Jan 16 2014 12:00pm

Gaming Roundup: Raging Gamers Are Taking a Toll on Developers

Angry gamers raging on the internet about pretty much anything and everything are nothing new. The internet troll™ came, inescapably, hand-in-hand with the inception of the internet. And who among us hasn’t been privy to the all-too-frequent multiplayer mic outbursts on Xbox Live, PC, or PSN, which more often than not devolve into racist, sexist, or homophobic rants? More recently, the rise of Twitter and increasingly open lines of communications between game studios and their consumers have produced a new target for gamer vitriol—game developers themselves.

This past week, an anonymous veteran game developer published an open editorial over at Kotaku, issuing a plea to gamers to remember that at on the other end of the insults, fellow humans exist. They cite death threats and a never-ending barrage of mean-spiritedness from gamers as the biggest downside to their jobs. This anonymous developer is by no means alone. Last July, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 developer David Vonderhaar received death threats and threats against his family via Twitter for changes made to weapon timing in a Black Ops 2 patch. Last August, Bioware writer Jennifer Hepler quit her job because of threats made against her children due to comments she made about Dragon Age II. Phil Fish, developer of the massive indie hit Fez, ragequit the entire industry last year, canceling Fez 2 in the process, while attempting to deal with certain criticisms.

But what’s to be done? The initial answer seems to be “not much.” The internet will always attract more than its fair share of idiots, and with the increased accessibility social media and fan forums provide to game developers, it’s no use preaching temperance to the masses. Perhaps some of this freedom needs to be walked back somehow. Studios themselves could also start paying more attention to the issue—former Microsoft developer Stephen Toulouse states that when he broached the topic with Microsoft, the corporate giant was unsure of what steps to take and ended up ignoring the issue. The International Game Developers Association has taken steps to establish support groups for developers, but the problem is a long way from being solved. Any suggestions, Dear Reader?

In other gaming news this week, Naughty Dog releases the first single player DLC for The Last of Us on Valentine’s Day, Episode Two of Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us is coming this February, and Nidhogg brings dueling to the indie game scene, in style. Read on!

  • Telltale Games is releasing the somewhat delayed second episode of their critically acclaimed The Wolf Among Us series in early February.
  • Nidhogg, an indie dueling game that has generated a ton of buzz in gaming circles prior to its launch, is now available for Windows PCs on Steam. Check out the trailer below!

  • Want to vacation in outer space? IGN came up with an ultimate video game space travel guide last week, tipping their hat to such destinations as the Afterlife Bar (Mass Effect), Jacinto City (Gears of War), and Reach (Halo). Personally, we’d add someplace nice ’n divey like Rowdy’s Bar (Anachronox), followed by a scenic visit to Na Pali (Unreal - the game whose graphical influence still resonates today). Where else would you go?
  • So, Battlefield 4 is taking a break from the monotony of guns ’n grenades and is letting you dominate the fighting grounds with a badass freaking whip. We’re not huge fans of military shooters, but that’s pretty cool.
  • Happy Valentine’s Day from Naughty Dog! The developer has announced the release date, February 14, for the first single player piece of DLC (titled Left Behind) for their landmark post-apocalyptic game, The Last of Us. After all, what better way to spend Valentine’s Day than with a horde of infected zombies killing everyone and everything you’ve ever loved?
  • Finally, last week we discussed the future of Steam in the console business. This week Valve took a more conventional turn with their Steam Machine controllers, opting to remove the touch sensors and reverting to traditional physical buttons.

If there are games you’d like us to cover or blogs you think we should be following for more news, please let us know @tdelucci or @pritpaulbains.

Chris Nelly
1. Aeryl
It's hard for me to accept Microsoft really wants to deal with the problem, when they act like this to players. Maybe if they worked harder to create an environment where the abuse of players in unacceptable, it would be easier to address creator abuse as well.


I have pretty much uncovered the whole map, except for parts that aren't open yet(I still haven't unlocked the rope dart, I'm about to try and talk dear Thatch out of retiring). Sailing at sea is the best, and the Abstergo sequences out of the animus are still creeping me the hell out. Am I the only one who thinks Desmond is John from I.T.? I thought maybe it was his Dad, but he's a little to hard edged for that, and we know from Revelations that Desmond knows how to navigate his consciousness inside the animus server.

The best thing they could do, IMO, is return to the old high/low profile controls OR go back to the way Conner handled. Edward is constantly jumping on things I don't want him jumping on, I just want him to RUN PAST them, but if you have the run button depressed, he will jump if the opportunity is there, so I am constantly trying to get him OFF railings and tables. But I think a mixture would work best. Require two button depression for fast running, so you're not jumping when you only want to run, but still manuever like Connor.

I'd really like to try multiplayer, but I hesitate to enter the cesspool that is XBox Live, as I've never done it before, and none of my RL friends play AC. Anyone willing to swap gamertags so I can give it a try?
David Thomson
2. ZetaStriker
I've rarely have bad experiences on Live myself. And the only times I have run into idiots has been on mainstream shooters like Halo of Battlefield.
3. SpaceBoots
*Phil Fish (not Phil Flash) is not a great example when it comes to harassment, as the poor guy can't seem to handle constructive criticism. But that doesn't justify harassment. And sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia and the like are, indeed, rampant in the gaming community. But I can't help feeling like game companies often make design descisions that project the same attitudes.
4. boquaz
If this anonymous game developer thinks Hollywood actors don't get death threats, he needs to do some googling. Then, do what actors do and report death threats to the FBI.

