It’s been almost three months since #GamerGate has caused a firestorm in the gaming industry and community. The sides are drawn, the neutrals are being silenced or attacked, and the majority of the parties that pro-#GamerGate are opposed towards still haven’t changed their tune.
I had another opportunity to speak with Xbro, the wonderful rogue that has taken it upon himself to speak out on #GamerGate on numerous occasions. Despite the danger of his very career being jeopardized, he gave me some of his valuable time to answer some burning questions I had regarding the movement.
Niche Gamer: It’s wonderful to speak with you again Xbro. With the massive amount of things happening currently in #GamerGate and since we last spoke – how do you feel about the movement now?
It certainly has gotten bigger and more aggressive, from the perspective of both sides. Even so, I continue to strongly believe in #gamergate, alongside my colleagues and many other professionals in the industry.
NG: Do you feel like both “sides” have been deeply entrenched? I’m talking about pro and anti GamerGate folks.
#Gamergate has more or less maintained its stance and goals, and that is a pretty impressive thing for a leaderless, de-centralized movement. Anti-gamergate people have come up in arms against us and there’s a clear schism in the community right now. The odd fact, however, is that the anti-gamergate side mostly features bloggers, writers, feminists and general anti-gamers, so their relevance to our industry is thankfully insignificant.
NG: How is everyone you work alongside at Xbox reacting to the recent developments, like the push to suspend pro-GamerGate folk on twitter (for no reason), the refusal of certain websites to address ethical concerns, etc?
Regarding the recent twitter drama, I’ll have to be honest and say that we don’t particularly care for such developments. At the end of the day, it’s only an abuse of the report system and 99% of those suspensions are automatic as well. It’s a cheap tactic to silence GamerGate, simple as that.
However, the constant refusal to admit that there are ethical concerns regarding certain websites (I’m talking about Kotaku here mostly), would be quite worrying if it wasn’t for that fact that most of us here think of Kotaku as a joke publication (and have done so for quite a few years).
It’s unfortunate that they don’t want to follow in the path of The Escapist, IGN or other websites and admit that there are ethical concerns that need to be addressed, but we really don’t care if they do so, since no one I know of goes to Kotaku anymore (with the rare exceptions where we get click-baited).
NG: Has the overall feeling surrounding GamerGate changed at Xbox? Has it widened exposure at the company? What’s the highest known level of pro-GamerGate folk, if you can say?
There are certainly more people aware of this movement. I can’t talk exactly about other studios in MS, but I’ve seen a couple of other anonymous MS devs popping up online (like the senior dev with his 6-projects plaque from 8chan).
As far as the highest level of pro-GG in the company, I would dare to say that there is a certain individual at the top of the top that is aware of GG and quite supportive of it. Other than that, our studio lead is supporting this movement as well and has done so since the beginning.
NG: Have you spoken with individuals from other developers/publishers about the entire movement? If so, could you divulge what they’ve said?
Yes, I actually have! A couple of colleagues and I have started a ‘mailing list’, so to say, between several developers across the AAA scene. We’ve so far discussed the gamergate issue and released a joint-statement a few weeks ago from our behalf; a screencap can be found here.
Everything said there still stands, and since then other devs from prominent companies such as EA, S2 Games and Blizzard have joined us. Most have remained anonymous on the public side, but some of them have released their statements in support of #gamergate on public platforms (I would like to keep their specific identities undisclosed for the time being as to not encourage targeted harassment against them).
NG: We’ve spoken to other developers about this kind of thing, many of them are afraid of coming out publicly. Both new and old. To recap, do you feel there’s a bias where anti-GamerGate can say whatever they want (and get away with it), while pro-GamerGate are condemned at every turn?
There is certainly a bias, and the witch-hunt for pro-gg devs is quite aggressive. This is the main reason why I’ve remained anonymous, as well as many other devs out there. In time, we hope, it will be possible for us to come out publicly with our opinions on GamerGate.
NG: Do you feel like the mainstream gaming press will only report on certain kinds of inclusive games? Do you feel like there’s a push to only focus on inclusion in games in reviews and coverage?
