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Free advice for scandal-hit publishers | This Week in Business

Are you tired of former employees who won't forgive and forget? Are you thinking of publicly attacking and humiliating them? Maybe don't do that.

We've heard some concerning things recently around multiple companies who have had scandals in their past and are trying to move past them.

We've heard that they're tired of taking it on the chin for things that happened years ago, and are considering taking a more aggressive stance against accusers who have turned into vocal and enduring critics.

For everyone's sake, please do not do this.

I know your critics may not be concerned with fairness, that they may sometimes make unreasonable demands or turn actual non-problems into yet another example of why your company is just plain evil.

It's demoralizing when the work of you and your valued teammates is belittled for offenses you did not commit, offenses you and your teammates may even have been the victims of

I know it sucks to have your employer be the subject of public ridicule and scorn, even when you're personally confident that the people responsible for past screw-ups are gone, that the problems have been fixed.

I know it's demoralizing when the work of you and your valued teammates is belittled for offenses you did not commit, offenses you and your teammates may even have been the victims of.

The impulse in these cases may be to stand up for the people you know are doing their best to improve things and to fight back.

But there are really only so many ways to "fight back" in a situation like this, and most of them boil down to attacking the credibility of your critics.

In cases like this, the critics are generally quite visible. As much as the scandals may start with anonymously sourced reports from current and former employees, the ones that prove most difficult for companies to move past have typically coalesced around often vocal former employees on Twitter who may be known for their advocacy against the company.

Scandals that prove most difficult for companies to move past have typically coalesced around often vocal former employees on Twitter

For the sake of argument, let's say that one such former employee is just plain evil and has repeatedly and knowingly made entirely baseless accusation for years. We'll imagine a scenario where the company is indisputably in the right, and has the fabled "receipts" necessary to prove it.

Great. Now what does the company do with that?

Does it take them to court, using the full might of its legal team to crush a former employee? Is that going to change the narrative of the company as an abusive employer? Will potential applicants be any more receptive to recruitment efforts from a company that treats employees like that if it decides they got out of line?

Does it instead avoid the legal system and simply publicize the evidence against its accuser? That's not much better. Even in the broadest abstract sense, it's still a gigantic company attempting to humiliate an individual in public. The optics there are bad enough to being with, but they're likely to get worse when you dig into the particulars.

Given how many of the scandals of the past five years or so have involved sexism in the workplace, it should be no surprise that the former employees who refuse to cut these companies slack or believe they've changed include many women. Now I know the industry has a massive blindspot around Gamergate and wants to pretend that ugly spotlight on the misogynistic element of gaming never happened, but I would hope we would have at least quietly – shamefully – learned a few things from that whole saga, one of which would have been the way women in gaming are targeted and harassed for the smallest of perceived slights, or paying the slightest lip service to ideas like feminism or equality.

Any publisher attacking the credibility or motives of women who used to work for them is setting them up for harassment, whether it's their intent or not

Any publisher attacking the credibility or motives of women who used to work for them is setting them up for this kind of harassment, whether it's their intent or not.

And even though the decision to attack a former employee would be made by individual people, you can bet those people's names would not be attached. They would come in the form of an unsigned statement from the publisher, or a comment on background.

Bluntly speaking, this is bullshit. And the very fact that the people making these statements would prefer they not be attached to their own names is a clue about the power imbalance in play here.

The people calling these companies out have put plenty of skin in the game. By going public, they not only have risked the kind of harassment and abuse mentioned above, but have risked any future employment opportunities at companies who scan applicants' social media or Google footprint.

The people who would go after them – no matter how righteous they feel their grievance is – do not risk nearly as much. Even for the companies themselves, these scandals are closer to a nuisance than an existential threat, if we are to go by how much they have impacted the bottom line.

The people calling these companies out have put plenty of skin in the game. The people who would go after them do not risk nearly as much

If there was ever an iota of legitimacy to these scandals, there is no winning in going after the people who won't let you forget them. You may ruin them (for a second time, perhaps), so they will clearly not win. But neither will you, as you come off like a supremely petty 800-pound gorilla bullying former employees, weaponizing your fanbase and the worst elements of the gaming community to take revenge on someone who used to work for you.

As an employee of an accused company, you may not enjoy a lot of the baggage that comes with working there, the way public perception of your work suffers because of the sins of someone else. But with very few exceptions – C-suite executives who are reasonably expected to have enhanced accountability for the company and individuals accused by name – the criticism is not being directed at you as a person. It's being directed at a faceless corporation, the same faceless corporation that was credibly accused of wrong-doing by multiple employees, the same faceless corporation that (in most cases) publicly acknowledged that wrong-doing and a need to improve.

All you can really do is to continue making good faith efforts to address the problems, and support worthy causes and initiatives not because you're seeking PR vindication but because the company actually has acknowledged its deficits and worked to address them. You can wrong someone and apologize -- and I will note that apologies are by no means the norm in this situation -- but you can't dictate how, when, or even if the apology is accepted.

