I’m going to imagine you woke up from a 10-year coma that started on December 31st 2009. Let me catch you up about the past decade in the video game world.
We blamed Mass Effect for a school shooting in 2012. In 2019, politicians still point to video games as the cause. In 2012, Mega Man and Pac-Man were locked away as exclusive content for the PS3 version of Street Fighter x Tekken, despite being on the Xbox 360 disc. In 2019 the new Call of Duty: Modern Warfare faced backlash because the Spec Ops Survival mode is PS4 exclusive for the first year.
You could look at this decade and proclaim the games industry learned nothing. But I’m more optimistic. There was more to it than complaining Metal Gear Solid V’s Quiet was too sexy. Video game controversies in a literal sense? Take 2018’s Spider-Man from Insomniac Games. There was the case of the guy who asked the developers to put in a marriage proposal Easter egg. “We’ve just past our five years in April so I think she’ll still be around in September lol,” Tyler told Insomniac. He was wrong. What a disaster. But sometimes video games can make politicians funny. Austria’s former Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache reportedly had a gaming addiction. He’s what’s called a “whale” big-spender. Strache allegedly cost his FPÖ party up to €3,000 a month for Clash of Clans expenses.
Let’s Pokemon Go down this rabbit hole and reflect on the 2010s.
My favorite video game controversy is Geoff Keighley’s classic “Dorito Pope” work. A games journalist obviously shilling for Mountain Dew and Doritos in a Halo 4 ad spot. Geoff’s case screams regret. Keighley had a rough go at it for a while. When the Video Game Awards were hosted by Spike TV it came off as a gimmick. But things got better. After the network decided to end the annual show after a decade, Geoff Keighley adopted it for his own. The result was a presentation that actually looked good. Even though the 2014 to 2019 run of the VGAs still has its quirks, Keighley eventually hit his stride in running the yearly operations.
I look at the games industry and see hope to always improve.
In that same vein, the VGAs served as a guillotine for Konami’s PR department. Geoff Keighley invited famous game developer Hideo Kojima. Konami blocked Kojima from attending. Konami was seen by many as petty towards the guy who made Metal Gear Solid a smashing success. Konami removed Kojima’s mention on games. The eventual break-up between Konami and Kojima meant the widely praised Silent Hills demo never became a full game. Hideo had to start over. He established his own studio and made Death Stranding. This new title that explored the theme of interconnected social experiences received mixed reviews from critics. The mixed reception led some to question why Hideo Kojima and Death Stranding got a boat-load of Video Game Awards nominations for 2019. Many speculated Geoff Keighley’s close relationship with Hideo Kojima paid off. If that’s the biggest controversy Keighley has these days, he made a remarkable leap from the Dorito King he once was.
There’s other video game awards shows to look at. The 2012 Games Media Awards (GMAs) highlighted industry quid pro quo with the press. PR companies voted on their favorite “Yes Man” that did the best job fluffing off game publishers. GMAs attendees could win a PS3 if they tweeted about their favorite game with a particular hashtag amounted to an informal sponsorship. Rab Florence noticed how cozy the media was getting and wrote a Eurogamer piece about it. In it he pointed out Lauren Wainwright of MCV magazine MCV participated in this contest. She threatened legal action and forced Eurogamer to remove mention of her. The drama led to Florence stepping down from Eurogamer. It’s one of the earliest cases where tweets caused someone to lose their job. But there’s more. Lauren Wainwright hid a career connection to Square Enix in her online resume. She claimed to be a “consultant” for Square Enix, further stating “I’ve never reviewed the products.” But she lied. So we had our first big conflict of interest scandal of the decade here too.
That isn’t the only shade of scandal to exist, of course. The Penny Arcade “Dickwolves” controversy seeped into the 2013 annual PAX conference. It was based on an edgy 2010 Penny Arcade comic commenting on video game questlines. Selling T-shirts and pennants about Dickwolves as if they were a sports team was very tongue-in-cheek. Penny Arcade had to remove such merchandise. Fast-forward to 2013 and Robert Khoo interviewed Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, the guys who made the comic. Krahulik told Khoo that pulling the Dickwolf merchandise was a mistake. This all boiled over with The Fullbright Company (developers of Gone Home) deciding to pull out of PAX.
Both IGN and Niche Gamer fell privy to plagiarism scandals. In August 2018 IGN games reviewer Filip Miucin was called out for lifting thoughts about Dead Cells from a YouTuber. More instances of this popped up as IGN began taking Filip’s articles down. It took Miucin 8 months to make a full apology. Niche Gamer’s Brandon Orselli took heat from Gematsu for lifting articles with small to no alterations. Brandon confessed to that as well as lying about it being from a “ghost writer.” He blamed it on trying to balance the pressures of work and family.
Kotaku obviously isn’t scandal free. With cases like Patricia Hernandez it’s difficult to tell the difference between a real and fake article. Laura Kate Dale tried to assert Super Smash Bros. Ultimate‘s Persona 5 DLC contained a “disability slur.” Nope, according to Nintendo. That was an embarrassing retraction. A few months earlier the internet was finally right for questioning a “fake Gamer Girl.” It happened with someone named “Ellie” who played competitive Overwatch. Nathan Grayson of Kotaku cried “CONSPIRACY THEORIES” when the gaming community questioned Ellie’s abilities. He ended up completely wrong. It wasn’t a case of harassment when Ellie left. The jig was actually up. While the topic of bullying is a real problem, Grayson jumped the gun and made a mockery of it. Beyond the usual GamerGate drama, their blacklisting by Ubisoft and Bethesda was an eye opener. Official PR channels unofficially pretended Kotaku didn’t exist. All because people like Jason Schreier got advance inside scoops on new Fallout and Assassin’s Creed games. Shout-out to Schreier for knowing how to actually do his job from time to time. People will always give him a hard time for his Dragon’s Crown debacle, but the good he’s done outweighs the bad. Even though I will always dispute his accounting of events when it comes to the Trendy Entertainment situation. In that case I concluded he reported the thoughts of disgruntled employees.
Kotaku is effective when they put their minds to it (fake news about Grand Theft Auto teaching a black woman to drive aside). In August 2018 Cecilia D’Anastasio reported on “The Culture Of Sexism At Riot Games.” They depicted a workplace environment that was like Mad Men but modernly awful because it was reality. Politicized gender issues aside, Cecilia proved Riot Games was a mess. The company was left with no choice but to acknowledge it. Former and current employees sued Riot for gender-based discrimination, sexual harassment, and unequal pay. Chief Operating Officer Scott Gleb was ousted. Accusations of “repeatedly farting on employees, humping them, and hitting their testicles” were contributing factors. Riot later hired a chief diversity officer. This wasn’t enough, as employees protested the company anyway. In the end Riot Games settled and Kotaku put a $10 million hole in their wallet.
The games industry had a few direct shots across the bow. In 2019 alone, The Entertainment Software Association responsible for putting on E3 every year couldn’t keep people’s personal information private. Over 2000 media people and influencers had their name, address, phone number, and email exposed to the general public. The SAG-AFTRA voice actor strike was a long battle during this decade. As the games industry matured, more seasoned and experienced talent unionized together to demand more agreeable working conditions. In general, this was all a rough growing-up period and not every game studio survived. The shutdown of Visceral Games was a shock. The shuttering of Lionhead Studios surprised many. The 2012 closure of Curt Schilling’s 38 studios wasn’t over even by 2019 in terms of lawsuits. Even Telltale Games with their huge The Walking Dead game series financially suffocated. It’s a tough gig making video games. Two developers involved with ARMA III spent 129 days in a Greek prison because of their work.
The Mass Effect franchise manages to bookend either side of the decade. Mass Effect 3 had big shoes to fill as the previous two games received universal praise. Beforehand, the worst issue in the press was Fox News saying Mass Effect had too much sex. Yet signs of trouble hit ME3 even before release. Bioware landed in hot water by locking away one of the new squad members for ME3 as DLC content. The Prothean species is a cornerstone to Mass Effect lore, and Bioware decided to sloppily paywall special DLC about that which was partially already on disc.
Mass Effect 3‘s original ending was so bad, Bioware had to fix it post-launch. The Reapers were scary, but there was no catharsis or final end boss. Just some holographic kid that gave the player a choice of “A” “B” and “C” endings. Which boiled down to saving the galaxy in a blue, green, or red palette swap. People grew so desperate for answers the Indoctrination Theory came about. It turned into this whole discussion over “GAMER ENTITLEMENT.” It was one of the decade’s earliest examples of mass consumer outrage. But there were plenty of good reasons to demand quality. Many video games failed to properly launch at first: Dead Island , Final Fantasy XIV , X: Rebirth , Halo: Master Chief Collection, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Battlefield 4 , Driveclub , Total War: Rome II , and Batman: Arkham Knight. SimCity‘s launch was such a disaster it should be said twice.
All Mass Effect: Andromeda had to do was not screw up. Bioware couldn’t even manage that. The facial animations were atrocious. Bugs were rampant. It was boring.The developers didn’t even bother with story DLC. They apparently slapped the game together in 18 months (after several years of fiddling around). What was supposed to be the start of a new Mass Effect series concluded with EA merging the Andromeda studio into the EA Motive office. Anthem was a “Hail Mary” meant to bring Bioware back on track. It ended up making Andromeda look better in retrospect. Anita Sarkeesian couldn’t save Anthem using the power of feminism.
Bethesda started off on a high note this decade. The launch of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim went off like gangbusters. It actually turned into a running joke that Todd Howard released the games on pretty much every platform possible. Elder Scrolls Online was initially a bit of a flop but managed to fix itself and gain a following. There was a short episode of bad PR when Bethesda decided to team up with Valve to release PAID mods. Given the company’s prior relationship with the modding community fixing things for free, it felt like a slap in the face. Bethesda quickly reversed course and got rid of it. But two years later reinvented it into the Bethesda Store.
In 2010 Bethesda let Obsidian Entertainment try making a Fallout game. What we got was New Vegas. People have long since believed Obsidian’s Fallout to be superior. The Bethesda/Obsidian dichotomy showed off in the next generation. Whereas Bethesda made a super shiny and streamlined version of Fallout 3 in 2015’s Fallout 4, Obsidian Entertainment came back around with 2019’s The Outer Worlds and blew everyone away with its creativity. Even without the Fallout license and starting back at square one, Obsidian Entertainment was able to give the world a superior Fallout experience. The developers don’t like it when people make that comparison.
