So in a rather sad turn of events, the games industry and consumers have once again shown an ugly face to the world. Glumberland, the developer behind the quirky farming and life sim, Ooblets, announced that the PC version of the game would be an Epic exclusive. Within the announcement post, the developer included some arguments defending Epic and exclusivity that came off in a somewhat churlish manner.
Many people pointed to the arguments of relative privation like the following as a primary source for being upset about the manner in which the deal was announced:
I get the appeal of wanting to seek out things to get angry about. Venting anger is cathartic and natural, but let’s have just a little perspective about what we decide to get angry about. Look at the things going on around you and ask yourself if there might be anything just a tad more worthwhile to be upset about.
The developer obviously was going for a more tongue-in-cheek tone, and was hopeful that the people reading would understand that and play along. Obviously Glumberland didn’t want to start another hive of controversy, the games industry has way too much of that already. They even made good points about why independent developers sign with Epic, as deals allow them to worry less about financial instability and more about actually finishing their games. Sadly, the exact thing that shouldn’t happen in situations like this reared its ugly head once again as the folks behind the game were hit with a torrent of harassing messages and threats.
According a Patreon post via Gamesindustry.biz, “We’ve been getting thousands if not tens of thousands of hateful, threatening messages across every possible platform nonstop… It’s especially hurtful since we’ve had such a positive, supportive relationship with our audience throughout development.”
This is probably the worst possible scenario for these kinds of things, and it goes to show the worst side of the games industry and its consumers. Was some of the justification for the Epic exclusivity of Ooblets tone deaf and condescending? Sure, you could definitely make that argument, but even the most egregious forms of greed within the games industry (Which Ooblets is not) don’t justify harassment. Consumers and media personalities can and should criticize these things, but it should be done in a fair manner. Mean-spirited harassment and threats is nether productive nor fair when it comes to realizing positive change in gaming.
And you’re not helping by hounding developers over decisions they make, especially not in such a toxic way. Those who do this are not only reinforcing negative views about gaming, but also making the jobs of journalists, critics and media personalities harder. If everyone who covers a topic like this now has to be exceedingly careful to avoid fomenting harassment and hatred, they have to stifle their creativity. A critic can’t be as honest about a game that might cross a line if they have to moderate their coverage for fear of inciting backlash. Harassment makes everyone’s job harder and doesn’t accomplish anything good in any way, stop it.
We really should be better than this. Epic hit the nail on the head with their own response, “The announcement of Ooblets highlighted a disturbing trend which is growing and undermining healthy public discourse,” Epic stated, “and that’s the coordinated and deliberate creation and promotion of false information, including fake screenshots, videos, and technical analysis, accompanied by harassment of partners, promotion of hateful themes, and intimidation of those with opposing views.”
Epic went further, saying they want to “build what we believe will be a healthier and more competitive multi-store world for the future. We remain fully committed, and we will steadfastly support our partners throughout these challenges. Many thanks to all of you that continue to promote and advocate for healthy, truthful discussion about the games business and stand up to all manners of abuse.”
Even here at ISKMogul, we have given Epic and various publishers who contributed to negative trends in the game industry a rather hefty dose of criticism and backlash. I would hate to think that our own coverage helped encourage some of this harassment. I genuinely hope no readers got the idea into their heads to go and hound the companies we’ve criticized, that was by no means our intention. In the future, we’re going to have to be more careful with how we phrase things.
Harassment is unfortunately nothing new in the gaming space. A pair of employees at Guild Wars developer ArenaNet were viciously harassed and ultimately fired over statements made online. All in a perfect example of how honest expression is stifled and destroyed by malicious harassment. And judging by the commonplace nature of this backlash, it looks like my point about stifling honesty will remain true.
Some companies, like the Xbox team at Microsoft, as well as Epic, are trying to do something about the toxicity problem though. We can only hope their efforts bare fruit.