I don’t feel that only a certain kind of inclusive games are reported on, but I definitely recognize when some games out there get lower scores because of their lack of ‘inclusivity’. However, going by the statements made by certain publications and game media personalities, we will not have to be too bothered about that in the future.
There is a growing need to remove scores from game reviews, and more and more gamers are starting to embrace that idea. I strongly believe that soon enough, game scores will not be a standard in the gaming media (sucks for the marketing teams that plaster scores on trailers, but it does wonders for gamers looking to actually find out relevant info on titles).
NG: In your eyes, are the mainstream gaming media trying to be “gatekeepers” to the gaming culture, i.e. only approving what they deem appropriate?
They have been doing that for quite a while, but enjoyed success only on the indie-level. When top publications release something, you’ll be damn sure there is nothing stopping them from getting that marketing across to their audience (budgets with 9 figures are allocated for that, and no ‘gatekeeper’ can lift a finger about it).
If they mess up with the game, everyone will find out, not because of publications such as Kotaku and Polygon, but because of social platforms, prominent youtubers and/or friends.
NG: Has there been any risk with your identity since you’ve been supporting GamerGate?
There has been some. Only a couple of colleagues of mine know that I am ‘Xbro’, and everyone else in our studios is pretty much guessing. There have been people contacting various HR/PR outlets belonging to MS/Xbox in order to ‘man-hunt’ me, but their e-mails eventually end up with copy-pasted responses. No one will allocate resources or time to find a person that just expresses his/her honest opinions about something without breaking any NDAs or contractual agreements.
NG: Is GamerGate affecting Xbox internally – causing changing of ethics policies or something similar?
Absolutely not. Games and products are still made for our audience, and there is nothing that is going to change that. Money and gamers talk the loudest, so when I said that certain people on the anti-gg side have absolutely no influence on the actual game dev industry, I meant it.
Are people complaining en-masse about a product we released, causing low sales and billions lost in potential revenue? No problem, people are held to account for it, fresh ideas are brought in, and we start working on re-aligning ourselves with our main audience.
Does certain kind of games bring increased revenue to a publisher? Then they will certainly release more games like those in the future. This, like every other industry out there (especially an entertainment one), is driven by sales and profit. And you only get profit if your target audience is gamers, not a group of easily offendable people that don’t even play said games.
NG: So let’s get into the real meat of the discussion. How do you feel about IGDA founder Earnest W. Adams essentially threatening pro-GamerGate supports? Do you think his tweets are valid? Coming from this – how easy or difficult is it to get into the AAA game development scene?
Yes, I believe that the stance devs have on GamerGate threaten their careers. And here I will make a very bold statement: people like RogueStar, Phil Fish, Brianna Wu, Zoe Quinn and other will most certainly never going to find work in the AAA game industry.
Why? Because they are too toxic, and a hot potato that no hiring department will want to bring into their respective companies. When it comes to hiring in the AAA industry, most companies require you to go through a number of steps.
I’m talking about this from my experience in 3 different companies that developed games or software for game platforms. Initially, applicants are sieved by recruitment companies or by the hiring departments/HR people of the company they want to be a part of. Usually that means a telephone interview with a non-tech HR rep, online tests, assessment centers etc. After that, you have the actual interview that usually takes places with people you are going to work with (project leads, senior devs, studio leads (last one happens quite rarely, and is more common in smaller companies/studios)).
Before those two stages, all companies have what is called a HR screening or assessment. This might not be the case for all IT companies out there, but it certainly is for the AAA games industry. It sometimes is as simple as a standard background check to find out if a person has had previous convictions, if they are legally allowed to work in that country (for immigrants), or have the minimum qualifications listed for the opening (university, experience, diplomas etc). Most publishers however do more in-depth research for all their potential employees.
What they look for (and this I know from a HR rep at a previous employer) are things like public statements, social media accounts, new coverage, online presence etc. If you are a person that has displayed professional misconduct on a public platform that could bring harm to a company’s image (like Fish’s twitter meltdowns just to name an example), you will not make it past the HR screening. Your CV goes into the bin and you never get called back. Simple as that.
