In the years that I’ve played video games, one of the most disappointing things to see as games became more popular is the human cost of video games. We’ve seen companies work their employees to the bone for pennies, abuse them in various ways, coerce them to work harder and longer hours, and sometimes even straight up steal from them. However, while that’s incredibly disappointing, I can think of one thing even more so: the responses. There is no shortage of stories out there detailing the abuses of the video game industry at large, but does that stop these abusive entities from making millions? Does it even get them any real repercussions? No, because why would there be? There are games to buy and play.
It’s common to use Activision Blizzard as the punching bag and the bad example, and that trend will continue here because they are horrible. Though, for this example I won’t use their most recent controversy with the lawsuit. No, let’s reach just a little further back to 2020 when it came out that Activision staff were struggling to eat and pay rent. Employees came out about their mistreatment, citing that they couldn’t afford the food in the employee cafeteria without digging into their rent. By the way, in 2020 Activision made $8.8B that year; a company record. There was outrage and crickets. Then back to regularly scheduled program. The latest Call of Duty went to sell 25 million copies before 2020 was ended. Call of Duty Warzone started making money hand over fist. We finally got our Crash 4 and Tony Hawk remakes so all was seemingly right in the world.
Gamers were fine to give their 15 minutes of outrage. After that, they didn’t want to keep hearing about it. They wanted to “stick to the games” and made excuses about how their dollar doesn’t mean anything. How boycotts don’t work. How our voices aren’t loud enough. How quickly we forget history. Remember when the gamer voices were so loud they changed Mass Effect 3’s shitty ending? Remember when gamer backlash was so harsh, Square Enix trashed that stupid “Augment Your Preorder” nonsense for Deus Ex? Remember how gamers pushed back on Microsoft when they tried to double the price of XBOX Live? There are plenty of more examples, but the big difference here is that those were easier decisions than the biggest one they’d have to make. Don’t buy the game. Don’t support the game. Don’t even cover it.
That’s the line they often draw and the excuses are numerous ranging from “I’m supporting the devs, not <insert abusive company here>” to “I’ll just buy it used.” Those points have been contested to hell and back, but it’s all they’ve got to save face. I at least respect the people who just admit they don’t care. It’s a trash way of seeing things, but I respect it. Too often, especially with high profile games, the human cost has been ignored so people can just enjoy their games. Some will even praise it.
We’ve discussed crunch numerous times and how it shouldn’t be a thing. So why is it praised? Why are there people glad that others have to work harder and suffer so they can get their precious games on time? Too often, you’ll see on social media posts from a developer that a game has to be delayed. Do you think the players are understanding and kind? Do you think they approach this empathy and compassion? If you said yes, then I wish to one day have your optimism.
Console war bullshit, outrageously upset fans, and a minority of people who understand what it can take to make a game good is usually what you’ll find. If you need an example, look under the Starfield delay announcement. It’s all that and then some. But the sad part is that it isn’t uncommon. Gamers will go so far as to send death threats over delays (see: God of War: Ragnarok). In all of this, do you think the people on the ground floor are considered? Do you think they’re thought about? The only way a developer is considered is if they’re some superstar like Hideo Kojima. The common QA tester, coder, artist, analysts, and so on are just names that scroll by the credits to most people.
The idea posed to me that led to this was “do gamers care if games are ethically made?” Well, consider the numbers Activision Blizzard still do even after the landmark lawsuit and countless allegations. Consider how Take-Two and Rockstar own the single most profitable piece of entertainment to date despite having reports of discrimination and harassment. Then, look up how many copies of indie darlings like Hades and Outer Worlds sold (love those games. Support indie devs). Honestly, the only ethically made game that really took off to AAA numbers was probably Warframe, and that’s a free-to-play game. The numbers speak louder than I ever could, and that’s a real shame.
I won’t get preacher than I’ve been, but I implore you to consider the human cost of the games you claim to love. No game is worth a person’s well being. None. If you just HAVE to support these games that are made by trampling on the backs of workers, at least try out the games made by teams who’re taken care of. At the very least, hesitate a little before handing your money to scumbags.