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Intolerance for intolerance | This Week in Business

An ADL survey says online harassment is getting worse as the industry is waking up to a problem of its own creation

This Week in Business is our weekly recap column, a collection of stats and quotes from recent stories presented with a dash of opinion (sometimes more than a dash) and intended to shed light on various trends. Check back every Friday for a new entry.

The Anti-Defamation League this week released its third annual survey on hate and harassment in online games, and the results once again indicate that harassment in online gaming is a worsening problem.

STAT | 83% - The percentage of US adult online gamers who said they had been harassed while playing in the past six months, according to a new survey from the ADL and Newzoo. That's up from 81% last year and 74% the year before that. Identity-based harassment of women, Black players, and Asian players all saw significant increases over the previous year's study.

STAT | 0 - The number of other entertainment industries for which the ADL compiles an annual survey to keep track of the waxing and waning of various types of bigotry people are exposed to simply for engaging in the product. Congrats, games industry, you're one of a kind. (Although in fairness, the ADL does do surveys tracking hate on social media platforms.)

If you want a real takeaway from me on this, it's pretty much the same as it was last year: Tolerating this behavior in our online spaces for so long is costing the industry in the longer run.

STAT | 27% - The percentage of respondents to the ADL survey who said they had quit playing certain games because of the disruptive behavior of other players, up from 22% last year and 19% in 2019.

But the actual impact of giving hate and harassment a platform in the way the games industry has done is considerably more meaningful than just dollars and cents.

STAT | 14% - The percentage of respondents who reported having depressive or suicidal thoughts because of the harassment they endured in online games, up from 11% last year and 10% the year before that.

STAT | 13% - The percentage of respondents who reported treating people around them worse than usual after being harassed, up from 11% last year and 8% in 2019.

Thankfully, the news isn't all bad. 99% of respondents said they had positive interactions in online games within the past six months. 89% said they had made friends through online gaming, 87% felt like they belonged to a community, 64% found a partner, and 62% found a mentor. All of those numbers are up year-over-year.

So all that is pretty much the same as last year, only moreso given the increasing numbers. There are some indications things are changing for the better. Microsoft, Naughty Dog, and others have been preaching the importance of accessibility for years, which not only serves as outreach to disabled people who couldn't otherwise enjoy games, but models inclusive behavior in general as something we should value.

After the murder of George Floyd last year, Electronic Arts and Activision decided they would start to do something about the abundant racism they had done nothing to address in their best-selling franchises for years and years. EA even followed through with its "Positive Play" charter, and making the patent for Apex Legends' ping system freely available could help other developers create online games free from the worst abuses of voice chat.

And all that is great, truly. And maybe I should just be glad it's happening now and not angry about why it didn't happen sooner, or why so many of the biggest players in this industry spent so many years looking the other way or actively fostering the worst elements of the gaming community. But I have to admit I'm still bothered a bit by this, and I think an entirely unrelated story about mobile analytics firm App Annie's settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission could help explain why.

QUOTE | "[App Annie] went to great lengths to assure its customers that the financial and app-related data it sold was the product of a sophisticated statistical model and that it had controls to ensure compliance with the federal securities laws. These representations were materially false and misleading." - The SEC's Erin E. Schneider explains why the US regulator charged the mobile analytics firm with securities fraud and fined it $10 million. App Annie former CEO and chairman Bertrand Schmitt was also ordered to pay $300,000 and is banned from serving as a director of a public company for three years.

QUOTE | "Why should you trust App Annie? We are leading the industry with end-to-end data science that protects customers from unknowingly using confidential public company data. Additionally, we have invested in and implemented new tools, technologies, controls and certifications, to ensure a new standard of trust and transparency." - On the "Trust and Assurance" section of App Annie's website, it explains that you should absolutely trust it because it stopped doing the bad thing it was caught doing.

QUOTE | "As part of the settlement, App Annie neither admitted nor denied the findings, agreed to cease and desist from any future violations of the federal securities laws cited in the SEC order, and was fined $10 million." - On the same page, App Annie clearly understands that the first step of rebuilding trust after a mistake in any relationship is to neither admit nor deny that you did anything wrong.

Of course a deal that punishes a company without exposing it to further legal liability is different from the games industry's inability to reckon with the online space it has created, but the feeling of dissatisfaction -- of seeing these companies and people take a modest fine or public relations hit, never actually admit fault, and then be able to move forward pretending this never happened -- is the same. And while they may release statements asking people to hold them accountable, they rarely seem to enjoy it when people do.

So let's hold them accountable. There's one place in particular I would love to start doing that, because I think of it as perhaps the clearest moral test the industry has faced in its lifetime, and one it failed in humiliating fashion.

QUOTE | "When people that are prominent in the industry can stand up and say 'I'm part of games, I love games, this hate mob doesn't speak for me, this is not welcome in games', it has the twofold effect of making it less damaging to those that this can hurt, and it does something to repair this horrible misrepresentation of this medium that so many of us love. Condemning them and saying they do not speak for games - it's so fundamental, otherwise this is going to keep happening." - Zoe Quinn in October of 2014, calling on big publishers to speak out against GamerGate, which after several months was very clearly a harassment campaign intended to drive women and marginalized people out of gaming.

QUOTE | [404-page not found] - Electronic Arts, Activision Blizzard, and Take-Two declined to comment for the New York Times when asked about GamerGate.

Ubisoft offered a mealy-mouthed statement to Fortune saying "harassment, bullying and threats are wrong and have to stop." Even that appeared to be a riff on the ESA's similarly uninspired (and similarly late) statement that "Threats of violence and harassment are wrong. They have to stop."

