Being Upset at a Game Developer Doesn't Give You an Excuse to Harass Them

Today, it's 'Battlefront 2.' Tomorrow, it'll be another game. There are better ways to express yourself than yelling at someone.

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Nov 13 2017, 6:28pm

Image courtesy of Electronic Arts

When Star Wars: Battlefront II launches tomorrow, you won’t be able to play as Darth Vader immediately. Unlocking “hero” characters in Battlefront II requires credits, which are earned based on the amount of time you spend playing the game. A fan did back-of-the-envelope calculations and determined it would take roughly 40 hours to unlock the 60,000 credits required for a hero. This upset one potential Battlefront II player so much they made a post on Reddit about it! 40 hours is way too much for one of the main hooks to playing Battlefront II, and there’s ample justification to publicly drag EA and encourage them to make changes.

(Update: EA has since announced it's reducing the cost to unlock a hero by 75%. // Update 2 (11/15/2017): A Kotaku investigation reveals the "developer" mentioned here may not work for EA. If true, it changes the setup for this story, but given the near-daily instances of harassment against developers, streamers, and even fans, the idea of policing our own communities remains relevant.)

A response from a developer, which fans didn't take kindly to, quickly became the most downvoted post in Reddit history. Unfortunately, that’s not where everyone drew the line, and we quickly saw something we’ve seen before: overzealous fans tracking down individual developers to harass them.

“So I'm up to 7 death threats, and over 1600 individual personal attacks now (and yes, for legal reasons I'm keeping track),” said one EA developer on Twitter, known for being regularly outspoken. “And why, you might ask? Because of an unpopular feature in a game.”

This developer became a target after defending Battlefront II’s approach to grinding, loot boxes, and microtransactions, the latest skirmish in an ongoing conversation in games. Most notably, this developer did not work on Battlefront II. Their crime is also working for EA. What set off this firestorm? A rather banal remark.

“No, it is not P2W [pay to win]. It does not fit the definition,” said the developer in a tweet over the weekend. “And with paid DLC the playerbase gets divided. The game may not be perfect, but we literally did what ppl asked of us - and low and behold - we just can't win.”

Battlefront II will have new maps, characters, and modes after launch, but instead of charging players for each, it’s all free. What the game does charge for, however, are loot boxes. Loot boxes are earned by simply playing the game or paying money to gain access more quickly. In a match, players are not necessarily on equal footing. In addition to choosing certain perks and loadouts, players equip different boosts and ability bonuses, which can influence how much damage you cause or how fast health regenerates. It has a meaningful impact on your ability to survive and win outside of being able to nail a head shot.

(PC Gamer has a good breakdown of how this system works in practice. It’s mixed.)

There’s all sorts of reasons to criticize EA and DICE for integrating what can credibly be described as gambling into their game. I’ve written about how loot boxes are a problem, both in form and because the concept has become tainted in lots of circles. By simply including loot boxes, you’ve opened yourself up to endless criticism, regardless of implementation, and in the case of Battlefront II, there appears to be plenty of reason to criticize both fronts.

None of that, however, excuses the targeting of individual game developers to express your grievance, especially when it crosses the line from criticism to harassment and death threats. You don’t know why that person works at the company, or what circumstances have kept them there. That’s not something you get to judge. You don’t know who made the decision to include loot boxes in Battlefront II, or whether that person could have done anything about it.

“Death threats are of course unwarranted and whoever is doing that should be behind bars,” said one Twitter user to me. “But the general backlash is absolutely warranted.”

Few good comments begin with condemning death threats, then saying but. It’s a bad look used to justify the bad apples. Remember how GamerGate became about “ethics in games journalism, a rebranding effort to hide how so many participating in the movement engaged in harassment? Often, moments like this act as a smokescreen to enable serial harassers. The people doing the harassing are the worst offenders, obviously, but it’s as much on us to police communities we’re part of and to publicly condemn when individuals step out of line.

“I feel sorry for the amazing devs that put all that hard work into making the game as good as they can only to see it ruined by EA, but I am too disgusted and outraged to think about them.”

This is one of the big reasons many developers don’t want to talk publicly about their work. What’s the point? If you find yourself on the wrong side of public opinion, or a quote is taken out of context to justify misguided anger, you’re now on the receiving end of harassment. The swarm’s ability to coordinate and share information has been greatly amplified by places like Twitter and Reddit, while the tools available to those in the crosshairs amount to so little.

Furthermore, harassing developers doesn’t help make your point. It does the opposite! If there are fears about speaking with fans and communities, developers are less likely to to be searching Twitter, Facebook, and message boards for meaningful feedback about their work. These actions directly undermine the very kinds of response hardcore fans supposedly want.

One response I read over the weekend particularly stood out:

“I feel sorry for the amazing devs that put all that hard work into making the game as good as they can only to see it ruined by EA, but I am too disgusted and outraged to think about them.”

It’s possible to express anger and empathy at the same time. “But I am too disgusted and outraged to think about them” is a convenient way of absolving one’s self of responsibility, when it's on you to to realize situations are more complicated than good and evil.

Developers are not all-powerful and all-knowing. They’re human beings who make mistakes and are, most likely, just trying to do the right while while balancing a lot of competing forces, and if we knew the full story, we’d probably be more sympathetic to why certain frustrating decisions get made. The vast majority of game developers don’t have much power, and are simply implementing decisions made above their paygrade. This is especially true at a massive company like EA. None of that means they’re immune to criticism; they’re asking for your hard-earned money, after all. It means you don’t need to be an asshole while doing it.

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