Saturday, July 24, 2021

Your Cover's Blown

I have a super-busy weekend from Friday through Monday for one reason or another but I didn't want to let four days go by without posting at all. My go-to for quick posts these days is music but I already did one of those on Thursday. I absolutely could do another but I have a ton of music stuff planned for Blaugust (Oh, yes! Be afraid!) so let's see if I can think of anything else to write about...

Hmm. How about this

There's already been some great personal testimony and commentary on the topic of the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing vs Activision-Blizzard from the likes of Belghast, Stargrace , Hannah, Nathan, Syp, Gnomecore, Wilhelm, Ace Asunder and no doubt more that I've forgotten. It would be tempting to describe the whole thing as Blitzchung 2.0 but really the only similarities are that it involves Blizzard once again doing something that makes a lot of people feel disgusted, outraged, let down or betrayed. They do seem to be making a habit of it.

The differences are vast. Blitzchung was (arguably) a heat of the moment decision with uncomfortable political and ethical ramifications. It involved three people (Blitzchung and the two streamers) and pointed up anomalies between the company's stated position on certain issues and how they acted.

A lot of people found Blizzard's response either unfair or inconsistent, while others saw it as part of an ongoing, existential battle. Positions were taken, subscriptions were cancelled. Bloggers I followed struggled with loyalty to their characters and the games in which they'd invested so much time versus their need to make a point and send Blizzard a message.

A lot of people did cancel. Some stopped playing immediately, some carried on until their subs ran out. 

Unusually, I was subbed to World of Warcraft at the time. I was playing Classic. I didn't make any grand gestures. I understood and respected the arguments of those who did but the whole thing felt a little dry to me. Distant, even.

The whole farago did take the wind out of my sails as far as Classic was concerned, though. I'd been posting about it non-stop and playing every day but suddenly doing either just felt uncomfortable. I played less, then not at at all. I didn't write about the game any more and when my monthly sub expired I didn't renew. 

All the pictures in this post are from games that look like WoW.


This feels different. This is different. This isn't someone making one dumb choice and then someone else trying to spin it as not what it was. This isn't a plain and obvious clash between corporate greed and doing the right thing. 

This is lifting a rock and watching stuff crawl out. Stuff that's been there a long time. Stuff that lives there, feels comfortable there, feels safe there. Stuff that really would like it if you put the rock back, please, so everything can carry on just like before. This is a company not just shrugging off accusations but turning on their accusers and calling them out as though they were the ones at fault.

I have no personal experience of life inside a major video game company. Anything I say about it is based entirely on what I may have seen and read as a player over the last forty years. From that perspective, the basic facts of gender discrimination and a "boys club" attitude at Activision-Blizzard don't surprise me in the least. A lot of companies, in and out of the video game industry, have a hell of a lot of work to do on both those fronts, that's for sure.

What does take me aback about the detail, repulsive and gross as it is, is the sheer scale of it. It seems to have been not just endemic but almost universal. 

Then there's the frankly puerile nature of some of the abuse. We don't really have "frat houses" where I come from but this sounds more like the behavior you'd expect from unsupervised schoolboys rather than someone taking a university degree. It makes me wonder how anything worthwhile ever got into the games at all, if this was the sort of thing the people working on it felt was a good way to spend the day.

Nathan asks "What will it take?" as he ponders whether to cancel his subsciption. I could ask myself the same question. The Blitzchung affair wasn't enough to make me cancel, just not to renew. This lawsuit and the revelations therein would be... if I had anything to cancel.

Or play like WoW.


I don't, though. I have no subscriptions to anything Activision-Blizzard offer at present and no plans to buy anything they're proposing to offer in the future. I was briefly subbed to WoW while I was writing about the level squish, Exiles' Reach and Chromie Time but I'm not now.  I didn't buy Shadowlands and I never planned to. I've never played any other Blizzard game than WoW and chances are I never will.

I do, however, have characters in WoW that I have affection for. And I can still play some of them if I want to, without subscribing. 

