"We know the last few days have been incredibly difficult for you. We feel the same."
It's a sentiment you've probably seen in your email box dozens of times by now. Ever since COVID-19 upended the basic routine of life and shut down entire countries, it seems like every company that ever got your email address has been crawling out of the woodwork to let you know that you're in it together. Little did you know that when you gave Totino's Pizza Rolls your personal information in the hopes of winning a free Shark Tale T-shirt that you were sealing a blood pact, the likes of which would, when everything went to hell, have them checking in on your well-being before your favorite cousin bothered with so much as a text.
And I get that. It's sort of ridiculous and over-the-top, the idea that you were just sitting there teetering on the edge of the abyss, ready to give into despair and just shut down until you got a push notification that your old pal Totino hadn't forgotten you. But this is a bizarre new world, and if a brand was ever justified in putting on its best straight face for a serious talk with you, it would be in circumstances something like these.
But that quote above isn't from Totino's Pizza Rolls. It's from Naughty Dog, the developers of The Last of Us Part 2. And they aren't talking about COVID-19. They're talking about someone posting spoilers of their game online.
Before I go any further, here's my obligatory acknowledgement that it does suck having a surprise in a thing you were looking forward to spoiled for you. And I imagine it sucks a whole lot more if you're a developer who spent the last handful of years working on that thing and now you feel the impact of that work will be diminished. I do feel sorry for those people.
That said, it's just a game, and having a game spoiled for you does not really justify turning the sober condolences tone on your statement all the way up to 10. I'm struggling to think of something so awful happening that a company could say those first two lines and people would think, "Well that's not taking this tragedy seriously enough." And take my word for it, the last few months have done wonders for my imagination when it comes to unthinkably horrible scenarios.
Naughty Dog's statement validates people thinking of a game being spoiled as equivalent to an actual tragedy. It tells people that it's perfectly normal—expected, even—to see this commercial product as something so important to you that your world will be absolutely shattered if anyone were to tell you what happens before you play it yourself.
I mean, I get why Naughty Dog would take that tone with its own developers. Given the truly hideous crunch that place is known for, they probably need their employees to think they're working on something monumental, building pyramids that will stand for centuries instead of well-crafted romps that make money but will be more or less obsolete as soon as the next iteration comes out in a few years. (I mean, it wouldn't be worth it even if they were building something as enduring as the pyramids, but the fact they're churning these things out for an industry that treats its own history as disposable and memory holes anything that can't easily be re-monetized makes it especially sad.)
Naughty Dog's statement reflects a truly warped sense of priorities, one that puts video games on par with (and possibly above) life and limb. It's the same set of priorities that convinces someone it's ok to make death threats against developers because a game hasn't been localized, or to send a SWAT team to another player's house because you bet $1.50 on a match and lost. It's one of the reasons people burn themselves out, destroying their health, wrecking their marriages, and missing their kids growing up because they were just so committed to making Sony's holiday quarter tentpole release drive revenues and user engagement up 5% year-over-year.
You don't need to take my word for it. Here's former Naughty Dog creative director Amy Hennig, talking about Naughty Dog and how she worked 12 hour days, seven days a week, for more than a decade.
"My health really declined, and I had to take care of myself, because it was, like, bad," Hennig said. "And there were people who, y'know, collapsed, or had to go and check themselves in somewhere when one of these games were done. Or they got divorced. That's not okay, any of that. None of this is worth that."
QUOTE | "I want to live in a world where this guy doesn't go and ruin other peoples' games. Where people feel safe to speak up. But reality is that in general voice comms land, for a ton of females, their safety mechanism is identifying ppl like this early and remaining silent or muting." - After posting a clip of her being harassed playing Valorant, a Riot Games UX designer with the Twitter handle Evergreenily highlights the sad reality that the industry puts more responsibility on targets of harassment to protect themselves from trolls than it puts on companies to punish and remove the trolls in their games.
QUOTE | "The reality is that, for the harassed, it can be challenging to play a game competitively because you need to first protect yourself from 'inviting' harassment, and so you mute someone because they're screaming slurs into the mic, or you mute yourself because that seems to keep the peace.
"We know this is a hard problem to tackle, and will take time, but I'd feel irresponsible accepting this as the status quo. It's why we prioritized developing non-voice communications, like character voice callouts for game events (like seeing the enemy with the spike) and the in-game ping system." - In an emailed statement to Kotaku, Valorant executive producer Anna Donlon not only puts the onus on victims of harassment to deal with the problem themselves, but she seems more concerned addressing the competitive disadvantage of muting people instead of eliminating the harassment that prompted muting in the first place.
QUOTE | "Yeet - To discard an item at a high velocity" - Urban Dictionary with the perfect word to describe what Valorant, any online game, or really any reasonable business should do to people who harass their customers.
STAT | 46% - The amount GameStop's used game revenues have dropped since 2011. Or at least, our best guess as to that number as the company stopped reporting used product numbers last quarter. (Yes, I know that's a link to the 10 Years Ago This Month column. It goes places, but that bit of info is in there.)
QUOTE | "Feel like you missed the announcement? You're not alone, our team found out because people on Twitter sent us congratulations! I had no idea! But there it is!" - Indivisible project lead Mike Zaimont says publisher 505 Games did not tell the studio about its game's Switch release date. On top of that, the version released was an older build of the game missing features like co-op and the New Game+ mode.
QUOTE | "I would also observe that as World of Warcraft evolved over the years, it actually kind of became less social because in an effort to achieve more accessibility, we kind of removed some of the reasons why you needed to play with the same group of people over and over." - Former Blizzard head Mike Morhaime talks about why traditional MMORPGs seem to have lost popularity in recent years.
QUOTE | "In developing moddable games, you often feel naked, that everybody can see you and evaluate how you're doing. There's nothing more embarrassing than when you make a typo in some script and some modder spots it and posts it back on the open bugtracker and even offers a solution." - Bohemia Interactive senior game designer Karel Mořický talks about the Arma and DayZ developer's history of mod support and how streaming could hurt the scene in the future.
QUOTE | "You have the camera on you for eight hours a day live, [improvising] and trying to be funny and engage your fans over an extremely long period of time, day after day with no censorship. Are you going to say something that is going to be offensive or not hit the right note? I think livestreamers inherently put themselves in a position where it's easy to have something that might be a slip-up at some point." - Peter Letz, a CAA agent who counts DrDisrespect among his clients, explains why livestreamers might seem more prone to controversies.
QUOTE | "We wanted to be very thoughtful and not exploiting the situation. We're not putting in place any different business tactics or other things. We're just trying to keep all the services up, trying to keep the games enjoyable, keeping our networks safe and secure. And being there at a time of need. I'm proud that we can provide this activity for people." - Xbox head Phil Spencer talks about how the company is dealing with Xbox use surging in the middle of a pandemic.
STAT | 713 million - Viewer impressions for the Animal Crossing: New Horizons ad campaign on U.S. TV between March 16 and April 15, according to iSpot.tv. That was about 55% of 1.29 billion ad impressions for video games of any kind in that span.
QUOTE | "The name is pretty douchey. Sounds pretty pretentious. And we're also not just guys." - Those Awesome Guys' publishing director Christopher Wulf explains why the Move or Die developer is looking to change its name.