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The games industry, cancel culture, voting with your wallet


Captain Kelsten
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There's been a whole lot of talk across numerous threads of late about whether or not people can or should support developers which are found to be doing bad things. 

 

Recently this has included:

 

- Ubisoft, allegations of abuse and harassment, CEO giving a late and weak apology

 

- WB Games and Hogwarts game lead guy saying he doesn't agree with JK Rowling's stance on transgender issues, but will defend her right to express them

 

- CD Projekt Red implementing mandatory crunch to get Cyberpunk 2077 out the door on time for its November release date. 

 

All these are only in the last few weeks and I'm sure there's been loads of other instances not as widely reported or going back longer. 

 

For some it's a shame to see a thread about a game they're excited about devolve into arguing over whether or not people should support the game. 

 

For others they think people's issue with the senior people shouldn't be taken out in the hard working developers actually making the game. 

 

Some see the issues as a final nail in the coffin for supporting a company as they cannot in good conscience continue to buy products made by an organisation they have a morale objection with. 

 

So, partly to have a good conversation about this properly and give people the opportunity to discuss openly and partly to stop this conversation happening in and gumming up other threads, we could use this topic to openly discuss how we all feel about these sorts of things. 

 

Do you vote with your wallet? Do you believe in cancel culture? Will you buy products regardless of any orbiting issues? 

 

For me personally, Ubisoft's poor management of a very serious issue came at a time when I was also fed up with their output, so it's very easy for me to use that as an opportunity to decide not to buy any future Ubisoft products until such time as there is evidence of a strong shift to the positive in their organisational culture. Would that have been a more difficult decision to make had they got something on the horizon I was interested in? I can't say, really. 

 

I know when there was all the backlash at Blizzard for the Blitzchung scandal, I wasn't massively aware of the context for that backlash and didn't let it interfere with my enjoyment of their products and it was a little while later that the ongoing issues with Hong Kong came to my attention and I saw how bad things were for the people there and therefore how objectionable Blizzard's response to Blitzchung had been and how it had clearly been to appease their Chinese market rather than take a positive stance against a negative issue. Even so, it didn't stop me playing their games. Does that make me a bad person? Does that mean I'm in support of Blizzard and the issues people in China are facing? No, not at all. I think it's an appalling situation. But I also like world of Warcraft. 

 

I do have to hand it to people who are willing to forgo something they were interested in to make a stand, but I do wonder how many will actually follow up on that stand. 

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This is a reason why I'm not going all digital next generation. That way, if it's a game I'm interested in that has had a problematic development cycle I'll just buy it second hand and not feel guilty about supporting shite like Ubi Soft.

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I'm more conscious these days of working practices, but I'm lucky in that a lot of the problematic development studios make games I don't have a great deal of interest in. The only one I've had to truly restrain myself from supporting is EA after Star Wars Battlefront. They've only gotten worst since then as well with even more predatory loot boxes etc. 

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I feel like the biggest controversies revolve around games I wouldn’t have been interested in anyway. I guess I play Destiny 2 but Bungie already split from ActiBlizz (and I ignore the microtransaction economy.)

 

The kind of controversies that affect the games I follow are things like Street Fighter having crap netcode or Atlus blocking Persona 5 streaming; little nitpicks that affect the player rather than anything comparable to the antics of Ubi or CDPR. But more recently I suppose I’d have no trouble kicking Lab Zero to the kerb (especially since most of the staff have bailed too.)

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20 minutes ago, phillv85 said:

I'm more conscious these days of working practices, but I'm lucky in that a lot of the problematic development studios make games I don't have a great deal of interest in. The only one I've had to truly restrain myself from supporting is EA after Star Wars Battlefront. They've only gotten worst since then as well with even more predatory loot boxes etc. 

 

What's interesting about that particular case is that Battlefront 2 is spectacular now, the game it should always have been and with the removal of all the loot box crap, but it was a shame it took that long to get there.

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On the plus side, videogames have the novelty of having appalling work conditions for people in rich, developed countries rather than everything else that takes it out on poor countries.

 

As an industry, videogames have always been a pretty pure implementation of capitalism. Profit is chased aggressively, things like gambling are readily accepted. I really don’t think you can support any part of it if you’re trying to be conscientious. Do what you feel is best for yourself, but the industry chose long ago that it didn’t want regulation and so there will always be bad practices.

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Because I'm lazy opposed to overwork, I'm going to cannibalise my recent post from the Cyberpunk thread.

 

As per @Rev above, there's an argument to be made that the only ethical way to enjoy video games is to, well, not. Though that starts to veer into the 'no ethical consumption under capitalism' territory, with the (major) caveat that video games are on the lower end of the needs scale, and again it's an issue of where you draw the line. The problem of the abuse of workers exists in pretty much every form of media, and indeed in pretty much every sector,* so you'll tend to run into these issues if you indulge in most any 'unnecessary' purchases.

 

For me, the simple fact is that video games are the medium I'm most familiar with, so I feel the most responsibility to indulge in them as ethically as I can. I play far more games than I e.g. watch films or TV, and as a result a far larger portion of my income goes towards them, so they're where my taking some care will have the most impact. I can't know what's going on behind the scenes in every company, but I can keep an eye on what reports do escape, and any repeat, or particularly egregious offenders I end up blacklisting until I hear that they've significantly improved.