WoW has a half-assed Free-to-Play offer that's really a glorified free trial but it pretty much gives me everything I want from the game. I can log in any time and run my characters around or make new ones and so long as I don't level up too far I'm golden.

In doing so I don't give Act-Blizz a cent. All I do is use some of their server bandwidth. And since I only solo, never talk to anyone, mostly never even see anyone, I'm not even doing that thing we sometimes talk about - being the content for other people.

If I do this, am I tacitly supporting Blizzard? Does the very act of logging in mean I'm condoning the appalling behavior of the people who made the game I'm playing? Or am I really committing an act of social disobedience? Taking for free the very thing they rely on me to pay for to keep the whole shebang rolling?

I don't know. It seems to me that to stop playing a game for which you don't pay and which no-one else knows you are playing is a bit of a weak statement but I suppose it's stronger than just carrying on as if none of it has anything to do with you at all. 

As a blogger who has, quite often, written about playing WoW for free, usually quite positively, how would it be if I carried on playing but stopped writing about it? Would that be striking more of a blow than just not playing it at all?

And I didn't even mention FFXIV.


It's a moot point, anyway, because I'm not playing WoW right now. But I was thinking about playing again and if I had it would have been the free version. Well, I'm not going to do that any more. Suck on that, Blizz!

I guess that does answer my own question to myself, though. Regardless of how pointless it might be to declare you're no longer going to play a game you weren't playing anyway, far less paying for, that, apparently, is what I'm going to do. And even if I change my mind and play you won't be reading about it here. Not that I'm going to change my mind. But if I did, you wouldn't know. Just sayin'.

Unless, I guess, something changes in Blizzard's favor. Hard to see what that would be. I suppose they could win the lawsuit in a convincing fashion that exonerates everyone concerned. That could happen. Or they could clean house so thoroughly and convincingly that we'd all believe they'd changed for good. That could happen.

Or, I guess, as happened with Blitzchung, we could all gradually forget about it, or forget about how angry we were about it, and drift back. Almost everyone (not everyone) I can think of did. Except this time there's going to be that lawsuit and a trial and a constant, daily reminder of what this is all about. So it's going to be a lot harder to just give Blizz a slap with a few months cancelled subs then climb back on the sparkle pony again.

Oh, it's easy for me, though, isn't it? WoW doesn't have the meaning in my life other mmorpgs do. I wouldn't be so sanguine if this was Daybreak (or EG7, I guess I should say) or ArenaNet we were talking about. But then, both of those (and SOE before Daybreak) have had their share of terrible news stories and awful behavior. But nothing like this.

So I guess either they're doing a better job than Blizzard of holding that rock down or the appalling behavior we're reading about really isn't par for the course in video game companies after all. 

I bloody well hope not, anyway. If it is, we'd all better find another hobby.


  1. Well said, Bhagpuss. The differences between this and Blitzchung, I think you've nailed as well. I was still trying to mull through what I thought they were and why I felt different degrees of engagement with the two scenarios. But I think you hit it.

    I put it in the reply to your comment as well -- but the question of playing for free and what that means presented itself to me almost immediately after writing the post.

    Diablo 3 had a new season start yesterday. It's a game I already own and have done so for years. There's no subscription. No monetary transaction to take place. But when a friend asked me to play, I was still uncomfortable with actually doing so.

    I felt that simply having a 'Playing: Diablo 3' status be it in, Discord, or anywhere was still held too much in the way of tacit support to be comfortable with it. I will admit -- I did consider going dark on the status' to remove that element. But when I examined the motivations there I couldn't be entirely clear on the fact it was to remove that support it felt more about not disappointing a friend in saying 'No'.

    Perhaps less so with D3 in particular, but with WoW one of their key metrics is MAU -- and it's entirely likely free players are wrapped into that number for their reporting. So I suppose on that front too, if there is to be an impact at all as little as I hope this action might have one, it needs to carry through into as many of the metrics they actually care about as possible.

