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Game Developer Harassment on the Rise

By - Source: Polygon | B 31 comments

Many developers receive death threats against themselves, their family and their children.

Polygon has a lengthy report indicating that the greatest threat to the gaming industry may be the gamers themselves. Published on Thursday, the report sketches out a growing tide of attacks against developers and publishers, and the toll it's taking on those who devote their lives to entertaining the masses. Unfortunately, that's the side-effect of the Internet: it's a say-as-you-please soap box that seemingly allows its inhabitants to throw respect for others and common decency out the window.

The report states that developers both named and anonymous are quickly discovering that harassment by gamers is becoming an "alarmingly" consistent and expected element of development. Some claim that this "bullying" has forced them to leave the industry altogether, whereas others find it so distracting that it's difficult to create anything, or they're currently considering an industry exit. The problem is getting so epidemic that the International Game Developers Association is looking into starting an actual support group.

MORE: Xbox One Launch Snubs Some Developers' Home Turf

"I think fans harass developers for a range of reasons, but again, it is always about power and position," said Nathan Fisk, lecturer at the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. "Fans are invested in the stories and worlds that developers create, and certain design decisions can be seen by fans to threaten those stories and worlds. Harassment silences and repositions content creators in ways that protect the interests of certain fan groups, which again is no justification for the kinds of abusive behavior and language seen online today."

The article highlights a number of public occurrences regarding developers clashing with the public including former Microsoft Studios creative director Adam Orth who made comments on Twitter that reportedly resulted in death threats, an apology from Microsoft, and a departure from the company about a week later. Another incident involved Polytron co-founder Phil Fish and Gametrailers writer Marcus Beer which resulted in the developer canceling Fez 2.

Former head of Xbox Live policy and enforcement Stephen Toulouse says he still gets death threats two years later. "I have approximately 70 messages on Xbox Live right now and half of them are, 'I'm going to kill you' and 'I'm going to find you and destroy you' and I haven't worked (at Microsoft) in two years. Even to this day people who don't know I left Microsoft still come after me," he said.

BioWare Jennifer Hepler left the company this week to begin work on a book about narrative design, and maybe even do some freelance work. Her most recent work was on Dragon Age: Inquisition, but her harassment began during Dragon Age 2. She received death threats along with her family and children, and even received threatening phone calls.

Hepler told Polygon that she left BioWare for family reasons.

She wasn't the only one at BioWare harassed during Dragon Age 2. She said others began receiving angry emails, abusive forum posts and petitions calling on them to be fired. Someone even uprooted an old interview where Hepler said that playing through games and combat was her least favorite part of developing, and called her "cancer" that was destroying BioWare. She was even blamed for the changes in the game's combat.

"I had opened a Twitter account a few weeks before that, and this poster or others quickly found me there and began sending threatening messages," she said. "I shut my account down without reading them, so I'm not certain what they said, but other people have told me they were quite vile."

But she explained that because of all the negativity, she also received an outpouring of support. "I got hundreds of messages from people who had been deeply moved by characters and scenes that I wrote and who had made positive changes in their real lives because of it," she said. "Without the negativity, I'm not sure that I would ever have heard from all of these people."

The Polygon report goes to even greater detail about the rising problem here.

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  • 15 Hide
    fulle , August 19, 2013 1:16 PM
    As a reminder to people who forgot, Adam Orth was the POS that mocked Xbox fans who didn't agree with the Always Online DRM policy, saying things like "Sometimes the electricity goes out. I will not purchase a vacuum cleaner."

    This was a person who badly needed to be fired, in my honest opinion, and the negative reaction to the way he disrespected and mocked Xbox fans, was predictable.

    Meanwhile, Phil Fish was an asshole of legendary proportions. When a Japanese developer asked a panel, which Fish was a member, what do you think of Japanese games? His reply was "your games just suck". This is one of the biggest jerks ever, and then he gets all cry baby about people reacting to blatantly offensive things he says, like "PCs are for spreadsheets".

    Lets not make victims out of trash, OK? If you have the entire internet pissed off at you, maybe its for good reason.
Other Comments
  • 0 Hide
    lazymangaka , August 19, 2013 11:48 AM
    This isn't the first time I've seen this sort of report, but not one article has had any specific examples of this "harassment", just vague references. An Xbox Live message from "Anonymoose101" with 'lol gunna killz you' doesn't really ring of a credible death threat to me.
  • 5 Hide
    Parsian , August 19, 2013 11:54 AM
    what??? i am genuinely surprised the scale of this.
  • -1 Hide
    maxiim , August 19, 2013 11:56 AM
    People leaving jobs because of online threats yet kids are held in prisons for months for making threats in video games. Not saying either is right but making an example out of one does nothing
  • 9 Hide
    back_by_demand , August 19, 2013 11:58 AM
    Seeing as people have now been jailed for this kind of cyberbullying I think the devs should forward this stuff to the cops, 30 or 40 people sent down to the big house with rapists, murderers and child molesters, with a news special on how many of them were subject to prison rape - yep, that just might curb the trolling a weeny bit
  • 1 Hide
    bison88 , August 19, 2013 12:20 PM
    @back_by_demand

