Note: The developer wanted to include a final thought. This was sent before before the developer had seen the article but not received until well after it went live. It has been amended to the end of the article.
The gaming community has faced a great amount of turbulence over the last several months. As the industry has grown in popularity and size, it has fallen under the scrutiny of the public eye more and more. In the past, gaming was the target of groups who viewed the medium as Satanic, violent, and breeding everything from lazy and incompetent children to sociopathic killers. But gamers fought against that and won. This time though, players have noted that what was once a very unified community is torn. Gaming has, to some, become a target for accusations of supposed prejudice, not just in games but in the industry and userbase itself. In addition, there are accusations of collusion between those who make the social justice argument and many figures in gaming media, who promote it. From that, revolts like Gamergate have spawned, many gamers flocked to less formal avenues like YouTube or to user made content like Reddit. Meanwhile, the larger part of the industry has mostly remained silent, not wanting to poke the hive.
Until an anonymous AAA developer shared his thoughts on WordPress, in a blog with one post called “The State of Gaming.” His first official post, “The Oppressed Rulers of the Games Industry,” caught the attention of those associated with GamerGate. In his post, the developer begins saying he is a white, straight man, and details abuse he has experienced on social media, and how it has gone ignored. He describes an atmosphere in the gaming industry where he must hide his identity for fear he’d be labeled by gaming’s critics and attacked in such a way that it could endanger his employment as well as his company, games, and colleagues. The post was forward and direct, calling out some individuals by name. At the end, he offers a very unique insider perspective on the impact of publishers on these issues, and how they’re keeping developers and journalists silent.
TechRaptor got the opportunity to speak to this developer. By his request, no identifying characteristics will be given here, but TechRaptor editors have confirmed he is a AAA developer. This is to protect not only him, but the projects and people associated with him. When you read his blog and his words here, you’ll understand why. This interview was conducted in writing and some portions have been redacted by the authors request to preserve his privacy.
TechRaptor: Would you like to start by giving a brief summary of what you do in the industry, similar to how you introduced yourself in your article I suppose?
Developer: I’ve worked on many games, probably 10 or more during my career, a lot of them bad, a few of them good. I’ve been in the AAA industry as an employee of various levels of seniority, as well as running a games studio myself. That all said I’m not anyone particularly impressive and am genuine in my prediction that few would have a clue who I was even if I did go public, but I feel I’ve had more than sufficient AAA experiences […] to be able to defend it on the gender inbalance issues. No one wants more women in games more than the AAA industry, and that goes from the lowliest QA tester right to the top of management. I’ve been at several studios and never once heard a single person speak positively about the gender inbalance.
I firmly believe the way to heal any of the legitimate issues with the games industry (and yes, I still believe there are issues, even if the social justice narrative detracts from the credibility that these issues exist.) The solution is to be positive. Encourage more women into the industry. Show people how welcoming and desperate the industry is for them and their skills. Show that they WILL be made welcome, and their unique outlooks will help studios make better games. Put our money where our mouth is and support the positive female role models. Put the truly inspirational women on a pedestal and show female devs in the industry an ounce of respect, those who have worked hard to get where they are on their own merits then see these people representing their gender within the industry. Stop giving air time to these divisive apocalyptic people of who offer little more than politics and scandal.
TechRaptor: Have your colleagues frequently talked about what goes on on Twitter or Reddit regarding GamerGate, or any of the gamer related controversies? Or is it generally avoided?
Developer: Among close friends it seems pretty much unanimous that we all hold the same views. Some others care less about the situation, just roll their eyes and ignore the whole thing, where others are as angry and frustrated as I am. My game devs friends of whom I know their allegiances are somewhat pro-gamergate, and anti social justice, are more numerous than those who seem sympathetic to their views. It’s started to get to the point, like members of Fight Club, of looking for those giving knowing nods and realizing you’re not alone.
No one wants more women in games more than the AAA industry, and that goes from the lowliest QA tester right to the top of management.
