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There is a saying; “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”, it is known as Hanlon’s Razor.

If I was allowed to coin a catechism for the gaming industry, Hnatiw’s Razor if you will, it would be:

“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by greed.”

(I know Hnatiw’s Razor isn’t as catchy but just let me have this)

I want you to participate in a thought experiment with me. Close your eyes (or don’t, I’m not the boss of you) and think of the trends in the gaming industry that you hate. It can be anything; Pay or Wait games like Clash of Clans or Kim Kardashian Hollywood, malicious DLC and Season Pass practices or a lack of in-game diversity from a gender or race standpoint. It’s easy to hate on Supercell for being terrible or say that the games industry is just a toxic boys club but if thats how you’re thinking I’m here to start throwing wrenches.

Because every single trend you hate in the gaming industry exists because it makes money.

Take DLC, Pre-Orders and Season Passes. Nearly every games media outlet agrees they are annoying, that they divide the community and force gamers to shell out more money on top of already expensive purchases. Publishers know this, it would be ignorant to believe publishers are unaware of the feelings of gamers, but the ugly truth is that they simply do not care. DLC makes a lot of money, whether it’s map packs in Call of Duty or cosmetic changes, people are paying for it. Games media calls it exploitative or mocks it like Oblivion‘s horse armor but it doesn’t change anything. I’m sure major publishers would enjoy having every aspect of their company praised by games media, but if it is a choice between millions of dollars and fewer negative articles and tweets its not hard to guess what EA or Ubisoft would pick.

The same goes for issues of diversity in games. Yes, a considerable amount of video game protagonists are white men but I don’t think this comes from a desire to keep gaming a boys club, a cathedral of misogyny or third buzzphrase. Publishers believe (perhaps misguidedly) that in any given game, a male protagonist will sell better than a female protagonist. This isn’t my hypothesis, this experiment was performed on the gaming industry. Dontnod Entertainment developed Remember Me; a game with a female protagonist engaged in a heterosexual relationship. The creative director Jean-Max Moris told Penny Arcade Report in 2013 that a publisher said to him “Well, we don’t want to publish it because that’s not going to succeed. You can’t have a female character in games. It has to be a male character, simple as that.”

Remember Me's Nilin, who some publishers would have preferred as Neil.

Remember Me’s Nilin, who some publishers would have preferred as Neil.

Again, its easy to say the bigwigs at EA, Ubisoft & Activision are just misogynists or racists but truly they are something more mundane: incredibly risk-averse. These companies are not driven by the artistic merit of games or a desire to see everyone in the world represented positively – they are driven by money. When you are trying to guarantee success for your game, the best source of information is past sales data. Publishers can look back at the recent history of video games and see a lot of games starring white dudes making a ton of money. To a publisher, putting out a more generic product they believe will sell well is not anti-progress, it’s pro-keeping their jobs. I’m not saying a female protagonist or a black game cast should be shied away from, far from it, but analysts will point to deviations from formula as reasons their latest AAA game failed. Taking a dramatic risk can be great if people like it, but with the massive budgets AAA devs are working with these days, a failed risk can mean the end of a company.

The video game community has an enviable sense of camaraderie and optimism, which are some of the reasons I love it so much. But at the end of the day, to the companies perpetuating these trends we are first and foremost a source of money. People recognize these issues, and talk about them, a lot. But no amount of pro-diversity blog posts or angry rants on how Pre-Orders harm the industry will matter while these practices remain profitable.

If you think the trends I’ve mentioned above are massive industry spanning issues or you’d just like less DLC and a few more games with female protagonists, the solution is the same. You need to make the things you hate unprofitable for these companies. If the poorly outlined DLC for Evolve doesn’t sell, that hurts the case for elaborate DLC plans. If Rise of the Tomb Raider sells 15 million copies, it helps the case for more female protagonists.

Success breeds success. The Tomb Raider reboot is a great example

Success breeds success. The Tomb Raider reboot is a great example

To effect change you want to see in the gaming industry you need to change up tactics. Don’t spend your time yelling at Electronic Arts, I’m sorry to tell you that they don’t care. Let’s not shame developers for conforming to designs required by publishers in order to get their games shipped. Instead of just pointing out the negative things in the industry that lets not forget everyone knows about, I want to give you the tools to effect real change in the gaming industry that we all love.