    So your solution is intentionally locking people up with hardened criminals and hoping they get raped? Your a sick person. What's even sicker is that our prison system has been so decayed that we just go along with how vile they've become. At least we have the decency to put down dogs and not lock them in cages for what amounts to a lifetime of punishment.
  • 4 Hide
    back_by_demand , August 19, 2013 12:27 PM
    Bison88, here's a crazy notion, how about the fear of prison rape stops people doing it in the first place - deterrent - then y'know, everybody wins?
  • 1 Hide
    capt_taco , August 19, 2013 12:43 PM
    So ... you work in the video game industry, and you're shocked by internet trolling? To the point where you quit your job? Are you new?
  • -2 Hide
    realibrad , August 19, 2013 12:48 PM
    Yes, we need to put more people in jail and take up even more room and spend even more money to teach people a lesson. If you believe that cyberbullying deserves being raped then you are stupid. If you were just exaggerating to express how you feel, then you are doing the same thing as people flaming and trolling. How funny that you are doing the same type of thing, but justify it simply because you feel like its okay because its "just a joke".
  • -2 Hide
    capt_taco , August 19, 2013 12:51 PM
    @realibrad

    I don't know what's scarier about that guy's post - the fact that it might be serious, or the fact that two people actually gave it a thumbs-up.

  • 5 Hide
    knightmike , August 19, 2013 12:56 PM
    Reminds me of the time I rescued my favorite author from a car wreck. Both of his legs were broken so I brought him back to my house and nursed him back to health.

    I stayed at his bedside reading his latest novel in my favorite series. I was disappointed to discover he ended the series by killing off the main character. You know what he had to say for himself when I demanded to know why he killed Misery? He said he was bored with the series. He wanted to write a new novel.

    I read the manuscript to his new novel. It wasn't very good. So I made him burn it and get to work writing a new ending to the Misery series. One in which the main character returns and emerges victorious.

    I was even nice enough to buy him a new typewriter. But did he thank me? No. All he could do was complain about the paper. So I had to drive all the way back to town just to buy paper because Paul's too good for standard 20 weight.

    The paper salesman was very helpful. Dwight was his name. A handsome man of good stock. I think we made a connection. That reminds me, I need to set my plan in motion to have him over...
  • -1 Hide
    rwinches , August 19, 2013 1:11 PM
    Make people register in order to send email or it just gets dumped by company filters.

    Require credit card and SSN, put holds on the CC with codes that must be entered to validate reg.
  • 15 Hide
    fulle , August 19, 2013 1:16 PM
    As a reminder to people who forgot, Adam Orth was the POS that mocked Xbox fans who didn't agree with the Always Online DRM policy, saying things like "Sometimes the electricity goes out. I will not purchase a vacuum cleaner."

    This was a person who badly needed to be fired, in my honest opinion, and the negative reaction to the way he disrespected and mocked Xbox fans, was predictable.

    Meanwhile, Phil Fish was an asshole of legendary proportions. When a Japanese developer asked a panel, which Fish was a member, what do you think of Japanese games? His reply was "your games just suck". This is one of the biggest jerks ever, and then he gets all cry baby about people reacting to blatantly offensive things he says, like "PCs are for spreadsheets".

    Lets not make victims out of trash, OK? If you have the entire internet pissed off at you, maybe its for good reason.
  • 0 Hide
    matter37 , August 19, 2013 1:47 PM
    You should be able to get fined if you make threats such as that through the internet. A heavy one, too. It will keep assholes from being utter and complete assholes.
  • 1 Hide
    chicofehr , August 19, 2013 1:52 PM
    Developers should be encouraged and cheered on. Its the publishers who are making all the decisions that are making fans mad. Usually those who don't even care about games are making all the decisions. Also, if you are sending death threats to game developers, you need help. There is more to life then games and you need to get some fresh air and out of that basement.
  • -1 Hide
    bigpoppastuke , August 19, 2013 1:54 PM
    @ bison88

    That has to be the smartest comment I've read on here. Good job :) 
  • -1 Hide
    back_by_demand , August 19, 2013 2:00 PM
    Before you self righteous assholes gets on my post again saying I am as bad as the trolls, bear in mind I haven't threatened to kill anyone or their children,vbut did rightly point out that people already get jailed for that kind of abuse and pointing out that there is a danger of prison rape is slightly different than wishing it on someone - I am starting to wonder about your motivations now, do you feel threatened that people may take action because you like threatening to kill people on the internet and that would spoil your fun? Do you have some twisted notion of freedom of speech that thinks it extends to death threats? Sack up.
  • 0 Hide
    John Bauer , August 19, 2013 2:05 PM
    Where's the NSA on this?
  • 0 Hide
    John Bauer , August 19, 2013 2:07 PM
    Where's the NSA on this?
  • 0 Hide
    XZaapryca , August 19, 2013 2:12 PM
    So, you have an account on Twitter, FB and your work email is public? The world is not friendly, don't have these things and leave yourself open. Hire a service or PA to screen your accounts. Better yet, stay off Twitter/FB, talk to your company's admin about changing your email address (don't pass it out) and live blissfully ignorant.
  • 0 Hide
    back_by_demand , August 19, 2013 2:33 PM
    Xzaapryca, so Devs should hide then, you are basically capitulating and saying that it's the Wild West out there and if you allow yourself outside contact with the world you should expect death threats and you should just become a hermit and pretend it doesn't exist. There's only one way to deal with bullies and contrary to what you may have heard it is not ignoring them, give them plenty of attention, like a film crew joining the cops as they bust down the door and drag the sorry punk into the street and transmit live as he starts crying his eyes out and pisses himself. I'm sure his hardman internet cred will soon dry up when it's all over FB, Youtube and the 6 O'clock news.
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