There was no condemnation of the motivations and beliefs behind those threats and harassment, no mention of sexism, racism, homophobia, or anything of the sort. Going by these statements, it wasn't the bigotry these companies had a problem with; it was that people were taking the bigotry just a little too far.

The big websites weren't much better, with IGN eventually releasing a long-winded but similarly substance-less statement that refused to name the problem. GameSpot was only modestly better, mentioning a desire to make gaming an inclusive space without addressing who was being actively excluded. (If you're curious, our own coverage didn't tap dance around the issue, although I do have second thoughts about an editorial I wrote at the time as an olive branch to Gamergate supporters who might have been more useful idiots than rabid misogynists.)

At the time, I attributed the industry's silence on Gamergate to cowardice, some sort of rationalization that "bigots buy games too" and they didn't want to risk even the slightest hit to the bottom line. But the seven years since have suggested that may have been too kind. It might not be that the leaders in the industry and in these companies were too afraid to speak up against sexism, racism, and all manner of intolerance. In many cases, it may be that the decision makers didn't particularly see anything wrong with it in the first place.

Given some of the stories we've seen in the years since, you could see how that might have been the case with Ubisoft, Activision Blizzard, Microsoft, and IGN at least. And it's not so far-fetched to see how a lack of concern for other people's well-being might be reflected in a trade group led by a man who reportedly thought if you weren't burning people out in three years, you weren't working them hard enough. Or that sexism wouldn't be a big deal to a publisher whose crown jewel studio paid women 36p for every £1 it paid men and treated trans women as punchlines.

I'm not saying these various companies haven't made strides in addressing their issues. Even though the ADL suggests this is a worsening problem, if Gamergate were to happen again today, I'm confident the reaction across the industry would be better. Part of that is me being naïve, but part of it is that it would be stunningly difficult for the industry reaction to be worse.

But just like I would expect an apology from a person who hurt people I care about, I would trust the decision makers at these companies a lot more if they acknowledged past failures and tried to right those wrongs. Otherwise it's just an App Annie-esque desire to start with a clean slate without first cleaning up the last one they ruined.

The rest of the week in review

QUOTE | "Management could have responded with humility and a willingness to take necessary steps to address the horrid conditions some ABK workers have faced. Instead Activision Blizzard's response to righteous worker activity was surveillance, intimidation, and hiring notorious union busters." - Communications Workers of America national organizing director Tom Smith comments in relation to the union's charge against Activision Blizzard alleging the publisher interfered with employees' rights to organize.

QUOTE | "The employer has threatened employees that they cannot talk about or communicate about wages, hours and working conditions; told employees they cannot communicate with or discuss ongoing investigations of wages, hours and working conditions; maintained an overly broad social media policy; enforced the social media policy against employees who have engaged in protected concerted activity; threatened or disciplined employees on account of protected concerted activity; engaged in surveillance of employees engaged in protected concerted activity and engaged in interrogation of employees about protected concerted activity." - The CWA lays out specific accusations in its formal charge.

QUOTE | "A workforce where everyone feels valued is critical to the success of our business, as is a trusting, engaging and safe environment that encourages creativity and innovation and in which all employees can thrive. It takes a collective effort to do this..." [emphasis added] - Incoming Activision Blizzard chief people officer Julie Hodges with what we can only read as a surprising endorsement for unionization in the statement announcing her hiring this week.

QUOTE | "The judge made clear that Apple has market power in the mobile gaming market (a market definition that Epic did not proffer but that the judge believed best captured the market at issue in the case). And she further made clear that Apple has imposed restrictions that cause anticompetitive effects in the market." - David Kesselman, partner at California law firm Kesselman Brantly Stockinger and one of several legal experts in our Epic-Apple case reactions round-up, believes that Judge Yvonne Gonzales Rogers ruled against Epic on antitrust claims not because Apple was in the clear, but because Epic flubbed the argument.

QUOTE | "I think the main hold back for any IP is you're holding back investing too much money in something you do not control or do not own. We can extend to five-year contracts, ten-year contracts, or even a joint company, but ultimately, when you get into these massive investments in IP we're talking about across all media, you want to know that partner is not going to walk away." Fredrik Malmberg, CEO of Conan the Barbarian IP holder Cabinet Group, talks with us about being acquired by Funcom and how he hopes the Tencent-owned game maker will be putting more resources behind not just Conan, but a stable of IP included in the deal, including Solomon Kane, Mutant Year Zero, and more.

QUOTE | "To play Disco Elysium is to play a new life. Through its systems we see the patterns of behavior that led us to become who we are. It reminds us that even in a world that we are powerless to change, we are the masters of our own identities." - In the latest entry of our Why I Love series, The Signal State developer Benedict Lee digs into what makes ZA/UM's RPG work.

STAT | $1.5 billion - The latest valuation of Splitgate developer 1047 Games, which has completed three funding rounds in three months since launching the surprise hit in May.

STAT | 2 - The number of driving franchises that have been basically dormant for a decade that were announced this week as having new live-action series adaptations, or TV shows, we used to be able to call them. Ignoring the 2015 mobile game Driver: Speedboat Paradise -- which you may just be learning existed, as I am -- the Driver series hasn't had an entry since 2011's Driver: San Francisco. Meanwhile, Sony hasn't really done anything with Twisted Metal since 2012's PS3 reboot of the series.

QUOTE | "In the name of transparency and clarity, I would like to shed light on this." - In response to unspecified "rumors and discussions," Paradox Interactive CEO Fredrik Wester admits to "inappropriate behavior" of his at a 2018 company-wide meeting, but with neither transparency nor clarity, and shedding no actual light on what he did.

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