Treating Developers Like Human Beings

Image courtesy of Kotaku

This article is not actually about World of Warcraft (gasp!) but rather the gaming community in general.

A couple of days ago, a firestorm was raging on video game Twitter. Electronic Arts (better known as EA), the creators of the game Star Wars Battlefront II, had just added a brand new, highly unpopular feature locking many of the game’s most iconic and best characters behind micro-transactions. As a result, the players were pissed. I’ve never played Battlefront and don’t really follow much of that news but even I saw multiple angry rants, memes, and conversation generated by these micro-transactions.

In the midst of all this turbulence, a tweet from an “EA developer” claiming to have received multiple death threats over the micro-transactions went viral. A well-needed conversation about the gaming community’s treatment of developers came to the forefront, with game developers from across the video gaming community chiming in. Toxic behavior such as death threats and personal attacks were, rightly, called out and people were once more reminded that game devs are human beings too. The tweet also garnered attention from mainstream, non-gaming media sites.

Unfortunately, it turns out that the “EA developer” who started the whole thing… might not have been who he said he was.

Kotaku’s Jason Schreier set out to confirm that @BigSean66 indeed worked at EA but the answers he found proved otherwise. Scherier wrote an absolutely amazing article on his investigation and his conclusions that I highly, highly recommend (it is one of the best pieces of investigative gaming journalism that I’ve read), so I won’t sum up all of his findings here.

Instead, I want to talk about the “Now What?”. BigSean66 has pretty much been proven to be a fake, but the sentiment behind the message he went viral for is definitely not. Developers do receive death threats from unhappy players, and that’s something that I think the gaming community needs to address far better than it has been.

Players won’t always love every feature introduced into their game. Heck, there’s been plenty of things over the years that WoW has added that I haven’t been very keen on. But no matter how upset you might feel, it is never ok to threaten harm against the makers of the game. I honestly even have a problem when people single out and ridicule specific developers because of something they’re mad about.

Game developers, first and foremost, are human beings. That can sometimes be hard to remember when all we see are blocks of text transmitted over the internet, but behind every avatar is a person with thoughts and emotions. So when you send off a death threat to a game dev, that’s not just being shot off into space. It’s being slung directly at another human being who has done nothing to warrant such vitriol.

I don’t care how angry you are, there is no feature, no matter how bad, that is worth threatening the well being of another person. I honestly can’t believe this has to be said. If you don’t like something about a game, don’t play it! Or write about what you don’t like in a constructive manner! But don’t, for the love of all things that is holy, go after the people who made the game. They don’t deserve that kind of treatment. I can guarantee you that no developer specifically puts something into a game in order to anger players. They want to make as many people happy with their product as they can so people will continue playing. Sometimes they misstep from that goal, but with constructive and even-headed feedback, I promise you most game companies will make efforts to correct the issues.

There is another really important facet to this issue: a single developer isn’t typically the sole creator of a feature. In many cases, they might not even be involved at all. So not only are people lashing out against developers in an absolutely inappropriate way, they’re also lashing out against people who had nothing to do with the feature in question. If that’s not the definition of insanity, I don’t know what is.

While I am incredibly impressed by Mr. Schreier’s work, it does make me wary that the whole point of the tweet, not just the source of it, has been disregarded. Absolutely, BigSean66 is full of baloney, and should be regarded as such. But the problem with toxicity in gaming communities is far from imaginary. There was nothing unrealistic about the numbers BigSean66 chose. The only flaw in his narrative was that he himself was not an EA developer.

I worry that this might be a case of the “Boy Who Cried Wolf”. Whenever actual developers choose to talk about the death threats they receive, sometimes on a daily basis, the rest of the gaming community has to pay attention. We can’t treat this like some sort of non-issue.

The gaming community will always be a very passionate, emotional one. People get very, very worked up about the games they play, and rightfully so. Video games, for many, are a source of family, community, or escapism. All three are super important parts of people’s lives, and when they think any of them are under threat, they go on the offensive. What we, as a gaming community, need to do is use that passion in far less negative ways. Be constructive rather than destructive. Provide feedback rather than abuse. And ultimately, we need to express our displeasure with our wallets rather than our insults.

6 thoughts on “Treating Developers Like Human Beings

  1. One could make the worst game ever! – it’s not a reason for death threats. Every time I see such things, I get disappointed. I play games and as much as sometimes I don’t like something, I know they are people too! And the same things I may not like, other people do! Besides, people work on different things inside the game: effects, props, etc. I don’t think every single worker there agreed or even had a word to say on that decision! I understand that people overreact sometimes, they speak hotheaded and that writing on the computer seems less personal, but… Comments seriously attacking Blizzard, EA, other companies I don’t know… They. Are. People. Somewhere, someone is working their buts off to create something they think players will like. Ok, so EA stepped on a puddle of mud and tried to clean the boots on the players. It was bad. But that’s no reason for death threats. Players toxicity against other players, against the game’s company, is just plain wrong and it needs to end. That’s why it’s called toxicity. Great post!

    • That is something I didn’t even consider but you’re absolutely right: most of the features that we end up seeing are probably the results of months of internal debate and compromise. It’s unlikely that every person within the developing team completely loves the feature that they’re rolling out, so the team is most likely still looking for ways to improve the system even as it goes live. Screaming at developers when there’s an issue isn’t going to inspire them to fix it any faster.

