We’re now in our fifth week of #GamerGate, many of us are tired and I imagine many of our non-gamer loved ones are pretty sick of hearing about it. After all, as Mundane Matt puts it in this ‘A Few Thoughts On The State Of #GamerGate’ video “…We’ve been at this now for almost an entire month, in internet time that’s like a century”
Some of us are wondering, what happens now? #GamerGate seems to be splitting into different directions. Some of us have chosen to focus on journalists and individuals that we feel should lose their jobs or be ‘punished’. Personally I am wary of this. While contacting journalist’s employers with legitimate concerns about their content is one thing, that is merely the same as complaining about a product, this is the right of any consumer. However I have also seen personal attacks against individuals such as name calling, trawling Twitter for months old tweets and displaying them without context and aggressive tweeting about those considered ‘targets’. I cannot condone this, we do not defeat bullies by becoming them. Some of us are choosing to contact sponsors of specific websites. While I understand the desire to do this, I do worry that it may do more harm than good long term if large companies decide that sponsoring anything to do with video games is more trouble than it’s worth. Yet, as time has gone by, I’m starting to wonder if maybe there is something that we are missing.
Here’s the thing
Video game journalism is tied to the video game industry in a way that is mostly unknown in other forms of media. In other media, such as a movie or an album, it is the journalists that can ultimately have the power to make or break a company or product. Companies know this and will go to great lengths not to offend their media overlords. With video games, the power dynamic works differently. In video game journalism, journalists often don’t have journalism degrees or any formal journalistic training. As Jim Sterling puts it in his ‘Oh What A Lovely Conspiracy’ Jimquisition episode, video game journalists are often “…Gamers who got fucking lucky and have some talent required to maintain an audience” Now whether you like Jim Sterling or not he has a point.
Now this is not me being apologist, the current state of video game journalism is unacceptable, The principles of #GamerGate regarding the need for journalism ethics remain the same. However if you want to talk cronyism, how about we talk about the gaming media being the crony of the mainstream video game industry? Remember I said the power dynamic works differently in game media? Well that’s because the mainstream game developers use game journalists to generate publicity for their games. The main bulk of game journalism consists of reviews, discussing trailers, interviews with developers about up coming games, articles about ‘leaked’ information, articles about perceived ‘controversy’. In essence, the mainstream gaming media serves as a marketing tool for the AAA gaming industry. This is no big secret, some people have spoken for years about the incestuous relationship between the mainstream gaming media and the video game industry. The video game industry is well aware of the amount of power it can exercise over it’s media. In 2012 Robert Florence, a writer for Eurogamer, wrote a piece entitled ‘Lost Humanity 18: A Table Of Doritos’ in which he criticised the nature of this relationship, saying “The information is controlled. Everyone stays friendly. It’s a steady flow of Mountain Dew pouring from the hills of the money men, down through the fingers of the weary journos, down into your mouths. At some point you will have to stop drinking that stuff and demand something better” This attracted the ire of another journalist mentioned in the article. The article was edited and Robert Florence was forced to step down from his position at Eurogamer (source). The edited article is still up on Eurogamer but the unedited article can be found here. In 2007) Jeff Gerstmann, a writer for Gamespot, was fired for his review criticising the video game Kane & Lynch after Sony made threats to remove it’s advertising (source) Even as part of #GamerGate those that work or have worked in game journalism have come forward to give their perspectives on the ties between industry and media.
