Happy Pride Month, everyone!
It's that time of year for all of us to celebrate the wonderful diversity of humanity and affirm that everyone should be free to be their true selves openly and safely in all aspects of society!
Well, maybe not quite all of us.
Electronic Arts this week narrowly avoided a walkout after giving staff guidelines on exactly how and under what circumstances they can celebrate Pride in public.
Some of the guidelines are good, like the suggestion to do something more substantial than dusting off the ol' rainbow version of the brand Twitter avatar, even if it's just pointing players to more resources about Pride. In-game events are great, they say, but telling dev teams this just days before the start of Pride doesn't exactly give them time to put those together.
Others guidelines are much less good, such as the edict that any Pride statements "may not be political in nature." Game publishers have always had a very poor grasp of politics, but considering the US' current wave of anti-trans legislation and passage of the "Don't Say Gay" bill in Florida prohibiting early school educators from even acknowledging the existence of non-straight sexual orientation or non-cis gender identity, any utterance of Pride is inherently political.
But what gets me most is the FAQ saying that EA employees and brand social channels have permission to tweet and retweet social posts in support of LGBTQIA+ and trans rights, "providing it is authentic to your community and the brand."
Let's consider that for a second.
Certainly you would expect some EA brands to be more quick to post and embrace about LGBTQIA+ rights than others.
The Sims team, for example, earlier this year showed it would rather not release its games in certain markets than remove same-sex marriages to placate homophobic laws. And BioWare has been including same-sex couples in its worlds for over a decade now, even publicly dismissing letter writing campaigns against it.
But EA's guideline isn't about LGBTQIA+ rights being a more natural fit for one franchise or another. It's about them being "authentic" to the brand, which raises a very important question.
Which Electronic Arts games would LGBTQIA+ rights be inauthentic for? And what exactly does inauthenticity mean in that sense?
Would it be inauthentic for the Madden franchise to celebrate Pride? Would it be inauthentic for UFC to do so? Battlefield?
Even then, why would support for Pride be inauthentic? Are LGBTQIA+ people not welcome in these games? And if not, is that because EA is not welcoming them? Or because the communities of these franchises are not welcoming them? Even if the NFL, the UFC, and the US military have a checkered history when it comes to actual acceptance of LGBTQIA+ people, they seem to be just fine sending Pride messages of their own through their own social media channels.
If Pride messages would be inauthentic because of the communities, then surely EA has some control over that. After all, it made such a big deal out of exactly that with its Positive Play Charter a couple years ago.
QUOTE | "We can build better, healthier communities inside -- and outside -- our games, and that's what we are here to do." - In the wake of George Floyd's murder, EA adopted the Positive Play Charter with a pledge that it would not tolerate "racism, sexism, homophobia, harassment or any form of abuse."
To its credit, EA has followed through on its Positive Play Charter pledge in a number of ways. It took long overdue action to curb offensive user-generated content, made a public cautionary tale by giving a lifetime ban a racist FIFA player, and just a few months ago took a public stand against Texas Governor Greg Abbott's directive to criminalize gender-affirming health care for minors as child abuse.
QUOTE | "We call on our public leaders -- in Texas and across the country -- to abandon efforts to write discrimination into law and policy. It's not just wrong, it has an impact on our employees, our customers, their families, and our work." - An open letter to Gov. Abbott signed by EA and dozens of other companies.
So why is EA so shy about this now? In a company-wide town hall meeting last month, EA informed staff it wouldn't be making a public statement on abortion rights or trans rights, partly because "being an inclusive company means being inclusive of all those points of view," and that it would only take stances in the future when all its employees agree on a subject and saying something "will actually have a positive impact."
Maybe EA employees who believe supporting trans kids is child abuse got upset over the Texas letter. Maybe executives worried there was more division on issues like trans rights and abortion than they thought, and decided they shouldn't be taking public stands at all. Maybe they missed Rob Fahey's editorial about how there's no hiding from the culture wars.
Maybe they saw Florida Governor Ron DeSantis use the law to pursue a personal grudge against Disney for daring to take a toothless stance in favor of LGBTQ+ people even after the "Don't Say Gay" legislation had already been passed and signed by DeSantis. (Yesterday DeSantis also vetoed $35 million for the Tampa Bay Rays spring training facility after the baseball team's Twitter account said gun violence was bad.) Maybe they've seen how the Trump-era Republican Party has embraced such politics of personal retribution and decided it would be best to pipe down about any perceived progressive politics for a few years.
