Late into the week last week, I was idly flipping through Twitter, as one does, when I saw this tweet:
Now I’ve only been doing a loose approximation of games writing for a little while, comparatively, but I’ve been consuming it for a lot longer. Folks who have done the same might remember a debacle a few years back concerning the outlet Wilds is referencing, Brash Games.
Here’s a brief rundown: Back in the nether age of 2017, Brash Games was a review site that hired a bunch of freelancers and paid them in review code, and then was caught changing those freelancers’ scores on games, completely erasing their bylines on the site, and pretending those freelancers never existed once they left.
The whole purpose of Brash Games seemed to be, at least on paper: we’ll hire anyone looking to review games no matter how inexperienced, and we will pay them in experience — but fuck them if they leave, we’ll make it like they were never even here.
An independent review score aggregator, Open Critic, stopped accepting scores from Brash Games while they did an investigation into these practices, and ultimately concluded that they weren’t going to use the site as part of their aggregator formula anymore.
Immediately after being exposed in these shady practices, the site went up for sale.
You might think that’s the end of it, except what was really going on was the site’s owner, a guy named Paul Ryan, was actually starting a whole new project on the same premise. You guessed it, that’s Bonus Stage.
Shortly after Brash Games shut down, Bonus Stage popped up.
“But Bonus Stage has a completely different Editor-in-Chief!” you might be wondering. Yeah, it does. It’s a dude named Lewis Baglow who got this job literally right out of college. I don’t know if he’s being paid to run the site; he certainly is doing content over there, so that’s something.
But come here, I want to show you something. It’s a couple screenshots, one from Thursday evening and one from Sunday afternoon, as I write this, in fact.
On Twitter, Bonus Stage has put a call-out for writers. They want you to email Callum at editor (at) BonusStage dot co dot uk. So I went ahead and I sent an inquiry their way on Thursday. Here’s what it said:
I am a freelance video game journalist from the United States. I saw your profile on Twitter, and I saw your advertisement for new writers to join your site. I do have a question, as I did some digging and I’d like to make sure I’m not submitting my resume to the wrong place.
I saw that your current Editor-In-Chief has been in the position since 2018, and entered that position presumably right after finishing college. Yet I couldn’t find much on Callum James, the stated Editor of Bonus Stage. The only hits that came up were from a singer and a financial data firm. Likewise, when I searched for Senior Reporter Liam Pritchard, I found a Footballer. Yet his posts go back to 2011.
Probably most concerning to me is that @bonus_stage_uk, your site’s twitter feed, was started in 2010 but doesn’t have a tweet from it until 2014. That tweet is a retweet of someone repping their story from a site called Brash Games.
Brash Games’ reputation among freelancers precedes it. Is Bonus Stage an offshoot of that former site? Is it a rebirth of that site? Does Bonus Stage take writers’ names off of clips when they leave?
Thank you for your time,
Trevor HultnerThursday, July 25, 2019 at 6:16 PM CDT
Was it subtle? Not particularly. Was I expecting anything back? Also no! Listen, sometimes you gotta shoot your shot even when the expectations of reward are slim to none. Thankfully, in this case I was assisted by none other than the mail delivery bot that exists inside every SMTP and IMAP server. Behold:
And there it is.
Bonus Stage is absolutely the former Brash Games. Paul Ryan is still there, behind the scenes, despite hiding his name. Maybe he’s learned from his mistakes; but if Liam Pritchard is what I think he is (a repository for all the stories written by freelancers who leave Bonus Stage, and not a person) then probably not.
Oh, and as y’all saw above, we reached out for comment but did not hear back from anyone at Bonus Stage by publication time.
P.S. Here are some videos from critic Jim Sterling on the whole debacle for some more context.