As with anything that is surrounded by a passionate fan base, receiving death threats is an alarmingly frequent occurrence for those that work within the video game industry. Following the intense backlash surrounding Star Wars Battlefront 2 and its progression system, the developers working at the EA-owned studios of DICE, Motive and Criterion are the latest to fall under fire from overzealous fans.
The most prominent case of verbal abuse came from someone claiming on Twitter that he was “up to 7 death threats, and over 1600 individual personal attacks now.” This tweet was actually discovered to be written by someone only pretending to work for EA, but before this, it made its way into the coverage of news outlets like the BBC, CNBC and Yahoo. The account has now had all traces of EA removed from it, but the wider press coverage helped to highlight a critical problem with a vocal minority within video game culture.
The tweet resonated because there have been numerous examples of this happening before, for instance when former Dragon Age writer Jennifer Hepler was described as “a cancer” by some when she introduced LGBT characters to the series.
If gamers want real change in how the market is structured, anger should not be targeted personally at developers but instead towards a company as a whole
Development studios act as possibly the most public-facing aspect of the video game industry. Community managers, game directors and prominent designers are all in the public eye and are an easy target when people are frustrated and want to put a face to a problem. They get the brunt of the negativity. They are at the bottom rung of the ladder. However, the publishers themselves (the ones usually responsible for placing unpopular items like microtransactions into games), in stark contrast to the developers, don’t actually have publicly facing identities beyond the untouchable CEOs.
Directly harassing individual game developers is unlikely to change anything. The conversation around problems like loot boxes becomes obscured and the credibility of those arguing against them is reduced. If gamers want real change in how the market is structured, anger should not be targeted personally at developers but instead towards a company as a whole. Regardless of whether the viral tweet was containing a legitimate claim or not, it is still a clear reflection of the problems of hierarchy and abuse within the industry.