I mean, fine if you want to see that as censorship, but I figure I have the right to protect people I care about. If you came into my house and threw handfuls of gravel at my cats, I'd ask you to leave, probably. On the whole, however, it happens a lot less than I was expecting.
We're a pretty small channel of course. I don't think we're particularly controversial. Plus, we're all SO lovely that how could you possibly have an issue with us?! The only time we ever got a lot of negative attention was when Digitiser The Show first went out. Part of that, I believe, was down to expectation versus what they got.
We had a lot of people who were new to the whole Digi thing. Plus there was an element of Digitiser The Show that was trying to appeal to two different audiences; the die-hards who were there for Found Footage and classic Digi... and those who wanted a proper, serious, gaming show. And some of those people, because the Kickstarter drew in those who weren't necessarily Digi fans, were backers. They weren't best pleased by the presence of Beautiful Boys and Chart Cats.
Still, I felt the pressure to appeal to everyone, rather than the core audience I prefer to make stuff for. Clearly I no longer care about that when it comes to the Digi Minis. Consequently, they're much more glorious and purely "me" as a result. Suffice to say, even if it means we end up raising less money for projects, that's the starting point next time.
However, that's all preamble. What I want too talk about is Ooblets.
Ooblets is described as a "life simulation game" - you know, a bit Stardew, a bit Pokemon, a bit Animal Crossing - from tiny, two-person studio, Gumberland.
Originally it was going to be released by Double Fine, but when that studio was acquired by Microsoft, Gumberland announced that they would be self-publishing instead. That's a big old undertaking for such a small team.
The game has been, in part, crowdfunded through Patreon... and that seems to be at least a degree of why those anticipating its release have reacted badly to the news that Gumberland has signed an exclusivity deal with... THE EPIC STORE!
<CUE LIGHTNING FLASH, DRAMATIC ORGAN MUSIC, STACCATO FLATULENCE>
And when I say "badly", I mean... death threats, racist abuse, and rape threats against Gumberland's husband-and-wife team, Ben Wasser and Rebecca Cordingley.
Also, apropos nothing, when I'm working or driving, and my wife asks if I'd like some water, she won't actually give me any until I pretend I'm dying of thirst, and I have to stroke my throat and groan, and mutter the word "Wasser... wasser..."
That's actually true, and I don't care that it makes us sound insane. Though sometimes we shorten it to "Wass-wass".
Of course, this wouldn't be the first time that an Epic exclusive has stoked the ire of gamers - something that Gumberland seemed very aware of, when they announced the deal by describing it as “The latest thing Gamers™ have gotten angry about."
The announcement adopted a generally tongue-in-cheek tone across the board: "Just imagine if other companies got it in their head to offer funding in exchange for exclusives. What’d be next? Game consoles paying for games to be exclusive on their consoles? Netflix paying for exclusive shows? Newspapers paying for exclusive articles? It’d be some sort of late capitalist dystopia."
Importantly, though, Gumberland needs the deal. As it explained: "Because Epic doesn’t yet have the same market share as their competitors, they offered us a minimum guarantee on sales that would match what we’d be wanting to earn if we were just selling Ooblets across all the stores.
"That takes a huge burden of uncertainty off of us because now we know that no matter what, the game won’t fail and we won’t be forced to move back in with our parents (but we do love and appreciate you, parents!). Now we can just focus on making the game without worrying about keeping the lights on. The upfront money they’re providing means we’ll be able to afford more help and resources to start ramping up production and doing some cooler things."
Seems reasonable doesn't it, being able to survive while making your game? Surely we don't expect our creators to become homeless, just so they can release their content in the way we demand?!
And Gumberland's justification seems fair. We do live in an age of exclusives. There are shows I want to watch that I need Amazon Prime for, shows I'm only able to watch on Netflix, or Sky. And as they say - it's not like games haven't been exclusive before. They've always been exclusive! You think Combat was available on anything other than the Atari 2600?
But of course, this is the games industry, and we're dealing with gamers, and... man. It got really nasty.
Epic's management has promised to support Gumberland over the abuse they've received, hissing, from their evil lair (an abandoned slaughterhouse): "The announcement of Ooblets highlighted a disturbing trend which is growing and undermining healthy public discourse, and that's the coordinated and deliberate creation and promotion of false information, including fake screenshots, videos, and technical analysis, accompanied by harassment of partners, promotion of hateful themes, and intimidation of those with opposing views."
Gumberland's Wasser also issued a statement regarding the situation. However, lot of what he had to say felt horribly familiar to me.
