Last week, Robot Entertainment found itself in a bit of hot water regarding their attitudes toward so-called “toxic” players in their upcoming MOBA-not-a-MOBA Orcs Must Die! Unchained. In an interview with Polygon, designer Jerome K. Jones issued the following cringeworthy statements:
“There’s probably something good about the toxic players showing up and sticking with your game. The good thing is probably that it’s a good game. It’s holding their interest, it’s keeping them around. It’s making them passionate enough to give a damn.”
“They’re not going to go away. And honestly, I don’t think you want them to. You need those people there. They’re driving the game. They’re giving it longevity. They’re giving it passion. And when they find something about your game that they love, they defend it to the death. Those are the same people that can go to bat for you.”
In response to massive outcry against those statements, Robot Entertainment was forced to issue a response on their website that read, in part:
“Earlier today a headline suggested that Robot Entertainment welcomes toxic players in Orcs Must Die! Unchained. In the full interview, we acknowledged that toxic players are an unfortunate facet of multiplayer gaming. We made clear that we want to hear from all players no matter how passionate they may be. Passionate but not toxic… if a person chooses to restrict or impede upon the gameplay and community experience with inappropriate behavior, then we will ensure they are disciplined and, if needed, banned.”
Everyone deserves a second chance, I suppose, but the slightest hint that toxic behavior would, in any way, be tolerated in the first place raises eyebrows. Whether they want to call the game a MOBA or not, the designers of OMDU should know what a bane toxic behavior is and how light-years apart it is from simply “passionate” play.
And we’re not just talking about the basic “lrn 2 play u f****** noob stop feeding omg” behavior that we’ve all had to put up with in a MOBA, or other games. Toxic behavior goes well beyond that, including racist, sexist, and worse comments. Even remotely hinting that it’s welcome, in any fashion, is either ignorant of the issues it causes or disturbing in Robot’s acceptance of it.
The only possible explanation I can think of other than this is that Jones was trying to be inclusive and “invite” all stripes of players to the game, even the passionate/toxic ones. While that makes sense on paper – you want to try and draw as many people as possible to your product, after all – the problem is that in doing so, they drive away thousands of other players who would want to play the game but don’t want to have to deal with that kind of abuse or potential abuse.
I’m not fully satisfied by the response, either. “A headline suggested” all this? Yes, “a headline,” along with the actual words spoken by your actual employee. Don’t try and push this one someone else. You messed up.
What’s needed now is a full and verbose description of exactly what Robot Entertainment’s policies are and how they will be enforced. Whether there’s a strikes program, temporary-to-permanent bans, or a rigid zero-tolerance policy, it needs to be spelled out precisely and exactly. Cute headlines and pictures (“Toxic Players Will Be Incinerated And Gibletized”) aren’t going to cut it any more.
Also, your game is a MOBA, it might be OMD with MOBA elements, but it’s a broadening genre and you are a part of it. Accept that reality, embrace it and maybe it’ll help with your credibility.
By Jason Winter