24/10/2014 11:46 BST | Updated 24/12/2014 05:59 GMT

Why Gamergate Is Targeting the Wrong Enemy

There's a storm howling in the corners of the internet where people, like me, who love Videogames tend to dwell. A storm that I think many people hoped would disappear but which shows no sign of slowing.

That storm is Gamergate. Or, to give it it's proper title, #Gamergate.

For those who aren't familiar, a summary. In August of this year Eron Gjoni posted an account of his relationship with independent game developer Zoe Quinn replete with accusations of repeated infidelity with other men. Specifically, men in a position to help her promote the text adventure game she had developed - Depression Quest.

The accusations caused an uproar and soon a slew of positive reviews for DQ were called into question, along with an independent game award she had also garnered. This in turn spiraled into outrage about ethics in Game Journalism and concerns raised about the relationship between developers and those reviewing their games.


Depression Quest : Source

Things quickly turned nasty, from both sides, with a string of inexcusable misogynistic vitriol directed at several female developers from one side and tired type-casting of all gamers as 'angry white men' from the other.

It's a controversy that's ripped a diverse community in half and become so visible that even mainstream mediasources are now covering it fervently.

To be honest the whole thing just makes me sad, it makes me sad that we live in a world where anyone thinks it's acceptable to threaten the rape of someone they don't like. It makes me sad that anyone still thinks that a hobby where 48% of the participants are female and whose spiritual home is Japan is purely the domain of white men.

But what makes me truly despair is that this, all of it, is completely missing the point.

Because while #Gamergate has targeted Indie developers like Zoe Quinn and lambasted smaller news outlets like Gamasutra the real problem eating away at Games and Games Journalism has gone completely unchallenged. What problem am I talking about?


Source: Wikimedia

To put it simply: Money. Lots of Money.

Games and Games Journalism is big business, but it's big business that still exists in what could be described as a 'niche'. This presents itself in two ways, the first is in the disproportionate market share held by the biggest game publishers and the secondly by a specialist press group who are almost exclusively found online.

How does this harm integrity? Well, to start with, it's important to understand that the production of videogames is an industry dominated by a few key players who make the biggest games, known as 'AAA' Titles, and who own the most profitable franchises like Call of Duty, Battlefield and Fifa. Because they control both the programming and manufacture of these games, they also get to decide who reviews them prior to release by sending out 'review copies' to chosen sites.

This may seem no different to any other industry, with manufacturers filling the 'supply' part of supply and demand. However when this tight control of product is coupled with marketing teams who excel at pushing up the demand on even average games (Look up the Dead Island trailer for a perfect example) you have unprecedented control of both ends of the marketplace.

I can't overstate how much money Publishers are spending on advertising. EA (makers of Battlefield and FIFA) are the third largest advertiser on Facebook, beating out companies like McDonalds, Starbucks and Visa. On websites devoted specifically to games this influence is even more obvious; go on most Gaming sites and you'll see countless banners advertising the latest AAA titles or upcoming DLC releases.

All of this is a problem for a media which, as I've said, is overwhelmingly internet-based. To put it simply, websites rely on advertising revenue to make money and pay their staff. That revenue comes both directly from the Publishers buying space and indirectly by improving the number of visitors who see those ads. Those visitors keep coming looking for the latest news and Day 1 or 'Launch Day' reviews of software... something you can only achieve if the publisher sends you an early copy.

This combination of factors leaves the biggest review sites beholden to the publishers and has led to a situation where the overwhelming majority of game reviews are skewed to the positive as the graph below shows.


Source: Joystiq.

Worse, people have lost their jobs in dubious circumstances following negative reviews.

Against this background the current arguments aren't helping anything and the shameful targeting of women certainly isn't.

Because there is a real problem of Ethics in the Games Industry and its media, but right now it is so deeply entrenched in the fabric of this lifestyle that its perpetrators will happily let this particular storm pass them by.