Throwing a screwdriver inside a gunked engine…
Nvidia has its moments of making the best hardware for gamers. For whatever product flaws Nvidia shows from time to time, somehow somewhere it makes up for it with its next-generation launch and driver updates. There are only two discrete graphics chip makers in the market, with Intel planning to cook something up for the near future. The best example is the memory allocation issue with the GTX 970. Throughout the board, GTX 10 series was a clear home-run. AMD Radeon didn’t have anything effective apart from RX 5xx series, and the VEGA 56 and VEGA 64 had its own line of issues plagued by limited stocks and higher power consumption for its performance range. Nvidia didn’t use that as an excuse to release sub-architecture based updates. Instead, it launched the GTX 1070 Ti well after AMD Vega GPUs launched.
However, during this process, the marketing division worked hard to paint a different picture through those who were willing to sell their work ethics to the highest bidder. And when the knee-jerk reaction followed, the company attrites from the situation, hoping everyone will forget about it.
Nobody forgets. It adds up like a layer of pancakes! Here’s the sauce!
It is hard to teach that old dog some new tricks…
Nvidia’s has a bad reputation of having its technical advancements between generational progress getting overshadowed because of bad and grey area (if not unethical) practices by its marketing division. The mindset is simple: If the content doesn’t appear to suit their narration, they have the means to fake it even if the reality suggests otherwise. Nvidia GeForce Partnership Program, in a way, implied that same philosophy over their AIC partners in my opinion. We have seen the potential consequences of this when its predatory GeForce Partnership Program came out in the open by HardOCP. This was also seen when the Nvidia price gouged its GTX 10 series cards despite having plenty of stocks even during the cryptocurrency boom. The side effect of this malpractice became clear in January 2018. As cryptocurrency took a sharp nosedive rather quickly, the worldwide surplus stocks came into light. There are many such examples: past, present and the near future. Unfortunately, this only ends up in a class-action lawsuit in the United States and sour relationship between the people and the company. So the question they need to ask themselves as a chipset manufacturer: Is this how you should be representing yourselves? Just how many of your oopsies do you need to do until you realize such actions eventually implodes and creates more harm?
Why would none of the employees/ partners say the rather obvious? It affects them more as they’re the ones investing in made-up promises and growth charts. How is this not relatable with marketing practises by private institutions issuing non-government recognised and authorised graduation/post graduation degrees, MLM companies and even Ponzi/chit fund scheme?
Neutral and unbiased reporting stifled as an end result
That’s the problem as it conflicts with Nvidia internally and externally. But they only listen to what suits their narration since they intend to carry forward until its too late. Many reviewers and journalists will swear the genuine intent and motivation by Nvidia engineers to be very genuine and insightful. This is the least to be said about its marketing team. The erratic, unrelatable, obnoxious and shady practices of its marketing division and its third party promoters put an innovate company in a spot like it always did in the recent past. It also brings a bad practice in the industry that does more harm than good. It not only affects the company, but also those who buy it and those who work with them- either in-house or as a third party.
When content from reviewers, gaming and tech journalists are not in sync with their narration, smoke and mirrors are brought forward while cutting or limiting access to those who are relied on by many enthusiasts and buyers. If their contractors don’t listen, their wings are clipped. All for the reason to lure people in deep inside the rabbit hole.
I’ll be using a couple of examples with those who were/are associated with Nvidia India. One of them was in its infamous streamer program who was cut off as a show of strength in the hermit kingdom. Another contractor carries layers of conflict of interest and piled wrong practices over the years. I hate to say ‘I told you so’ earlier in 2016, but I told you so!
The problem between PCPeasants and Nvidia India
One of such example is how Nvidia India handled the situation with PCPeasants. This happened soon after its podcast about the RTX graphics card. Most will agree with it. Some might not for whatever reasons. PCPeasants was one of many who signed in under Nvidia India’s streamer program. To provide more content and discussion vital for the growth of a channel/ website/ community, they had a discussion live streaming- and hence the podcast. This was no different what many reviewers, bloggers and Youtubers do. More so, they collaborate with other well-known colleagues to establish a perspective. That was quickly overshadowed because of what Nvidia India did to PCPeasants soon after that.
