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.