If there is a trend you hate, showing other gamers why it is evil will do far more than Twitter callouts of publisher employees will. If a game comes out that does representation well, sing its praises from the rooftops instead of vilifying all the games that don’t measure up in your eyes. Every game released that breaks from the generic trends of the gaming industry and fails makes it that much harder for the other games working with 100 million+ budgets to take those shots. It’s simply not enough for you to vote with your wallet, you need everyone to vote with their wallets. So if you want different, if you want better; tell your friends how DLC is a waste of money, encourage your friends to play the games you think are great and for god’s sake don’t let anyone pay money so Kim Kardashian will be their friend.

The market isn’t malicious. It doesn’t want to screw gamers out of their money or see a select group excluded from gaming; it simply responds to incentives. Right now the market has been told that all the things you hate are great ways to make money. If you want to see that change, you need to convince the market otherwise.

Do you think I’m right about the causes of these trends? What gaming industry trends do you hate? Tell me in the comments, it makes me feel popular!

Wyatt Hnatiw

Staff Writer

Wyatt Hnatiw is a lifelong gamer with a borderline inappropriate love of BioWare RPGs and Bioshock. Maybe he just loves the prefix Bio...

  • The Tallest Dwarf

    When a game has a male protagonist, 99% of gamers don’t care. Probably more.
    If a game has a female protagonist, then that simple fact becomes the focus of every article, every news item and most comments about that game. So for one, it’s distracting from the game.

    More than that, I think, It’s the simple fact that this is what everybody is used to.
    And why is everybody used to it? Because it’s the norm. Most adventurers, explorers, soldiers etc. are men. Not because caves and shipwrecks hate women, but exploring is simply a more intrinsic part of the male nature than the female.

  • Wyatt Hnatiw

    I think what we see as a generic AAA game is the result of games being designed for an overwhelmingly male audience in the early days and as such the player characters were usually men. Now designers still default to a generic dude because ‘thats what they’ve always done’ and most women are mature enough to not boycott a great game cause it stars a white dude, so there’s no monetary drive to deviate.

  • hots

    Can someone explain why AAA games sell more with male vs female protags? Is it just that less games are made with females so there is less chance of them succeeding? I tried searching but all I found was a 2012 Ben Kuchera article in which he eventually said: “And the truth is, I don’t know.”

    The gender imbalance is kinda strange to me because I’m a male and games with female leads are more appealing at first glance, simply because nothing catches my eye like a female. Boys like girls, big surprise.

    At the same time there’s no way I’d like a game where a female moans once-per-second like Tomb Raider.

  • Wyatt Hnatiw

    Its a good question. I myself tend to play female characters in RPGs when I have the option. Femshep was my main in ME, 2 of my 3 Dragon Age protagonists were women and I’m currently running a female hunter through Bloodborne.

    If I had to guess it would be that the difference in sales between male/female protags is a false statistic. I’d say that the majority of games have a male protagonist, so games with male protagonists sell more, its really not possible to do an objective experiment on why one sells more than the other because you can’t force pubs/devs to do anything, you can’t account for taste, etc.

    And the issue with that is because you can’t point to data saying “Look, heres why X, Y & Z happen” people can continue to argue from emotion, which gets us nowhere.

  • TeLin特林

    I don’t understand the deal with the tomb raider hate/believing its a violence against women simulator/feel in the blank.(not pointing fingers at you).

    A guy grunts/moans when hurt=no big deal.
    A girl does and it becomes associated with sex.

    Honestly, I’m not a fan of TR. My wife plays the games.

    But there’s such drama behind the game.

    If.someone is having sex and their women sounds like this…then they must be into some crazy bdsm shit.

    She’s getting hurt/wind knocked out of her/etc.

  • Psichaos

    There was an image circulating around that I agree with explaining why a lot of protagonists tend to be white male. It’s true that they’re a safe bet from a monetary standpoint, but also it’s safe from a storytelling standpoint. As has been said, nobody really cares when a male lead is present, so they can design that character with distinct flaws, either physically or mentally, and no one would bat an eye. But reverse that character’s gender and have it be female as opposed to male, and suddenly that character is exposed to a array of scrutiny, excessive criticism, and outrage since female characters aren’t allowed to have humanizing flaws according to them. Because not only do the people generally complaining about it want there to be more female protags, but they want them to be flawless beings, and that is terrible when you’re trying to create an engaging story.