Naturally, PCPeasants will talk about it because they were punished for something that is not a problem if you were not signed for such programs which such clause in the agreement. Its not a wrong analysis and was a very reasonable argument from a buyer’s perspective. Nvidia India may think it’s saving its face, but its sabotaging and damaging its own credibility and commitment towards its buyers. But this was used to put a message that contractors cannot do as they deem fit. Have contracted promoters sold themselves and their audience without even knowing about it? That is a discussion for another day and looking at the terms and conditions of that contract will help build a proper opinion about the whole situation. Contractors need to be aware of their rights and limitations when they give themselves to companies. Your readers and credibility make who you are.
The end result is that this drama was picked up by other reviewers and even Youtubers. While Nvidia India can retain its loaned hardware from its promoters, the timing obviously implied as a punishment. Irrespective of the arrangement and understanding between Nvidia and PCPeasants (that I do not know about), such a triggered response displays the marketing team’s passive aggressive immaturity. It could have used the opportunity to present its counterpoints and discussion by having one of its engineers be in a podcast after this one. It chose not to. Its because while this individual was doing something a normal person would do, other contractors were making an image that RTX is the next best thing since sliced bread. The difference is that unlike in the United States where a famous writeup in Tom’s Hardware resulting in a massive backlash, nobody really talked about RTX objectively. One can blame promoters and contractors facilitating this requirement if creating this facade. Some promoters did not draw a line, especially when they were viewed by their audience with respect, trust and authority. While I appreciate an effort of bringing well-balanced conversation, I am very curious about the terms and conditions of the contract. It is one of those questions that will never be answered. Again- he said, she said!
Nvidia India and its contractors
There is also a problem when some people provide such companies with a service of making a fake image of itself. Beware, they come in flocks and usually live in the same city. Such a manufactured image has no value in the real world. But smokes and mirrors appearing in write-ups, videos, promotional content press releases and internal reports envelop an untrained eye to see anything suspicious. Nvidia has a market dominance enough to have its previous generation as a competition to itself. So displaying its wrong practices and its real-world took time until it was obvious enough for evidence and observations piled up in the open. But you can only use wordplay on-the-fly, bluff and fake everything to a certain point until the bubble pops. Therefore, not many had any suspicions it at first with the exception of some people who were embarrassed by not doing their due diligence. This year, it is not the case because RTX wasn’t adopted as much as it was though it could have been. Cracks and errors in the lapse of judgement, oversight in putting up the information to the media began to show clearly. Also, many sponsors and partners of the events did not see the fruits of various promotions. Neither did some business owners comprised of retailers, distributors (with the exception of bulk sales from cafe owners), cafe owners and system builders (who at least one of them benefitted from events so it is not all black). These are truly the people who are affected because they are investing the money they earned for themselves, and not allocated by someone in another department.
There are those contractors who were handpicked and are groomed to facilitate this persona. This was apparent when contracts ran streamer training programs in several cities. This was needed to enable the marketing team to display an image as they see fit in the potential distant future. Probably to paint a happy picture lure in potential investors to start a gaming cafe business by displaying it as a growing interest and high graphics sales (which repackaged the sudden rise in sales due to mining) by everyone reciting a song “우리는 당신밖에 모른다”. As a result, it lured in people, business owners and those who are looking for a career with a false image that PC gaming was growing in India to justify expenses incurred by an individual. It also lured in AIC and peripheral companies whose jobs relied on the success of such events enough to bring in results. But the bubble eventually had to pop and was destined to implode eventually. Many activities are slowly and steadily decreasing. The streamer program is axed, with possibly retain a couple of them as of now.
India a test bed for such practises?
This also affected reviewers either running an independent website, Youtube channel or working in corporate mainstream media. The other Steve from Hardware Unboxed also faced similar music simply because he was doing his job. Its an understatement to say the least that I can relate with his situation he faced with the RTX 2060 review:
I also have to wonder if such tactics used worldwide originated from India. Do some people in some countries use their nationwide presence and contractors as a testbed for such practices? Unfortunately one will have to read between the lines based on Nvidia’s knee jerk reactions based on who does what and when.