      I think you’re totally right; this whole thing comes down to the fact that developers are people too, and deserve to be treated as such. It’s completely fine to disagree and it’s completely fine to dislike a feature, but the moment you threaten harm against another person, you’ve stepped too far. Hopefully we as a gaming community can get better about that.

      Thank you for the comment!

  2. Thank you for sharing, I was following this story for the last days and that article is a very good investigative work.

    Personally I’m not okay with “pay to win” features. It’s one thing to be able to pay for cosmetic things, like new skins for models and whatnot, but another to be able to pay to unlock cooler, stronger models.

    This is one of the reasons mobile gaming never really took off. For every player that is doing his best to level, there are 10 who spent money for the top things. And companies sometimes forget that just because a player doesn’t buy those things, it doesn’t mean he cant afford them. Some people just want to enjoy the game and unlock things at their own pace. And when you add a pvp element to a game, the microtransactions will unbalance it.

    On WoW I’m not against the Boost that players can buy, because for many players who have long work hours + family, sometimes buying and using a level 100 boost is the only way they can play with more than one character, or even put a character on current expansion. And Blizzard did something amazing with Legion: the class trial feature. But using those boosts wont bring any sort of competitive advantage over other players: it just puts a character on the beginning of the current expansion.

    There is no reason whatsoever to send death threats to anyone, let alone over a game. People need to be more understanding with those who spent their entire work days trying to bring a new gaming experience for them.

    Some decisions aren’t even made by the developers. Who in their right mind would think “Well, I don’t like this feature. But I knew it was there, I bought the game anyway and now the best thing to do is threaten someone who most likely lost hours of sleep or family time so I could play it”.

    In any civilised country, sending death threats is a crime. Even if people think they can get away with it because “its the internet, everyone does it”, all the person who received the threat has to do is press charges and claim they have reason to believe the threat is legitimate. Its wrong, and its a criminal conduct.

    Video games are about having fun, overcoming challenges and even personal insecurities. Its not about going on a rampage every time something happens and people don’t like it

    • Having never played Battlefront, I have no horse in that specific micro-transaction race. In general however, I definitely agree with you. Micro-transactions which directly impact competitive advantage tend to rob a game of a lot of it’s enjoyment. Why waste your time playing the game when others can pay some extra cash and be infinitely better than you? The entire process of learning and mastering said game is lost.

      For as much as people tend to bemoan the micro-transactions that Warcraft does have, I do think the game has done a very good job keeping them purely cosmetic or quality of life. I agree with you completely on the impact of the $60 Level Boost, and, while I myself have never bought one, I have no problems with it existing. Those who boost their characters don’t have any particular advantage over folks who level normal other than being to max level faster, and, as I would argue, much of the competitive aspect of the game only starts coming into play well into end-game content. The pets and mounts, while it does stink that I’ll rarely ever get one, are perfectly served where they are in the game store.

      I really do hope that developers and game companies pursue legal options against death threats. I do worry that the complexity involved in such a case might slow down or stop some charges, but I still think that pressing the issue is a very important one. There’s no reminder of how despicable one’s actions are than a criminal investigation.

  3. I am living under a rock from time to time, as I stay away from most social medias except a weekly visit, so thank you for bringing this to my attention.

    What an awful feature to add to a game! But that being said; No matter the feature, it never justifies that kind of behavior. Sadly what we see is a result of the internet too. Impressive work on connection the dots on that article you linked. (If it is infact, legit 😉 )

    I am afraid that the players in mention, who actually make these threats, will not spend 2 seconds to think about the consequences. They have been brought up in so many wrong ways, that they are a lost cause. Pretending to be someone you are not online though, that is a whole other matter, yet still as tragic.

    I hope, overall, that we as humans, start to question a little bit more of what we see and read on a daily basis.

    • While I do agree that the people making such blatantly awful threats might not realize the severity of what they’re doing right now, I definitely think anyone and everyone has the potential to realize that fact. Part of the problem, I think, is that the Internet is just so new. For both kids and adults alike, this level of reach and anonymity is a new and powerful tool. We don’t really have an agreed upon set of standards or etiquette for the web, making the Internet almost like a ‘Wild West”. Sure, we preach that people should be treated with common dignity but on the Web, there’s no police force to ensure that this happens. There’s very rarely any push back to toxic and horrible behavior. It becomes normalized.

      The solution is a lot more difficult to spell out, but I do firmly believe that the first step is holding oneself accountable to the kinds of behavior that *should* be the norm online. If you wouldn’t say it in real life to someone, odds are, you shouldn’t be saying it over a digital medium. The next step, then, would be to work on making this not just a personal goal but a communal standard. Foster places on the web where that kind of toxicity is, rightly, called out. Work on building positive spaces and lead by example. I think a lot of this falls particularly on how ‘Web-celebrities’ act, since the actions of big name Youtubers and streamers tend to reach a much larger audience than the average Internet denizen. Even still, every person online has the capability of putting out positive or neutral vibes rather than negative and toxic ones.

      And I agree, a little bit more questioning and thinking will definitely go a long, long way.

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