  • calbeck

    My problem, in the current crisis, isn’t with AAA developers so much. Everyone is well aware by now that the only way to stop their exploitative marketing practices is not to feed into them, just as one should never feed an Internet Troll. There’s always going to be those late to the advice, or who never take it.

    But exacerbating the problem is the games press which, by and large, is more than happy to defend that DLC, advance that misogyny narrative, bash their own audience. Because, as has been said by certain major voices in the games-journalism industry, the AUDIENCE is not their actual customer.

    It’s the advertisers.

    Once again, your basic premise comes to the fore: if a games publisher is spending a lot of money on ads to the journalists’ site, the journos are going to be loathe to give their game anything but glowing reviews. An honest review which happens to be negative can get its author fired.

    Misogyny? Pure ginned-up clickbait, taking the proverbial gaming-community molehill and making entire mountain ranges from it to generate fear (from people who think they might be made victims) and anger (from those unjustly accused of horrible things). Both responses get clicks as the fearful chime in with their worries and the angry chime in with their denunciations.

    The “GamerGate Controversy” was largely manufactured by games journalists both desperate for ad revenue, and happy to advance a line of finger-wagging arguments which they had already been advancing for years. The “ME3 Ending Controversy” was immensely profitable due to the clicks it generated, and that by abusing gamers with namecalling.

    If we were to attach WWII analogies, “ME3 Ending” was the partitioning of Czechoslovakia. Insult the audience, get away with it, no significant numbers of lost readers, and a bump in ad revenue? These gamers will just sit there and take it! Time to go for Poland, right?

  • Joseph Fanning

    Yeah, it was a thing someone’d written mentioning Guybrush threepwood. I’d also made a similar argument earlier using Captain Planet as the example(Wheeler is the only hero character allowed to have flaws).

  • hots

    I looked at gameplay of the first chunk again and it really is a just one cinematic torture scene after another, and every action she does is accompanied by a wide range of passionate grunts and moans. I understand she’s always in pain, but no other game makes a character complain as much as her (male or female). As far as I know that one TR is the only game that people have accused of having sexual moans, so you shouldn’t make your blanket statement “A girl does and it becomes associated with sex”.

    Think of Mirrors Edge, Faith grunts when hit but it’s not incredibly passionate, repetitive, or immersion-breaking like in TR.

  • hots

    Yeah stats are pretty loose when sample-sizes are so small and with such a range of genres. In some games which give both options more people choose the male, but that may be for 100 different reasons. The male may be more fitting, maybe he was in the trailer, better voice-acted, less scantily-clad than a female, or if you feel like you should build your character to represent yourself like in an mmo.

  • Wyatt Hnatiw

    Is this what you were talking about? I agree, its a really interesting comment.

  • Wyatt Hnatiw

    Totally. Apparently FemShep was played far less than Sheploo, even though the Jennifer Hale VO was way better (IMO). It’s just not a simple issue to explain away.

  • TeLin特林

    “As far as I know…”

    We could end our convoy right here.

    Now, if you mean “mainstream” press…well it was only the last couple of years that they’ve become focused on trying to find issues that aren’t there.

    Plenty out there love to complain, though.

    And besides that link, I’ve seen/heard many try and make the case that a woman getting hit in a fighting game “shouldn’t be making those sounds.”

    So, yes I “can” make my blanket statement.

    Again…they should lay off the overdramatic porn out there.

    “I understand she’s in pain, but no game makes a character complain as much as her…”

    For one, you’re being disingenuous to try and make the case no other game shows someone getting hurt with moaning/grunting. There are plenty with constant grunts/moans when a character is hurt.

    Two, “complain?” Really? Jesus that is really fucked up.

    As far as Faith, last I checked she didn’t go through nearly the amount of hell Laura did(slightly off topic, read a shitty article(I can only guess feminist in the same vein as An it) saying that Faith shouldn’t moan because it “identifys her as female and that’s won’t help equality”

    But hey, if you dont want women to not “complain” about pain “passionately” don’t play games where they go through similar violent situations as their male counterparts.

    But don’t sit there and say a.) She shouldn’t complain and b.) Men don’t get hurt as much. Its bullshit.

  • dsadsada

    On the other hand, Wheeler was the only good character.

  • dsadsada

    Funny enough, Japan produces a lot of games with female protagonists or choosable gender and treats them as the story needs with all the faults and traumas that could potentially come with. They’re called sexist for it.

  • hots

    Ay I guess I don’t play enough gory games or read enough internet garbage

  • TeLin特林

    Good debate.