 

That does mean there's an ever-increasing pool of games I won't play - at least not unless I get the opportunity to do so without funding the relevant company (hello second-hand sales, while you're still a thing) - but that, for me, is where I choose to draw the line. Obviously my impact on companies' bottom lines is minimal, but it's what I need to do to satisfy my sense of moral worth.

 

I'm sure nobody's interested, but the current list of companies I won't buy games from:
 

Spoiler

CDPR

Activision

Ubisoft

Naughty Dog

MidBoss

Weather Factory

 

Lab Zero would be on here if they still existed in a meaningful way.

 

Rockstar and EA used to be on the list. I've been told that Rockstar's working conditions have drastically improved, from friends who work there, so technically they're now off my list; that's kind of moot as I generally don't enjoy their games, mind. EA I'm also unsure of, as I've heard similar things about them having seriously improved, but they're such a huge company I don't know how much to believe that and how much to put down to different silos working under different conditions.

 

I'm sure there are companies I'm missing that I'd want to exclude if I knew more about them. As already mentioned in the thread, I know Japanese studios in particular are liable to have particularly nasty working conditions without it being as publically visible, thanks both to the particularly 'fun' working culture in the country, and the general inability and lack of interest among Western journalists to pry. I'd like to say that having a greater interest in smaller studios' output in the first place helps me a little, but then companies like MidBoss, Lab Zero and Weather Factory show that they're if anything even more at risk of having a single figure making the whole business shitty.

 

Games! They're lots of fun.

 

*I've been lucky enough that I've never been in a job/company where those have been standard practices, but I don't know how much that is to do with luck, and how much the industries I've worked; 1 year teaching, 1 year civil engineering, 8 years social housing, the latter two all as variations on a theme of 'data person'

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16 minutes ago, Doctor Shark said:

 

What's interesting about that particular case is that Battlefront 2 is spectacular now, the game it should always have been and with the removal of all the loot box crap, but it was a shame it took that long to get there.

 

I believe so, but it was actually the lack of content in the first game that pissed me off and turned me away from EA. It's a shame as I fuckin' love Star Wars, and I'd love to play a good version of 2, but I'm too stubborn to go back on it now.

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I'm pretty comfortable choosing who I buy from for pretty much any reason without needing to be consistent enough to justify it in a court of law, and able to prove that my consumption under capitalism is 100% ethical.

 

If a company does something I don't like, I won't buy from them. I don't lecture other people, I don't join boycott groups but I'll happily talk about my reasons if they arise in conversation. I'm not seeking to unravel the machine and bring about a utopia, I am motivated by my own feelings and limits, which as a quasi-functional human, move like the seasons or the tides.

 

Not buying video games is incredibly easy. The fact that you can buy them second hand makes it even easier.

 

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I bought The Crew and The Crew 2 second-hand, because I didn't want to add to the sales figures of always online racers, lest they become the norm.

 

Generally though I take the view that life's too short to deprive myself of pleasurable things so I just buy the games I want without caring about the stuff in the OP.

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What I find interesting is the companies people actually do boycott by choice.

 

I don’t know many people who will willingly boycott activision, Ubisoft, naughty dog etc for the stuff they get up to but these same people will refuse to buy from konami and think of them as an evil company because of the stuff with Hideo Kojima.

 

But I suppose that’s easy when Konami aren’t actively competing in the AAA market anymore.

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This has always been the counter argument and it doesn't take much alteration before it is

 

If I don't buy those cheap clothes then those workers won't have a job

If I don't buy those cheap clothes then those exploited workers working under illegal conditions won't have a job

 

If I don't buy that game those workers won't have a job

If I don't buy that game then those workers who are sexually harrassed or working under punishing conditions won't have a job.

 

The solution is to stop the business from being run in a shit fashion but capitalism dictates that it might be a while before that nettle is grasped. In the meantime the individual consumer can only decide for themselves

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1 hour ago, Wiper said:

Rockstar and EA used to be on the list. I've been told that Rockstar's working conditions have drastically improved, from friends who work there, so technically they're now off my list; that's kind of moot as I generally don't enjoy their games, mind.

 

Are Rockstar's improved conditions just a side-effect of them not being in crunch for any new games recently? (Last ones were Red Dead Online and the PC version of RDR2 in November 2019.) Or are your friends saying that their baseline "out-of-crunch" working conditions are better than before too?

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Purely regarding crunch:

 

I think the current AAA model is visibly dying and I'm surprised nobody is talking about it more. Delay after delay. The release dates for the next gen big hitters punted nebulously in to the future. Constant leaking of stories about crunch. Constant burn out, churn and turn over of development staff. Like the industry is literally chewing through the ambitions and hopes of the people who make the games and then discarding them.

 

I suspect it's not possible to continue to make games with the volume of hand crafted content expected for a truly "next gen" experience. As a logistical and managerial task is it possible to step up from where the industry is now? We're at a point where for say the next Assassin's Creed you're talking what? 500+ member dev team spread across multiple studios, some of those studios are outside the umbrella of the developer and exist purely to produce outsourced content. At what point does that become unworkable?

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10 minutes ago, Nick R said:

 

Are Rockstar's improved conditions just a side-effect of them not being in crunch for any new games recently? (Last ones were Red Dead Online and the PC version of RDR2 in November 2019.) Or are your friends saying that their baseline "out-of-crunch" working conditions are better than before too?

 

As far as I'm aware, the latter. I am of course limited to anecdata, as I'm purely going on casual conversations here from a very small sample.

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