Around the time of Digitiser The Show's second or third ep - whichever one it was that a big idiot paid for us to receive hundreds of dislikes on - I had grown a bit weary of the negative comments, and just started taking the piss in return. I didn't have the energy or patience to engage with it anymore.
I mean, it's a bit like the Mr Biffo-looks-like-Charlie Brooker thing. It doesn't bother me - I mean, so what? - but I'm just bored of it. I don't have the energy to engage with it anymore. How many different responses am I meant to have to somebody who thinks they're being witty by pointing it out for the fiftieth time?!
"Hur-hur... you look like Charlie Brooker."
And...?! Okay. What's the response you expect to that? What am I meant to say?! Sorry. No offence, but it's just so boring and witless now.
And it got like that on the Digi comments last year; I was just weary of the same things being said over and over and over and over and over and over...
Out of the hundreds, possibly thousands, of comments and emails and messages we got telling us what we should've done, or what we should do, or how we could individually tailor the show to one person's specific sensibilities, less than 1% of them were useful or helpful.
We made a thing. We made creative decisions. That was the end result. You learn from it, you move onto the next thing, and you hopefully put what you've learned to good use.
It got to the point where the only way I could engage with all of it was to at least try and be entertaining in the process, for onlookers... and myself. Otherwise you just end up saying the same thing hundreds of times, and it drives you insane.
But, from the outside, it doesn't read as that, I guess.
"Why are you getting arsey with people, you prick?"
"Oh, I see that Mr Biffo, the prick, can't take criticism."
"I'm just trying to give you some advice, you prick."
"Looks like I touched a nerve, prick."
Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. They don't like it up 'em. I was only entertaining myself - and my wife, actually; she found it funny too, but then she knows me best, and knew my intent. Others on the Digi team were worried about how it was coming across, and so I stopped doing it. Instead of engaging, I just began ignoring it. I can take it, but I don't want my wilfully dickish behaviour rebounding onto others.
Unfortunately, it seems as if Gumberland's Ben Wasser handled it in much the same way.
He honked in the wake of the backlash: "I very foolishly engaged with these people, sometimes just answering them, sometimes making jokes, and often saying things in exasperation. It was obviously a mistake to engage in that way.
"I unintentionally threw a lot of fuel on the fire because my messages were screenshotted without any of that context (and sometimes specifically rearranged to change the context or outrightly fabricated) and shared back amongst where the hate mobs were mobilizing.
"To try to re-inject a little context into how you might conceptualize this situation, note that we’ve gotten literally tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of messages on every conceivable platform. We see a lot more than you ever could looking in from outside, and the worst of it usually gets deleted or is sent to us privately."
This keeps happening. Not people signing exclusivity deals with Epic - but this massive, over-the-top, outrage, with an accompanying bowl of abuse.
Why does it keep happening, and why do gamers, in particular, seem so fanatical and extreme?
It has always been so; think of how territorial some could get over the Amiga. Lest we forget, they tried to get me and Mr Hairs fired, of course, because we didn't cover their stupid computer. And we probably only made it worse because - as per my response to YouTube commenters last year - we took the piss on the letters page. It's what Digitiser has always done.
Though I appreciate that you need 26 years of context to get the jokes.
I do sometimes wonder if it is specific - or at least more widespread - in gaming fandom than elsewhere; that sort of fanatical, extreme outrage, that inability to ready irony or context, to fixate and obsess and launch campaigns of harassment and the like. Does it just feel like that because I'm inside the bubble?
Maybe tellingly, even though we made fun of Sega and Nintendo as much as we did the Amiga, it was the Amiga owners who took it personally, who got nasty. Are you more prone to that sort of thing, the bigger nerd you are?
Is it because so many of us are locked into our little pretend electronic worlds, interacting mostly through social media? Is there a higher percentage of lonely people and atypicals among gamers? Does it mean something that out of my kids, the only one who has ever remotely been into games is the one with the autism diagnosis?
It's not said as a criticism, or an attempt to blanket label. Plus, I don't exactly consider myself neurotypical. I'm just genuinely curious to know where this keeps coming from, and why?
I want to understand it, because when abuse - like that received by Gumberland, or like when somebody pays for a video to receive hundreds of thumbs-downs, or when they set up a social media account that's targeting just one relatively minor YouTuber... when it's that extreme, it's not about the target. Something is very wrong there, with an individual. Something isn't wired-up right, because most of us wouldn't behave that way.
It's not enough to just call these people names. What is it they want? What's driving them? What can we learn from how they respond to things?
Most importantly, how can we stop this happening?
"Wasser... wass... wasser..."