Bethesda released Fallout 76 and it was the abortion that kept on giving. Internet Historian made a decent summary video. Sadly it’s outdated given how many new disasters have popped up since then. It’s pretty good.
For this section I relied on YouTuber YongYea as my Charon through Bethesda’s hell.
- BOTCHED PHYSICAL MERCH: Advertised canvas bags came out nylon. The official response at first? “Sorry you aren’t happy. No we aren’t doing anything about this. The good bags were too expensive to make.” The Fallout Twitter account responded by downplaying that customer support guy as a “temporary contract employee.” Bethesda then graciously handed out 500 atoms for their in-game store to start making things right. It wasn’t enough to even buy a digital canvas bag. Thankfully Bethesda committed to making actual replacement canvas bags eventually. Bethesda pretty much had to, seeing as they gave the actual Fallout 76 canvas bags to “influencers.” Then there was Silver Screen Bottling Company’s Nuka Dark Rum. Just look at it. It tasted awful and the advertised “collector’s item” appeal didn’t meet basic expectations. The people who produced the Nuka Dark Rum said they went with the plastic bottles to be more “dramatic” and they spent “100 hours coding” the look of the prototype. A special collector’s edition Power Armor helmet distributed by Gamestop had to be recalled for mold problems. It only impacted 32 units sold (although all 20000 units produced were recalled) so it was more collective insult than injury. The worst snafu here is definitely the customer support leaks. A bug on the customer support website allowed anyone online to see: emails, home addresses, and the type of credit card someone’s account used. Bethesda flat-out apologized because no amount of PR sweet talk would work this time. By the time Bethesda rolled out a leather jacket, the gaming community long stopped giving a hoot.
- BASE GAME: Fallout 76 didn’t use Steam but Bethesda’s in-house launcher instead. So, good luck trying to get refunds. In early 2019 Bethesda promised to eventually bring Fallout 76 to Steam, but here at the end of 2019 it’s nowhere to be seen. The initial lack of NPC-driven quests turned people off. Lore fanatics were annoyed that Bethesda retconned the origins of the Brotherhood of Steel. A bug on PC deleted all the beta’s game files. This was HUGE given the limited time window for participation. It was impossible to redownload in time given the massive file size. Then came release. Reviewers universally panned it and it earned one of the lowest scores for the franchise. Giantbomb’s Jeff Gerstmann couldn’t be bothered to play enough to actually review it. Lackluster quests and a more barren world were causes of this. The sales were abysmal compared to Fallout 4. A few weeks after launch, Bethesda acknowledged on Reddit that they’re awful at communication. An interview with Todd Howard confirmed Bethesda knew about new obstacles that’d come up launching an online-connected experience. But that doesn’t excuse screwing up 21:9 resolution support. Fallout 76 kicked off 2019 with glitched nukes because the in-game clock couldn’t handle changing from 2018. Fallout 76 being online means Bethesda has to police wrongdoing. They chose a route of excess and banned anything that even smelled close to cheating. Later on, players found the in-game developer room all Bethesda titles have for testing purposes. The Fallout 76 one had weapons not officially released yet, leading to the creation of a black market for these special goodies. Bethesda held player accounts hostage, asking them how they got inside. Bans weren’t limited to strict hackers. A guy who made a helpful map for other Fallout 76 players was banned. His “crime” was trying to help Bethesda by hunting down exploits. Trying to patch to fix one problem added a bunch of new ones. Patch 11 in July 2019 broke: an atomic shop Greenhouse, NO items drops from legendary enemies, damage not being registered, and wearing Power Armor became a goddamn nightmare. In December 2019, a patch broke weapons/armor durability and S.P.E.C.I.A.L. bonuses from Legendary Armor were dramatically dropping after players simply reloaded their guns. By the end of 2019, hackers took over the whole joint. They found a way to spawn item props from Fallout 4. Bethesda patched it. But by then hackers found a way to steal the entire inventories of other players.
- MONETIZATION: Bethesda wanted to milk Fallout 76 beyond people’s initial purchase. Lawyers were investigating lawsuits since Bethesda was fickle with refunds. Bethesda has an in-game item shop that allows players to buy things via an ATOMS currency purchasable with real-world money. The company had an opportunity to price gouge and be deceptive about discounts. It costs $18 to paint your power armor blue. What’s egregious is Fallout 76 promised to keep this sort of thing as cosmetic only. That’s what Bethesda told the NoClip documentary folks. Pete Hines said as much in an October 2018 Gamespot interview. Yet, a year later he changed his mind. Yoink. “After looking at all the data, it became clear that to consistently deliver content that keeps Fallout 76 fresh and exciting for all, we needed to rethink our approach to the Atomic Shop. While we had many ideas on what to add to the Atomic Shop, one of the ways was the direct result of the community’s feedback. We heard from many of you who wanted items with some real utility.” The company went all-in with selling out via microtransactions despite empty reassuring to the media otherwise. Repair kits made instantly fixing items an ease. Selling a scrap collection bot that was supposed to be in the base game as $5 DLC. Fallout 76‘s “Fallout 1st” subscription program just took monetization all the way. ONE HUNDRED BUCKS for a year-long “subscription” to the game people already bought. It grants access to: private worlds, scrapbox with unlimited storage, a new fast travel point, 1650 atoms a month, and unique outfits, icons, and emotes.
Fallout 76 tried to make a Battle Royale style game with their Nuclear Winter mode. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds was the first to popularize the style. But the success of Fortnite put the online multiplayer free-for-all last man standing mode in the history forever books. This made PUBG jealous enough to try and sue Fortnite for “copying” ideas. It didn’t work out. People still tried to get a slice of Fortnite‘s pie though. The kid who made “The Floss” dance and Alfonso Ribeiro (Carlton on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) tried to sue because Fortnite sold emotes of these styles. Some rapper named 2 Milly sued too. Forza Horizon 4 had to remove similar emotes from their game because of this. The copyright office turned down Carlton and 2 Milly for their motion to copyright. But Floss dance kid made it through.
Apex Legends managed to become a Battle Royale style success without even much effort. It came out for free and is supported by microtransactions. An Iron Crown limited-time event broke the delicate balance of fairness, so gamers declared war. Respawn apologized for the unfair loot box monetization. Although the studio quickly listened to consumer demands, the battle between developers and gamers wasn’t over. Project Lead Drew McCoy threw gasoline on the fire with a bunch of comments insulting consumers. Respawn community manager Jay Frechette didn’t help any by going along with it. Respawn CEO Vince Zampella had to directly apologize on behalf of his team’s mistakes.
Some people just can’t handle the price of fame. Take the 2014 Flappy Bird craze. The game gained popularity because of its simplicity. The search for deeper meaning out of Flappy Bird made things complicated. Creator Dong Nguyen decided to quit while he was ahead and took the game down from the App Store. Dong thought Flappy Bird became too addictive. It certainly didn’t help that Kotaku’s Jason Schreier pounced on how much money the game made. Taking the game down didn’t top the Flappy Bird clones from trying to make a quick buck.
In the case of Minecraft, the price of fame itself couldn’t handle the creator. Markus Persson. “Notch” was technically free of responsibility in 2014 after Microsoft bought Minecraft. But there was still a relationship between Markus and Microsoft in the public eye. Notch called Zoe Quinn a “fucking cunt” in June 2017. That was because Quinn harassed another indie game developer. At the end of 2017 the media got triggered when Persson said “it’s ok to be white.” Apparently our society works on a three-strikes system. In March 2019 Notch tweeted opinions about transgender people that went against what “progressive” society deems acceptable. The next month Microsoft decided to erase Markus Persson from Minecraft‘s history. He wasn’t invited to the game’s 10-year anniversary plans and in-game text referencing him was removed.
Microsoft had a rough start to the decade with the Xbox One’s launch. The big hoopla was over it always being online and a weird step-up of DRM protections. The company denied they could just “flip a switch” and turn this stuff off. But the gaming community was mad enough to convince Microsoft otherwise. That wasn’t the only hiccup for Xbox One. Originally the console was bundled with Kinect by default. This “mandatory” body motion capture device actually wasn’t so mandatory. The only really memorable game from that was the Star Wars dance one. Microsoft later tried pushing PC gaming market dominance via their Universal Windows Platform (UWP). Tim Sweeney of Epic Games spoke out strongly against Microsoft for it, even though his company would dabble in a similar war eventually.
People were concerned that Microsoft was locking down gamers to one platform only. The storefront had a lack of pizzazz in terms of content. Holding Gears of War Ultimate Edition as a hostage didn’t do the company many favors either. For a while, Microsoft highly committed to this UWP idea. But by early 2018 ambitious crackers broke through the security protections UWP put into place. By late 2018 the outlook was grim. Ars Technica cataloged the long journey they took to get Forza Horizon 4 working with UWP. By May 2019 Microsoft’s Phil Spencer announced that the company was going to finally loosen UWP restrictions.
Sony declared war on the hacking scene when they went after George Hotz for jailbreaking the Playstation 3. Hackers sought revenge after Sony brought out their lawyers. A breach of the Playstation Network in April 2011 let hackers obtain the personal info of 77 million people. Roughly 10 million people had their credit card information exposed. The incident shut down Sony’s entire network for nearly a month and cost $171 million. This wasn’t the last time this would happen. In late 2014 Sony Pictures suffered a massive cyberattack. Malware got into global network and crippled half their online infrastructure. The hackers got a copy of sensitive company information before erasing it from Sony’s machines completely. Emails were leaked and Sony went on a censorship spree stopping places like Gawker from discussing it. Both of these incidents shouldn’t be confused with the distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks done in August and December 2014 by Lizard Squad.
