Beamdog, the developer behind the Enhanced Editions of Baldur's Gate, Baldur's Gate II, and Icewind Dale, released something new last week. Instead of just remastering older titles, Beamdog decided to craft its own expansion for Baldur's Gate, providing closure for certain characters and storylines. That expansion, Siege of Dragonspear, actually succeeded in its aims if you look at the few critical reviews available.
User reviews and general commentary surrounding the expansion is another story. A number of players have complained of bugs - notably quest and multiplayer issues - but beyond that, the complaints seem to focus on two very specific, small facets of the expansion. The first issue is a line by returning Baldur's Gate fan-favorite, Minsc, dropping the line, "Really, it's all about ethics in heroic adventuring." The line is meant as a joke pointed at GamerGate, a movement whose early rallying cry was "It's about ethics in video game journalism."
The second issue was the inclusion of a transgender character as a random NPC in the game. Mizenha is a merchant. If you talk to her as more than a simple shopkeeper and ask her about the origins of her name, she tells you that she was born a boy, but changed her name to reflect what she felt was her true identity.
Taken together, these issues have led to a ton of negative user reviews on Metacritic and Steam. Beamdog, noting that the anger and negativity seemed to far disproportionate for a single line and an NPC, assumed that not all complaints were made in good faith. (You can see some of those Steam reviews below.) It pointed to those within GamerGate who did not want to be made fun of and others who didn't want a transgender character in Baldur's Gate. The company's early response was poor, with bannings on the official forums and Steam community.
The thing is, while there are a number of people who were not offering feedback in good faith, somewhere in there were some nuggets of truth. The game did have bugs, including the multiplayer mode. Some respondents merely felt that Minsc's delivery of that line was out of character.
In the case of Mizenha, there was a wide variety of responses. Some felt the character wasn't written all that well. Some were fine with Mizenha, given that most random NPCs in Baldur's Gate (or other RPGs) aren't particularly deep or well-written in the first place. Some felt that a transgender character shouldn't be in the game at all. Some felt that a transgender character shouldn't be in the game at all, but found it better to lean on the first argument. A number of people on the official forums simply didn't care, because Mizenha may or may not have been poorly written, but ultimately it's a single merchant.
A number of complaints about Mizenha were aimed directly at one of the game's writers, Amber Scott. Scott has previously made her views about adding diverse characters known on the official forums. Many of the calls were for Scott to be fired over the addition of Mizenha and the expansion of some stories of female characters from the first Baldur's Gate.
It took some time and a few stumbles, but yesterday Beamdog rallied and came up with an excellent response to cover any and all issues.
"We've received feedback around Mizhena, a supporting character who reveals she is transgender. In retrospect, it would have been better served if we had introduced a transgender character with more development," wrote Beamdog CEO Trent Oster in a forum post. "This is a lesson we will be carrying forward in our development as creators and we will be improving this character in a future update."
"Minsc has a line which generated controversy. Looking back on the line, we agree with the feedback from our community, it has nothing to do with his character and we will be removing the line," he added. "We've received valuable feedback around some bugs we failed to catch for ship. We're hard at work right now patching up the issues that slipped through and we're striving to ship fixes and improvements quickly. We will provide a complete list of the issues we plan to address in our next update."
"While we appreciate all feedback we receive from our fans, both positive as well as negative, some of the negative feedback has focused not on Siege of Dragonspear but on individual developers at Beamdog -- to the point of online threats and harassment," Oster continued. "I just want to make it crystal clear that Beamdog does not condone this behavior, and moreover that it will not have the desired effect as we stand behind all our developers 100%. We created the game as a group, and moving forward we'll work on the game's issues as a group, which I believe is exactly as it should be."
As far as corporate responses go, it's a good one and Beamdog should be applauded for it. The Minsc line, which isn't really a hill worth dying on for most developers, will be removed. There is some interesting cognitive dissonance for those on the internet who argue that developers should not change their games at all, but are happy with Beamdog relenting here. There are also those who stand by the idea that develoeprs should never change ever. (At least they are consistent.) Regardless, it's solid move. I've argued before that developers have the right to listen to all feedback and make changes to their games; that's what happened here.
Mizenha, a character with a small footprint in the title before, will be seeing an enhanced role in the future. This is a smart change on Beamdog's part. Those who wanted a more robust transgender character get their wish, while those who were hiding behind that argument in poor faith have to now deal with the expanded presence of the character.
Finally, standing behind your employee and outwardly saying that harassment is not tolerable or appreciated is an important statement for any company to make. I argued last week that Nintendo's handling of Alison Rapp's situation neglected to mention and denounce the months of harassment she received prior to her firing. In contrast, Beamdog has noted the real harassment and presented a unified front for the company. Bravo, folks.
Of course, now we have to see what the ultimate fallout of the situation is. The fans on the official forums seem to be happy with Oster's statements, but it's still unknown if others will be happy with the changes Beamdog has outlined for the series. For now, the developer will keep chugging away on Siege of Dragonspear and the existing Enhanced Editions.