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Online abuse 'is driving games developers away'

Report finds abusive complaints by gamers is forcing key talent away; victim support group considered

Online harassment targeted towards games developers is driving key talent out of the industry and is placing unproductive pressure on creators, a new report has found.

A Polygon investigation claims that the number of death threats and other unlawful messages sent to games developers from their supposed fans appears to be escalating.

Fez creator Phil Fish announced his resignation following a bitter and protracted row with gamers. "You win," he wrote on his resignation notice.

In anticipation that this sub-culture of online trolling and personal attacks will continue, the International Game Developers Association is looking into establishing a support group for victims of abuse from the people they make games for.

The Polygon article draws evidence and opinion from former and current developers, academic figures and the director of a cyberbullying research centre. It comes in the wake of indie games developer Phil Fish claiming that he has quit the games business due to a bitter, public and protracted feud with a number of gamers.

At roughly the same time as Fish's resignation, Treyarch design director David Vonderhaar was subjected to an alarming wave of death threats, some using racist and sexually violent language. The trigger for the attack was a tweak to Black Ops 2 which decreased the effectiveness of two guns.

Activision social media manager Dan Amrich spoke out against the attacks, stating "if you enjoy your games, have a little respect for the people who make them and stop threatening them with bodily harm every time they do their job".

Rage quits

But the impact of online abuse from gamers is already clear, the report found.
Greg Zeschuk, one of the co-founders of Bioware, said that the backlash regarding the Mass Effect 3 ending was "without a doubt" a shock to the studio. He previously claimed it was a factor in his decision to resign.

"It's definitely gotten worse," said Greg Zeschuk, who claims he is happy he left the industry and does not expect to return.

He added: "The threshold for a flip-out or a major scandal has dropped. The smallest thing will set people off. What amazes me is that all of the gloves are off on this stuff. It's just astonishing what people will do online now.

Greg Zeschuk says he is happy he left the games industry

"I do think there are good, passionate people who get dragged into it and it makes their lives miserable. Making games is stressful enough, just making them, without having to worry about this. The impact of having all your brightest creators losing steam and going, 'Screw this,' it's not good. It's not going to lead to good stuff."

Meanwhile, Stephen Toulouse, who for six years was Xbox Live's policy and enforcement figurehead, explains how he is still threatened despite leaving his position two years ago.

The extent of the trolling got to the stage where gamers would summon armed SWAT teams to Toulouse's house.

"The root cause of the problem isn't in what we do, making games, it's that there are so little consequences to this wildly violent approach of communication that we are simply one audience of many that are subject to this type of focus," Toulouse said.

He said that key to working as a community manager for a games company is to become emotionally detached.

"Not everyone can do that. That's a tall thing to ask people to do. It's like, 'yeah, I know they just said they're going to rape your wife, but you've got to let that bounce off you.' That's tough to ask people to do."

Elsewhere in the article, IDGA executive director Kate Edwards said she is considering establishing a support group for victims of online abuse.

"We're getting to a point where we're thinking it's becoming something we're going to need to talk about," she said.

"It might be time to consider doing a more explicit support group or mechanism to help people who are dealing with this sort of thing."

Polygon also published the views and theories of a Doctor of Philosophy in the field of science and technology, along with Sameer Hinduja, the co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center in Florida. The full article is available here.