Sony had other mistakes in the 2010s besides poor security. Making the PS4 cost roughly $1800 in Brazil made the company look like a bunch of assholes. Sony was also the last console giant to implement a formal crossplay feature. With the smashing success of Fortnite in September 2017, Epic Games accidentally implemented PS4 and Xbox One crossplay. The outrage came when they took it out again. Xbox head Phil Spencer came out of that situation looking good as he showed a willingness to cooperate on it. Playstation was the odd one out. The company previously shot down cross-play as an idea earlier on when Microsoft announced Minecraft‘s cross-platform capabilities. It took a while but eventually Sony stopped being stubborn. In October 2019 Sony officially came around to crossplay.
As the decade comes to a close, Sony leaves a wave of sex and anime cleavage censorship in their wake. Games impacted include: the PS4 version of Devil May Cry 5, SENRAN KAGURA Burst Re:Newal (more than once), Dead or Alive Xtreme 3: Scarlet, Super Neptunia RPG, Omega Labyrinth Life, Super Seducer, DATE A LIVE: Rio Reincarnation, Zanki Zero: Last Beginning, Arc of the Alchemist, Nora to Oujo to Noraneko Heart, and even some random guy’s PSN profile cover of Akiba’s Trip. It happened gradually. Back in December 2015 Sony head Shuhei Yoshida blamed “differing cultural ideas on depiction of women” in the West for the cancellation of Dead or Alive Xtreme 3. By 2016, Sony shifted Playstation headquarters to California and established Sony Interactive Entertainment.
By November 2018 it was discovered Sony changed gears to overall conform to “Western” standards. A month later, Sony’s Japan President said the censorship measures were to match “global standards” and to protect kids. In April 2019 a Wall Street Journal article detailed a shift in internal guidelines for content. “We don’t have criteria in written guidelines or that sort of thing because the policy was introduced kind of suddenly in the wake of the #MeToo movement,” a Sony official said. That’s right. The whole thing is arbitrary. It’s a serious concern for Japan’s game developers though. One guy left his job over it. Japanese politicians made the issue a part of their platform. A petition garnered over 11,000 signatures.
Nintendo looked good as they made an official stance to not add more censorship onto Nintendo Switch releases. The company did a similar 180 degree rebound from zero to hero that Microsoft went through. In terms of a redemption arc, anyway. The company took too little of a step forward with the Wii U. The gimmick appeal wasn’t matched with better technology in the device. This in turn caused a lack of third-party support. Without a solid enough player base it came off as not worth it to develop titles for the platform. A catch-22 seeing how a lack of third-party exclusive titles stunted the growth of the Wii U player base. The odd one out was cases like Bayonetta 2. Even though Platinum Games claimed that the game wouldn’t exist without Nintendo, but to gamers it just felt alienating.
The death of Satoru Iwata in 2015 was a devastating blow for Nintendo. He was one of the old guard executives that understood the spirit and passion of gaming. He died as a result of complications from a tumor bile duct growth.
One of Iwata’s greatest achievements was making a “National Dex” for Pokemon’s 2nd generation. This meant that all Pokemon from the 1st generation were available to use in the Gold and Silver games. This set a precedent for the franchise. Fast forward to 2019. Nintendo has long since switched things around with the launch of their Nintendo Switch console. Record–breaking sales! The biggest problem Nintendo has these days is the National Pokedex missing from Pokemon Sword and Shield. According to the developers, the Pokemon cuts happened because of the rough transition from handheld to the full-fledged console space. The fans got ugly. Critics accused Game Freak of reusing 3DS assets for the Switch. But games like Super Mario Odyssey and Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild were a breath of fresh life into Nintendo’s business model.
For a while people got mad at Nintendo because they had strict rules around YouTube footage. If you showed off Nintendo game products, your channel had to pony up a fair portion of advertising revenue to the big Mario upstairs. That was on top of if you got accepted into their partner program. But then Nintendo got rid of all that. YouTubers rejoiced.
Miiverse was a feature of Wii U and Nintendo 3DS. It also qualifies as a controversy because of the posts one could find there. Nintendo’s wanted to create a unique social media sphere. They failed, and tried again with Miitomo which also failed.
The problem of “Joy-Con drift” manifested on Nintendo Switch consoles. Imagine playing Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Without touching either analog stick, the game’s camera starts rotating on it’s own. This was something that only became obvious over time as Switch devices were routinely used. Nintendo resolved to offer repairs for free when it came to the drift problem. Warranty or not. People who previously paid beforehand for such repairs could get a refund.
SPEAKING OF REFUNDS….
The 2010s were the era of Kickstarter. Let’s take a moment to reflect on projects that never made it past the finish line. Aura Tactics (874 backers/$11,557 raised). Lay-offs. LA Game Space (10,354 backers/$335,657 raised). Official narrative is the scope was too big. Others assert that the money was mishandled. CLANG (9,023 backers/$526,125 raised). Poor time management, couldn’t attract more investors. Rival Threads: Last Class Heroes – The Final Push (684 backers/$24,812 raised). Temporarily on hold for the last five years. Moon Rift (506 backers/$8082 raised). No reasons given, people were just ghosted. Same goes for Shining Empire (116 backers/$3056 raised). In the case of The Stomping Land (4427 backers/$114060 raised), the ghosting happened to one of the game’s developers. 3D character artist Vlad Konstantinov stopped hearing back from the game’s creator despite multiple attempts to contact. Some stories don’t get conclusions like Haunts: The Manse Macabre (1214 backers/$28739 raised), with the developers coming out and saying they goofed.
My favorite case is Ant Simulator. It didn’t ask for money via Kickstarter and used their website to crowdfund instead. It failed because the game’s business partners used the money for booze and strippers.
Palmer Luckey came in and blew the games industry away with this Oculus Rift project. Like a Thomas Edison but with virtual reality. It was nothing more than a gimmick until Luckey electrified people’s interest using the power of Kickstarter. It had 9,522 backers and raised $2,437,429. But that was all just a stepping stone given how Facebook bought Oculus for a cool $2 billion in March 2014. It led to some in the gaming community to cast out Palmer Luckey as a sell-out. But the guy kept his cool. It was society that did him ugly in September 2016. As the presidential election tensions were heating up, a disgusting vulture from The Daily Beast got Milo Yiannopoulos to sell-out Palmer Luckey’s identity. Palmer got involved in a billboard campaign with the folks running the r/the_Donald subreddit. It was one sign with a Hillary Clinton caricature that said “too big to jail.” That’s it. But the Far Left media used this to paint Luckey as some kind of disgusting misogynist racist monster. Special shout-out to Bryan Menegus for being the bastard who brought Lucky’s girlfriend into it, because GamerGate. Game developers debated pulling support for Oculus products over this issue. Mark Zuckerberg is the one who made Palmer Luckey put out that letter saying he supported Gary Johnson, even though a book by Blake J. Harris proved Mark was making Luckey lie.
Kickstarter was a great opportunity. It’s just sometimes the dreams don’t mesh with reality. Remember the Ouya? Now you do. You definitely forgot about it until just now. Same goes for Mighty No. 9 (67226 backers/$3845170 raised). Terrible community management debacles were eclipsed by a terrible final product. People backed it because they wanted a new Mega Man game. Kickstarter “stretch goals” for additional features (plus an animated series!?!?) made crowdfunding more lucrative. People were naive. Game director Keiji Inafune demanded more money for English voice acting and DLC. The beta looked okay, so people were reasonably hyped for the September 2015 release date. Wait, actually February 2016. Whoops. Wrong again. I mean Spring 2016. But it’d be worth the wait, right? They made a Collector’s Edition, so it must be legit. (Nope.) The game was a total disaster. The infamous Masterclass trailer should’ve been a red flag. The nearly four hour long credits turned into a wall of shame for the game’s 70,000 backers.
Excitement became excrement. These were wild times. Some times things were easily explained, though. Project GODUS (17,184 backers/£526,563 raised) was Peter Molyneux’s last video game hurrah. It ultimately failed because Peter Molyneux is Peter Molyneux.
It highlights the pitfalls of game development orbiting around one particular personality.
We can call Star Citizen a decade-long controversy as that’s roughly how long the game has been in development. Chris Roberts came back in 2012 after a long hiatus. He wooed the gaming community in by piggybacking off the success of his Wing Commander series. Chris decided to play his hand in this new age of Kickstarter crowdfunding. 34,397 backers and $2,134,374 came out of that. His gamble paid off. So much in fact that Chris Roberts never stopped fundraising. By May 2019 Star Citizen fans raised $242 million dollars. In some cases, one “whale” alone can generate roughly $57,600. It only took someone $30,000 to make the news. Kotaku even talked to a measly $13,000 whale. Fans in this community often discuss how much money they’ve sunk into the project. What do they buy? Luxury ships. Not real ones, but digital. Which in themselves may or may not even exist in-game yet. So you buy JPEGs. You can buy a bundle of everything in Star Citizen for $27,000.
By 2015 Star Citizen hit bumpy waters after Derek Smart became a prominent critic of the game. What made Derek special was that he was a sizable backer for the Chris Roberts dream machine. The feud began once Star Citizen‘s company refunded him. He still managed to leverage “inside connections” at the company. Given the stressful work environment, Derek Smart ended up being one of the few places that disgruntled employees could vent to. He wanted Chris Roberts to sue. Liz Finnegan of The Escapist Magazine released a bombshell article with damning allegations against the company. Besides the terrible workplace environment, Chris Roberts hid the fact Sandi Gardner was his wife because of the nepotism involved in giving her an executive position. Many believed Sandi wanted Star Citizen to be a stepping stone for a Hollywood acting career. Chris Roberts got mad and The Escapist had to take it down.
In August 2016 I tried capturing the essence of the Star Citizen story. The game was supposed to come out that year. To my surprise, somehow, the project is still going. These days they’re working on caves. Glasses? Glasses.
It’s all about the fidelity.
Star Citizen is taking a long time because Chris Roberts is trying to capture an incomprehensibly large sense of scale. Forbes released an update article earlier this year and I can see not much has changed. They spoke to twenty different former Cloud Imperium employees who detailed the inner chaos and resource mismanagement that happens when working for Chris Roberts. A lot of the money is blown on the fact Roberts is obsessed with fiddling round with the most mundane details. One former prominent Star Citizen investor has jumped ship and has a series dissecting the ins and outs of all the project’s flaws. Back in the day I found getting a refund was possible. But that JPEG has long sailed.
