I want to prep you for this piece a bit, if I may. This is an interview conducted for Niche Gamer with two developers of iconic pedigree under guarantee of anonymity. Due to the nature of the interview, names have been removed to protect their identities.
Please understand the reasoning behind this, and please know that both developers truly wished they could go public. For now, they simply can’t, and I hope you still enjoy the interview.
Brandon – What do you think of #GamerGate, do you think it’s toxic, misogynistic, etc.?
Dev1—I think it’s a very good movement, and it’s a breath of fresh air. It’s about time it’s happened, I would say that the large amount of the development community that I know, developers/publishers who have been around a long time in senior positions, agree with much of what is being said within #GamerGate. The cronyism, the problems with [games] journalism, the false narratives are a big problem. It is important to understand that there are some very good press out there and not every site should be labeled negatively but by and large the groups that are being focused [on] by #GamerGate don’t have a moral compass. Journalistic ethics have never been a consideration for them. The problem is deep, it’s been around for a long time, and it needs to be cleaned up. It’s a real issue. This toxicity and [the] misogynistic narratives are a sideshow created by the same outlets to draw attention away from the real issues at hand.
Brandon—Do you think even if it’s not big games media, we’re seeing kind of a chasing after of clicks and/or ad revenue? Kind of similar to tabloid journalism. Is that what we’re seeing now in the gaming media?
Dev1—I think in general it’s really difficult to call much of the gaming media “press” at all. This is because they don’t follow any standard journalistic practices. What has been exposed by #GamerGate is on a very small scale, as it is focused on the indie scene.
It actually occurs at a much larger scale with larger marketing budgets. Marketing budgets generally can tend to sway almost anyone, where they can influence people to say positive things. They can also influence people to say very negative things about competitors. Once the core group of press give something a score, it tends to influence the rest of the press, whether they are colluding or not. Unfortunately, the group identified by #GamerGate has positioned themselves as “thought leaders” and have a great deal of sway with the games industry. Now that they have been ousted, this will hopefully come to an end.
Very few press out there do not look at other reviews before they write their own review. Very few press won’t accept a coffee. Press go to these parties, they get all kinds of swag, they’re influenced in so many different ways by so many different marketing or PR tactics. It’s frustratingly difficult for developers to really get a fair shake at anything without participating in this game. You have to pay to play, and this has been going on for an extremely long time. It is an unspoken expectation by many of the press now.
Brandon—So I wanted to mention that we covered the Areal Kickstarter and there was a lot of controversy behind it, but the difference between our coverage and other websites – we presented the supposed allegations and first, we reported on it existing, we said “hey look, this is the STALKER spiritual successor, it looks cool.” Then these reports started coming out, and we said “look we don’t know the facts, we don’t know what’s going on.” We didn’t put a spin on it, we stayed objective about it.
Dev1—The group identified by #GamerGate have been putting spins on things a very long time. A lot of developers are very afraid of getting bad press because it can affect you. This group have essentially lost any usefulness for gamers. You just can’t trust what they write anymore. They have no perception of what’s ethically right and wrong, they also have no perception of what the gamers want. What they do is for their own benefit. People who are covering games on Youtube, and have other jobs in real life, do a better job at covering games than this ousted group does.
Some of these press groups claim they’re not journalists and have never claimed to be. I would think then if you’re not claiming to be journalists, don’t go to E3 anymore, you are not helping anyone. Like Destructoid, they are a joke. They’ve always been bad. Rock Paper Shotgun, same thing, now that the collusion is exposed it’s just so obvious. It’s just so damaging to the industry in general, it’s time that these guys go.
When I read the anonymous Microsoft interview it was absolutely right and I know for a fact from the conversations that I’ve had with people at very large companies—there’s a lot of people that feel that way. The press that have been exposed by #GamerGate are bad news. A big ‘high five’ goes out to the people that have exposed this collusion. I hope good change comes out of this.
Brandon—So how about that Google email group that came out. Do you think that it’s just fascinating to see how not only are they playing it off like it’s no big deal but they’re still using it. They’re still posting in it as if nothing has happened. What do you think of that? Is this just more corroborating evidence towards their insane lack of ethics?