There’s a tense barrier to finding out if someone is ‘part of the resistance’ or ‘part of the problem’, and the feeling of solidarity and relief every time you find another who feels the same way is a great feeling. It does feel like the barrier for discussing this is crumbling. It’s starting to feel like there are more of us than we feared when we felt more isolated and alone in our views. The problem with broaching it is the usual problem, the fear that the person you mention it to isn’t as aware of the darker elements of social justice and its champions, and they will make the same assumption that it’s a case of ‘I’m not a sexist, BUT… <sexist thing>’ – it’s a crappy situation that since these people project themselves as being ‘the side of good’, it encourages a knee jerk logical fallacy that any opponents are on the side of ‘bad’. As the veil lifts and you start to see through all this stuff, there’s a lot of external pressure to make you worry that you ARE a secret sexist, as well as appearing as such to other people.
TechRaptor: Do you think those “good guys” are the biggest reason there are few women in the industry, or do you think there are other factors at play in that?
Developer: It’s a combination of things. Back in the day of Sega and Nintendo, Commodore and Spectrum, it WAS a geeky male pastime. That sucked too, for different reasons. Back then I was ridiculed for being a gamer geek. Now suddenly it’s a massive mainstream industry, and while it is (or was, rather) going the right direction with more women getting into the games industry, the sad fact is like tech or science, there is just not the inherent interest from women to maintain a good split within studios. Whether this is an issue with how the genders are encouraged or discouraged into specific careers, it does seem to be a pretty immutable fact that generally these industries don’t attract women as much as we’d like.
This sucks for those women playing games not having more representation in development, and I dare say this does have an impact on the believability of female characters, or developers falling victim to their own sexual ideals when designing characters, but the solution is NOT to drag AAA studios over coals and tell them they have got to (somehow) divine the female mind without access to enough talented female developers, but rather to try and encourage more women to go against whatever forces tend to move them away from these types of careers. As I’ve said before, the current climate social justice perpetuates is doing nothing to help this.situation. I honestly wonder if its really ever a feasible goal to get to 50/50, I think it’s more a case of just fighting for as high a ratio as we can.
TechRaptor: In terms of media, what do you think about the “rise of YouTube” and how entertainment critics like Total Biscuit or Let’s Players have started to gain more influence than traditional gaming journals? Is the perception better there from triple A?
Developer: Oh that’s definitely the perception. YouTube is enjoying a golden age right now, though it’s probably getting to the point where new huge youtubers will need to wait for others to drop off. It’s obvious that the traditional games media are trying to get into videos more these days as they are so much better for getting the feel of a game, videos are more viral, and the impact of big YouTubers does rival the impact of the biggest sites. PewDiePie and a few others can make a game with a single video, their power far outstripping the games media.
However it’s important to note that at this time, YouTubers still get away with much less scrutiny upon them. It’s hard to floor any ethics criticisms toward TotalBiscuit since that is pretty much the number one issue to him, however there is the potential for corruption in YouTube as there is in traditional media, we’ve seen it already, and as time goes on I’m sure publishers will be setting up the same kind of red tape that currently strangles and compromises traditional media and that will hit Youtubers too. Preorders, review embargos and the like, are all designed to muddy the water and make it more difficult to honestly tell readers whether a game is worth their money. It’s easy to blame those compromised, but blame should also be thrown at those forcing the compromises. As I said in the original piece I do think there are issues with ethics in games journalism, there are always ways it can be improved and there are always compromises that are made likely to avoid getting blackballed by publishers, and there are always going to be cases where some personal bias may nudge ‘don’t do an article on this game’ to ‘do an article on this game’. But it works both ways, and there are good and bad people in journalism as there is in dev, and as there is in the gaming community.
It’s a tricky situation. But from my perspective the social justice stranglehold is the most important issue of GG as, if this escalates, the stakes to the industry are far more widespread than the risk of buying a game and feeling a review misrepresented it. I do feel that of course we should always be striving to improve ethics in journalism, and that’s an ongoing discussion that should neither begin nor end but be a constant calm dialogue and debate. But I feel people also need to remember to apply the same kind of scrutiny to all forms of games media lest we let others get away with things they shouldn’t while we all keep a watchful eye on what Kotaku is up to.
TechRaptor: Something GG talks a lot about is the inconsistent way sites like Reddit and Twitter enforce rules. When you received abuse on Twitter, how responsive was support in helping you? Did you ever get any justice there?
