The Folly Of Gamer Boycotts (The Jimquisition)

The Folly Of Gamer Boycotts (The Jimquisition)

February 6, 2020 100 By Kailee Schamberger


[cracking sound at impact, rock music begins] Sterling (offscreen): LAWLESS! Sterling: You bitter little loser! Offscreen announcer: The GM’s out here to put these guys in check thankfully.
Sterling: SHUT UP! Offscreen wrestler: You want me to shut up? Sterling: I’ll stop all three of you miserable reprobates myself. Sterling: Because I told you not to start the party… without me! [kicks, audience boos] Announcer 1: WHAT?!
Announcer 2: Wait a minute! [audience booing, Sterling cackles] Announcer 2: Wait a minute!! [Sterling cackles breathlessly] [“Born Depressed” by Drill Queen] People who play games are a vocal lot, and when people who play games don’t like something, they make their voices heard. As we’ve seen with Warcraft 3: Reforged and record-breaking lows for the User Review scores, how fun. Today, we’re going to talk about uhm… LESS glorious moments in gamer rage. Specifically, we’re talking about boycotts today. Boycotts. The things that.. legendarily don’t work when it comes to the game industry and the displeasure of videogame communities. When it comes to actual boycotts, “Gamers” TM do not have the best track record. The gaming community is very good at voicing displeasure, but following through on that displeasure is sometimes difficult. And today, we’re going to look at boycotts and why they really should just not be a thing in gaming communities if we’re not gonna do ’em proper. My friends I say this with all the love and respect in the world but I’m beginning to think that maybe, Gamers, my fellow Gamers, that maybe, maybe y’all should just stop trying to organize boycotts. This show, of all shows, isn’t gonna tell ya to stop railing on big publishers. My own indignance and outright disgust towards a significant number of major videogame corporations is well known. I think most companies in the game industry, or most companies in general really, are exploitative, amoral monoliths that inevitably gain profit at the grievous expense of others, and do it with a criminally laissez-faire attitude and a general disregard for the long-term harm of their actions. I also think that, as an extension of the incontrovertibly exerted will of those aforementioned monoliths, we all have to live in a socioeconomic system designed almost solely to benefit them and certainly benefits them above all others. And yes I am VERY fun at parties. I even bring my own drink! And then guzzle all of it in the corner. Alone. Very alone. With all that said, you’d think I’d be totally on-board with a boycott, but whenever one gets organized, and let’s use THAT term fucking loosely, I’m sad to say I almost inevitably roll my eyes, as does everyone else not signing up for the boycott. Because it’s been ten long years since the disastrous failure of the Modern Warfare 2 boycott, and you know what they say about insanity, right? Vaas: Did I ever tell you what the definition of insanity is? Vaas: Insanity is.. doing the exact.. same fucking thing, over and over again, Protagonist: Oh shit…
Vaas: expecting.. shit to change. He’s wrong, but the way. That’s not actually how insanity works. And I think it’s sad that Vaas, of all people, is running around islands taking a glib attitude toward mental health as he taunts his kidnapped victims. Also, when you Google “insanity” the results have been quasi-annexed by the Insanity Workout Program. Which, quite frankly, looks like far too much effort. [high-beat music begins] Ad announcer: You want results? Ad announcer: You don’t need an expensive gym membership to get them. Ad announcer: Just a DVD player, and enough space for a puddle of sweat. Ad announcer: You don’t even need much time. Ad announcer: Insanity’s only about 45 minutes, six days a week. Ad announcer: What you DO need, is the willpower to give it your best. (Jim yells offscreen) I’M OUT!! ANYWAY I’m sure you all remember Pokémon Sword and Shield, right? It was a controversial game among deeply-entrenched older fans of the series, due in no small part to the Dexit controversy. The complaint that Sword and Shield would be ditching over half the existing Pokémon roster, rather than carry all of them over like in previous sequels. Other criticisms involve lackluster graphics, animation, and a general feeling that the game was rushed and half-baked. Pokémon fans are a… …hmmmm a passionate