Dev1—From the reaction they had, there’s certainly no ethical compass there and they seem to think they’re untouchable. I know there’s a movement to tell gamers to stop going to these sites. I can’t emphasize enough, speak with your dollars and clicks, go to other places, there are lots of great sites out there that don’t collude.
Brandon—Speaking of the collusion between award ceremonies and developers. Do you think the Independent Game Festival and all of the allegations behind that – do you think those are too far-fetched or do you think those seem pretty accurate from your experiences?
Dev1—They seem pretty accurate and there’s, I think it put some very gloomy skies over those game award festivals currently. It’s way too much “people knowing people”, there were some definite breaches of impartiality, and collusion. It really lowers the credibility of those festivals. They need to clean that up, a lot.
Brandon—Do you think it’s completely unacceptable for journalists, panelists, and speakers to fund the games they’re covering?
Dev1—Yes. Absolutely. These actions are reprehensible and further shows the lack of ethical compass by these people. They have no idea what’s right and wrong, the lines have been blurred for so long for them.
They will do anything they can to get ahead, being kingmakers and helping people out, patting someone on the back, getting a pat on the back in return, being on all these multiple panels and selections, guaranteeing who’s going to win … it’s not good for anybody, in the end what it does is it really holds down creativity.
As Internet Aristocrat said it well—what’s happening is that we’re getting games like Depression Quest and we’re losing games that are generally really cool. It’s continuing to happen and it’s because there’s this level of cronyism where they survive by doing it that way because it gives them power, it gives them power to negotiate for ad revenue or for free gifts, or for whatever perks they can get in the industry.
Meanwhile, most of the developers out there just want to make good games but have a hard time overcoming these issues. It’s really hard to make good games, it requires a lot of blood, sweat and tears, a lot of long hours. The other thing that is pretty clear from #GamerGate is that the person running NeoGAF is part of this group or colluding with them. Long gone are golden days of NeoGAF.
Brandon—This is true, I’ve been on GAF for many years and the overall mentality has definitely changed. Before it used to be all about the games and the rampant fanboyism and suddenly when these things come out, you’d see blatant censorship. Someone posted a video of Anita (Sarkeesian) saying “I don’t play video games.” And then the thread is locked. It’s like, what’s up with that? There was also a supposed connection between Tyler Malka (owner of GAF) and Kotaku, where they plagiarized a post and ran ads on it, on Kotaku.
Dev2—I’ve been really, really disappointed with the way he’s been handling the #GamerGate thing. Did you see the thread he made where he basically copied peoples’ private messages in public threads and then made fun of them? That was the most immature way you could handle that situation, in my opinion. That spoke volumes about his character to me.
Dev1—Well, certainly a lot of people have contacted me in the last several weeks saying “wow can you believe all these guys are finally getting called out”. These are people from a lot of different developers/publishers and a lot of different places.
Brandon—I’ve seen a lot of these types of people try to spin this type of discussion where they say, “Oh you know, game X has a scene where a woman is killed or something.” They think that one little cherry picked scene basically summarizes the entire experience, they make it a correlation saying that these are negative and harmful and they actually affect people. How do you feel about that? Do you think gamers are unable to separate fantasy from reality?
Dev1—I think people who are making these accusations have their own agenda. In one of your previous articles (Editor’s Note: here) that you wrote had a female developer say that she was in development for eight or nine years, and basically she said that it doesn’t exist. I could not agree with that statement more.
I’ve been in this industry for more than 25 years now, and I have never once experienced anyone try to do anything misogynistic. It’s not changed a lot and there is no story here. When I first started developing games, by and large the industry was mostly male. As the industry matured, a lot more females have come into the industry. Frankly, they were welcomed with open arms. We could never get enough female input at any company I’ve worked at.
Gamers are very sophisticated, and that’s one of the things that is really frustrating with these journalists, as they’re talking down to gamers. As game creators, we work for gamers. That’s our job. As soon as we start attacking gamers, we should quit.
Apparently some of these press think they don’t—you then have to ask who then are they serving if not the gaming public. If they really believe that gamers are dead, then they should leave the industry. Go do something else, go into oil drilling or something, go do anything else but stop polluting our industry.