Developer: I didn’t try and get any justice. I just had the realization that I was only making things worse trying to defend myself or throwing back insults, I wasn’t going to win, I wasn’t going to convince people I was in the right, or that I wasn’t in the wrong. Also that my emotional situation at the time forbid me acting rationally, and all I’d do by staying on twitter is make the abuse worse, and get a bad reputation for my own twitter behavior. Whether I felt the trolling I got was unfair or not (I felt it was) it never even occurred to me to go on the warpath, or to bring twitter support into it. I just did the sensible thing and shut twitter off, and stopped antagonizing people. I didn’t reply to emails, I didn’t complain loudly about the contents of those emails. I just disabled twitter, and deleted troll emails by reading as little as possible just to make sure they were troll emails.
It’s easy to blame those compromised, but blame should also be thrown at those forcing the compromises. As I said in the original piece I do think there are issues with ethics in games journalism, there are always ways it can be improved and there are always compromises that are made likely to avoid getting blackballed by publishers…
The fact of the matter is, in retrospect, I rather suspect that it wasn’t quite as many people as my freaked out mind assumed it was. Similarly with people like Anita, Brianna or Zoe, it begs the serious question: When these people are trolled, how many actual independent human beings could reasonably explain the amount of noise they get on their twitter feed? How many actual people are we talking about here? No one knows, and that’s remarkable. It seems like this has never been investigated, because somehow investigating claims is seen as disrespectful to these people. If we don’t even know even vaguely how many actual people are actually participating in trolling, how can we make any claims as to how these trolls represent anyone?
I can’t speak for the rules of places like reddit, but I do know that again, the way GamerGate discussions were so universally moderated across the internet, does make the conspiratorial mind start whirring. Again with this uneasy feeling that these people have the power to get opinions removed from any place on the internet. It only goes to demonstrate the power these so called victims have.
TechRaptor: Have any of the women you’ve worked with confided with you about the perception of women by the media or the rhetoric pushed by people like Anita Sarkeesian? Or if they’ve received anything they perceive as harassment because of their role?
Developer: I’ve never worked with a woman in the industry who held these social justice views nor been attacked by misogynist trolls. I can’t speak for their entire experiences, but as I said in my original piece most of them express dismay at how women are represented, and how the role models put forward by the gaming press are the worst possible people to represent them. 99% of game developers have no public presence on the internet beyond their own personal twitter feed, and thus the potential for them ever to get trolled or harassed by the internet is practically zero, unless they are a major marketing force behind the game, being interviewed and the like. Most people in the games industry don’t ever have the opportunity to be trolled.
And in terms of in-studio sexual harassment, I’ve never known one incidence of this. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, and I’m sure it does. But I wouldn’t honestly expect the amount of sexual discrimination within studios to be any better or worse than in any other industry (adjusting for ratio bias of course).
I will however say that on more than one occasion a female dev has told me that people like Leigh Alexander’s constant complaining about how they can’t leave the house without constant cat calls and unwanted attention from men has made them feel extremely self conscious about themselves and hurt their self esteem, that they don’t get that same experience whether they would want it or (more likely) not. This makes me sad too.
TechRaptor: On the other end, have you witnessed any colleagues being mistreated, either by other coworkers or by leadership, because they were critical of the social justice side of things?
Developer: Only on the internet, twitter, tumblr, Kotaku, and where these people tend to operate. I suspect the vast majority of actual developers either don’t care one way or the other, or don’t agree with the social justice rhetoric, but there is still that pressure to make sure before you can ever broach the subject with colleagues. It’s very easy just to skim the narrative and buy into it, and you never know for sure.
I imagine if I was as outspoken as I wish I could be on the issue, this would be more of a risk. It depends on the studio and the people though, of course. I can only speak to my own experiences.
TechRaptor: What do you think that the gaming media, particularly journalists, need to do to fix this perception they’ve given themselves and amend their relationship with gamers and developers?
Developer: It’s hard to say, because the solution would be risky. The solution is for a sudden bloc of developers and journalists to stand up and say they won’t accept it any more, so the misogyny label is diluted. One person alone will be tore apart. It’s how to arrange such a thing safely that’s the sticking point though. No one wants to be the first to stand up. My insistence on anonymity is testament to that, as on any possible other issue I wouldn’t give a moment to worry about upsetting people with my opinions if I considered them important. I’m a pretty outspoken person, and the fact I’m cowed into silence on this particular issue only speaks volumes.
