games, Kirioth unveiled a string of clues leading us to believe that Brash Games does, in fact, run undisclosed ads from numerous online casinos on the site.

Since running a website is far from cheap, Kirioth latched onto a certain claim by Paul Ryan in the OpenCritic investigation. “I have been running Brash Games for 6 years and this site is 100% self-funded by me,” Ryan claimed. “I do not run advertisements on the site so there can be no assumption of bias and I do not seek anonymous donations via Patreon or PayPal.” Kirioth took note of this and got digging. According to SimilarWeb, Brash Games has received over 66,000 page views in March alone, a feat which would not be cheap to run monthly. Kirioth would soon discover that Brash Games makes its money by running undisclosed ads for online gambling sites. The YouTuber found evidence towards this by following a weirdly popular gambling tag he discovered on the site. This tag featured pages full of articles written by a so-called David James. The vast majority of James’ articles would always feature something about gambling and would include blatantly placed hyperlinks to sites such as UK-K8 and freeslotmoney.com, as well as a host of other, similar sites.

These adverts are not necessarily an unethical way of making money on a games website, although they are frowned upon by a majority of people. After all, they are online games to a degree. Brash Games, however, run these ads in an undisclosed and therefore illegal manner. If there is a clear financial relationship between the media owner and the advertiser without disclosure from the media owner, then that owner is in violation of rules set in place by the Advertising Standards Authority as well as the Committees of Advertising Practice and, in America, by the FCC.

But the goldmine of controversy that is Brash Games somehow runs even deeper than changing scores and undisclosed advertisements. Succeeding Paul Ryan’s attempt at covering up his tracks by banning the IP addresses of various OpenCritic investigators, Ryan also proceeded to ban the IP of numerous writers from accessing their work on Brash Games as well as sending out a mass email to current and departed writers.

Following numerous sources will quickly tell you that Paul Ryan has been well aware of every controversy coming out this past week. Ryan sent an email to a writer by the name of James Moore claiming that he had decided to “not read any of this crap and have not made any statements and don’t intent to,” although he sent a very private statement to all his employees earlier than it may seem.

On April 9, Ryan sent out a private email that he commanded must not be “printed, print-screened, shared, referred to or made public.” Ryan confirmed numerous suspicions including the changing of writer Joshua Robertson’s Toy Odyssey: The Lost and Found review from a 3/10 to a 5/10. Ryan claimed that the previously removed bylines of writers were erased for: failing to meet deadlines, plagiarism and attempting to gain free games using the name of Brash Games. A statement which is not true for a host of writers including Meg Bethany Read, Joshua Robertson or Kay Purcell—the last of which is pursuing legal action against these defamatory and libelous statements pinned on her and others.

We reached out to ex-Brash writer Mark Brearley who resigned from the site two days ago as he thought working for Brash would harm his integrity as a games writer. Brearley showed me personally in a Skype call three things: his resignation from Brash, proof of him warning Paul Ryan—from a professional PR view—that he should come out with a public statement, and proof of him being IP banned from Brash Games following his resignation. We also reached out to another writer, Llewelyn Griffiths who—while not discredited or defamed like others—was IP blocked from viewing the site and his own work without any reason other than leaving the site.

“I can’t imagine what it feels like to suddenly lose all your credit for hours and hours of work,” Griffiths told us. “As of now, a part of me is glad it happened. Recently one of my reviews was published by Paul Ryan before the embargo. I think it was an honest mistake, and it was only a few hours before the embargo, but it's one example of how badly the site is run.” The unprofessionalism with how Brash Games is run stems deeper than just how it handles ads, PR and the resignations of its writers. As said by Griffiths, it’s at a fundamental level that Paul Ryan can’t deal with how to run a games website.

The aforementioned Mark Brearley seems almost too qualified for a website such as Brash. Graduating from a university journalism course and specializing in public relations, it would seem that Brearley is the kind of man Paul Ryan wishes he could be right now. “This whole thing has been like a child throwing all of his toys out of the pram and not dealing with it like a responsible adult,” Brearley told us.

“Apparently, if you read his LinkedIn, that’s gone now. But if you go back on the archives, apparently he’s been a PR specialist and all sorts of other things. Look, the first thing you learn in PR management is crisis management, and the first thing you learn in crisis management is to come out, accept responsibility, offer apology and make amends.

If anyone wants to talk to me about this, OpenCritic, whoever they are I don’t care, they can talk to me. My reputation talks for itself. . .reputation is key, especially in the video games industry when we’ve had so many things going over the past few years. You can’t buy reputation. Especially for guys like us, just starting off in the world, so, goons like this need to be shipped off the internet.”

Brash Games has done a massive disservice to its writers, its viewers and the games media industry as a whole. As Brearley puts it, new, up-and-coming writers find it hard enough to make a name for themselves in such a flooded market. The gross negligence that Ryan has shown towards the Brash Games name and the writers who help the site survive shows that he is not qualified to take on his role at leading these writers.

There are so many other things I want to talk about in this article. More people to give their side of the story, the changing of Brash’s terms of service, but there are other sources out there—such as the aforementioned KiriothTV—who can give you this information. For now, all we do is warn you and hope that if you are a budding young writer wanting to make it in the games industry, you don’t work for Brash Games.
Our score: /10

Great - An excellent piece of kit that offers value for money and adheres to high quality standards.
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