Star Citizen fan fiction is a breeding ground for degeneracy. The fandom themselves are a devout bunch. Often toxic. Especially Reddit. Dare I say, it might be a cult. “There’s no controversy with Star Citizen! You just don’t know anything about game development.” There’s actually two games. Star Citizen is the World of Warcraft MMORPG in space aspect. Squadron 42 is the singleplayer campaign that takes place in the Star Citizen universe. The latter has acting talent involved: Mark Hamill, Henry Cavill, Gillian Anderson, and Gary Oldman are involved. The Star Citizen YouTube channel exists to maintain continuous attention and interest for the project. There’s actually a fleshed out system of distraction in place, so people can tolerate the fact they’re playing the world’s longest waiting game. Here’s a road map if you can decipher it. The constant flow of bugs sustain the community for entertainment. Imagine waiting five years just so you could rent a space ship. Every year Star Citizen has a convention so fans can gather round to wait for the game together. At one point Star Citizen switched from Crytek’s CryEngine to Amazon’s Lumberyard. Crytek ended up suing Chris Roberts over breach of contract.
No Man’s Sky is a twin of Star Citizen in some respects. But at least the cycle of hype and delivery actually happened. It all began at the VGX Awards 2013. That’s where we first met the game’s creator, Sean Murray. The mystery game showed up again at The Game Awards 2014 to dribble out just a tad more information. He was incredibly vague in the years before release. In the meantime, the games media did all the heavy lifting. “This is the most ambitious game in the universe” said The Verge.
So what happened? It left a legacy that consumers should prepare to be disappointed with the final product. It postured itself as this space game where you could do pretty much anything to heart’s content. Sony bought into it. It ended up being something in the “survival genre” of games in the same sense that Minecraft was. This lofty goal is what caused a mass wave of disappointment upon release. Plus the bugs. Sales slumped. Many gamers demanded refunds. The subreddit self-imploded. Official governmental advertising bodies investigated No Man’s Sky for false advertising (they eventually ruled it wasn’t). The game’s official Twitter account called No Man’s Sky a “mistake,” in what was later blamed on a hack. When the game won the GDC Innovation Award, nobody from the dev team was there to accept it.
The biggest blow was that two players standing in the same spot in-game couldn’t see each other at first. But they promised multiplayer! Sean Murray even lost the favor of Geoff Keighley, who expressed his regrets about No Man’s Sky to the press. There were many months of silence at first. But, the story of No Man’s Sky has a much happier ending than Star Citizen. The Foundation update (November 2016) added base building, the Path Finder update (March 2017) added vehicles, and The Atlas Rises update (August 2017) beefed up the story and lay the groundwork for multiplayer. No Man’s Sky Next (July 2018) gave players the game they wanted in the first place. Now No Man’s Sky was a fully realized multiplayer experience with in-game avatars and plenty of activities for them to do together. The Beyond update in August 2019 expanded these features even further.
For a game that released as a dud, it’s actually pretty cool now.
Speaking of space, Star Wars Battlefront 2 was a disaster. People bought into the comfort that EA and DICE had a chance to make improvements in response to the previous title. They were naive. u/MBMMaverick complained on Reddit about Star Wars Battlefront 2‘s microtransactions. EA defended it by saying “the intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes.” The rest was history.
It made the 2020 Guinness book of world records for most downvoted Reddit comment. It was one hell of a moment for the “Worst Company in America” (2012 and 2013). The loot box controversy tanked sales and EA’s stock price. What’s humorous in hindsight is that EA claimed to have developed a moral compass. “Live services” (microtransactions) was 40% of EA’s total net revenue during FY 2018, so I have a hard time believing them. Need for Speed 2015 didn’t have microtransactions, but the follow-up Payback game certainly did. Money talks. After the Star Wars Battlefront 2 fiasco, it was a safe bet EA would continue to tap this microtransaction gold mine. But to be fair, EA never finally put the Battlefront 2 loot boxes back as they first were. On March 21st 2018 the developers cut out paid loot boxes. They reinstated their “Crystals” currency system the following month, but then it was only for cosmetic Appearances. Finally in September 2019 they stripped out the loot box in lieu of routine rewards integrated into the game’s Daily Quests feature.
The loot box concept has been around for a long time. The problems towards the end of the decade came about because games implementing them poorly. Take Middle Earth: Shadow of War. Reviewers of the game felt like the game bottlenecked game progression to a tedious grind necessary for unlocking the game’s true ending. Shadow of War‘s microtransactions functioned as a time shortcut. WB Games got rid of the game’s microtransactions a month before releasing the Desolation of Mordor DLC. Their statement acknowledged how microtransactions took away from the game experience. Ironic considering in an earlier Eurogamer interview a Shadow of War developer made the exact opposite case in favor of loot box inclusion. Similar case for Forza Motorsport 7. They had loot boxes but got rid of them. Sadly they’re a fact of life now: FIFA Ultimate Team, Team Fortress 2, Assassin’s Creed Origins, Call of Duty: WWII, Battlefield 4 and Battlefield 1, Halo 5, Destiny 2 and even the free-to-play game Paladins turned into pay-to-win by introducing a cards system. If you’re wondering where this “loot box” epidemic started, look back at Mass Effect 3 and keep going up the river of EA’s sewage.
Loot boxes (“ethical surprise mechanics”) were a step too far for gaming. This ain’t about the usual “my toddler accidentally purchased $XXXX on an app” stories. EA screwed the pooch in that sense with Dungeon Keeper. It was an earlier example of pay-to-win mechanics infesting the direct game product. Apple acknowledged the era of in-app purchases when they changed FREE to GET on the App Store in November 2014. But certain video games hosted marketplaces that allow the exchange for digital items back into real money. Enter CS:GO‘. If you don’t know how CS:GO loot boxes worked back in the day, here’s some YouTube douchebag that can show you. You bought these keys to open up the shadow cases with weapon skins and items that had real-world value. Also, when you opened these particular loot boxes it played off like a slot machine. TmarTn and ProSyndicate ran a gambling den scam called “CS Lotto.” They used these third-party websites that let you gamble skins in a high stakes game of chance. The big problem is that the two YouTubers owned the website they themselves were using. This wasn’t disclosed at the time these videos were uploaded. It was only when TmarTn got called out that efforts to retroactively add disclosure happened.
There’s debate over whether or not they’re gambling. While not directly wagering something of value, and not directly being able to exchange rewards for money, these concepts in of themselves are at play. Some argued pay-to-win was a better term instead. Regardless, the profit potential was limitless. You can buy DLC once, but loot boxes are forever.
The ESRB and PEGI ratings boards were obligated to rule on the loot box issue seeing as how games “Rated for Everyone” like NBA 2K20 had gambling-like systems in place. But the ESRB declared loot boxes were not gambling since players are guaranteed some kind of return. PEGI said the same. The problem with that being the lack of distinction between cosmetic and utility items. Something that Blizzard’s Mike Morhaime stressed the importance of in Overwatch‘s case. The ESRB addressed this on February 27th 2018 by making a broad “In-Game Purchases” label. Something that covered all potential digital goods whatsoever, including standard DLC. What’s worrying was ESRB president Patricia Vance remarked at the time that loot boxes are “fun.” I think she’s referring to the psychological dopamine rush people talk about in the loot box debate. Patricia’s remarks seem naive given a heavily–cited study that points to a link between loot boxes and gambling. Something that hit at the psychological undercarriage of the practice.
Good luck trying to get the ESA to do anything. It’s a never-ending disaster inside that organization.
It was obvious that the ESRB had their hands in their pockets. Especially considering how in February 2019 OpenCritic launched a feature flagging games that had “monetized random reward mechanics” in them. Ironic that Strauss Zelnick, CEO of Take-Two Interactive, also held the position of President at the ESRB. Grand Theft Auto V‘s Diamond Casino update played right into the whole video game gambling debacle. Players could buy in-game dollars with actual cash, and then convert that into gambling chips for this fancy new casino. Multiple countries banned it. The theme being gaming companies who added loot boxes were flirting too close to “the lines” of regulation. But they were necessitated in the first place to offset development costs.
By the end of the decade, the gaming community lived in a world where loot boxes were available to purchase for Twitch. The concept broke free from being in just video games. There were extremes. Like the guy in Japan who threatened to kill Square Enix staff because he blew $1794 on a loot box style game and didn’t get the item he wanted. Loot boxes exist because people buy them.
Regulation was inevitable. Many in the games industry feared it. A war began over the very existence of loot boxes altogether. In the lawsuit against Epic Games, we see one of the focuses being on disclosure of loot drop rates.
Hawaii State Rep. Chris Lee was one of the first to come out against loot boxes in November 2017. One guy at the press conference compared them to Joe Camel in terms of marketing for kids. Legislation was going to happen. By February 2018 Hawaii delivered. House Bill 2686 and Senate Bill 3024 aimed to prohibit the sale of games themselves that contained loot box style randomized rewards to anyone under the age of 21. House Bill 2727 and Senate Bill 3025 dealt with disclosure of probability rates and demanded mandatory warning labels for in-game purchases. In February 2018 Chris Lee explained how the ESA sent lobbyists to Hawaii to add pressure on the loot box debate. Sadly Hawaii’s bill never went to fruition. What matters is it sparked interest. US leaders like Washington State Senator Kevin Ranker joined the call to action. Senator Josh Hawley made another go at a Loot Box bill. The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act prohibited “offering randomized rewards to players through microtransactions, manipulating a game’s progression systems to encourage players to spend money, or giving players who purchase microtransactions competitive advantages over others.” In an interview with Kotaku’s Jason Schreier, Hawley was confident his bill made the industry worried. There were still questions, of course. Was banning pay-to-win mechanics a bridge too far? Lobbyists again clapped back. It caught the attention of the FTC. It reached international attention too as Gambling Commissioners worldwide came together to tackle the loot box problem.
Of course it varies country by country.
Over in the UK, Daniel Zeichner, Labour MP for Cambridge, was the one who kicked off regulation discussions. In October 2017 he made two requests to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport about addressing loot boxes. An official petition obtained 16,969 signatures and the UK government was obliged to respond. All three of these routes came back with the same answer: talk to the Gambling Commission. The director of the commission told Eurogamer a few months later “we don’t yet understand enough of what the actual risks are.” It was time for them to get to work.