The solution is for a sudden bloc of developers and journalists to stand up and say they won’t accept it any more …
We need some kind of organization, some secret safe place to collaborate and organize a stand against these bullies. Sadly it’s not clear how many dont’ care, how many are on the other side, and how many wish they could speak out. It’s finding allies that’s the tough bit, which is why I wanted to speak out, and hopefully draw a few people together.
TechRaptor: You also talked a little bit about publisher influence in the industry, and how that has effected not only developers, but journalists. What do gamers, be it through Gamergate, or League 4 Gamers, or any other entity, need to do to hold publishers accountable?
Developer: Vote with your wallet. Stop buying games with review embargos on release date, or preorders. Sadly voting with your wallet is hard to do when likely 99% of people who buy games don’t keep up on games industry current affairs, or contribute to discussions on the internet. As well as micro-transactions, DLC, DRM and all the other horrid things publishers have foisted on the industry, I do honestly feel a lot of the ethics issues do originate from the fact that to do their jobs properly, games writers, game sites need a copy of that game from publishers. They also need to make money to pay their writers and hosting.
Especially with the rise of youtube, and the extra pressures traditional media is under, it’s difficult to see how they could possibly operate with complete 100% untarnished objectivity and ethics and not drive themselves into the ground. As well as defending the GamerGaters, I do feel the need to throw this in there because I feel it’s unfair not to consider this when condemning the games press.
TechRaptor: Now this next one is somewhat personal. If you could talk to someone like Anita Sarkeesian one on one, with no block lists and no fear, what would you say to her?
Developer: Anita. If you really want to help, tour schools and convince women to join the games industry, or to pursue university education on game development. Talk about the problems the industry has, but also talk about how they can fix them and how much the industry NEEDS them. Inspire them to be the inspirational and talented figures of the next gaming generation. That’s how you help. You’ll likely receive little to no trolls, little to no objections, and we’d forever consider you a huge positive force in the industry.
I will however say that on more than one occasion a female dev has told me that people like Leigh Alexander’s constant complaining about how they can’t leave the house without constant cat calls and unwanted attention from men has made them feel extremely self conscious about themselves and hurt their self esteem
TechRaptor: Lastly, to Gamergate, is there any one big change that could fix this atmosphere of fear that players like those in Gamergate could accomplish?
Developer: There are people I know who started the journey anti-gamergate, and are a gnats wing away from secretly supporting it. However these same people are terrified of the reputation of the GamerGate people on twitter, the angry mob, descending upon them and looking for conspiratorial stuff to string them up. A big problem with the Anti-GamerGate side is it seems that the moderate people are unwilling to throw the crazier elements under the bus and distance themselves from the more fundamentalist views they hold. This reflects very badly as it seems the crazier comments are accepted or condoned by everyone in that group. If there were more feminists distancing themselves from the likes of Wu, Quinn, Sarkeesian there may be more people willing to take those people seriously. The same holds true for the pro-GG people. GGers need to be better than the other side at policing those who speak in its name. It’s all about policing those who represent us the worst, vocally distancing ourselves from them, and since as we’ve learnt if anyone puts #GamerGate at the end of a tweet then the other side will be quick to accuse their thoughts of representing us all.
They seemingly haven’t figured out or don’t care that anyone in the world can write that hashtag at the end of the tweet, and that means nothing as to the true nature or goals of the majority of the movement.
It’s all about policing, knowing when to get behind someone and when to distance ourselves from them so as not to give the other side ammunition. We need to be a persistent, powerful, assertive, but moreover not a threatening group, so those that would paint us in a bad light need to be quickly condemned and thrown out. This is not specific to any person or people I’m aware of, just a general strategy I feel required to reduce the ammunition the other side has to sully GamerGate’s name and goals.
TechRaptor: Is there anything you’d like to end on?
Developer: Not particularly […]
TechRaptor: Thank you so much for your time!
The questions below were asked as follow up questions after this initial interview.
TechRaptor: Do you think that the move towards DLC and Microtransactions are harming the development process of games?