bunch. And some of that passion boiled over into resentment and outrage. And a total lack of sense of humor about it. Don’t joke about the Pokémon to Pokémon fans. I can tell you from experience, they don’t like it. And that resentment and that outrage spilled over into talk of boycotts. Talk that, ultimately, failed to do anything to halt the game’s momentum because… Well, that’s what happens with what we can only by now call The Gamer Boycott. Nintendo very recently revealed that Pokémon Sword and Shield has already sold a mighty 16.06 million copies worldwide. And with that news came gloating. Almost every tweet I’ve personally seen regarding Sword and Shield sales has sarcastically referenced the boycott. Or at least had replies that did so. As the game’s success has now become a punchline for those who thought Dexit was stupid, and rightly expected the boycott to go nowhere. And for those people, the argument is now.. over. The Dexit controversy has become a joke, yet another chapter in the book of impotent Gamer Boycotts. HOWEVER, there IS valid criticism of Pokémon Sword and Shield. A series that hasn’t kept up with the times, while flogging two versions of near identical games, on a constant basis for over 20 years. Even Dexit is something I’m sympathetic towards. As I explained in a video about the personal connection people have with Pokémon, a connection the franchise itself fostered, and then used to inadvertently paint itself into a corner when it realized it couldn’t keep putting everyone’s favorites back into each game. But none of that matters now. Because boycott talk has overshadowed everything else, as it always fucking does. Now this isn’t about whether or not you choose to support a game financially. If you don’t want to buy a game for some moral, ethical, or just personal reason, you do you! Absolutely. And if you want to protest a game either alone or in a group, I mean that is your right and I have been part of many backlashes towards shitty games myself. But this is a branding issue. A branding and perception issue. And the Gamer Boycott as a brand, it’s… over. It’s been over for years. Many, many years. Very specifically almost, the B-word itself is poison if you wanna make an actual point about something a game has done that you think is wrong. So now, the conversation regarding Sword and Shield and Dexit and people’s problems with the game is now all about how the boycott failed. Offscreen announcer: What this guy thinks because he has a million YouTube subscribers he can come in here and try to have a hostile takeover?! [“Don’t Give Up” by Peter Gabriel plays in background] “Don’t give up… ’cause you have… friends.” (announcer voice repeated in slow-motion) …a million Youtube subcribers.. Forbes’ David Thier says the sales “reveal a truth about gamer rage.” Stating, “Here’s the thing about boycott threats like this one: they mean they exact opposite of what they say.” “When you see such intense controversy swirling around a game,” “more often than not, what it means is that there is a huge amount of attention being paid to an upcoming title.” “The more intense the controversy, the more attention being paid.” An article on Dexerto is headlined HMMmm “The Pokémon Sword and Shield boycott didn’t end well.” While GameRevolution went with a dismissive, “Pokémon Sword and Shield ‘boycott’ didn’t work as new games break sales records.” Perhaps the most brutal headline came from, of all places, the fucking Metro. Reading as it does, HMM-hmm, “Video game boycotts are a joke and Pokémon Sword and Shield proves it.” Articles that don’t lead with the boycott still make mention of it, because the sheer outrage leveled against the success of the game is… …well, it’s gonna be funny to a lot of people because people like seeing own-goals and eggs on faces. Especially when the humiliation is seen coming a mile away. The moment talk of a boycott started up, people were already predicting its failure. And why wouldn’t they? The history of Gamer Boycotts is… …well, I mean, it’s pretty pathetic if we’re being 100% honest with ourselves. As those boycotting seem unable to resist the call of consumerism in the end, while those who are disciplined in the matter tend to be far too few to make so much as a dent in the boycotted game’s revenue. 