Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney stated during his keynote speech at the DICE Summit 2020 that game developers should divorce themselves from politics, and discussed political topics in games in general.
Sweeney’s comments (via IGN, the official DICE 2020 media partner), touched on numerous topics- including (also via Gamasutra) lootboxes, cross-play, and platform exclusivity becoming non-existent in the future. Something that some are sure to find ironic given the Epic Game Store’s recent history.
He began his keynote focusing on games in politics, or rather how it harms when it is not done correctly. At first, he seemed to welcome it.
“If you think back to To Kill a Mockingbird and the impact that had on people’s views in the time, I think that’s a genuine outlet for games. It really makes people think about things.”
However, Sweeney then stated there need to be a “separation of church and state” between politics and gaming companies, and that they “should get the marketing departments out of politics.”
“The world is really screwed up right now. Right now our political orientations determine which fast-food chicken restaurant you go to? And that’s really dumb. There’s no reason to drag divisive topics like that into gaming at all.”
He also argued businesses should operate “as neutral venues for entertainment and employees, customers – everybody else can hold their own views and not be judged by us for that.”
“A company is a group of people who get together to accomplish a mission that is larger than what any one person can do. And a company’s mission is a holy thing to it, right? Epic’s mission is to build great technology and great games. And we can count on every employee at Epic — we can even demand every employee at Epic unite behind that mission. But every other matter we have to respect their personal opinions. And they may differ from management’s or each other’s or whatever.”
Moving onto “controversy around political censorship” from foreign countries on domestic ones, and to prevent it by having companies “divorce themselves from politics.” Sweeney’s comments are sure to be in reference to Blizzard Entertainment’s disastrous controversy in 2019.
They had been denounced by many gamers over their suspension of pro-Hearthstone player Blitzchung for his support of the Hong Kong protests, firing the casters, and their overall handing of the entire debacle [1, 2, 3].
At the time, Sweeney stated that “Epic supports everyone’s right to express their views on politics and human rights. We wouldn’t ban or punish a Fortnite player or content creator for speaking on these topics.”
Sweeney even confirmed that if any e-sports players said Free Hong Kong in a post-game interview, he would allow it- despite Epic Games being 40% owned by Chinese tech-giant Tencent.
The controversy also came around the time the NBA Houston Rockets’ General Manager Daryl Morey showed his support for the Hong Kong protests, resulting in the Chinese government refusing to broadcast NBA games in China.
After that, NBA officials made their best attempts at damage control. South Park‘s “Band in China” episode also mocked entertainment companies such as Disney attempting to appeal to Chinese government censors. There is also an extensive list of actions companies have taken to avoid upsetting the Chinese government in the last few years.
Sweeney elaborated on his comments at DICE further on Twitter. “Here’s one of the key views I shared at DICE. If a game tackles politics, as To Kill a Mockingbird did as a novel, it should come from the heart of creatives and not from marketing departments seeking to capitalize on division.”
He also retweeted a user quoting what he said during the keynote speech.
“A company is a group of people who get together to accomplish a mission that is larger than what any one person can do. And a company’s mission is a holy thing to it, right? Epic’s mission is to build great technology and great games. And we can count on every employee at Epic – we can even demand every employee at Epic unite behind that mission. But every other matter we have to respect their personal opinions. And they may differ from management’s or each other’s or whatever.”
What do you think? Have video games- or media in general- approached politics in the wrong way? What is the right way? Sound off in the comments below!