It’s been a few days since the drama, but I wanted to reserve a piece of internet real estate to talk about the Jessica Price fiasco. It’s fine if you don’t know who that is, or what the drama is about. All you really need to know is the following sequence of events:
- Jessica Price talks about the challenges with narrative storytelling in MMOs.
- Popular streamer and GW2 content creator, Deroir, suggests that solutions can be found doing things a different way.
- Jessica Price responds with the following:
Today in being a female game dev:
“Allow me–a person who does not work with you–explain to you how you do your job.”
like, the next rando asshat who attempts to explain the concept of branching dialogue to me–as if, you know, having worked in game narrative for a fucking DECADE, I have never heard of it–is getting instablocked. PSA.
Since we’ve got a lot of hurt manfeels today, lemme make something clear: this is my feed. I’m not on the clock here. I’m not your emotional courtesan just because I’m a dev. Don’t expect me to pretend to like you here.
The attempts of fans to exert ownership over our personal lives and times are something I am hardcore about stopping. You don’t own me, and I don’t owe you.
Within the day, she was fired.
The reason I wanted to lay this all out is because the reality-distortion fields are being engaged and the entire debacle is being framed as a new Feminism vs GamerGate front. And that’s incredibly dumb, and sad, and arguably dangerous. Jessica Price was fired because she was behaving as a noxious asshole in an official capacity. Full stop. We don’t even have to examine whether it was “mansplaining” to interact with Jessica’s social media post, because there isn’t a scenario in which her response is ever appropriate.
And instead of talking about that, we’re talking about this:
Price is worried about the precedent the firings set. “The message is very clear, especially to women at the company: if Reddit wants you fired, we’ll fire you,” she said. “Get out there and make sure the players have a good time. And make sure you smile while they hit you.”
That’s a Kotaku link, but the framing of the debate is also being set by Polygon (emphasis mine):
Jessica Price, who was fired by ArenaNet last week for arguing with fans of the company’s Guild Wars 2 MMO, said she feels betrayed by how the company “folded like a cheap card table” when confronted by toxic fandom. In an interview with Polygon, she talked about the meeting in which she was fired, and castigated ArenaNet managers for their “highly unprofessional” reaction to a social media controversy.
That kinda makes it sound like Price was heroically standing up to the school bully, and unfortunately got caught in the Zero Tolerance policy for fighting back.
Instead of, you know, reading literally this:
Really interesting thread to read! 👌 However, allow me to disagree *slightly*. I dont believe the issue lies in the MMORPG genre itself (as your wording seemingly suggest). I believe the issue lies in the contraints of the Living Story’s narrative design; (1 of 3)
When you want the outcome to be the same across the board for all players’ experiences, then yes, by design you are extremely limited in how you can contruct the personality of the PC. (2 of 3)
But, if instead players were given the option to meaningfully express *their* character through branching dialogue options (which also aren’t just on the checklist for an achievement that forces you through all dialogue options), (3 of 4 cause I count seemingly…)
then perhaps players would be more invested in the roleplaying aspect of that particular MMORPG. Nonetheless, I appreciate the insightful thread! (End)
And responding with:
thanks for trying to tell me what we do internally, my dude 9_9
You getting mad at my obvious attempt at creating dialogue and discussion with you, instead of just replying that I am wrong or otherwise correct me in my false assumptions, is really just disheartening for me. You do you though. I’m sorry if it offended. I’ll leave you to it.
Today in being a female game dev:
“Allow me–a person who does not work with you–explain to you how you do your job.”
And yet this is somehow Reddit’s fault, as if the notoriety of the thread detailing Price’s behavior was spontaneously generated (or artificially manufactured), and not the natural result of her shockingly aggressive behavior. Suppose there were bots involved, perhaps unleashed by GamerGaters who are somehow huge GW2 fans and capable of mobilizing within hours. The most they could do is increase the thread’s visibility, after which it seems easy to imagine becoming self-perpetuating.
I don’t like anything about this entire scenario – it feels like a permanent loss to chaos and entropy. This unforced error gives those in GamerGate a free win, when their general philosophy is abhorrent nonsense. And here I am, also defending corporations and their ownership over the social media profiles of their employees, even when “off the clock.” Like when Price writes “make sure you smile while they hit you,” I want to ask if she has ever worked a goddamn day in customer service or retail in her entire life. Yeah, that’s the job. I’ve worked at places for years in which hanging up on a customer was a fireable offense the first time you did so.
I don’t know what the takeaway on all this is. I am not a culture warrior, but I do believe in social justice. I’m a bleeding-heart liberal, but I can’t muster any sympathy for Price. Maybe I’m not as good as I imagine myself to be. But if that person has to read what was actually said and come to the “Reddit got me fired” conclusion? Then I don’t want to be that guy. Price deserved the boot.
As many people are writing about, Steam recently revised their policy on policing the content of games sold on their platform. The new policy? Anything goes… unless it’s illegal or “trolling.”
