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Game Developer Harassment on the Rise

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.

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"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.