Game companies have begun speaking out against racism and injustice during the worst civic unrest in the United States in decades.
The protests erupted and spilled over into violence after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. White police officer Derek Chauvin held Floyd down with his knee on Floyd’s neck, as three other officers looked on. Protests grew into violence, arson, and looting in dozens of American cities in the ensuing days, from Santa Monica, California, to New York City. The game industry joined with others such as former U.S. President Barack Obama voicing their concerns on how to make this moment an opportunity to change society.
Sony and Electronic Arts have canceled big events this week, and others may follow suit if things get worse. Activision also announced that the new fourth season for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Call of Duty: Warzone have been delayed, as well as season seven for Call of Duty: Mobile. The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) issued a statement and gathered comments from member companies.
Just as with the shock of the COVID-19 crisis, the game industry appears to be recognizing that this isn’t just one more news event that can be ignored while game marketing continues. In fact, if the violence that is the worst in decades in the U.S. continues, then game companies would be wise to prepare for a second shock that could change the world, affect demand, and distract people from playing games or otherwise lead normal lives.
Back in March, as the pandemic lockdown hit, events such as the Game Developers Conference postponed due to the pandemic. And now many businesses were getting ready to emerge from shelter-in-place rules in the U.S. These next couple of weeks were supposed to be the time when announcements that would have been made at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) were scheduled to proceed as digital-only events.
Electronic Arts on Sunday canceled its Madden NFL 21 announcement, and it said in a tweet, “We stand with our African American/black community of friends, players, colleagues, and partners. Our immediate attention is on actions we can take to drive change against the unjust treatment and systemic bias that is plaguing the nation and our world.”
By late Monday morning, Sony also postponed its June 4 unveiling for the PlayStation 5.
— PlayStation (@PlayStation) June 1, 2020
That came after a tweet earlier in the morning where Sony said, “We denounce systemic racism and violence against the black community. We will continue to work towards a future marked by empathy and inclusion and stand with our black creators, players, employees, families, and friends.” It ended with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter.
Daniel Ahmad, an analyst for Niko Partners, responded, “I hope gaming companies can follow through (which they have started doing) at addressing racist and toxic players that make the gaming experience worse for others online. See the comments (on the Sony post) for examples of what I’m talking about.”
On Monday, Microsoft said in a tweet, “Xbox stands together with our fans, creators, colleagues, friends, and the entire African American and black community against systemic racism and injustice.”
Andrea Renee, cofounder of the What’s Good Games podcast, said her team canceled its normal Monday session. She wrote:
What’s Good Games has always been a community of support and kindness, and members of our community are in pain. To our black friends, fans, and family: we’re here however we can be. If you want to reach out to us, you can email us here and we’re happy to listen.
In our nerdy corner of the internet, we encourage you to go out of your normal sphere of influence to listen to, watch, and support black creators. Please remember that it is not their job to educate you, give you a list of things to do to make it better, or explain this pain to you.
If your reaction to any part of this is to get defensive or upset — or that we should “just stick to video games” — we encourage you to take a beat to process and figure out where those feelings are coming from. We ask that you be respectful and, instead of reacting, focus on listening.
Xbox stands together with our fans, creators, colleagues, friends, and the entire African American & Black Community against systemic racism and injustice.
— Xbox (@Xbox) June 1, 2020
After both statements were issued from Sony and Microsoft, this tweet happened below.
Chase, head of communications at StreamElements, said in a message, “When it comes to the news cycle on social media, the games industry is definitely in what can only be described as strange times. On one hand we have this massive and important protest-driven movement combined with a pandemic in progress, and on the much lighter side there are all of these developments in the world of gaming, which is one of the few industries thriving during these stay-at-home months.”
He added, “It seems like there are two different realities accessing the same Twitter feed, but I understand that priorities shift throughout the day, whether it’s focusing on news related to your job, joining the social injustice conversation, or (engaging in) even a little escapism from both.”
Renee Gittins, executive director of the International Game Developers Association, issued the following statement.
This is the beginning of a conversation. Protests are currently spreading across the world. Outcry over the killing of George Floyd, racial violence, and systematic issues has gone international, with people taking to the streets of Berlin, Auckland, London, and other cities around the globe to make their voices heard.
These protests stem from frustration over failure in the United States to reform practices and policies that hurt black communities there. These messages resonate widely with the pains and struggles of marginalized groups everywhere. We game developers create art that compels people with emotions and empathy, we can use our talents to not only improve our industry, but to improve the world.
This is both an individual question and an organizational one. These situations compel all of us to have a level of self-examination. What is the role of the game industry during this time? What is the role of game developers? Are we making art that reflects the times? Is that our responsibility? Is the problem an issue of perspective, or education, or empathy? These are the questions that we need to ask and to have answered.
People are already strained by the COVID-19 pandemic and an economic recession, and these events can further cause strain. We here at the International Game Developers Association want to provide our support to those in need and to direct those looking to help address and improve these issues with the resources to take actions themselves.
The IGDA and the IGDA Blacks in Games SIG are hosting a panel on Thursday, June 4th, to discuss the current situation, concerns of the black game development community, and the ways to support progress and combat prejudice.
Zynga, which announced today that it acquired Peak Games for $1.8 billion, said in a statement, “We stand in solidarity with our black colleagues, employees, players, developers, and the broader community of those affected by racism and senseless violence.”
But companies appear poised to do more than just issue tweets. They may also promote targeted causes to improve equity in the U.S., as suggested in my interview with Zynga CEO Frank Gibeau.
“We’re looking at it and talking about it internally right now. We’ve obviously expressed our support for our employees, our players, developers, and people affected by this. We obviously stand against injustice and racism, and just the horrible, horrible things that are going on right now. As things develop, we want to make sure that what we do does have an impact. And so we want to make sure that the programs or donations or things that we do, are really well placed. And so we’re obviously watching things and discussing things internally right now.”
Zynga went through with its acquisition announcement today, but others are postponing their news for a time when people are more focused on games and happier events.
Fortunately, it’s not as expensive to delay digital events, compared to physical events, and it looks like being prepared to postpone an event is part of our new normal going forward.