The following year, questions about loot boxes were added to a Young People and Gambling survey given to 3000 children. 3 in 10 children responded that they have opened loot boxes before in video games. But the UK Gambling Commission emphasized to the media this wasn’t a damning link between loot boxes and gambling. At first, UK authorities didn’t see loot boxes such as FIFA packs as outright gambling. But things changed when games industry people gave unclear answers to MPs. The British government wasn’t thrilled that EA representatives referred to loot boxes as “ethical and fun” during the infamous “surprise mechanics” hearing. The UK Children’s Commission did research and released an eye-opening report about the perspective of youth when it came to loot boxes. The conclusion was clear: gambling laws needed updating to address loot boxes.
New Zealand refrained from doing that. Ireland too. Sweden investigated and is considering restrictions. France was weird about it, so CS:GO added an X-Ray item to screw with them. It allows players to “peek” into the loot box before opening it. Finland is investigating. Germany looked into it and is considering new protections for minors. Austraila ended up agreeing with the “loot boxes are gambling” crowd. China was ahead of the curve. Their authoritarian regime took care of regulating that back in December 2016. But they might be in the mood to legislate it again by limiting how many loot boxes people can buy in one day. Blizzard and 2K Sports removed features linking to real-world currency in their games as a result of rulings in the Netherlands and Belgium. Valve too. Belgium took a hard stance against loot boxes. “They’re gambling and people should be prosecuted over it.” Square Enix pulled three games from Belgium altogether because of it. EA put up a fight over Belgium calling FIFA cards gambling, but stopped short of taking the matter to court. 2K took a different route by telling their fans to contact local Belgian government officials and tell them to bring loot boxes back.
In August 2019 the Entertainment Software Assocation revealed Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft were working on loot box odds disclosure policies for their platforms. The implementation deadline is the end of 2020. Apple on the other hand, had these rules since the end of 2017.
Yogventures (13,647 backers/$567665 raised) represents an interesting moment as it shows the lasting power of YouTube channels. The Yogscast YouTube channel managed to crowdfund a video game project using the power of their online clout to fuel interest. Although I should note that Yogscast attempted to distance themselves after the fact and put as much blame on the Winterkewl Games development studio. Yogventures never reached completion because the studio went bankrupt. Yogscast’s Lewis Brindley doled out Steam keys to a sandbox game called TUG instead. The Yogscast launched a controversial system called Yogdiscovery back in July 2014. They launched it at the same time as the Yogventures venture went tits up. Basically the Yogscast were going to take a portion of a game’s sales in return for covering it. Based on a measurable increase in sale’s figures over the relevant amount of time. A metric that could be skewed if YouTubers outside of Yogscast talked about the same game. Regardless, it was a harder sell to make in the long run. Seeing as how three different members of Yogscast left after misconduct allegations: 1.) Matthew ‘Caff’ Meredith 2.) Mark “Turps” Turpin 3.) Paul “Sjin” Sykes
At the start of the decade, multi-channel networks (MCNs) were considered kings of YouTube as a platform. If you wanted to be a “legit” player on YouTube, especially in the gaming department, you picked what was essentially a “faction” to align your channel with. Machinima was the main hub for the bulk of aspiring wannabe “Let’s Play” stars on the scene. But a mysterious bunch of upstarts known as The Game Station had much more charm about them.
A primary factor in joining an MCN was securing monetization for your YouTube channel. Earlier on in the decade much of the predicament fell back on copyright claims and fair use. It was much easier back then to justify being in an MCN as a means of protection. But when channels got big enough this became a moot point. They produced enough advertising dough that YouTube’s content ID system didn’t get in the way as much to their overall bottom lines. This was reason enough for most folks to eventually drift away. But you can chalk a lot of that up to MCNs performing poorly in the long-run too.
On the one hand this sort of thing came in handy. Sony abused YouTube’s copyright claim system willy-nilly regarding No Man’s Sky. For another example in April 2017 when the game studio Atlus made a strange move in regards to policing live-streamed content for Persona 5. “If you decide to stream past 7/7 (I HIGHLY RECOMMEND NOT DOING THIS, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED), you do so at the risk of being issued a content ID claim or worse, a channel strike/account suspension,” they wrote. It was a bizarre overreach that thankfully no company has repeated ever since then. The rules over video content were strangely specific.
Thankfully Atlus backed off of this somewhat by the end of the month. The point being, one can appreciate the level of inside access that a MCN provided channels when it came to situations like that. However, if you wanted to leave a place like Machinima it would’ve been like escaping a black hole. In the case of Ross Scott it took over a year. Machinima didn’t have the best track record. In September 2015 the FTC ruled the network deceived consumers with certain videos about the Xbox One. Machinima hid shady advertising practices as a front of “objectivity” when YouTubers brought the console up. A lack of proper disclosures landed the network in a heap of trouble. The YouTube channels in question were reportedly not allowed to reveal the money Machinima paid them.
Let’s examine the life cycle of one of YouTube’s multichannel networks. Rooster Teeth took their Red vs. Blue series and evolved into a full company over the course of the decade. They snagged the term “Let’s Play” as a YouTube channel and cashed in. They branched out into doing animation and movies and anything else under the sun. In November 2014 YouTube McN Fullscreen bought them out. Otter Media acquired Fullscreen and in turn AT&T bought that. In retrospect, the December 2018 and September 2019 layoffs seem to make sense, given the years of acquisition shuffle. Rooster Teeth’s Burnie Burns took a stance against GamerGate. But on at least one occasion the company was hypocritical on ethics. They criticized Jeff Gerstmann’s review score for Fallout 4, and in response he pointed out the sponsorship deal Rooster Teeth did with Bethesda at the time. Later on there was the firing of voice actor Vic Mignogna from Rooster Teeth’s RWBY series. But that’s a drama llama too long and complicated to discuss at length in this piece.
It still stings to see Rooster Teeth Vice President Michael Quinn arrested on felony domestic violence charges though. He reportedly said to his wife “if i’m going to kill you i’m going to use my hands.” Video games!
The controversy surrounding Pewdiepie ended up defining the last third of the 2010 decade. It all began with a February 2017 hit piece from the Wall Street Journal that targeted Felix for making edgy jokes and humor. It caught media attention because Felix used Fiverr to get two kids in India to hold up a sign with “DEATH TO ALL JEWS” written on it. Pewdiepie said the Wall Street Journal took Felix out of context in their article’s “collection” of evidence. He even apologized but that didn’t matter to the outrage mob. Fiverr banned Pewdiepie over it. YouTube cut their business ties with him, as did Disney. The Wall Street Journal went to Kjellberg’s brand partners first instead of talking to Felix. Media tried getting Twitch to do the same. People threw a lot of baseless accusations at Pewdiepie after the Wall Street Journal fiasco. “YouTube’s Monster: PewDiePie and His Populist Revolt” ran a New York Times headline.
They tried calling Felix an anti-Semite. “Racist internet figure.” Salon linked Pewdiepie to Daily Stormer. Draw Pepe and criticize CNN? Mic says that’s “leaning into the alt-right.” The only thing you can blame Felix for is having that one heated gaming moment. That time where he got upset at his opponent in a match of PU:BG and called them the N-word. It just goes to show that nobody is perfect. It’s better than throwing your cat over your shoulder or kicking the crap out of your dog. Campo Santo, the developers of Firewatch, used YouTube’s copyright strike system on Pewdiepie’s video playthrough of their game. It was pure political theater but YouTube allowed that. Political activists policed his every move. Kjellberg made a video about TikTok and a guy named Baked Alaska showed up briefly. Bad actors depicted it as intentional on Twitter when it clearly wasn’t. Pewdiepie gave a shout-out to the E;R YouTube channel, and Vox crucified him for that because E;R made Nazi jokes that one time.
The most polarizing moment was when the New Zealand shooter said “subscribe to Pewdiepie,” knowing how upset the media would get. It worked. Even though the phrase was a harmless meme used in Kjellberg’s subscriber war with T-Series. They went on to claim Felix inspired the shooter. Pewdiepie had to unfollow people on Twitter because the outrage mob targeted his following list. By the end of the year Pewdiepie quit Twitter and I can’t blame him given the crap he has had to go through.
They called Pewdiepie a liability. “Dangerous” for brands. It’d signal the start of a larger campaign to go after political incorrectness. They’d even drag him back up in totally separate situations like Logan Paul. Since Felix Kjellberg was the most popular guy on YouTube, there was an evergreen media narrative accusing him of being a bad influence. A video of a school teacher demonizing Pewdiepie for a class lecture was secretly recorded and posted online.
A prominent YouTuber named JonTron vanished off the face of the internet after getting into a political debate and mentioning FBI crime statistics. The more sensitive folks on the internet (NeoGAF) thought he was being racist. They screeched loud enough that Playtonic Games buckled into removing JonTron’s voice acting lines from Yooka-Laylee. JonTron was no stranger to controversy. When he was a part of the original Game Grumps, his decision to abruptly leave the show was a shock to many. In retrospect, Jon Jafari got off more clean than his old NormalBoots colleague ProJared. In the first half of 2019 he made a sudden announcement about divorcing his wife after a long hiatus in uploading to YouTube. Now we knew why. In the background his wife Heidi had taken issue with this bizarre polyamorous relationship that blossomed between him and one Holly Conrad. But that wasn’t all that was going on. Once Heidi spoke publicly about her relationship with Jared, this semi-secret Tumblr account situation bubbled up too. Jared sent nudes to fans. The general public saw pictures of his penis after they leaked. It was a goddamn mess. ProJared was cancelled for a while. But he came back with a video and managed to dispute rumors of abusive behavior.
But everything bad in the world was Pewdiepie’s fault. It was by 2017 that the media went blind in their deplatforming frenzy. Pewdiepie and Jontron were the new bigots of the world in their eyes. Pewdiepie was the gateway for the Old Media to attack YouTube’s New Media. YouTube themselves now suppress him in their trending tab.
Pewdiepie was convenient. Back in December 2016, the Wall Street Journal was targeting “fake-news sites” having big brand advertising on them.