Politicians, actors, scientists, authors, doctors, lawyers and artists all interact with the public in a way that often results in a few crazy people taking criticism too far. Step back and think about how out of hand a few people get in other fields.

We should of course all be more civil to eachother, but there are practical, proactive steps which can be taken. Game designers and artists probably shouldn't be public on Twitter or have public facing e-mail accounts. The video game industry is grown up. Let professional marketing and PR people stage interactions with the public and insulate the artists/designers/programmers from most direct confrontation and messaging. Management at game companies needs to be able to gauge how much public interaction is too much. If you're an independent developer, get someone on the team who will actually enjoy the public facing responsibilities. They should start treating the "talent" like talent is treated in other forms of entertainment.
5. TheMadLibrarian
Aeryl nailed it -- frequently gamers feel like they are yelling at a wall when it comes to matters of support, whether threats from other players, bug reports, or suggestions, a.k.a "Shut up, do this, and take my money!!!11!" Developers are often the most visible and accessible aspect of a gaming company, and get a lot of the blowthrough whenever there is a problem with a game. Until players see that their support tickets get a response that doesn't look like it is generated by a Turing test, they will try any way they can to get a meaningful reaction, including yelling at people who may or may not be responsible, for the sole reason that they represent that company.
Marcus W
6. toryx
I really think that the internet needs to get rid of anonymous messageboard accounts. The worst of the vitriol, abuse and threats come out of a misguided sense that cowards can say whatever they want without anyone knowing it's them. If people had to post that crap under their real names, I think they'd be a lot less likely to do it.

And all that bull about making a bunch of noise to get attention? Toddlers do that too. People should just grow the hell up.
Chris Nelly
7. Aeryl
@6, Never been in a FB discussion with people about social justice, have you? I don't do FB, but I have lots of friends who do, and people will post the most hateful vicious prejudiced things under their actual names as well.
Eric Wyatt
8. SunDriedRainbow
I am completely convinced that they still get the same kind of terrible treatment as developers mentioned in this article, but I think the square-enix team responsible for Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is doing really outstanding work in being transparent in their actions with their playerbase. The relaunch back in august was *rife* with server issues (I couldn't play for three days during the veeeeeery first period b/c the server thought I was logged on) and there was radio silence on the developers' part, which led to a 10,000 post thread on the official forums complaining.

After that, I'd say 95% of issues with the game come with a letter directly from Yoshi-P, the lead dev, explaining in startling detail the problem and their solution and a time frame. It's been a real pleasure, because not only is the game fantastic, there's a very real sense that the developers are in touch with the playerbase and are dedicated to keeping the game up and running, unlike (to pull an example from my hat) Final Fantasy XI, which was just terribad at communication between the dev team and players.
9. DougL
I, of course, don't make threats, but I don't have any sympathy either. People should lose their jobs for doing something crappy, it happens in other industries, and if the gamers speak loudly enough, things can change (see ME3). Jennifer Helper should have lost her job, and so should Mike Laidlaw. I've never made threats, but I do leave nasty comments about him all over the internet any time he's mentioned. He helmed DA2 and he's back in charge for DA3.

Bottom line, the gamers are consumers and the devs should lose their jobs if they don't make their consumers happy. Now, it's really hard, choose a group and go for them. Mass market appeal games are eventually going to die, since those are the ones that attract all the vitriol. You might get the odd angry post about whatever issue in Shadowrun Returns, but you won't get death threats because the game was catered to a certain audience, created for them exclusively.

Black Ops 2 caters to the hardcore MP audience, ya they get some single players buying the game initially, but the big crowd that makes sure there is still an audience for Black Ops 3 are the hardcore MPers (I don't play FPS). So if you don't make them happy you will suffer.

Dragon Age 2 was a travesty of gaming on many levels. Leaving aside the massive departure from DAO, it had an insane number of recycled areas, mildly crappy dialogue and enemies popping out of nowhere in waves.

Jennifer Helper wrote dialogue, it's Mike Laidlaw that should have left his job over the shame, instead he's hoping for a do over in DA3. I hope EA doesn't mind, because if he fails again, bye, bye Bioware.

The movie industry needs geeks like us, maybe with the comic book movies the massive nerd audience will gain a voice that leads to better movies.
Chris Nelly
11. Aeryl
@9, You seem to have a problem discerning proper behavior, so let me spell this out.

Telling someone that you feel they made a crappy game, and should be fired. That's OK.

Telling someone that you feel they made a crappy game, and they're kids should be killed. That's not OK.

It's ok to feel that Jennifer Hepler should have lost her job. It's ok to make criticisms. What WAS done to Jennifer Hepler was atrocious, and far exceeded the boundaries of acceptable critcism. Jennifer Hepler wasn't FIRED. She had to quit her job because her family was getting death threats.

No one is saying that devs can't be criticized. I don't know why you felt the need to come here a defend your right to criticize, when that was never in question. So claims that you don't "make threats" don't really cut it, when you act defensive in an article about how we shouldn't make threats.

And no one is demanding you feel sympathy, but the fact that you don't feel sympathy for someone who's family was threatened because they failed to do a job to your satisfaction, well it tells me that at the very least, I don't want to work for you.
12. Mike Taschuk
It may be that the the rest of us, who do like the games and appreciate the work, should be more vocal. If the signal is dominated by the abusive comments, we could at least change the ratio. I'm off to write a fan post.
13. Gerry__Quinn
Honestly, anyone who is upset by insults or obviously unfullfillable threats on the internet is a child, just like the people delivering the insults or threats. If you can't cope, come back in a few years when you have grown up a bit.

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