I understand the continued criticism is a drag, particularly if you believe it's not actually justified, but you don't get much say in when that stops. The company reaps what it sowed, no matter how tedious or obnoxious the harvest might be. Attacking your accusers is just another season's worth of sowing.

The rest of the week in review

QUOTE | "The whole world isn't going to shift to that new model overnight, and it will take time for us to realise every aspect of the promise. But it's a fundamental and, I passionately believe, an inevitable and one-way direction that the industry is moving." – Google Stadia VP and GM Phil Harrison, speaking with us about the announcement of Stadia in March of 2019.

QUOTE | "Having games streamed to any screen is the future of this industry, and we'll continue to invest in Stadia and its underlying platform to provide the best cloud gaming experience for our partners and the gaming community." – Phil Harrison in February of 2021, keeping the faith alive even as Google shut down internal development of games for Stadia.

QUOTE | "We see clear opportunities to apply this technology across other parts of Google like YouTube, Google Play, and our Augmented Reality (AR) efforts — as well as make it available to our industry partners, which aligns with where we see the future of gaming headed." – Even as Harrison announced this week that Google is pulling the plug on Stadia, he's still quite convinced game streaming is the future; it just "hasn't gained the traction with users that we expected."

QUOTE | "You are the hero Gotham needs - hell F'ing yes!" - Riot Games president Marc Merrill, texting Tesla CEO Elon Musk upon hearing of the billionaire's attempt to take over Twitter, as revealed in court documents from the Musk-Twitter legal battle. I guess tech bros accused of overseeing hostile work cultures marked by rampant sexual harassment flock together.

STAT | $13.3 billion – The amount of money Saudi Arabia's Savvy Games Group has set aside to acquire a major publisher as part of its $37.8 billion investment plan to make the country "the ultimate global hub for the games and esports sector by 2030."

While that's not going to get them in the ballpark of an Activision Blizzard or an Electronic Arts, it puts a wide swath of the industry on the table. For comparison's sake, Zynga was acquired by Take-Two for $12.7 billion, Microsoft picked up Bethesda parent Zenimax for $7.5 billion, and Glu Mobile cost EA $2.1 billion. Tencent's recent investment into Guillemot Brothers Limited implied Ubisoft's value to be about $4.6 billion.

QUOTE | "We assess that Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi… The Crown Prince viewed Khashoggi as a threat to the Kingdom and broadly supported using violent measures if necessary to silence him." – A memo from the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence declassified last year implicating the Crown Prince and Savvy Games Group chairman of the board in the 2018 assassination of a Washington Post journalist who had been critical of the Saudi government.

QUOTE | "In today's build someone somewhere must have deleted every other texture in the game [because] everything is now red. Just like, pure red. It's very silly." – The tweet from Nintendo QA tester Mackenzie Clifton that Nintendo pointed to as justification for their February firing, according to Clifton. Clifton's complaint before National Labor Relations board contends that the real reason was that they asked Nintendo of America president Doug Bowser what the company's stance on the trend of QA unionization in the industry was.

QUOTE | "Why did we do this?" – Unknown Worlds co-founder Charlie Cleveland, who says the studio chooses radically different genres for each new game to avoid getting bored, wonders what they were thinking in designing Moonbreaker to be a live service game with long-term franchise potential.

QUOTE | "Unfortunately, it may simply be the case that it's only going to get harder and harder for both international and Chinese developers to reach gamers in mainland China." – In a guest editorial, translation specialist Jack Forsdike explores Steam's somewhat tenuous position in mainland China.

QUOTE | "A lot of mistakes are made when whoever the IP owner is wants the IP to be the center of every aspect in the transmedia space. Sometimes it doesn't have to be the center. For example, our Crossfire [TV series] was a love story in esports that happened to have Crossfire in the background." – In discussing the company's transmedia ambitions, Smilegate VP of business development Harold Kim identifies one problem that might have fueled the abundance of failed attempts to bring game properties to other media.

STAT | Christmas 2018 – The original release window for Skull & Bones when it was announced at E3 2017. It was pushed back, pushed back again, pushed back yet again, and pushed back one more time this week. Its current release date is tentatively March 9, 2023.

QUOTE | "Some games companies want to showcase in different spaces and at different times. And that's absolutely their right. E3 will officially partner with as many of these other events as will have it, and for free. And even those who aren't joining officially, it will still support the games and companies within those shows, too." – Our own Chris Dring provided an update on E3 2023 -- which he is helping to plan with our parent company Reed Pop – and makes it clear we should not expect any Hooters parking lot hi-jinx with the Devolver crowd this year, at least not in the "bitter feud with E3 organizers" way. (This is Devolver we're talking about, after all.)

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Brendan Sinclair avatar
Brendan Sinclair: Brendan joined in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at GameSpot.
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