Gamers, Ethics and Boycotts
When I’m at my local supermarket with Mrs P, buying our monthly groceries, we often try and purchase fair trade products. This tends to be fruit, vegetables and wine. It’s a nominal gesture towards ethics, done in good faith. However, I suspect we cancel out any collective good we may do by making other consumer decisions, which aren’t so considerate. It’s a curious paradox that consumerism, something that is couched in untrammelled capitalism, can be tempered by the moral proclivities of customers. Some would argue that this is just an afterthought, lip service or virtue signalling (although the latter is an intellectually bankrupt concept to begin with). I just see it as people trying to do something vaguely decent, within the confines of a system that is rife with dubious practices and unethical tendencies. It is virtually impossible to be morally pure while living in a contemporary democracy. Comedian Frankie Boyle best summed this up when he said, “If you get offended by any jokes, by the way, feel free to Tweet your outrage on a mobile phone made by a ten-year-old in China”.
Moving on to video games, once again commentator Jim Sterling has highlighted how some quarters of the industry are just a complete mess. In the latest episode of the Jimquisition, he explores allegations made against indie developer Chucklefish. To cut along story short, it would appear that this company has not financially compensated all of it staff and taken advantage of the “passion” that younger gamers often have for video games and the wider industry. It’s a familiar story, only this time its an indie developer rather than a big, triple A publisher. It shouldn’t come as a shock that greed, along with manipulative and exploitative behaviour are everywhere. It’s just a shame because the indie scene often positions itself to be the moral opposite of the big corporations. Yet here they are having the same vices. Naturally, as this story has blown up, there has been a degree of pushback from fans who have supported Chucklefish over the years. As I’ve stated in the past, rightly or wrongly, a lot of gamers have an odd relationship with game developers and publishers. Many do not view it within the confines of the traditional consumer/vendor dynamic.
Which brings me to my point. I personally have not yet experienced a situation where I have boycotted a specific publisher or developer on the grounds of their business ethics. There are games that I have chosen not to buy because of their business model and monetisation strategy but I have not yet shunned a company that I have previously done business with. I always find statements such as “I’ll never buy one of your games ever again” or “you’ll never see another penny of my money” from gamers on subreddits and forums, to be somewhat melodramatic and unverifiable. However, Jim Sterling’s video has highlighted the fact that unethical business practises are potentially everywhere. I think it likely that sooner, rather than later, I’m going to find a scandal associated with something much closer to home. If for example, Standing Stone Games were tainted by the iniquities of their publisher Daybreak Game Company, how would I react? Would I abandon LOTRO? Or simply stop paying SSG any money? The latter would impact upon my enjoyment of the game but that is the consequence of protesting. Voting with your wallet denies something from all parties.
Considering that most companies do not like negative publicity and like to maintain a “good guy” image irrespective of whether its deserved, is critical press coverage potentially more effective than player boycotts? Or do player communities have more clout than we think. It certainly appeared that player power was responsible for the removal of “pay to win” microtransactions from Star Wars Battlefront II in January 2018. Yet that story was everywhere and even found its way into the mainstream press. Did either side provide the tipping point for EA or was it a perfect storm of both? In the meantime I’m going to continue to monitor the decline in ethics in the video game industry, as it now seems to have become yet another front upon which the ongoing culture war is being fought. If I do, as I have predicted, find myself in a position where I may have to countenance a moral decision to boycott a company or some similar situation, perhaps discussing it as a blog post will provide an easier solution. But as the old adage says, “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it”.