Dev1—If you look at the articles that you’ve written, or if you’ve watched some of the videos from Internet Aristocrat. He’s very eloquent and he has really good points and the bottom line is: gamers are smart enough to see through what is happening and there is by no way any serious issue of misogyny in this industry.
Violence is certainly part and parcel with our industry, but when it comes to sex, it’s really tough to even implement that type of content in video games as the regulations and self-imposed barriers are much more stringent than other industries. The comics, film, books or television have much fewer barriers to deal with when it comes sex than the games industry does.
Dev2—I’d say that only one side of the story is being looked at here, too. There’s a lot of complaints about how women are being treated within games, but the same thing happens on the same scale with male characters, too. How many games out there portray men as huge hulking characters with little to no emotion? Certainly a large percentage of FPS and TPS games are guilty of that. Also, in these games I’d guess that certainly over 90% of enemies/protagonists are male too. A great example of this is the recent Tomb Raider, great game but a good example though. You have a female character who doesn’t kill a single female in the entire game, but kills hundreds and hundreds of men, because men can be bad guys.
It doesn’t matter, it is what it is, and it’s not serious, I don’t think anyone should take it seriously or analyze it too far like that. It is what it is, you take the shooter genres with all the guys who are these big, buff, crazy looking guys who slaughter everyone in sight. What does that say about men? Is that sexist against men? I think there needs to be an element of common sense about this. The arguments that I’m seeing are very extreme on both sides and the middle ground is where things should be at—a bit of common sense.
Dev1—A balanced dialogue.
Dev2—Yeah a balanced dialogue and moderation—that’s the problem. I’m not extremely one side or the other on any of these issues because people are people. That’s what it comes down to with me. It doesn’t matter if a character is female or male, so long as it’s the intent of the people who created it, and if nothing actually genuinely damaging, then I am happy.
Brandon—I think we’ve seen a real culture of people who just thrive on the extreme, and these people don’t see developers like you guys or the gamers as real people. All they see is black and white, to me it’s disgusting because I’ve had tons of female gamers who have written in, tweeted at me, saying “hey, I enjoy these games too, I don’t agree with censorship, I would like more inclusion, but I don’t want those other games to stop existing.” How do you guys feel about censorship in that regard? Are you against it?
Dev1—Censorship in any way, and certainly what’s happened with the press surrounding #GamerGate, is terrible. It shows that it’s not balanced at all, it basically shows that you’re not getting the truth, regardless of what the truth is, you can be assured when people are delete things that there’s something going on that they don’t want people to see.
It also shows a blatant lack of respect for the people that they work for, which are the gamers. Being transparent, being forthcoming are really important traits as a journalist. It is supposed be about games. That’s not what it’s about with these guys, and that’s the unfortunate thing. It’s really sad, it’s very depressing.
Brandon—The thing with GAF that I’ve noticed is that they tend to have like a hivemind type of mentality, whenever I’ve gone against it or anybody else, you really get your ass handed to you. It’s fascinating because GAF has kind of become the reddit for videogames, I guess.
Dev1—These guys are attacking good people and taking them down and they do it on a regular basis and they’re not afraid to do it. They do it through collusion and I’m not talking about NeoGAF, I’m talking about NeoGAF being part of this #GamerGate group.
Brandon—This cabal, yeah.
Dev1—It definitely exists, it is not fabricated, and they have done a lot of damage. There are so many people in the industry that have seen this and agree with it. On the developer side, they’re just afraid to come out because the ramifications can be so negative on their employment.
Our industry has a lot of potential but it is stymied when you’ve got these cronies out there that are polluting it with this garbage that they continue to promote—it’s got to stop. It’s either they realize what they’re doing and they change their behavior, or if they can’t change their behavior, they should just get out.
Dev 2—What we want to see, is a very healthy industry where creativity can flourish, where we can entertain people without drama.
Dev1—It’s crafting of the false narratives that is so destructive. It does go pretty deep in our industry, most game developers are affected by it. Some people get burned by it and other developers really profit from it and are willing to get in there and do whatever it takes to get those great review scores and create those false narratives.