The protection from trade commissions
Getting away in many countries can get them in a bad situation, such as the Federal Trade Commission. The Trade Commission says the following in its post:
Suppose you meet someone who tells you about a great new product. She tells you it performs wonderfully and offers fantastic new features that nobody else has. Would that recommendation factor into your decision to buy the product? Probably.
Now suppose the person works for the company that sells the product – or has been paid by the company to tout the product. Would you want to know that when you’re evaluating the endorser’s glowing recommendation? You bet.
The third-party contractors should understand that the liability of such investigations, irrespective of the country, falls on them which they have to address in their own time and expenses since they are not employees. In India, we have the Advertising Standard Council of India who is known to keep an eye on influencers and online promoters.
An example of a string of conflicts by a long-term contractor
I am presenting a series of contradictions in claims and a conflict of interest by one of its contractors as an example. Naturally, this resonates with me as a reviewer given the position he holds as one with no clear disclosure made anywhere. I display all my findings which can be easily found when exploring Nvidia India social media accounts, Youtube videos, promoter’s livestreams, podcasts, press releases and also various promotional content. This practice was done discretely in 2016 because of the number of people protecting it. Now it is as clear as a glass of water for everybody else. Those who defended his actions behind the scene in 2016 eventually understood how wrong this is (too late for that, huh?). Of course, all was done behind the curtains.
About Ishaan Arya
Ishaan Arya runs JAGS, an Indian based gaming website. He also writes about gaming (including PC) for Asian Age, which is carried forward by Deccan Chronicle (or vice versa). According to many industry insiders, former and current employees, he appears to be contracted with Nvidia for promotional activities. There are suspicions that he might be employed, based on his Nvidia email address which is typically given to employees.
The goal was probably to project Ishaan Arya as one of the unofficial (or official) ambassadors. Unlike others who are streamers, he uses his review website and also his position in The Asian Age and The Deccan Chronicle as a promotional tool. He also toggled between his status as a marketing specialist/ columnist/ reviewer/ contractor depending on whom he was interacting with- and how.
Recap of the aftermath of the GTX 10 series event
During the earlier days, I pointed out a conflict of interest made by two gaming websites run by two individuals. At the time, there were no disclosures from either of these parties involved. Eventually, one of the website’s writer made a disclosure about the owner of the website. That’s all I asked for and it was appreciated. Ishaan, Nvidia India and everything around them is a mystery soup. This is a major problem because JAGS posted reviews about the NVIDIA GTX 10 graphics card at the time when such promotional campaigns were run, followed by events under the name ‘GamerConnect’ after a few months since the launch. Unlike the other gaming website, no disclosures were made. Things keep adding up from here onwards. It is obvious he will be picked as a person of interest again.
Lack of Disclosures in Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle
When you look at some write-ups in the Deccan Chronicle and Asian Age, there were no disclosures in the articles involving Nvidia as latest as 2019. Ishaan’s content on the newspaper first appeared on 20 Jan 2016. Certain game reviews and articles mention Nvidia RTX and RTX enabled games while talking about the game. Cyberpunk 2077 article also has Nvidia embedded between the article. To quote the published article:
While it certainly gives you a very ‘altered carbon’ vibe, it’s a bit more vibrant as you can explore a lot of it. Cyberpunk 2077 might just be everything The Wither 3 was and wasn’t and then some; The demo was running on PC’s powered by NVIDIA and the visuals looked drop dead gorgeous. Considering NVIDIA recently just launched their brand new RTX GPU’s featuring real-time ray tracing for improved lifelike lighting effects, this might be the perfect implementation, however, there is no indication of that at this point whether the game will feature support that. It’s certainly one of the most exciting games at Gamescom 2018 and one to keep an eye out for next year!
One will be tempted to ask the Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle about any arrangement between the parties involved. If yes, why not have a disclosure in the content? If there were no arrangement, was there any effort made to declare this contracted job to the editors or was there any due diligence done by them? You’d assume a print media of this repute will have its definition of conflict of interest to be clear.
