Posted by: Ben | January 23, 2012

Reasons and Excuses to Boycott A Computer Game

As is generally the case with large industries, the wonderful world of video entertainment software is mainly controlled by gigantic corporate entities. The reason for these companies’ existence is to turn their shareholders’ investment into profit. When this system works well, the companies allocate vast resources to talented auteurs capable of producing superb games that everyone wants to buy. We the consumers are permitted a few hours of distraction from our wretched existence while we enjoy the latest adventures of Commander Shepard or Link the Elf, making rudimentary decisions and passing little tests of skill along the way. The money continues to roll into the corporate coffers and the collapse of capitalism is averted for another quarter. It’s a win-win situation.

But it doesn’t always work that way. Drunk on power, the companies on whom we depend for our our entertainment get greedy. Taking our cash for granted, they look for new revenue streams. In-game advertising monetises the scenery. Outrageous DRM limits our use of the game. Preposterous launcher programs scan our computers, sending our system data, credit card details and contents of our music library to be picked through by giant electronic brains in the name of customer satisfaction. Licence agreements in unreadable legalese allow us to waive our consumer rights with a single click, usually without even having to scroll down to the bottom.

As customers we have available to us only one response to this kind of unethical behaviour. Don’t buy the product. If that sounds simple, it isn’t. Because the zaibatsu have thought of that. The monopolisation of the creative process not being enough for them, they have created a pervasive and deadly virus, the latest vector of which is the Internet, but which has been with us since the Eighties. The name of the virus is Gamer Culture.

Gamer Culture is a broad and all-encompassing term, and it isn’t the purpose of this article to go into the details, or even to understand exactly what it is. There’s a Wikipedia article on it, and whoever wrote that has no clue. If you were to push me to describe its characteristics (and you’d be mistaken, because when I hear the phrase “Gamer Culture” I reach for my M-16 assault rifle) I’d say it was characterised by the discourse and criticism of a small subset of videogames, specifically recently released ones. The very existence of a culture around videogames necessitates buying new videogames if one wants to keep in touch with that culture. It doesn’t matter that if you actually played everything that came out you wouldn’t have time to read or talk about them all, the fact is that the specialist media creates the illusion that everybody is playing Skyrim, or Arkham City, or anything else you want to name, and that nobody is playing Farmville, or Mafia Wars, or the iPad version of Scrabble, because those are “casual” and therefore not part of Gamer Culture.

So once one has a certain degree of investment in Gamer Culture, one cannot merely opt out of playing the latest big title by Activision. It’s acceptable not to have played it yet because you don’t have time, or you can’t afford it and are therefore waiting for a price drop, or you don’t like that kind of game anyway. (As long as you’re don’t mind not getting the joke in that latest Penny Arcade strip everyone is talking about, that is.) But if you just don’t feel like playing it? You’re not part of the Culture any more, sunshine.

None of the above is strictly true, of course. But the corporations want it to be, and they’re happier than anyone to promote the illusion that it is. Because they specialise in creating illusions.

So you have a significant section of the market that buys games not because they want to, but because they feel they have to in order to retain their cultural identity, and a corporate culture that feels entitled to use and abuse this section of the market in order to retain their profit margins. It’s no wonder that occasionally their practices can occasionally appear to cross the line into unethicality. And when this happens, in order to retain their cultural identity without being exploited, potential customers may “boycott” the product. In practice this simply means not buying the product, or sometimes waiting until the price drops.

Virtually every publisher has at some point done something controversial, because it’s impossible to exist in the information ecology without being controversial to someone. In this spirit, I have taken it upon myself to compile a list of potential reasons to boycott publishers in order to opt out of purchasing their products without opting out of the culture of purchasing their products. Some of these controversies have promoted genuine boycotts while others have not. Some of them resulted in falling sales while others resulted in substantial increases in sales. This is a dynamic list which will be updated as new controversies and teacup-storms develop. Please tell me if I’ve missed anything.

Acclaim

  • Attempted to buy advertising space on tombstones, allegedly. Seems appropriate now, doesn’t it?

Activision Blizzard

  • Acquired and closed Infocom and Sierra, killing the adventure game.
  • Activision CEO Bobby Kotick hates videogames. He told the Daily Mail, “The human brain, that most sensitive of organs, is under threat from the modern world.  Unless we wake up to the damage that the gadget-filled, pharmaceutically enhanced 21st century is doing to our brains, we could be sleepwalking towards a future in which neuro-chip technology blurs the line between living and non-living machines, and between our bodies and the outside world… we could be raising a hedonistic generation who live only in the thrill of the computer-generated moment and are in distinct danger of detaching themselves from what the rest of us would consider the real world.”  Unless that was Professor Susan Greenfield.  He runs the website www.godhatesvideogames.com. Unless that is some anonymous loony.
  • Activision released the Call of Duty series, popular with racists, misogynists and homophobes. One of them doesn’t support dedicated servers, whatever that is. Another one can be completed without firing a single shot. A third invites the player to gun down tourists in an airport.
  • They also caused outrage by sacking the talented lead developers of the popular Call of Duty series.

Loyal Call Of Duty fans hold a candlelit vigil for sacked Infinity Ward staff.

  • Diablo III (unreleased) is set to include ludicrous DRM requiring a permanent connection to a central server to stay running.
  • Blizzard could be working on an MMO that includes in-game advertising or something.

Atari

  • Released the VCS versions of Pac-Man and E.T. (both 1982), two games so bad they brought the entire video game industry to its knees. Beat that.