Developer: Less so DLC, or purely collectible and cosmetic micro-transactions as I think there are examples of this been handled really well and adding value to games. There are of course many many more examples of developers abusing this and nickle and diming the customer. Particularly on mobile and F2P. The biggest issue I feel with microtransactions is it’s pressure to alter the game balance for the sake of encouraging people to spend money on it. There’s a real incentive to make a game less fun for the sake of making more money, and any system that makes this the outcome is one we should be very skeptical of, even if particular uses of it seem pretty benign in themselves. There are certain things we should be united in saying this is not okay.
TechRaptor: Inside the industry, what is the biggest change that developers would like to see with journalists in general?
Developer: It all comes back down to distancing itself from social justice, to me. We can all hold different political views on any issue you can think of, but what unites us and makes us gamers is our shared hobby, career, life, and that is what is important. A conservative gamer has just as much right to read about their favorite hobby as a liberal gamer does, and it may be that the games press just generally leans in a liberal direction, but it still feels awfully unfair and out of place to me that this… ultra-liberalism is so prevalent in gaming media. I feel developers and the gaming media are there to service our audience: Gamers. It’s not the other way around, and while we can hold whatever political views we like, and have blogs and places to discuss those politics, the vast vast majority of people from any political alliance are going to your website because they love games. It used to be Sony vs Microsoft. It used to be Sega vs Nintendo. Something changed and now it’s ‘Man vs Woman’, ‘Gay vs straight’, ‘cis vs trans’, ‘white vs black’. Ask yourself honestly: Who really is responsible for constantly encouraging people to put others into these categories, focusing on their differences, insisting that everyone communicate with these people in a very specific way with an ever expanding rulebook, which in my experience discourages people from daring to communicate with these people and risking marginalizing them further. I’m willing to accept that a limited amount of political correctness and education is useful, but we passed that point years ago, and all I see these days is more divisive rhetoric turning groups of people against each other. This may not be the intended consequence, but it’s certainly the result, and we’ve got to stop signposting the differences between people, be that race, sexuality or gender and just play and talk about games.
That’s all anyone wants.
We can all hold different political views on any issue you can think of, but what unites us and makes us gamers is our shared hobby, career, life, and that is what is important.
TechRaptor: How has the backlash of the Internet on large projects such as Mass Effect 3 impacted the industry, if at all?
Developer: I’m not entirely sure I can offer anything particularly interesting on this as I’ve never had any experience of working on a big budget trilogy nor any of the lessons that would be learnt from it, and really it seemed to me that the expectation built up over 3 games and a long period of time that exacerbated the controversies around the endings. I’m not sure a single standalone game with that ending would have attracted a fraction of the outcry. It’s hard to know what lessons could be learned except ‘put lots of time and money into the finale and make sure it climatically sufficient for the length of the time people have been working toward it’.
Again, TechRaptor would like to thank this developer for their time.
The below was sent as a final comment that was not received until after the article was published.
I’d like to make a final point I’m not sure if it goes anywhere but I’ve been checking through links / comments to my post, and on the whole they are positive and pro-GG
The few places that are anti-GG are quite telling to me:
“Has anyone who says “SJWs are ruining [thing]” ever given evidence of something they feel was negatively affected by an agenda?”
“What’s hilarious is that once you get tired of reading his repetition of all the usual transparently bollocks nonsense that has been endlessly repeated by GamerGaters ad infinitum, and can be dismissed with the merest application of logic and sense, you scroll down and the comments are full of people asking to interview the guy, and congratulating him on his insight.
They are so fucking stupid it’s unreal.”
There are hundreds more on the anti-GG areas that I could quote from all day. This is what people are saying about a frank admission that I spend a good portion of my online life scared about zealous feminists attacking me, censoring myself, censoring my game, and this is extremely unpleasant to me and affects my life adversely. They roll their eyes. They laugh. THEY LAUGH, snort, mock me and call me a moron. Some social justice progressive kind souls here huh? It’s disgraceful. Whether they think my logic is full of shit or not, they should be VERY concerned that their ideology makes some people even from their own political corner feel so rotten and it should be a case of making steps to make it clear that discussion is allowed. They are not though, because in real terms they don’t really care about individuals emotional well beings, just their own ideology.
The developer expanded on this on his blog.