Ishaan’s Nvidia email address
Ishaan holds an Nvidia email address, typically given only to employees. This email address is checked through various email authentication checkers which verifies the existence and use of this email. Many insiders confirmed receiving email tagging this in CC. It raises questions about Ishaan to be more than being involved with Nvidia as a third party contractor. But it does associate him with Nvidia in some form. Nvidia India management has a habit of not replying to emails. So hopefully a response of some sort should be presented now. Let’s not be surprised if this email address is disabled and renamed to something unsuspicious.
Promoter’s Rate Card
This is this promoter’s rate card circulated within the industry. The two of them are streamers. The third was Ishaan Arya’s whose skillset as a hardware reviewer is highlighted as a unique feature. All he needs is monetary support and hardware. Nothing screams wrong practice more than a reviewer taken money and benefits for promotions.
The other two promoters belonged to streamers and did not write for any blog, website or newspaper. Therefore, it is irrelevant to the subject.
Mid-Day has an article with inputs from a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist Sonali Gupta. Two promoters I recognise are in the article, including Ishaan Arya, mentioning him as a marketing consultant. This article is dated July 2018 and also appeared on print. Obviously, the psychologist’s analysis might be different had she known the motivation. While I am not an expert on this subject.But if the psychologist was not aware of these developments, she was used as a participant of a double-blind technique. It also raises the question if the Mid-Day writer was aware of this.
Actions imply it speaks louder than words!
Various promotional video and event coverage has Ishaan Arya present on behalf of Nvidia India via its official social media accounts. At best, it implies there is a working relationship as a promoter between him and Nvidia- either directly or through an agency. At times Ishaan dabbles with his representation as he sees fit- between introducing himself as a reviewer or as a representative. This example is showing himself under ‘JAGS’, as this is the case showcased in Battlefield V clip posted in Nvidia GeForce.
At this point, we have to ask. How deep is this rabbit hole?
Toggling between titles and agencies
A recent press release from ACT Broadband where it announces its participation in the GamerConnect. It names Ishaan Arya to be a representative for GamerConnect, a gaming-centric promotional event handled by a third-party currently but it is done in association with Nvidia, its AIC/System partners and some peripheral makers. This switcheroo of his position raised more questions and less answers. By now, you will notice he travels with many hats. Nvidia India and its partners, associates, promoters and contractors (which includes streamers) included him in almost every presentation, events and promotional materials. It is hard to miss GeForce promotional materials without him, including the recent ones with a recently signed up streamer and other associated brand partners in Gamer Connect events. This practice is done hand-in-hand with its gaming cafe program whose material is also questionable and also another hot mess. Based on published dates of his articles in the Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle, he is still a columnist.
The prime example of a conflict of interest
If this doesn’t raise a concern of how potentially wrong this practice is, we’ll just to wait for the concerned party to bash competition on behalf of whoever he or she is representing in a newspaper/online post/blog without informing its editor-in-chief/owners of the site. As we all know by now, Google made an announcement about Stadia, it is a game streaming service where they are partnered with AMD. Ishaan made a news post in Deccan Chronicle tastefully titled ‘Google Stadia, proceed with extreme caution’
He went to the posting and comparing with Nvidia game streaming service GeForce Now. Naturally, he was pushing a narrative to subtly compare with Nvidia GeForce Now:
Google’s Netflix for games comes at a time where people are questioning the need or place of consoles in today’s markets but the real question is whether it can truly replace a physical gaming device with just a screen and controller. Latency, a gamers worst nightmare is the biggest concern for Google who seem very confident despite the likes of NVIDIA still cautious about expanding their gaming streaming service, GeForce Now.
He further posted in the end:
The idea of a game streaming service has been around for a while and despite NVIDIA having all the horsepower for gaming, it’s Google who probably has the right infrastructure to make this work. Google’s Stadia looks promising, but as any PC or console gamer will tell you, latency is their biggest hurdle and its one that won’t go down easily.
Again, the article did not have any disclosures. At this point, it becomes very important to be transparent about his association (either as employed or contracted- directly or via a third party agency). It went ahead and talking about latency issues- which in all fairness is a problem not limited to Google but also Nvidia or any game streaming service. If Google Stadia was done in collaboration with Nvidia, there’s a very good chance of the title carrying more optimism than suggesting to exercise caution.