Rupert Murdoch was reportedly angry at Mark Zuckerberg for this exact thing, after Trump got elected. It cut into his business at News Corp, after all. You know. The owners of publications like The Wall Street journal. It was easy. After Pewdiepie, big advertising spenders like Procter & Gamble made a push against Big Tech companies. By March 2017 Google added more controls and began the effort to keep ads away from “controversial content.” This was in light of a campaign by companies like AT&T and Verizon, who pulled their Google ads because of “hate” videos. The kerfuffle started in the UK markets but it spread worldwide.
News Corp pulled the strings to fuel this fight. “Google’s YouTube Has Continued Showing Brands’ Ads With Racist and Other Objectionable Videos” said a March 24th 2017 headline.
Let me give you a spicy quote from that piece. It’s behind a paywall.
“Google has likely been showing major brands’ ads alongside questionable content for years. But the media’s public airing of the issue prompted advertisers to pull spending and forced Google to make changes. A Journal reporter, checking YouTube videos peddling conspiracies and racist views over the course of about five hours Thursday evening, found ads from major brands running on about 20 videos filled with racial slurs, hateful titles or other content that appears to violate Google’s existing standards.”
Is it any surprise that, by April 2017, Google began allowing “brand safety” monitors come in? In June of that year it happened again. This time with UK political campaign ad spends. But it worked to scare away the likes of “Wal-Mart Stores Inc., AT&T Inc., J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Starbucks Corp. , Procter & Gamble Co. and at least a dozen other major brands.” August 2017 YouTube rolled out new “brand safety” changes. The next month ads began disappearing for right-wing YouTubers. Month after that? Time to tweak search results.
In September 2018 Becca Lewis of Data & Society released a report alleging YouTube’s recommendation system was leading users down a far-right rabbit hole. There was flimsy backing to this, as Lewis weaved a guilt-by-association web that connected YouTubers to each other by mere interaction. The media ran with the narrative and began throwing out suggestions that YouTube suppress certain individuals on the platform. “Watch out! YouTube might make your children dangerous!” Fast forward to June 2019 and YouTube began purging content deemed controversial by these newly established limitations. Another round happened in September.
Whoops. Let’s get back on track….
In August 2014 Amazon surprised the world by buying Twitch. Everyone thought Google would do it and implement their same strict copyright policies that YouTube was getting. The nearly $1 billion deal solidified Amazon’s place in the Big Tech sphere. The technical resources at Amazon’s disposal turned Twitch into a dominating powerhouse service. Experts conclude the intent for Amazon’s purchase was so they could formally get their foot in the door of the games industry. YouTube tried to compete with Twitch with a section dedicated to gaming. But that fizzled out.
Twitch’s version of Pewdiepie comes in the form of someone named “Ninja.” A longtime eSports video game streamer that electrified his reach in March 2018 after streaming Fortnite with famous people: Drake, Travis Scott, and Juju Smith-Schuster. Ninja is symbolic about video game streaming’s future as a profession given how Microsoft’s competing platform Mixer managed to woo him over for exclusivity rights. He wasn’t immune from controversy though. Ninja refused to stream with female gamers out of respect for his wife. He didn’t want to foster an environment of internet rumor milling and speculation. It’s very much the Mike Pence way of life when it comes to navigating the #MeToo age.
Totalbiscuit was the best YouTuber of the decade. He taught people to value and respect different opinions, about proper disclosure for YouTubers, why you shouldn’t preorder video games, the rise of microtransactions (especially relevant given how Payday 2 did a 180-degree turn on that), and online harassment. When SEGA went on a YouTube video takedown spree in late 2012 over Shining Force III, TotalBiscuit took a stand by boycotting coverage of SEGA games for the next five years. He was one of many YouTube channels hit in the strikes. A year later, the developers of Day One: Garry’s Incident tried taking down TotalBiscuit’s review of the game. They quickly reversed course and apologized to TB for the inconvenience. A few months later it happened again when Bain reviewed Guise of the Wolf. The developers, FUN Creators, tried to use a copyright claim yet also denied taking it down (emails proved otherwise). Again, thankfully, this was reversed. John Bain made the best of this by educating us common folk about such matters. The frontier was newly explored, YouTube didn’t have a way to deal with DMCA claims. It happened to Jim Sterling too. His case of vengeful game developers was Digital Homicide. They decided to go all the way and sue Jim Sterling for $10 million. I’d say more but I don’t want to get sued like how Digital Homicide tried to (and failed to) sue 100 random Steam users. The Sterling case didn’t have any lasting impact in terms of the final judgement. But H3H3’s lawsuit against Matt Hoss was close.
Unfortunately John “TotalBiscuit” Bain is mentioned in this piece because people tried to paint his life as a controversy. After he died in May 2018 from a long battle with cancer. Even in life people saw John Bain as polarizing. You either loved him or hated him. People condemned TB for simply retweeting to support charity lives-treams. I absolutely refute the notion that TotalBiscuit encouraged bad behavior online. He only got involved with GamerGate in the first place over the concern Zoe Quinn DMCA’ed YouTuber MundaneMatt’s video talking about the drama. When that post from TB was posted to Reddit, it turned into a censorship graveyard of heavy-handed moderation.
In October 2014 he had a chat with Kotaku editor-in-chief Stephen Totilo. This discussion with one of GamerGate’s main opponents was a brave move that sought to ease tensions in the gaming community. What Totilo presented was a defense of journalists networking for the sake of their jobs. He gave insight on what it’s like on the other side of the games journalism fence. That the press grew into a lazy routine of parroting press releases, and that the big companies essentially co-opted the media’s interests. (Thank god OpenCritic did away with Metacritic’s monopoly that determined the bonuses for Fallout: New Vegas developers). He also made a solid argument justifying objectivity to mean reporters writing how they honestly felt about subject matters. Whereas the traditional definition of objectivity meaning how reporters are supposed to fairly entertain both sides of an argument. It was a better showing than what Polygon chose to do in coming out and just flat-out saying “we’re all progressives deal with it.”
Things like Bain’s “Framerate Police” weren’t a gestapo meant to enforce the PC Master Race ideology. That term wasn’t even political, despite what some outlets believed. TB just advocated for quality. Without him 30 FPS would still be allowed on the grounds of “filmic look.” Valve saw enough value in TB’s work to invite him to their office. Why not? Bain still is the top curator on Steam. He was a bridge between a Big Tech company and consumers. Through TotalBiscuit, both sides learned more about each other.
Valve spent the decade growing Steam to becoming the dominant marketplace for PC gaming. A new digital world that circumvented the physical business model. Valve seriously spent the decade procrastinating on the next Half-Life game. They turned in their homework at the last minute releasing a trailer for a VR title set in the Half-Life universe.
But with great power comes great responsibility. Valve had to play gatekeeper. In the earlier half of the decade they formulated the “Greenlight” model that put the power in the hands of audiences. Which in itself turned into a cornucopia of half-finished products and eternal beta demos. In December 2014 Valve removed a game called Hatred from Steam Greenlight. “Based on what we’ve seen on Greenlight we would not publish Hatred on Steam. As such we’ll be taking it down,” Valve’s Doug Lombardi told Eurogamer. A game about a spree shooter that massacres innocents was controversial. It caused a moral panic in the same vein Postal and Manhunt did.
Gabe saw right through this and overturned the ban on Hatred.
“Hi, Jaroslaw. Yesterday I heard that we were taking Hatred down from Greenlight. Since I wasn’t up to speed, I asked around internally to find out why we had done that. It turns out that it wasn’t a good decision, and we’ll be putting Hatred back up. My apologies to you and your team. Steam is about creating tools for content creators and customers. Good luck with your game. Gabe.”
Towards the end of the decade Valve flip-flopped on their sexual content policies. It started in May 2018. Three separate developers of naughty Anime games were told to change things to appease Valve’s rules and guidelines. It came out of nowhere according to them. The next month, Valve did a remarkable 180-degree turnaround. They “decided that the right approach is to allow everything onto the Steam Store, except for things that we decide are illegal, or straight up trolling.” The media was triggered. It took time for Valve to put the new rules into practice. What Valve came up with in September 2018 was genius. Developers of games with explicit content needed to provide context, if they wanted to be on Steam. It fit great with the updates to user filters they added in. It was only a matter of time before Steam’s new boundaries were tested. In March 2019, Valve had to clamp down on a visual novel called Rape Day. It was a game all about rape. The poor bastards at Valve had to debate about whether or not to allow this game. “We respect developers’ desire to express themselves, and the purpose of Steam is to help developers find an audience, but this developer has chosen content matter and a way of representing it that makes it very difficult for us to help them do that.”
Nobody can fully understand what the hell is going on at Valve. However, making cuts and changes isn’t a new thing in games. “We have removed apps from the App Store that use the Confederate flag in offensive or mean-spirited ways, which is in violation of our guidelines,” Apple said in June 2015. That statement being what they told even the Civil War educational titles. Thankfully the education games were put back without any hassle. The move was an overreaction to a recent shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. Apple had a problem with the Confederate flag as an icon. In the 2010s, Apple was weird about censorship. People couldn’t understand it in the same vein as Valve’s problems. They were prude on nudity and sex. No nipples on Instagram. Apple’s policies crippled Tumblr. When it came to video games? You couldn’t talk politics. No games about sweatshops. No Syrian civil war. No Palestine. No commentary on immigration. Even The Binding of Isaac was seen as too violent. Even the popular Papers, Please faced opposition.
But why? In Apple’s case, one answer is obviously China, China, China, China, China, China, China, China, China, China, China, China, China, China, China, China, China. Apple’s market interests there mean they’re malleable to whatever censorship marching orders the Chinese government enacts. It’s something deeper than Bungie getting rid of Peter Dinklage’s voice acting from Destiny. Something more politically complicated than WWE 2K16 cutting out Hulk Hogan. Mesut Özil spoke out against China’s abuses towards the Uighur population. In response China erased him in their localized version of Pro Evolution Soccer.
