Why Protesting In Isolation Makes It Hard To Fix Gaming’s Issues

With every single gaming scandal that breaks I see the same thing: threats to boycott a company until they change policy X or to lobby them until they release game Y. I can’t fault people for this, if it’s done in the right way and it’s for an issue or game you feel passionately about then people should feel free to take action.

Sometimes groups can even become well organised, that’s the power of the internet.

The problem with protests like this is always the same though: lack of exposure. It’s not even a lack of exposure of the protests, it’s a lack of exposure of the issues. This isn’t the fault of the groups or even the gaming media, the countless number of words that have been written about issues like DRM and microtransactions make this clear.

No, the problem is one of isolation. While interest in games has certainly grown and some websites clock literally millions of unique visitors a month, you have to wonder how many of those are really engaged in gaming news and how many are just looking for the latest information on the next Call of Duty DLC, or whatever game is their particular vice.

Although I know a lot of our readers are very engaged in what’s going on day to day in the gaming world, there are many more people who self identify as “gamers” and who pick up games on a reasonably regular basis without grabbing hold of every nugget of information. They simply don’t know about concerns about a game’s DLC or why a title’s lack of certain online features has people riled up, nor do they really care about it.

Perhaps you think they should care, that they should take an interest in the future of something they love. That’s probably true, particularly at a time when the industry is in such a period of flux and change. However, you only have to look at the number of people who aren’t engaged in politics or major global issues to understand that the problem isn’t unique to games, many people are content to go through life without knowing the ins and outs of things that have genuine importance.

I’m certainly guilty of this. The most significant conflict since the Second World War has probably been the constant rumbles from the Middle East, and I know almost nothing about it. I mean I know that the region’s basically a powder keg waiting for someone with a match, and that it’s been an exceptionally tense region for millennia, but that’s where my knowledge stops really. I don’t know any of the significant aspects of the region’s politics or anything about the religious variations and the way they align with or against each other, even though more and more it looks like I really should.

When ignorance of significant issues like these is widespread can we blame people for not really understanding why they should care about SimCity’s DRM or server issues? Their ignorance may come back to bite them when they can’t play the game they’ve plumped down money for, but it should be obvious why they weren’t amongst those rallying against the issues before release – they simply didn’t know such issues existed.

Until something changes and people become informed about these issues, until enough people really start to care about these types of problems, then it’s unlikely that a boycott will ever become powerful enough to really damage a company and force them to change. Gaming coverage in mainstream media is getting better, particular when it becomes a consumer rights issue, but it’s almost always post-release when something’s gone wrong, it’s rarely pre-release.

Of course I’m not saying that you shouldn’t try and confront issues in games that you have a problem with, it’s certainly better than sitting back and doing nothing. All I query is the way in which it’s approached. Boycotts are complex things – they’re hard to arrange, and it’s even harder to prove are having an effect on a game’s sales.

No the way to create real change is via legislation and regulation, although that’s not an easy route either. Pushing a political representative to even draft legislation on an issue can take years, and then years more for it to move through the whole political process. However, even gathering support for regulation or a code of conduct for video games publishers and developers can effect real change, it can make the industry nervous that they’ll be fined or lose revenue through increased regulation. It forces them to engage with consumers, and that’s when you really start to get somewhere.

The thing is, whatever approaches advocates take will take time to be effective. It will be years or decades before there’s a viable solution, and that’s if we ever get to one. The other route is that we live with things for so long that they become the norm, that people stop rallying against them. I’m hoping we don’t travel down that road.



  1. A code of conduct for games devs & publishers would be brilliant. However unlikely it may be to happen. The ability to patch post release has created an industry that is happy to release unfinished or untested games and then just put the launch problems down to “teething problems” and assure us a patch is on the way (which can take months)

  2. What’s impressed me most is how quickly momentum gathers when there is a cause to shout about. Sadly, the ugly side is the nasty hive-mind of the internet where things have far too much traction already and causes are being fought which are either false or at least hugely misplaced. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen too much in the games industry.

    With regards to the Sim City launch, I can only assume EA (?) has learnt from this lesson as it’s garnered an enormous amount of bad press. Sure it’s been reactive, for now, but that doesn’t mean that publishers can’t see patterns forming and will try to get ahead of the situation and become more proactive in how they develop and launch their titles in the future. At least, I bloody hope so!

    Good topic, Kris. One that affects us all even if we remain passive.

  3. This is a great article with some very fair points about what often appears to be flippant moaning from us consumers. I’m very guilty of this, especially around the Singstar icons presence. I don’t understand the real reason for it being there, but I’m guilty of not trying to find out or attempting to do anything about it at all, except be cynical. I suppose then, with regards to your last paragraph Kris, I should work out whether its more appropriate for me to live with it or try to change it. The latter will involve effort and while I’m not lazy, im not sure i want to spend my time pursuing something to do with a game advert, it just doesn’t seem all that important. Having said that, I could have fired off an email in the time I spent tapping this out, hmmm.

  4. personally i think the laws regarding software need to change.

    how they can justify denying people the right to return software because of piracy concerns these days.
    maybe 20 years ago that would have been a valid reason, but with the way piracy operates these days it’s just not a good enough reason.
    hell, you can get the pirate games before they’re even in the stores a lot of the time.

    uk retail law doesn’t just state that a product has to be broken or faulty for you to be entitled to a refund, it just has to be unsuitable for the purpose for which it was sold.

    it’s all part of the industry wide attitude these days where they want our money, but they don’t want the responsibilities that come with it.

    anyway, i have to say, if you can’t get politicians or lawmakers on your side then that should not stop you from doing something, however little it may be.

    too many people think that their contribution won’t make a difference, and so they do nothing.

    but what if most people believed that they would rather do what they can no matter how small their individual impact may be.
    imagine the kind of collective impact that could have.

    one drop of water can’t do much, but millions of them can tear down houses, rip up roads, change the very shape of a landscape.

    the game buying public should be the most powerful force in this industry, we do after all control the one resource this industry is after.
    we should be dictating terms to them, not the other way round.

    i’ve been saying it for a very long time, this is not a public service industry, they need us more than we need them, a lot more.
    people need to realise that.

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