This is a problem because many things are hidden from people, especially he writes for and his readers who trust him to be transparent. So the question is- what will Deccan Chronicle/ Asian Age do about it? Or will the rival graphics chipset maker raise concern with the newspaper’s editor-in-chief? But who will raise the concern of how they influenced others with it? To be very clear, this is a problem irrespective of who does for which company. No excuses. No exceptions.
Opinions of reviewers and journalists
Some industry insiders, reviewers and tech journalists I’ve discussed with agree with the lack of disclosure bring discredit in the business of telling the truth. It should be noted that telling random people ‘Isn’t it obvious?’ is not a disclosure. Disclosures are important because readers who are buyers are made well aware, and decide to believe the content or not. Obviously, it will be seen as promotional content, leaving no doubts about it. Disclosures protect content and product consumers from being potentially misled by influencers in any shape, size or form. It was not done here. Reviewers are not your promotional tools. Respectfully, our titles do not denote us being sellouts. We are not a feature for you to be sold for money and free hardware. You send us review units for coverage and we use to inform our audience. We invest a lot of time, effort and money to do this. Depending on how good the product is compared to present offerings, everybody goes happy. But such practices discredits reviewers. It is very disheartening someone would do this so openly and yet with no sense of work ethics.
Public clarification needed
What’s known in the industry is that Ishaan Arya is one of many contractors for Nvidia India. Having a contractor seems to be a common practice, except not with journalists, reviewers and columnists who keep changing his title depending on where his name comes up in press releases and promos.
While his intention may seem obvious, I have to give him a chance and ask him for a proper clarification on behalf of those who trust him. He owes that much to the community and those whose livelihood, credibility and reputation in this business will get affected. Unfortunately, the only way I can get a straight answer and on record, is by making it difficult for him to dodge his statements now or in the future. The only way to do that is simply by putting some of the findings in ascending order. It would be great if the named parties can clarify about this arrangement, including Corsair, Zotac, Deccan Chronicle and the Asian Age.
Who are “we”?
A reviewer/ journalist columnist is not an influencer or a promoter. Readers rely on these professions for unbiased, uninfluenced content to make the sound decision before purchase. It is important for people holding this position to command neutrality to present facts and information to their readers exactly the way it is. It is also important for reviewers, tech journalists and columnists to properly and carefully call out such practices, enough to derail such promotions if questions are not answered. That separates us from the promoters. That separates an article from an advertorial/ paid or shilled content. It certainly wasn’t the case here. And it brings a sour taste as it brings a bad reputation among those to who report about tech, especially in well-established media of any form.
Creating a domino effect…
This also triggers a situation where other companies would justify doing the same. Nvidia is the only one who was successful in pulling this off for so long because not only it riding the success of GTX 900 and GTX 10 series enough to carry forward the hype with RTX, but also ride the boost in sales due to the cryptocurrency boom recycled as an increase of pc gaming to its partners.
The grass is red on the other side, too!
AMD had an arrangement with some bloggers and Youtubers while casting aside reviewers form getting any access while holding their neutral and unbiased position. Sounds familiar? However, the crude duplication fell flat because of RX Vega 56 and VEGA 64’s unavailability and also no real-world implications of such blog posts. Realistically, it discredits the company’s commitment towards the community due to the lack of consistent selling products to reinvigorate gamer’s interest while engaging in such practices.
Concluding remarks to everyone!
Changing between representation is as dodgy as one can get. Wiser people will say this does more harm than good. Obviousl, the intentions are clear. But it damages and discredits the community many people claim they are building. This is not the way to move forward. Every time we made a right step, someone manages to come and screw everybody over. My opinion about the Indian gaming scene is very grim. There’s a very good reason why I am very concerned when someone masquerades as a review but in fact, is a PR shill. Unfortunately, as a hardware reviewer, I can’t expect karma to act as this story started in 2016 when the GTX 10 series was launched. I only hope these examples would encourage those in this business not to do what’s not supposed to be done.
— Hardware BBQ (@HardwareBBQ) April 5, 2019