2009’s Modern Warfare 2 may be the most notorious example. Primarily because it can be so succinctly summed up with a single image. That one image of a bunch of proud Modern Warfare 2 boycotters playing the game in unison. For those who don’t remember, people were pissed off that Activision and Infinity Ward were getting rid of dedicated servers on PC. Prompting outraged fans to setup a petition, and form a Steam group for those who pledged not to financially support the game. But support the game is what most of ’em did. Turning the whole thing into a goof and pretty much suffocating the argument over dedicated servers whether that argument had any merit or not. 2009 also saw an attempted boycott of the then-controversial Left 4 Dead 2. It’s hard to believe now, but the game generated a huge and immediate backlash when it was revealed at that year’s E3. People were mad at the game’s announcement coming so soon after the first one gained traction, some calling it “glorified DLC,” and this is one I really didn’t think had much of a leg to stand on. Valve didn’t either, and actually flew two of the boycott’s biggest voices to its offices to play the game. While this is a rare case of a videogame company actually responding to a boycott, it was a savvy move on Valve’s part, effectively killing the whole thing. Those who played the game early liked it, and the movement to spurn Left 4 Dead 2 fizzled away. These aforementioned boycotts and more are detailed in a USgamer article titled “Fans Are Vowing to Boycott Pokémon Sword and Shield, but Here’s How That’s Gone in the Past.” It also includes the backlash to Bayonetta 2, and the infamous pre-release hatred for The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Which was derisively labeled “CELda” at the time for its allegedyly baby-ish, cell-shaded graphics. Yes, for those viewers who aren’t rapidly approaching 40 and relying on a steady stream of cigarettes and wine to numb their existential crises, there was indeed a time when people thought The Wind Waker, arguably the best Zelda game, was going to be shit. The point is, Gamer Boycott could be shorthand for “something that doesn’t work.” The moment you claim to be boycotting, you will be subject to mockery and snickering from people who have seen this song and dance far too many times to take it seriously. Worse than that, the boycott completely overshadows whatever issue it is people have with a game. How many of you even remembered what the Modern Warfare 2 thing was actually about before we brought it up again? Same for the others. Most people don’t care anymore. The boycotters themselves don’t care anymore. It never mattered, so people don’t expect it to matter in future. And that only emboldens the publishers themselves. Who see these threats as what they are, completely fucking toothless. It sends the message that, no matter how vocal the nerds are, no matter how furious the fanbase, most of ’em are gonna buy whatever filthy trash is ladled into their slop bowls, and they’ll ask for more. I mean, despite all the controversies Blizzard has had in recent history, the slimy little fuckers still knew they could shit out a quarter-assed non-apology, and quickly hurry us toward announcements for Overwatch 2 and Diablo 4 confident that all would be forgiven in the face of new stuff to buy. It’s no wonder Blizzard feels it can release a shit remaster, like Warcraft 3: Reforged, and get away with it! Because for the most part, companies will, and do, get away with it. None of this is to say that fans shouldn’t voice their displeasure. 99% of this show is voicing displeasure, with 1% leftover for making out with Boglins. And sometimes that displeasure actually has an impact. But that impact is felt through constant pressure and some form of action. We saw this with Star Wars Battlefront 2. A sustained campaign of resistance to the predatory gambling economy and insulting grind that Electronic Arts had initially tried to shoehorn into the game. The Battlefront subreddit became a complete shitshow, leading to hilarious instances of terrible EA PR gambits. And more importantly, it sparked political interest and gathered mainstream attention. In that regard, complaining and complaining and complaining worked, because legislators are now looking into lootbox practices, and EA continued to capitulate on the Battlefront 2 issue to the point where its monetization has been aggressively, and humiliatingly for EA, scaled back. And crucially, not all that many people protesting Battlefront 2 were branding their protest as a boycott. Some people did indeed throw the B-word around at the time, but