There are people who will support false narratives against competition. So it’s pretty bad out there, and it’s really frustrating and so it’s difficult enough as a developer to try to create something new and original. If you’re actually stepping into somebody’s domain who’s got a lot of money and power, it’s not very difficult for them to influence the press to A) not cover you or to B) say negative things. It’s very simple, actually, and these certain press are more than willing to do it, which is the sad part. Many developers have left the industry because of these practices, good people are now gone.
You get a few good sites that are great that will cover things they think are interesting, even some large sites but by and large they just get lost in the noise by the cronies. It happens often, and what it ends up doing is that it suppresses creativity, it supports basically the “same old same old”, and it makes it really difficult in an industry that is already in turmoil.
These practices also puts the press out of touch with the gamers. They cannot assess games properly that way. It stops them from doing their job as it is so polluted and biased. If anything, they should apologize, realize the negative downsides and try to reform themselves.
Brandon—Do you guys think this narrative, this kind of obsession with indies, do you think this might have been what eroded the AA market?
Dev2—It helped accelerate it. This GamerGate-identified press group would generally want some kind of payment for their positive press.
Dev1—Yes. If you didn’t pay and play into this system you’re going to get screwed.
Brandon—So do you think, I’m not sure how much you can divulge, have you experienced any journalists demanding some sort of compensation.
Dev1—It’s common with many press. The AA studios or the independents, didn’t necessarily have the wherewithal to deal with that, so coverage is simply not at as good as people who were willing to spend or play the game.
Dev2—This is where you see the major publishers pushing AAA with the huge marketing budgets. The press enabling that through the expectation of payment, paid trips and cool swag really put the AA’s in a place where it was tough or impossible to compete and without the press fairly covering these games, the sales just weren’t there as a result to be able to back up the increasing development costs. As a result many great studios were either bought up or closed down. I think now gamers are feeling the effects of that and there’s this huge void between the Indie and AAA market that isn’t being filled very well.
Brandon—I mentioned it before how there just seems to be a bias against certain developers while others get a free pass. What are your thoughts on that?
Dev1—It’s not free.
Dev1—Yes, that pass is not free.
Dev2—The free passes, the games that get perfect scores and you’re like “What the hell?” That is not an accident. The people who get hammered on, a lot of times, it’s also not an accident. It’s a paid agenda.
It’s been going on for a long time. Again, I want to emphasize, that it’s not everyone—there are good press out there its just this bad bunch pulling the industry down. And the person you interviewed from Microsoft, what was said is that “corruption has been there for a long time”, and he’s 100% correct. It just goes a lot deeper than what many people think.
Brandon—What actions should be taken?
Dev1—I believe you get best results by doing the positive proactive things. As an example, one of the things that I would recommend is that the #GamerGate group come up with an official label. And that label should be a web site where other gamers can go to see which press sites are “#Gamergate approved”. I would recommend three tiers of ratings to start: Approved, neutral, and negative.
Brandon—Thats a great idea actually.
Dev1—This could be easily and efficiently implemented. Get yourself, Mundane Matt, Internet Aristocrat, a couple other leading spokesmen and get together and rate each site. You can update the ratings on an annual basis. Make a website, make a web page and say, “Here is where you should go if you want to know what we consider reasonable press, here’s where you shouldn’t go!” Watch what happens. You might even find sites like Kotaku start changing the way they do things.
Brandon—People who’re asking for #GamerGate-exposed people to be arrested or to be fired and, same thing on NeoGAF, you know people asking for pro-#GamerGate people to have legal action brought against them … Your thoughts?
Dev1—For what reason? What have the people done within #Gamergate? Expose some uncomfortable truths? I’ve not seen anything that warrants legal action. Mind you, it is the internet and there are anonymous random trolls, but that should not be necessarily labeled as #GamerGate.
Dev2—I think that the biggest issue that #GamerGate as movement is facing now as a coherent movement is direction. It is lots of disparate people all across the place with differing opinions and I think what has to happen is, “Okay, we have an issue with video games journalism in the industry right now.” What needs to happen is we need to define what do we want. What are the things we value as gamers, as consumers.
Dev2—What’re the journalist practices that make sense? What are the things we want to base a good or a bad score on … if we did label things?
Brandon—I’m liking it more.