People were worried Epic Games sent their data to China because of the company’s relationship with Tencent. Epic Games Founder and CEO Tim Sweeney “fiercely denied” this notion brought forward by data miners. Some of the other big video game companies wanted a slice of Valve’s market. That meant setting up clones of what Steam did. Which was already a thing with GoG and they managed to innovate by offering DRM-free gaming experiences. Copycats like EA’s Origin offered nothing unique. It worked out great for Valve in some cases. Gabe Newell could wipe his hands clean when it came to disasters like the launch of SimCity in 2013. Assassin’s Creed Unity was the low point for Ubisoft when it came to monetization direction. Their Uplay system was one part of a larger digital dumpster fire. Thankfully at least EA eventually realized this was all unnecessary and brought games back to Steam.
Epic Games Store was different to EA and Ubisoft. They launched it in December 2018. Game developers were given a lower 12% sales cut for Epic, compared to having to give Valve 30%. A game changer. Right before Epic revealed their store, Valve announced an update to their revenue sharing policy. Make $10 million? It turns into 75%/25% share. Make $50 million? It becomes 80%/20&. It smelled desperate. While free games to bait people in is nice, exclusivity deals hooked in game developers. Aggressively so. Ubisoft decided to commit Anno 1800 to Epic instead of Steam on launch. The Outer Worlds and Control did the same. An indie title called Observation made a similar move. Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney vowed to back down only if Steam committed to matching Epic’s 88% revenue share plan. Obviously not everyone jumped over to Epic’s store. The developer of DARQ turned Epic Games down when offered a deal. He wanted Steam and Epic launches simultaneously, but Epic themselves wanted exclusivity. People got worried games like Rocket League would get taken down from Steam when they hopped on the Epic train. Exclusivity created drama in the gaming community. Shit hit the fan when Ooblets developers announced they’d be going exclusive with Epic. Tim Sweeney got involved and Epic Games had to release a statement condemning the public backlash towards the Ooblets team. The fact that Valve allowed pretty much anything didn’t help Steam any. “We’re not in the porn business” said Tim Sweeney in response to Valve’s Rape Day controversy.
On January 28th 2019, Deep Silver announced Metro Exodus was going to be an Epic exclusive. It was following in the footsteps of Ubisoft’s The Division 2, who made that choice a few weeks earlier. People questioned if this practice was legal, from both a consumer standpoint and in the eyes of Valve. The Steam page is still up for purchasers wanting to buy Metro Exodus DLC. Valve left a message accusing the developers of being unfair. One 4AGames developer threatened that the next Metro game wouldn’t be on PC either if consumers boycotted Exodus. The studio had to put out a statement clarifying how little say the developer had on that. They reiterated what THQ Nordic said: the Epic Store decision was Koch Media’s call to make. They weren’t the only ones. The long-anticipated Shenmue III decided to switch from Steam to Epic exclusive. The problem with that is the game’s studio used Kickstarter to fundraise, meaning they had commitments to backers. After a brief scare, the developers confirmed offering refunds. Another Kickstarter game called Phoenix Point (by the creator of X-COM) went Epic exclusive and faced the same sort of backlash.
Aside from Epic, Blizzard Entertainment runs their own launcher for their games. The company had a rough year. Much of people’s recent spite stems from the company’s controversial punishment of a Hearthstone player, Blitzchung. The gentleman decided to use his livestreamed tournament victory speech to make a political statement supporting Hong Kong’s protests. Given the censorious nature of China this was like dropping an atomic bomb on Blizzard’s doorstep. The company took away Blitzchung’s winnings and banned him from participating in official tournaments for a full year, but eventually gave the money back and cut that time in half after a huge public backlash. The likes of which was amplified by chance as South Park and the NBA had China-related issues too.
But otherwise the problematic highlights for Blizzard this past decade dealt with Diablo. In the case of Diablo III, gamers were outraged that the login authentication servers crashed on release night. “ERROR 37” popped up and set the internet ablaze. But it was an outburst born out of love. Blizzard’s community has one of the oldest and most passionate player bases out there. The idea of WoW Classic was something that Blizzard made official entirely because of that. Before that was a private server called Nostalrius. It was widely popular, but since Blizzard themselves didn’t run it they had to slap a cease-and-desist on it. The story has a happy ending. It started a movement around the concept of “vanilla” World of Warcraft. For nostalgic people who wanted to revisit what it was like before all the expansions. Fast forward to Blizzcon 2018, the public’s admiration is tested with the unveiling of Diablo Immortal. A mobile game that came off as a cash grab, made possible due to Blizzard’s partnership with a Chinese company, NetEase.
“Do you guys not have phones?” said one of the developers as the audience booed..
People had superficial complaints about Overwatch characters. Some were mad Tracer’s butt was too big. Mei had to deal with that too before she became a Hong Kong protest symbol. Then there was the social media storm over Tracer being gay in the Overwatch lore. Blizzard tried to be as diverse and tolerant as possible. So much so that people got mad when Overwatch got a new white guy hero.
But Overwatch did better than its main competitor, Gearbox’s Battleborn. Let history remember that Gearbox’s CEO tweeted out a link to cartoon porn of it. Randy Pitchford is a weird guy. I’m not just referring to his bizarre responses in regards to Epic Games Store timed exclusivity for Borderlands 3. He’s free to do whatever he wants when it comes to that (even though how 2K Games distributed review copies was bonkers). Gearbox’s Aliens: Colonial Marines was an abortion that magically got fixed after changing one simple line of code. Randy wouldn’t have needed to bribe reviewers if Gearbox caught that mistake in time. No. The weirdest thing about Randy Pitchford came out when David Callender’s lawsuit hit the public eye. The lawsuit alleges that in 2014, Randy Pitchford left a USB drive full of sensitive company documents at a Medieval Times restaurant. This memory stick also had a pornographic video on it. By some stroke of luck Pitchford was able to get this USB dongle back thanks to a good Samaritan. When I saw that tidbit of information, the whole “Randy Pitchford may have funneled a $12,000,000 bonus meant for Gearbox to his side business” allegation paled in comparison. Eventually it came out that Randy Pitchford physically assaulted someone at GDC. It turned out to be David Eddings. The guy who voiced Borderland‘s Claptrap. Awkward all around.
“I would hate for anyone to think that I cannot tell the difference between legal, natural female ejaculation and legal, simulated female ejaculation. Both are beautiful, but only one is natural,” — Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford, January 12th 2019.
“Gamer entitlement” didn’t exactly work as a cop-out for Epic Games Store. It’s easy to write off Epic’s China connection as a conspiracy. But that doesn’t stop real concerns surrounding mishandling of GDPR information and games vanishing from user libraries were prevalent.
Steam Greenlight was the gateway that helped the world of Indie gaming flourish. These folks were the wild cards of the gaming industry, seeing as how it let anyone dedicated enough have a shot at success. Phil Fish was a controversial indie developer because of his hubris. He was lauded with so much praise for his Fez game that it went to his head. The story of Fez contributor Jason DeGroot was lost by the wayside. Twitter destroyed Phil and became his tomb. The fact he told someone “suck my dick choke on it” is the gaming industry quote of the decade. Hands down. But the real kicker was when Phil Fish melted down on Twitter and decided to quit making Fez II. That came around because Marcus Beer called Fish a “toss pot” on a GameTrailers podcast. At least that’s how they came off in Indie Game: The Movie. He charged Fish and Jonathan Blow as egotistical anomalies of the indie game sphere.
It happened so fast you’d miss it if you blinked.
Enter Zoe Quinn, stage left. The first time anyone really heard of her was in December 2013. She submitted a game called Depression Quest to Steam Greenlight. Things got hairy when a site called Wizardchan reportedly targeted her. In March 2014 someone thought it’d be a remarkable idea to slam together Indie developers and YouTubers in a “GAME_JAM” reality show contest. It was a disaster. An outside marketing consultant named Matti Leshem came in and trashed the production. He was there in the first place because Pepsi/Mountain Dew sponsored this $400,000 project. A Game Jam should focus on the development process of the game but this particular one threw in nonsense reality show style challenges. Matti Leshem tried to start a fight between JonTron and Zoe Quinn. This snowballed into both teams in the competition to leave the set in protest.
This happened at the same time as Maker Studios being bought out by Disney.
GamerGate started with The Zoe Post. August 16th 2014. They paint the ex-boyfriend Eron Gonji as some kind of dramatic jilted lover with an agenda. The main slights against Zoe Quinn included: her affair with Joshua Boggs, (this scoring a job), the fact she slept with Kotaku writer Nathan Grayson (admitted as professionally inappropriate), lying to Eron, sleeping with Robin Arnott and two other people, and deleting the digital paper trail after the fact. A lot of the immediate concern for Gonji was STDs. He said Quinn lied about getting tested during her escapades. In a more broader sense, we see Eron was emotionally manipulated. By the end of it it’s more clear that Gonji did all this just to process what happened. The Zoe Post was a simple outline of toxic, abusive behavior on Quinn’s part.
The inclusion of Nathan Grayson matters because it could’ve easily biased his reporting on the GAME_JAM incident. He lists Quinn and Arnott as sources. Kotaku saw it as serious enough to look into. Kotaku investigated Kotaku and found no wrongdoing. This is the moment where the “Grayson reviewed Depression Quest” myth came into play. Something that Totilo denied ever happening, but for some reason stuck all these years.
A character named “Internet Aristocrat” made a few YouTube videos about the subject. Something that caught the attention of Adam Baldwin. He tweeted them out with the #GamerGate and a movement was born.
It was after this a Pandora’s Box happened and a full blown culture war erupted online. Something that couldn’t even stay contained to the gaming community. It spilled over to the outside world and shook up everywhere else on the internet. Politics, tech, comic books, movies, you name it. A lot of the crossover was natural but GamerGate became the definitive cop-out to use whenever a large public spectacle arose.
The gaming community saw an avalanche of articles that declared gamers a “dead” identity. It was a mass response by the media to condemn the community because of the growing controversy surrounding Zoe Quinn. Some claimed the outlets conspired. But it also can be attributed to the “piggybacking” of stories. Which in this case was everyone bandwagoning off of Dan Golding and Leigh Alexander. The effort was geared at reframing it into “players” instead, and asserting that people who played video games were a more diverse group. They themselves pushed a notion that the previous “status quo” for gamers was dominantly white males. GamerGate wasn’t a group of basement dwelling nerds. The movement cared about optics so much they had the #NotYourShield hashtag that was all about diversity. This effort demonstrated that females and minorities weren’t by default going to agree with Anita Sarkeesian or “woke” culture. But that isn’t to say GamerGate didn’t lean liberal. Brad Glasgow proved they did with a survey.
