Two recent events have shown the gaming community in a very bad light. The first is David Vonderhaar and his family being threatened with physical violence over a minor balancing patch to Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. The other is Fez developer Phil Fish’s departure from the industry over the backlash of his comments toward Marcus Beer, who attacked him in a GameTrailers video. A number of people far more important in the industry than myself have already weighed in on the matters, so I’ll go into another aspect of it. That is, the concept of civility and how a lack of it can harm both the industry and the gaming community at large.
With the incident regarding Vonderhaar, a minor change to the firing speed of a number of guns made those particular weapons slightly less powerful to encourage weapon diversity. The result has been the Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 getting “review-bombed” and the developer in charge of the changes threatened with violence. These threats extend to his family. Developer Treyarch’s community manager Dan Amrich stepped in and told the potential assailants to knock it off. Vonderhaar, however, has been a pillar of strength, largely ignoring the attacks and politely justifying his modifications. He’s garnering considerable support for doing so if not for the changes themselves.
The ones who attacked Vonderhaar are scum. What has been said to him is repulsive, disgusting, and abhorrent. These people are also extremely loud and vocal and paint an ugly face on the gaming community. This is not an image we want or need. A number of calls for regulation and research into violence stem from this kind of “acceptable” behavior. To that end, the community is harming itself every time it does this, and it needs to stop. It is not excusable and should not be tolerated.
That said, it is not simply the community that needs to police itself better. This brings up the fiasco involving Phil Fish. For those of you unfamiliar, the event in question started when Microsoft announced self publishing will be possible on the Xbox One. Website Game Informer then asked prominent indie developers Jonathan Blow and Phil Fish about the changes. The reaction was at best unkind. Had this been kept between the two groups, it would have died out, but it was put out on Twitter, which made it public. This caught the attention of Marcus Beer, who made some rather personal attacks against Fish in particular, calling him a “hipster” and “tosspot.”
Fish did not take well to this and started a verbal tirade of his own on Twitter, which culminated with an uncredited Futurama quote telling Beer to “kill yourself.” Much like when Adam Orth told the gaming community to “deal with it” in response to complaints over the then-always-on requirement for Xbox One, the backlash toward Fish was toxic. It caused Fish to angrily announce that he was done with game development and that the sequel to Fez was cancelled, which developer Polytron Corporation later confirmed.
Let me start by saying that the remarks made by Beer were hateful, spiteful, distasteful, and beneath any level of professionalism that someone in the public eye should even consider saying. If anything, Beer should apologize to his supporters for setting that kind of example. The comments made by the community at large following Fish’s response are just as disgusting as the ones made at Vonderhaar. Once again, there is no excuse.
However, what Beer said is accurate. Phil Fish has a considerable history of hostility and lashes out at anyone who does not shower him with praise at every waking moment. While Fish has made a well-received game, his public image is one that combines a messiah complex with constant victimization and an open hatred for the gaming community. For someone who enjoys publicity as he does, it is a combination that can only end in disaster and has done so. Unlike Adam Orth, who had one minor incident ruin his career, Fish’s history is one filled with spite toward those who would be his customers, and this is not a good means of selling your products. While I feel the departure of Vonderhaar would be tragic, Fish’s is only tragic in the sense that his ideas left with him. He is a brilliant designer but one so wrapped up in ego and hate that those did more damage than anything the negative commenters could ever do.
What I have described are cases where a lack of civility and a complete disregard for others have caused the gaming community and the game industry to suffer. It is perfectly acceptable to dislike a game, a company, or even a person. When you communicate such dislike in a bad way, though, all it does is increase the cycle of hatred that dooms careers and causes those looking in from the outside to never want to deal with you in the future. Mr. Fish’s departure was of his own making, but he was not alone in it. If people would express themselves in a less venomous manner, the industry would benefit greatly.