Dev2—Let’s define that, then group together and push that as the real positive force for change within the #Gamergate movement. Some press are trying to make this all about people being misogynist and whatever else but in reality that a very small minority of anonymous trolls. Most people involved in #GamerGate are very reasonable, have a lot of common sense, are not extreme on either side—they just want to enjoy playing videogames, and they want to have those videogames to have a chance to be made if they want them, and they want to be able to find factual, useful information about them without bias. Also I’d add to that a more level headed approach to pre-release hype would go a long way.
Dev1—Yes. It is time to get a strategy to help reform the press if they are not willing to do it themselves. Lets talk about the next step after implementing a #GamerGate rating system. Create a metacritic like site that takes the aggregate of all these review scores and then weighed them on their viability versus their rating on #GamerGate rating.
Brandon—I like that. I like that a lot actually
Dev1—So, if Destructoid gave something a 10/10, and when it comes to creating the metacritic, the #GamerGate score would weight mean less because of all the antics they’ve pulled and the lack of professionalism—same say with Kotaku. So A 10/10 from, Kotaku, means significantly less than say, something like a 6/10 from Operation Rainfall. That’s power to change.
Dev2—And the thing is it’s just something that’s meaningful that … actually is good for the industry and good for gamers. That’s what it needs to be. So you’re just applying a weighting to different outlets … yeah … you know what? That could be very powerful.
And wouldn’t it be great to have something better than Metacritic? What good is Metacritic if its full of bullshit scores anyway?
Brandon—Yeah, once they added metacritic to Amazon and a game gets rated below say a 7 or an 8, the narrative is just “Don’t buy it!” “Nope! Don’t give it a chance!” And it’s really disheartening. And that’s why our review scale is pretty fair. I consider 5 to be mediocre or average. But this narrative has established a bias where many think that a 7 or 8 is bad now.
Dev2—Well right now the scale is really stupid. Everything over an 8.5 is fantastic, and everything else is terrible. That’s basically what you have. The difference between a 9.4 and a 9.7 doesn’t matter. You know?
Dev1—The extra 5 bags of cash for that 10, right?
Dev2—And the sad thing about this is that developers bonus is often tied to that score. People financially lose out because of that score. Not sales, that SCORE. That’s scary for people involved trying to create things.
Dev1—Developers have lost their jobs over this stuff. There’s been some measured talk on #GamerGate saying things like, “We want reform and its not that we’re asking people should lose their jobs over this”. From a developer’s perspective the collusion that has happened has made developers lose their jobs, A LOT!
Brandon—So its almost reciprocal if some of these guys would lose their jobs because they have caused a lot of pain for a lot of people for a long time. Do you think the extremist agenda from the press actually help the industry?
Dev2—It doesn’t and it is false narratives such as this that are a big problem. And whatever of those agendas are, they’re not helpful. It doesn’t move the industry along in a positive way. I can say universally, most of the devs that I know, and I know a LOT of devs, hate this false narrative garbage. They don’t want to deal with it, they don’t anything to do with it. It’s hard enough to make games, and get balanced reasonable press, but they don’t want to deal with the narratives because it is just garbage.
Dev1—In my eyes the collusion by some of the press is beyond a doubt now, and so, finding more things now is not really going to move the needle any more. Forget all the noise, and forget all the people trolling and doxxing and all that crap. That’s why I made those suggestions for the metacritic like site, and I’m sure gamers can come up with more and take it from there.
Brandon—Its a really great idea, doing the aggregate website. What do you think the focus of the #GamerGate movement should be, whether it be on twitter and things like that?
Dev1—I think the #GamerGate movement should stay positive and start directing itself toward goals now. As basically I think enough has been exposed, and just being activists now. So in the sense that getting the news out—I think the news is out there.
So now I think focus on some action, like the rating site or whether its something where you can somehow empower the movement and gamers. Look forward, stay positive, I think #GamerGate has the potential to make positive change. Already with just the exposure, #Gamergate has had a positive effect.
Dev2—Keep doing it, keep the message focused, keep it moderate, keep it in the middle, and don’t let the extremes come out in any way from either side. Don’t associate with them and just make sure that when presenting this stuff, its done in a respectful way. A respectful, intelligent way, that is looking toward solutions. I think that’s the main thing for me.