I want people to understand that this is not blacklisting. When AAA companies hire, they are interested in acquiring new assets that increases their productivity (usually for a project that went into full development), or fill in for loss of productivity due to someone leaving/getting fired. What they don’t want is employees that have a bad image in the general public or have a history of toxic behavior.
When HR sees people involved in major scandals (no matter what side they are on), and see that they’ve made offensive or otherwise extremely negative statements to certain groups, genders or ethnicities, they will consider them as a potential liability. Hiring them would be an unnecessary risk, considering there is always someone better out there anyway. They’d rather wait for more CVs than let in a potential time-bomb. Same goes for people that don’t seem to be doing much of what they are supposed to be doing (ie: have twitter accounts with 40 thousand tweets, almost none of which are game-dev related), or people that lead campaigns against what is to be the target audience of that particular company.
These are all examples of actions that will never get you hired in an AAA studio. In conclusion, W. Adams was right when he made that tweet. Speaking about #GamerGate will threaten your career. It has certainly made quite a few people un-hireable in the industry, both on the GG side, but mostly on the anti-GG side.
Remember however, that this applies to people that ‘lead’ such campaigns and make toxic statements and remarks about others, or use their ‘megaphone’ to spread lies, slander and vileness. Simply supporting or standing against #gamergate will not affect your chances of getting hired, as long as you behave like a decent human being and have civil conversations (something parts of Gamergate and the majority of anti-gg are not too good at). Do keep in mind that despite those facts, if you publicly display messages and statements such as: “I am anti-gamers”, “Kill all gamers” etc. you will NOT be hired in ANY games company. Anywhere. Ever. Mostly because, you know, we make games here; for gamers.
And, to finish this lengthy answer, I present you with my favorite quote by our studio lead in regards to my concerns that somehow, these kind of people might make it in the industry.
“Why are you so upset? You know we don’t hire professional victims, only professional developers.”
NG: How do you feel about games like Hatred? Should they have the right to exist? What about games with questionable content, or potentially offensive material? Does censoring/banning them go against the argument of games being considered art?
Games should never be censored. Ever. We have a content rating system in place the same as movies do and we can make great use of that. Just because certain people are offended by a certain game, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t exist. It’s a stupid and absurd concept that would render the entire notion of content rating useless.
NG: Finally, what advice do you have for GamerGate supporters?
Basically keep doing what you are doing. Remember to send those e-mails and support the wonderful people that are trying to make a change for the better. Stop fighting on twitter with toxic opponents that compare us with Hitler and our action with the Holocaust. Let them get bored, and eventually they will leave. You are here to stay, because you are our audience and that will never, ever change.
The ‘battle’ is won regardless. Publications like Kotaku are losing relevance with each day, while websites with reviewed policies and independent curators/reviewers are more popular than ever (tipping the proverbial top hat to a certain brit out there). The entire games media industry is slowly but steadily changing, and there is nothing they can do about it.
Rest assured, the AAA industry will continue to have gamers as their main audience, and as long as you bitch and moan about a game or vote with your wallets on another, there will always be changes for the good as we move forward.
On a somewhat related note, please stop being harsh with our dev colleagues over at Ubisoft. They’ve worked their asses off to release the game with inhumane numbers of hours and overtime. It’s not their fault it turned up like this; no respectable dev and gamer would release a product in that state, but deadlines have always been a pain for this industry. That is a bigger issue that has to be addressed separately, because people that are not responsible for a product’s failure are being held accountable, and that is not fair at all. Remember, vote with your wallets and continue to complain, the guys in the suits will eventually hear you; they always do. Major improvements have happened from the simple fact that gamers complained by the hundreds of thousands (see the XOne and EA for example).
I’d like to thank Xbro again for speaking to me despite the potential backlash for what we discussed today.
I hope this encourages other developers to reach out to myself, as I will give you a platform to speak, alongside protecting your identity – should you choose to remain anonymous. Gamers need more encouragement from developers big and small, so anything you can say will help tremendously.