    1. I suppose I should clarify too, the question and consideration of my post was not whether to cancel my subscription right now. I'd already cancelled and quit.

      The question was what would it take to get me to put Blizzard behind me, not just now, while it's convenient and the incident current, but for the longer term -- when it's harder, e.g., when Diablo 4 comes out.

      As you called out at the end of your post -- many, including myself, let Blizzard slide on the Blitzchung incident.

      I don't think I can do that on this one. And so my appreciation for you being able to articulate the difference, even when I couldn't.

    2. I nearly mentioned the MAUs. It's about the only possible way I can think of that someone playing solo for free could be deemed to be supporting the game in any way. The point about having a flag by your name in social media saying "I'm playing WoW right now", though, is one I hadn't thought of because I deliberately avoid all those trackers. I'm very antisocial that way.

      It's going to be very interesting to see what the MAUs do look like next time they announce them. I don't really keep a track of these things so I'm not sure what the lead-time for seeing the impact but I'm sure someone in the blogosphere will keep us all informed.

  2. I just deleted my accounts (for some reason I don't understand I had two of them). Since I haven't paid Activision/Blizzard for a long time (cancelled WoW after Blitzchung), it's about all I can think of to let them know how I feel. It's not like I will be rejoining them in the future.

    1. I have two Battlenet accounts too, also for reasons I forget. I never use either of them directly, though. I just have desktop icons that links to the Retail and Classic .exes. I guess I could delete those now but given my general attitude to never deleting anything I don't suppose I will.

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  4. Well said. I agree with you. Behavior that goes on for something like a decade is not a random misstep, it is an organization working in a way the people in charge of it find perfectly acceptable. Some of what I read fills me with revulsion and anger.

    Not another cent of my money until something major changes. I'm not even sure what they could change. What I expect them to change is exactly nothing of substance.

    1. I just read statements by Chris Metzen and Mike Morheim (I think that's who it was) and the gist seemed to be "I should have done something but I didn't because reasons". It's all very well expressing disgust now but if you were in charge for a decade or more while these things were happening it's stretching credibility to suggest it's all news to you now.

  5. Good post. The difference between the Blitzchung incident and now is that in the first case, I could at least make the argument that Blizzard's actions were defensible. They had a policy that you don't use their gaming events as a platform to make political statements, and that policy doesn't discriminate between "god" and "bad" political statements because hoo-boy are you never going to get everyone to agree on where THAT line lies.

    This time around... the only way Blizzard could be defended would be if the allegations against them are proven to be completely incorrect. If even a portion of them are true then Blizzard are defending indefensible behaviour, even if some other parts of the lawsuit do turn out to have been over-egged.

    I do have to wonder about that initial Blizzard statement. They have a bunch of PR people and lawyers who earn a hell of a lot more than I ever will to be all over statements like that. Did they really approve what was said, in which case why? Or did someone rush that out without even thinking of getting the PR and legal guys to look at it, in which case how have they not been not only fired, but fired directly into the burning heart of the sun?

    1. I believe there's been another, similar statement since. They're going to be fighting this in court, presumably, so maybe this is a hint of how they plan to mount their defence. It looks very bad for Blizzard this time. Much more so than when we were all talking about Freedom of Speech and our moral obligations to Hong Kong.

  6. I left WoW at the Blitzchung event. My last post over on my blog was about the issue and cancelling my 2 subs.

    In the time since then I've played a little of Diablo3 but have otherwise completely avoided any Blizzard games.

    I am still angry at Blizzard for their actions back then and this much larger pile of steaming refuse is making it almost certain I'll be passing on Diablo 4.

    A nasty side effect of this has been that I've pretty much lost interest in my own writings or following blogs like this one, even if nearly all have been about non-Blizzard games anyway.

    1. That's a real shame. I know how it feels, though, when something makes everything it touches taste sour.

      Blaugust might do something to revive your interest. That's kind of what it's there for!


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