So we ended up going back to one of the principles in the forefront of our minds when we started Steam, and more recently as we worked on Steam Direct to open up the Store to many more developers: Valve shouldn’t be the ones deciding this. If you’re a player, we shouldn’t be choosing for you what content you can or can’t buy. If you’re a developer, we shouldn’t be choosing what content you’re allowed to create. Those choices should be yours to make. Our role should be to provide systems and tools to support your efforts to make these choices for yourself, and to help you do it in a way that makes you feel comfortable.
What I don’t think is appreciated as much though, is the quandary Valve was/is in. Although there has been movements to erode it, most of the internet is still protected by Safe Harbor rules, meaning that you cannot be held responsible for content that other people post. This has led to a weird dichotomy in which Valve gets blamed for letting school shooting games slip through the cracks – and how this must reflect on Valve’s values as a company – whereas no one holds any such standards on Google, through which you can readily find the most vilest of content imaginable. “Steam is offering it for sale though!” Okay… how about Amazon and eBay and Craigslist and any ISP that allows whatever store/forum to be hosted on their bandwidth?
Do we even want these tech entities to be the arbiters of morality on our behalf?
When I saw this announcement, my first thought was “Yikes,” followed by “This is probably less bad than simply saying ‘We now allow (cartoon) porn.'” Because that is really what’s going on here, IMO. Remember the game Hatred? That was pulled from Steam for violence/controversy back in 2014… and personally reinstated the next day by Gabe Newell, who said:
Hi Jaroslaw. Yesterday I heard that we were taking Hatred down from Greenlight. Since I wasn’t up to speed, I asked around internally to find out why we had done that. It turns out that it wasn’t a good decision, and we’ll be putting Hatred back up. My apologies to you and your team. Steam is about creating tools for content creators and customers. Good luck with your game.
Conversely, the number of uncensored hentai games on Steam can be counted with, ahem, one hand.
You can make all the “Artistic!” arguments you want, but the bottom line is that Valve had to constantly argue that Geralt having sex on a stuffed unicorn (etc) in Witcher 3 was fine, but anime boobs was going too far. Worse than literal Hitler, in fact, or outrageous violence and gore. Visual Novel studios had to censor their products, and then offer instructions on the Steam forums on how to uncensor it via patches. Until Valve cracked down on that… which then led to developers giving instructions on their own webpages and dedicated fans then relaying that info via Steam forums.
To be clear, this policy shift will unleash all sorts of actual disgusting, offensive garbage on the platform, a few clicks away from anyone. Steam will still have a long way to go to get as bad as this site, but they are certainly heading down that road.
But at some point, I have to ask… why shouldn’t Steam be a simple (DRM) platform? The argument that Steam used to be a curation of the best games is a canard from yesteryear. In 2013, there were 565 new games released on Steam. The following years, that number increased to 1772 in 2014, 2964 in 2015, 4207 in 2016 (40% of all games on the platform), and 7672 in 2017. Any sort of active curation has not been occurring for at least four years, and certainly stopped by 2016.
Amusingly, we seem to be on the pendulum backswing when it comes to videogame punditry. Back in the day, you had to rely on gaming magazines like Nintendo Power and Game Players (ah, my youth) to find out any useful information about the gaming world. Then gaming went mainstream, and for a while there you were able to consume the information available on your own. Now there are so many games and information vying for your limited attention that it’s better to just find a few websites or bloggers with similar tastes and just follow them. That’s your curation now.
Anyway, like I said before, I fully anticipate Valve being raked over the coals for this move (which they have arguably been doing for 4+ years now). It’s already happening, actually, but it will get much worse for them once (more) outright racist and sexually violent games are released and then broadcast on cable news channels. I don’t want those games to exist either… but someone apparently felt that way about uncensored Visual Novels for many years, and I didn’t think that was particularly reasonable. Those two things are not equivalent… and that’s kinda the point.
Is it that we are supposed to trust Valve’s corporate values to arbitrate the correct morality, or is it more that Valve’s (nebulous) policy provided us a lever by which we could enforce our own? With Valve throwing up their hands, we have (for now) lost that leverage, and must rely instead on the much more difficult, and potentially futile, endeavor to change hearts and minds directly.
Bleach is a much better disinfectant than sunlight, but at some point we should address the issue of why shit is getting so dirty in the first place.
I have been following Overwatch’s “one-trick pony” debacle off-and-on for a few months now. The official word is that no one gets banned for picking just 1-2 heroes and ignoring the team composition. The unofficial word is that you should be banned for not picking a character that best helps the team. Several Top 500 players seemingly get banned for one-tricking, and Gevlon sees a conspiracy to sell lootboxes.
Thing is, the overall system is such a shitshow that I almost agree with Gevlon that there has to be a conspiracy. The alternative is that the designers A) have never participated in a school project in their life, B) never played WoW, and/or C) never played their own damn game for 5 minutes.