Whatever the reason, the message LGBTQIA+ EA employees can take from this Pride Month is clear: This company has your back and will fight for your rights... providing that fight is authentic to the brand, that nobody disagrees, and that it isn't politically inconvenient. So basically, anytime it doesn't actually matter.
Update: After the publication of this article, EA released a public statement for Pride Month.
The rest of the week in business
QUOTE | "I was fired from Riot Games for vaguely tweeting I was tired of fake trans allies after an ally in the inclusion channel said it's ok to consider my pronouns optional." - On the eve of Pride Month, Respawn senior narrative archivist for the Apex Legends and Titanfall universe Yonah Gerber offered a reminder that companies preaching inclusion don't always follow through.
STAT | 18 - The number of European countries that signed onto a new report on loot boxes that criticized deceptive design and predatory practices in games like Raid: Shadow Legends and FIFA 22's Ultimate Team mode.
QUOTE | "The FTC must use its power to investigate these design abuses and determine just how many kids and teens are being fleeced by EA." - Fairplay executive director Josh Golin, in announcing a coalition of 15 advocacy groups calling on the FTC to investigate "manipulative design abuses" in FIFA Ultimate Team.
STAT | 29% - The amount of EA's total revenue that came from Ultimate Team modes in its games two years ago. We don't know how much it made from Ultimate Team last year because its newly released annual report omitted that information for the first time in six years.
QUOTE | "The lootboxes in the game are against the law in your country, so unless the gambling restrictions change, the game will not be released in the Netherlands and Belgium." - A Blizzard employee on the Diablo Immortal subreddit explains why the game isn't available in those countries.
STAT | $158 million - GameStop's net losses for the first fiscal quarter of 2022, up considerably year-over-year.
QUOTE | "The last quarters in which GameStop provided forward-looking guidance and a Q&A session were Q4:19 and Q3:20, respectively." - In a note to investors, Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter points out that the retailer has gone an awfully long time without doing some standard publicly traded company things. Part of this is due to the pandemic, and part of it is no doubt due to executives not wanting to burst the meme stock bubble that has kept the stock trading well above its historical record levels ever since January of 2021 ($135 during yesterday's trading compared to a pre-meme high a little shy of $64).
I don't think ordinary investors would tolerate a company this closed off about its expectations and planning for this long, but ordinary investors aren't the people who pushed GameStop's value through the roof, and they're not the ones keeping it there. So management has no incentive to share wet blanket expectations or articulate a coherent business strategy, a frustration shared by at least one former board member.
QUOTE | "As for Summer Game Fest, I'm sworn to secrecy on some of the things that will be there, but unless Geoff's got some truly juicy zingers hiding up his sleeve, I worry that this year's Game Fest will end up being a bit underwhelming compared to previous years." - Katherine Castle of Rock Paper Shotgun tempers expectations in our round-up of journalists and analysts' predictions for the summer announcement season. Between ongoing hardware shortages, so many big AAA titles delayed to 2023 and slumping engagement as people loosen up pandemic behaviors, maybe this year just doesn't make sense for a lot of people to swing for the fences.
STAT | 31 - The number of companies confirmed to participate in Summer Game Fest next week. There's a lot of big names on there, and only a few conspicuous no-shows like Nintendo and Ubisoft.
QUOTE | "When we give developers access to the power of the cloud, I think we're going to see similar mind-blowing things from them. And so we have to do it." - ID@Xbox head Chris Charla says Microsoft talks about the future of indies on Xbox. I guess now indies can follow in the footsteps of, um... Crackdown 3?
STAT | 250 - The number of employees Playtika is set to layoff as it closes its Montreal, Los Angeles, and London offices.
QUOTE | "During my tenure, I am very grateful to all of you in various fields. From now on, I would like to support you as a Square Enix fan. I'm really thankful to you." - Square Enix producer Shinji Hashimoto announces his retirement from game development.
QUOTE | "A man with no ego, a man with friends of all ages, literally everywhere he went." - Just Flight CEO Andy Payne pays tribute to the company's Paul Hyslop, who passed away this week at the age of 70.
QUOTE | "Her light shone brightly at Dovetail and she leaves a hole not only with us but in the wider industry. She will be greatly missed." - Dovetail Games remembers VP of commercial operations Lizzie Wilding, who died last week.