for the most part it was characterized as a community revolt. Quite rightly, too. It was a sustained, community-wide effort to continue pressuring the company backed up by real political action. It was more of a rebellion, quite fittingly. A full-scale, community-wide rebellion. People didn’t just yell “boycott!” and then buy something they said they weren’t gonna buy. It wasn’t all talk, it wasn’t toothless bullshit. People actually kept it up. They didn’t just get bored and then tell everyone to shut up because they wanted to enjoy a game guilt-free. Not that I’m bitter about that being the general response to this show. But that is a problem with these boycotts. Gamers TM get bored quickly, so they do a half-hearted hashtag on Twitter for a bit and then wander off. But with Battlefront 2, people cared and kept caring. More importantly, they didn’t just say they were gonna do things in the future, they were keeping the pressure up in the moment. That’s not something you can just contrive with a hashtag or an online petition signed by 500 people. And it doesn’t work if hearts and minds haven’t been won over. It’s been proven that with enough dedicated voices, and “dedicated” is the operative word, game publishers can be goaded into response. Sometimes you just get a shitty, insincere apology. Sometimes, rarely, a big win like Battlefront 2. You get it with active rebellion. Not a bunch of big talk that goes absolutely nowhere. The very word “boycott” is essentially toxic in the game industry now. It instantly characterizes the boycotts as coming from whining, insincere, boneless people and it’s not like there isn’t history that can be drawn from there. More frustratingly, it moves the entire conversation away from whatever the actual issue is, and tars any and all critics with the same whiny, boneless brush. Because like I said, there are plenty of things to pull apart from the Pokémon series. Sword and Shield does have problems, some of them exacerbated by a business model that’s really quite fucking shitty in places, but all of that was instantly dismissed the moment a boycott came up. All talk of a boycott seems to do is set people up for public mockery. Because gamers are bad at boycotts. That’s the harsh truth. You’re bad at them, stop trying to make them a thing. And if you must say you’re gonna do something… ..DO IT! Ha ha ha! What a great video that was. We will see what happens with the whole Warcraft 3: Reforged thing. That sounds a bit more like the Starwars Battlefront 2 thing. Because again, people are not organizing to boycott, they are responding, and they’re keeping that pressure up. So, that’s.. that’s just an example of what the best thing to do is, to keep talking about it [punctuates with hand slaps] and don’t go making wild, bold promises about what you will do, if you’re not gonna do ’em! It’s especially damning because “boycott” is specially not doing something. So not doing the not doing of the thing, is doubly not doing it. Which is BAD. (chuckles) I’m not good at making arguments. I don’t know how I’ve kept this show running for ten years. OH! Right, before I go, Uhm.. I SHOULD be at the Ryse Stronghold Saturday night, alright? The 8th. …Or the 9th or the 10th. It’s the 8th! I think. Uhm, Saturday night, at the Ryse Stronghold. In just sort of outside of Pittsburgh. Look that up! Sterling, my extraterrestrial alter-ego, now RUNS Ryse wrestling. That’s right! I run a wrestling promotion now. Mmhmm. Hope I see you there. That’s gonna be very fun. ALSO, this should be the last Jimquisition I film in Mississippi. Well, I’m actually doing the intro and the outro for next week’s in a minute, so that will be the last one officially. But this will be the last Jimquisition actually made and published in this fucking shithole. We’re off north. Because, as I say, I run a wrestling promotion now. Gotta move to the northeast to oversee it, how exciting. And we will see you next week. Hopefully. I’ve gotta write and do a whole episode tomorrow to make sure we don’t miss a Monday. But when I do see you, you will all have the option, well the option, the OBLIGATION, to thank God ..for me. [Insanity Workout ad continues] “Now I’m going to get into sports-specific training,” “to gain speed, to get you agile.” “Ready? And go!” “This is all about being agile, being quick!” “Gaining speed! Working the body!” “Working the core. Pushing through it.” “Good job. Now we’re going down. This is how you gonna…”