See, the problem is this:
We built Overwatch around the concept of teamwork, and we believe the game is much more fun for everyone in a match when we’re picking heroes that contribute to the overall success of the team. At times, this means we’ll be playing our mains; other times, we should be trying to help the team by choosing heroes that round out the team’s composition. We won’t be actioning you if you only play your main, but we also don’t believe this is the ideal way to play Overwatch—especially in competitive settings.
Imagine the following: you are playing WoW and you hit the queue button for Looking For Dungeon. After a minute or so, you zone into the dungeon with five other people. As you stand there looking at one another, you have 40 or so seconds to figure out who is going to be the tank, who the healer, and who the DPS. Oh, and the dungeon itself has a time limit, and the bosses will change based on the classes and specs you choose. Good luck!
It’s an absurdity in a MMO-like setting, but the designers actually think it works in Overwatch. And it does for a bit, because there are X number of people who are willing to take one for the team and choose a character they don’t like to play in order to give the team composition a chance at success.
A team composition that was not chosen as a team, mind you, but rather by the whims of whoever insta-locked the DPS first. So in order to have a chance at winning, you have to reward the selfish behavior of others. And let me tell you, there is nothing more toxic than the feeling you experience when you take one for the team and the team loses.
Possible solutions are relatively straight-forward:
- Allow players to queue for roles (Tank, Healer, DPS, Flex)
- Create in-game Guild or Clan functionality, so players can organize themselves
- Only allow premades in Competitive modes
- Do nothing, while tacitly admitting your failure as a designer
Thus far, the Overwatch team is decidedly choosing the last option.
While not exactly a change of heart, EA is making some cursory changes to its loot boxes in the upcoming Star Wars Battlefront 2:
- Epic Star Cards, the highest tier of Star Cards available at launch, have been removed from Crates. To help keep everyone on a level playing field, these Star Cards will primarily be available through crafting, with the exception of special Epic Star Cards available through pre-order, deluxe, and starter packs.
- You’ll need to reach a certain rank to craft upgraded Star Cards. You won’t be able to buy a bunch of Crates, grind everything up into crafting materials, and immediately use them to get super powerful Star Cards. You can only upgrade the ability to craft higher tier Star Cards by ranking up through playing the game.
- Weapons are locked behind specific milestones. While a select few will be found in Crates, the rest can only be attained by play. Want to unlock a new weapon for your Heavy? Play as a Heavy and you’ll gain access to the class’s new weapons.
- Class-specific gear and items can be unlocked by playing as them. As you progress through your favorite class, you’ll hit milestones granting you class-specific Crates. These will include a mix of Star Cards and Crafting Parts to benefit your class’s development.
Mission Accomplished, eh?
Well… maybe. It’s certainly a better situation than we were in before. Just keep in mind that each Star Card has four levels of potency, and you can in fact randomly get higher potency Cards from the loot box. At least, I did during the Beta. Perhaps the above information can be taken to mean each Card is always going to be the lowest level one, or that you can get a higher-level Card and simply not be able to equip it until you’ve ranked up some more.
In any case, this might be the moment at which we can call a ceasefire. EA is committing to free map packs/content, and always-relevant loot boxes is an alternative method of replacing that revenue. Of course, paid map packs are abysmally stupid and just segment the playerbase, but… baby steps. We may have to see how it plays out in practice.
The controversy and counter-controversy surrounding Tracer’s Miranda-esque ass is one of those tempest-in-a-butt-shaped-teacup affairs that is both amusing and sad. For largely the same reason, i.e. that a butt is legitimately artistic vision in the first place.
“Well, I can see it, and an artist drew it, so… QED.”
Of course, the counter-controversy is never really about the butt – it is about what the butt (or lack thereof) represents. Specifically, a developer’s god-given right, nay, duty to present (har har) some of the most cliche female iconography of all time. I mean, seriously:
I’m not saying there shouldn’t be butts. I’m saying that I agree with original poster and with Kaplan insofar as Tracer’s butt shot was, in fact, out of character. It’s existence was against the artist vision – or at least the artistic cohesion – of the character, even if nobody complained about it. At best, at best, it was fanservice. At worst, or even just normally, it was basically a cynical “there are hot singles in your area” style clickbait.
And, let’s face it people: sometimes artistic vision is just dumb. Remember the original Mass Effect 3 endings? Kojima’s obsession with justifying Quiet in MGS 5? There is nothing sacrosanct about design failures. Pretty sure the same people who get up in arms about derrière removal are the same people who have strong opinions on the decline of modern gaming too. Is it not artistic vision of the designers to make X game have/not have Y feature? Where is that artistic vision line drawn?
Besides halfway up Tracer’s back, I mean.
I dunno. I frequently choose female avatars in the games I play, and I’ll admit to having a few sets of Firemane Leggings in the ole WoW bank. But this shouldn’t really be the
mounds hills your willing to die on, artistic vision-wise. Assuming, as Liore points out, it is even worth dying for the artistic vision of a publicly-traded corporate entity in the first place. The only backsides they’re truly interested in are of the green variety.