Atari buried E.T. in the New Mexico desert, to the delight of conspiracy theorists everywhere.

  • Boycotting Atari is entirely unnecessary; the brand is already cursed.

Bethesda

  • Sold horse armour for Oblivion (2006). Horse armour!
  • Won’t allow replacementdocs.com to reproduce their manuals, even for games that they themselves have released as freeware.
  • Launched ludicrous legal battle with Mojang over the “Scrolls” trademark.

CD Projekt

  • Engaged in speculative lawsuits attempting to obtain unlikely settlement figures from potential pirates, based on IP address tracking. (To be fair, they claim to have stopped when they were asked.)

Electronic Arts

  • Acquired and closed Origin, Bullfrog, Maxis and Westwood among others, in a sustained decades-long assault on creativity in game software.
  • Hired an irritating twat to say “It’s in the game!” on launching every EA Sports title for a decade at the very least.
  • Alleged to have mistreated employees with unpaid overtime and unreasonably long hours.
  • Included mandatory online activation and limited-activation DRM on titles including Spore, Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 and Mass Effect (all 2008), using Securom, a program which hides in your Windows installation like a poisonous spider in your wellies.
  • Corrupted the morals of a generation by including a soft-focus sex scene in Mass Effect (2008).

This is a source of particular annoyance to me personally, since I have just played through Mass Effect and completely failed to get off with anyone (although I reckon I could have had Kaiden had I not left him to die in that explosion. Notably Liara showed absolutely no interest in consoling me.)

  • Released Medal of Honor (2010) which was basically an un-American Taliban simulator which trained a generation of jihadists.
  • Removed titles including Crysis 2 (2011) and Dragon Age 2 (2011) from Steam for no clearly explained reason.
  • Banned people from their Origin accounts (and therefore from both multiplayer and singleplayer games) for breaches of forum etiquette, possibly in a misguided attempt to clear their forums.

Microsoft

  • Invented Games For Windows Live, which eats babies. Technically what it eats is savegames, but savegames can be like babies to some people. For example, some of my Football Manager savegames have taken more than 9 months to produce and have had considerably more love and effort put into them than any baby. Also its multiplayer features are not very good, apparently.
  • Released rotten Vista-exclusive PC version of Halo 2 (2007).
  • Corrupted the morals of a generation by including a soft-focus sex scene in the Xbox 360 version of Mass Effect (2008).
  • Promised to release Vista-exclusive PC version of Alan Wake; delayed it so long that everyone had upgraded to Windows 7 anyway, then making it Xbox 360 exclusive instead. Somehow the developers managed to independently release a PC version anyway.
  • Generally treating PC gaming as an unwanted stepchild (hair colour unknown.)

Mojang

  • Charged money for Minecraft (2011) when it wasn’t even finished.
  • Engaged in ludicrous legal battle with Bethesda over the “Scrolls” trademark, and twattishly challenged them to settle it with a bout of Quake 3.

Sega

  • The enduring crapitude of Sonic the Hedgehog. Some people claim every Sonic game after 1994 was crap, but God’s honest truth is that everything after the Green Hill Zone in the first game was utter, irrevocable crap. Not to mention the cover of Mario And Sonic At The Olympic Games, which defeats Sonic’s entire raison d’etre by showing him straining to beat a paunchy, dungaree-wearing plumber in a sprint. (And Ameratsu alone knows what the assembled crowd in the stadium think they’re watching.)

Come on, man! You're supposed to be the world's fastest hedgehog! This joker hasn't even changed into his shorts!

Take Two / 2K / Rockstar

  • Corrupted the morals of a generation by including an interactive sex scene in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2005); an even stupider version of the same sex scene appeared in Atari’s Fahrenheit (2005).
  • Temporarily renamed Irrational Games “2K Boston”, which is as literal an example of the banality of evil as you’ll find.
  • Included mandatory online activation and limited-activation DRM on Bioshock (2007), using Securom, a program which wraps itself around your Windows installation and squeezes it like a boa constrictor.
  • Grand Theft Auto 4 (2008) required a load of crapware to run, including Games For Windows Live (see Microsoft).
  • Duke Nukem Forever (2011) was criticised for misogyny, for mocking the aristocracy and for not being very good.


Duke likes to have his knees sucked.

  • Team Bondi, developers of LA Noire (2011) were alleged to have mistreated employees with unpaid overtime and unreasonably long hours.
  • XCOM (unreleased) was criticised for failing to retain the spirit of the franchise.

UbiBloodySoft

  • Numerous recent PC releases in 2010-11 have included ludicrous DRM requiring a permanent internet connection to a central server to stay running, for no benefit to the consumer. In some cases (From Dust, 2011) they claimed that the DRM definitely wouldn’t be included, before including it.
  • Anno 2070 (2011) used limited-activation DRM which used up one of your ungenerous three activations on changing graphics card. When their attention was drawn to it, UbiBloodySoft first announced that this was intentional, then patched it out within the week.

Valve

  • Required the installation of Steam crapware to run anything, but especially Half-Life 2 (2004) which was basically a massive phone bill waiting to happen.
  • Failed to release, or even announce, another Half-Life game after Episode 2 (2007)
  • Released Left 4 Dead 2 (2009) before people had properly finished playing Left 4 Dead (2008).
  • Encouraged players to buy games and complete achievements in order to facilitate the early release of Portal 2 (2011), which was released a whole few hours early, and again in order to win games that they might have already owned.

I think that’s it.  No other software publisher has anything I could possibly hold against them… yet.

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