Corruption in the making of video games


Video games have always been something of an escape for many people around the world. They give experiences that can’t quite be emulated through any other medium outside of the imagination. They tell stories that you have control of, make you feel like you’re having a power fantasy, or they toy with your emotions and leave you changed.

This medium is becoming so large in size and cultural influence that many people can’t help but want to become video game designers, to share stories and create unique experiences for people to enjoy. And that’s what it used to be about when it came to being a game designer. Morals and a desire to create was what it was all about, but over the last 10 or so years companies have slowly become more and more greedy about making games, wanting more than to just share and create, and now filled with a desire to generate revenue above all else. While yes, the industry has always been about making money, they can’t do more of what they enjoy doing without money, many publishers nowadays feel the need for even more money. So much so they’re willing to disregard the respect for their customers, and the dignity of their employees and staffing. Many people want so badly to go into this field as they grow up, but with every story that comes out, calling out the atrocities and general wrongdoings in the industry, it becomes more difficult for many to believe that it’s the career they want.

The latest and probably most important topic of conversation is the story behind Activision Blizzard. This is a company that has housed countless sexual harassers and abusers and has done little to nothing about it until recently. According to a Kotaku article on July 22, 2021, the company was sued over the widespread harassment of women. As of the time of writing this, Oct. 10, 2021, the company is still trying to get themselves out of this hole they dug.

Many of the men who were guilty of harassing many women who work or have worked there, have either seen themselves out of the company or were already gone before the company was sued. One man in particular, Alex Afrasiabi, was supposedly cautioned by the president of the company, J. Allen Brack, and was given a stern talking to about not making the women of the company feel uncomfortable. Afrasiabi, however, continued with his disgusting, and frankly criminal, acts of harassing women with several instances of groping them and trying to lead them to his hotel room, according to a Washington Post article made on the same day as the Kotaku one, July 22, 2021.

Afrasiabi eventually left the company of his own decision with little to no repercussions for the things he had done. As of now, many of the right people in the right places are aware of Blizzard’s wrongdoings and they have since struck Blizzard with another lawsuit, this time from investors. According to a Polygon article from July 27, 2021, even the employees at Blizzard have had enough, as not long after the initial lawsuit was filed, a mass walkout was staged by over 2,600 employees. These employees also signed an open letter to the leadership calling for changes to the system to ensure that people like Afrasiabi would never be allowed to work there again.

Harassment in the workplace is not all that Blizzard has been guilty of. For the longest time, they have discriminated between men and women based on wages and vacation days. Women were allowed less sick days than male counterparts. Women would also generally make less money than their male counterparts, who would likely be working less. According to a Bloomberg article from Aug. 3, 2020, workers even started sharing their wages from how bad the disparity was getting. If the company has any hope of surviving past all this, they had better change their ways fast, because their greed and negligence are clear as day.

As of Oct. 28, 2021, some of the issues at Activision Blizzard have either been addressed or resolved according to a letter from CEO Bobby Kotick, posted on BusinessWire. The letter speaks about how the CEO is decreasing his salary for this year, introducing new zero-tolerance policies for harassment and abuse, increased visibility on equal pay, and maybe most importantly, the end of forced arbitration in cases of sexual harassment and discrimination. What this means is that employees can now take these cases to court instead of having to rely on a possibly biased human resources department. This is a step in the right direction, but time will tell if the company will make the changes necessary for a better future in this industry, at least under this company’s umbrella.

And then there’s loot boxes. For those who don’t know, loot boxes are a system of monetization implemented into most games these days. Imagine card packs for Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh, just on a digital scale. Seems harmless, right? Wrong. Initially, a system like this would only be implemented if necessary. In most cases it would be because the game is free-to-play and therefore must have some form of monetization if it hopes to stay active. However, over time more and more publishers started using loot boxes as an excuse to just make more money.

Before loot boxes were even a concept, games would allow the player to work towards upgrades, cosmetic or otherwise, at their own pace and at no extra financial cost. Nowadays, if you want that pretty skin for your favorite character, or you don’t want to spend an extra two hours unlocking a stronger weapon, you can pay for a chance to get what you want. It’s an incredibly lazy and greedy system that doesn’t promote the player to play the game more, but instead promotes them to give the publisher more money on top of the already full-price game in a lot of instances. And the publishers know that this works and don’t care about the adverse effects these cause to people because it makes them more money.

According to a BBC article on July 9, 2020, a young adult spent all of his college savings on loot boxes alone, not realizing that he had fallen into an addiction. Another example from BBC on July 9, 2019, is when the father of four children found his bank account empty after his children got hold of his card and spent all of the money on FIFA card packs, which are just loot boxes under another name. The father ended up getting a refund, but he also left a statement that many people may resonate with.

That being, “You pay £40 for the game, which is a lot of money in itself, but then the only way to get a great team is essentially by gambling.”

The children had spent 550 British pounds and still had not gotten their favorite player, Lionel Messi. That’s another aspect of loot boxes that make them unacceptable at times, which is their unfair odds. Every game is different in that regard, but in almost every game that has loot boxes, the chances of getting a high rarity item from the boxes are extremely slim.

Looking at it as a whole, it is quite sad to see what kind of state the video game industry is in today. Most of the big name publishers have something wrong with them, either internally, such as mistreating employees or forcing them to work hours that are far too long, or externally such as mistreating consumers and asking them to pay even more money in a game they already have invested substantial money in, in most cases.

Here is to hoping that one day there will be a game designing company that values their morals and integrity above all else, because as it stands now, the market is over-saturated with companies that just don’t seem to care.

By Cole Darner

Guest columnist

The writer is a freshman college student at Edison State Community College in Piqua. This editorial was submitted as part of a class assignment.

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