People on 4chan got together to help raise money for a diverse group of aspiring developers. The Fine Young Capitalists let them pick the mascot for their upcoming video game project. GamerGate made Vivian James their mascot because it went against the media narrative.
Back then, “gamers” weren’t mad about this push to call video games art. They hated the “SJWs” who took advantage of the gaming industry on that basis. As in, using political rhetoric and superficial morality to prop up themselves and tear down those around them. Tim Schafer here being a prime example.
That’s how Feminist Frequency came into the mix. On August 27th 2014, a Twitter egg account threatened violence and listed Sarkeesian’s address. A follow-up tweet from her says she went to the cops. The media fires were lit. Social media places like Reddit were banning everyone in sight by this point. Phil Fish supported Zoe Quinn and someone hacked him. Polygon and Kotaku made statements regarding staff engaging in Patreon support.
You’re free to read Anita Sarkeesian’s accounting of GamerGate. Although, I still can’t believe the games industry fell for someone who took Teleseminar Secrets classes. Anita Sarkeesian came into the games industry to sell people timeshares. But it wasn’t for a beachfront property. The age of social media means people’s attention is limited, and Sarkeesian wanted people to donate that precious time to her. Anita’s college thesis alone should’ve been a red flag to how faulty her logic was. Advocating for segregated “Women Only” subway cars is a step backwards. The games industry either listen and believed Anita Sarkeesian or saw this chick was cutting corners and stealing video game footage from other YouTubers. All so she could push baseless arguments for games like Hitman: Absolution and Watchdogs. The Intel Corporation gave Sarkeesian millions of dollars but by 2019 her cash ran out.
Let’s make something clear. I understand the need for some to be sensitive towards particular video game marketing. Like when 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot had a potential rape scene. Luckily it wasn’t that. But the developers got weird when communicating about it. While calling the Hitman: Absolution nuns trailer “sexist” was a stretch, the Facebook campaign that marketed death threats to your friends certainly went too far. It’s something we all spent the decade trying to figure out where the lines were. Advertisements for Detroit: Become Human and The Last of Us Part II sparked debates around excessive violence, for instance. But we’re talking about Sarkeesian, who once said “everything is sexist, everything is racist.” It doesn’t get any clearer than that. This is someone who has no end goal in sight and was willing to chip away at the games industry for as long as possible. They were never willing to have debates or discussions with anyone. Look at the 2017 VidCon debacle with Sargon of Akkad. Anita couldn’t handle the fact one of her most prominent critics simply showed up to her panel. She showed up to Notch’s house uninvited and gloated about it on Twitter (probably regrets that now).
That’s how we got to a point where people say Witcher 3 is racist. With the success of the Netflix series, who’s laughing now!?
There’s a few things I’m willing to agree with Anita on. The connection between GamerGate and Trump is absolutely true. It’s all because of Milo Yiannopoulos. A gay British bloke who caught wind of the GamerGate happenings. He was in the sphere of Conservative politics and acted as a gateway for the 4chan/gamer culture.
The whole GameJournoPros revelations that solidified the concerns about coordination of narratives in the games industry. 4chan always imagined a secret group of games journalists conspiring together. It sounded foolish but there it was. The charges of sexism fall flat when considering The Fine Young Capitalists and Zoe Quinn’s harassment campaign to sabotage them. “Outsiders” wanted to help bring better representation to the gaming scene yet couldn’t because they didn’t please the gatekeepers who decide if you’re in or out. Another case of this happening was in June 2017 after indie developer Tim Soret got in Quinn’s crosshairs. After receiving widespread praise for his beautiful The Last Night project, Zoe couldn’t help but insert themselves back into the public limelight. People dug up old tweets from Soret that pointed toward his rejection of third-wave feminism and his support for GamerGate’s causes. In August 2019 Zoe Quinn did it again when accusing Night in the Woods developer Alec Holowka of harassment and abuse. Quinn publicly crucified him. Alec’s colleagues threw him under the bus. Holowka committed suicide a few days later. A waste of a life given how Zoe’s accusations fell apart upon further investigation in the aftermath of Alec’s death. Zoe Quinn isn’t credible. The FBI investigated GamerGate and came up empty. One of those occasions being someone making a bomb threat to Utah State University in the days leading up to a Sarkeesian talk. The person signed “Mr Repzion” as their name. As you can see in this video from Mr. Repzion clearing his name, it was not credible. The FBI wasted their time.
Suicide is awful. Alec wasn’t the first prominent indie developer suicide either. In June 2018 Chloe Sagal went to a park and set herself on fire. That was pretty hardcore. Back in October 2013 there was a controversy surrounding mismanagement of funds. Chloe Sagal claimed to need cash for a “life-saving operation” to remove metal shrapnel from their body. But that was a lie. Chloe was raising money for gender-switching surgery instead. The only reason we found out about any of this was thanks to Allistair Pinsof. He lost his job at Destructoid because in revealing the campaign as fraudulent, Allistair outed Sagal as transgender. He was just doing his job. When discovering the true purpose behind the fundraiser, Pinsof brought it to the attention of his boss. Destructoid didn’t know what to do. Yanier ‘Niero’ Gonzalez fired him for “disobeying orders.” The GameJournoPros informally blacklisted him from the industry.
Law and Order: SVU made an episode about “GamerGate.” I say that term loosely because it ended up being some kind of fictitious extreme that extended far beyond even what the media smears depicted. A cell of militant terrorists organize on a site called ReddChanit. There they coordinate first a SWATing, followed up by kidnapping a female game developer. The background subtext of this episode is that these extremists did it because they were radicalized by a game called “Kill or Be Slaughtered.” An idea that comes off as ridiculous in how the episode depicts violence. The ways that the gaming industry tried to contend with harassment sometimes were just as ridiculous. Like with the Bully Hunters debacle. It was a cringe effort where some group of marketers tried to turn a real contentious issue into a TV show. When you had sponsors like Vertagear and Steel Series involved that’s a sign of taking the Hollywood angle too far. Bully Hunters came and went for a very confusing week in April 2018. People online have a habit of asking questions especially when it pertains to statistics. It all came crashing down when the internet found old tweets from ZombiUnicorn.
If GamerGate wasn’t about pushing for ethical journalism, please explain this whole website they set up dedicated to it. PC Gamer had to do a note on disclosure after their writer Tyler Wilde was exposed for his relationship to Ubisoft’s Anne Marie Lewis. Ubisoft articles that involved Wilde were then removed. Eurogamer ran a Cara Ellison review of Christine Love’s game Hate Plus. Ellison gave it an 8/10. How much of that score is biased in Love’s favor given how Ellison would “spank [Christine] for some pretty decent maple syrup” and volunteered to do Love’s PR? Why did the Escapist update their ethics policies? GamerGate.
I also agree with Anita Sarkeesian that the game journalists were a bunch of cowards who piss themselves at the first sign of danger.
The case of Alison Rapp being fired from Nintendo is blamed on GamerGate. Even though Rapp herself said she was fired for moonlighting. The company told her she was “no longer a good, safe representative.” Nintendo made it clear to the media that it wasn’t the result of a harassment campaign. Alison Rapp was the subject of a Kotaku piece in early March 2016 that combined video game localization with GamerGate drama. Patrick Klepek buried the real lede about the discovery of Rapp’s controversial college essay on child pornography laws in Japan. He defends Rapp’s past leniency of teenagers being sexualized. Even further down Klepek finally discusses the actual Fire Emblem: Fates localizers that were of GamerGate’s interest in the first place. As is the Kotaku way. Just to be clear: “Although [Rapp] did work in Nintendo of America’s Treehouse team — responsible for localizing games for audiences outside Japan — Rapp’s role was in marketing, rather than translation, development, or editing.” Jamie Walton tweeted about making Nintendo aware of Alison Rapp’s controversial comments.
The ArenaNet firings of Jessica Price and Peter Fries were because of a Twitter argument with a Guild Wars 2 influencer named Derior. All because Price thought Derior was telling her how to do her job. The YouTuber was polite, but the employees blew up at him and others. The firing wasn’t GamerGate’s fault even though Jessica Price: openly went after gamers, hated men, sees politics in everything, and was generally hostile on Twitter. GamerGate didn’t force Jessica Price to stoke a flame war. It was a scapegoat. But that in itself brought a collective desire for video game companies to review their social media policies. Jessica Price blamed her former employer after she was let go. The official explanation according to ArenaNet president Mike O’ Brien is that the Twitter incident that Jessica Price and Peter Fries got involved in was an attack on the community. Price believes freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences.
A confirmed fake Reddit post was passed off by games media as real to stoke the flames. The author of it explained: “I was hoping I’d appeal to some sort of sense of decency by writing the most vile shit I could think of. […] I went too far and should’ve added “this is what you all sound like” at the end, or something.” Kotaku, The Verge, Paste Magazine, and Daily Dot depicted it as real. Kotaku at least corrected after the fact. Polygon, on the other hand, made a full article centered around this fake news. It’s still up today.
I could talk forever about GamerGate. It’s a bottomless barrel of fish that the media spent the last five years shooting.
It’s time to stop.
Well. If you reached it this far, thank you for reading. For the past four and a half years I’ve made a go at this writing thing. A lot of late nights and sweat went into making this at least worthwhile. My hope here was to capture the essence of everything. Everyone else’s retrospectives of the decade focused on this or that and it missed the bigger picture. Our society has been stumbling around in the dark. Technology and social media evolved. It integrated the world together in this digital world. I have my worries. That we’ll continue to make the same mistakes, march ourselves to some authoritarian state. It’s easy to feel powerless in this whole mess. I know I do sometimes. But then I remember the power of just showing up. Every single last one of us does our part to drive our inevitable destinies.
I hope you leave this page feeling a bit more hopeful. Yes. There were tons of mistakes in the 2010s. But many of these stories have lights at the end of the tunnel. For all the bad going on in the world, there’s always good close nearby. Remember that.
Cheers to the new decade. Cheers to the 2020s. I’m glad I did my part.
And no, Samus Aran is not transgender.