So what has this got to do with #GamerGate? Well how can we expect ethics and integrity from the people that write about video games…when we don’t expect them from the people that MAKE them? Many of us that have been part of video game culture have noticed a decline in the business ethics practiced by the AAA gaming industry. Take a thing like microtransactions, a seemingly innocuous way to make money on games that are low cost or free by having purchases available in the game. These purchases may be something as simple as costumes or extra characters. However earlier this year in the U.K the Advertising Standards Authority decreed that Dungeon Keeper, a game that it’s publisher EA had advertised as free-to-play, could no longer could be called free-to-play because they believed that the game was effectively unplayable without making purchases (source) Or how about the game Forza 5? There was such a huge backlash to the microtransactions in this game, with the most expensive car in the game the 2013 Lotus E21 F1 car costing around £32/$50, that it’s developer, Turn 10, had to quickly change it’s whole in-game economy (source) Here’s another practice becoming increasingly prevalent, on disc DLC. This is a game disc, that is bought and paid for, that contains game content that is not accessible unless more money is given to the publisher. Capcom faced criticism over it’s on disc DLC for Street Fighter X Tekken game, which included having 56 colours locked away behind a pay wall (source) and that was just one part of the locked away content. How about games that have parts removed which are then sold to the consumer as extra content? With publishers sometimes putting pressure on developers to cut parts out of the game out so they then can sell it as extra DLC (source)
Now here’s where gamers will often jump in to defend their favourite games and brands with comments such as “You don’t have to buy DLC or microtransctions, they’re optional” or “This is a business, they have to make money” Well gaming publications are businesses too! They want to make money! Yet here we are, asking they they treat their consumers with a modicum of respect by practicing good business ethics while we’re not doing the same for the industry itself! We have all been a part of this, gradually allowing these companies to treat us with more and more contempt and allowing them to give less and less for the money they demand. Some actively defend them for doing so!
Where does the indie game scene come into this? Part of the criticisms of #GamerGate has been the nepotism that has occurred between developers, particularly indie developers, and journalists. The mainstream AAA game industry has the means to throw everything it can at keeping journalists sweet, throwing lavish parties, giving away freebies, all expense paid trips. How can an indie developer compete with that? By playing the P.R game, making friends within the media and cultivating contacts, in essence schmoozing their way into the industry. Can we blame them for this? Can we really blame them for playing the game to get a project they may have spent years working on out there? Here it is the media that is at fault, taking advantage of the power it has over those that don’t have resources as the media itself is taken advantage of by those that do. The industry and it’s media cronies are a tight group, they protect their own. Anyone that goes against the rhetoric is frozen out and blocked, sometimes to the point where they can no longer continue to work. Even those with a large audience are not immune to the pressure to tow the line. Recently Boogie2988, a youtuber with around 1.9 million subscribers, described the pressure he was put under to cease his support for #GamerGate (source) To paraphrase the Internet Aristocrat, if someone with an audience as large as Boogie2988 can be pushed to back away with threats to his career then what chance does an indie developer have? Anybody that is a part of the industry or media can be susceptible to this pressure. When this is how you make your living, put food on the table and keep a roof over your head (and there is nothing wrong people making a living doing what they love) it can ruin your life if the industry and it’s media won’t deal with you anymore.
So that bring me back to the beginning, where does #Gamergate go from here? Well I would like to see us, as a community, widen our call for ethics to include the video game industry itself. I believe this can be put into practice in these ways
1. Call out members of the industry that practice bad business ethics. If nothing else #GamerGate has proven the power that people united in the same cause through social media can have, use it! Tweet and e-mail those responsible for these practices. Be polite, there’s no need for excessive anger or aggression. Something as simple as “I am against (whichever practice they are using) because it is unethical and I will no longer buy your products until this practice ceases” will do. We have been apathetic for too long, now is the time to take back our power as consumers and demand the respect that position grants us.
2. Support those that have your backs as consumers, whether they be youtubers, bloggers, or those that have risked their careers and incomes to speak out against these practices. There are people that have been speaking for years about how broken the system is, they have often received abuse and mockery. Now is the time to stand with them. Anyone that acts as an advocate for you, as a consumer, is your friend.
3. Put your money where your mouth is! If a developer or publisher behaves unethically? Don’t buy their games! I realise this is a tough one, some of the most badly behaved companies are the ones with the most anticipated games. However, voices alone are not enough. Publishers don’t listen to individual feedback, they look at consumer buying patterns. In essence they’re not looking at what you’re tweeting, they’re looking at what you’re buying. Voicing dissatisfaction with unethical business practices combined with boycotts of companies that have them will hit where it hurts most, profit margins. You make a dent in the consumer pattern numbers? That’s when you’ll start to see changes.
#GamerGate has seen the awakening of so many that were, before then, apathetic about video game culture. I personally now believe that persuading the video game media to behave ethically cannot fully happen until the industry does the same. Changing the players is not enough, we have to change the game.
This blog is dedicated with love to anyone, be they youtuber, blogger, writer, or person that just tweets, no matter how big or small their audience, that fights for the right of consumers to fair and ethical treatment. This one is for all of you.
Thank you so much for reading