Update [5:46 p.m. ET]: Sweeney took to Twitter to expand on his talk at DICE Summit 2020. "If a game tackles politics, as To Kill a Mockingbird did as a novel, it should come from the heart of creatives and not from marketing departments seeking to capitalize on division."
Here's one of the key views I shared at DICE. If a game tackles politics, as To Kill a Mockingbird did as a novel, it should come from the heart of creatives and not from marketing departments seeking to capitalize on division. https://t.co/x4eARz7Yyz- Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) February 12, 2020
"And when a company operates an ecosystem where users and creators can express themselves, they should be a neutral moderator," Sweeney continued in a follow-up tweet. "Else the potential for undue influence from within or without is far too high."
Our original story follows:
The question of politics in games has come up, time and again, over years and years in the industry. Today at DICE Summit 2020, Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney threw his own hat into the ring on the issue during his opening keynote.
Comparing the issue to the "separation between church and state," Sweeney said businesses need to operate as "neutral venues for entertainment" where employees and customers can "hold their own views and not be judged by us."
"I think we're seeing a lot of controversy around political censorship of social media, pressure from foreign countries on domestic companies about discourse, and to get through that, we as companies need to divorce ourselves from politics and say that that is for individuals to engage in," Sweeney says. "And we as platforms should be neutral."
The word "politics" can get pretty vague; it can range from the inclusion of political discussion within the narrative of a game to the actions of companies outside and around them. After Hearthstone player Blitzchung was suspended by Blizzard Entertainment for supporting the Hong Kong protests on-air, Epic and Sweeney actually commented on the matter; a spokesperson told The Verge that Epic "wouldn't ban or punish a Fortnite player or content creator for speaking on those topics." Sweeney reaffirmed in a tweet that it would "never happen" under his watch.
Sweeney's discussion of "politics" seems to err more toward in-game political discussion. During his keynote, he referenced Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird and the impact it had on people's views at the time. "I think that's a genuine outlook for games to really make people think about things," Sweeney says. He goes on to say that we should "get the marketing departments out of politics."
But in later comments, Sweeney referenced boycotts of fast-food chicken restaraunts. "There's no reason to drag divisive topics like that into gaming at all," Sweeney says, going on to state that "we have to respect" personal opinions.
These comments aren't too new in the world of games. Some publishers, like Ubisoft, openly push back on political discussion. Others, like Hardsuit Labs-makers of the upcoming Bloodlines 2-aren't shying away from the discussion. It might be best to simply stop asking whether something is political, and instead discuss the actual politics of the game. For Sweeney, he seems to want Epic, and other companies, to stay out of it altogether.