Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney delivered a controversial keynote during the DICE summit in Las Vegas yesterday. The billionaire head of Epic Games took to the pulpit to deliver a wide-ranging talk, touching on loot boxes, microtransactions and politics. It’s certainly the latter which has stirred up the most unrest, however, with Sweeney saying ”we as companies need to divorce ourselves from politics.”
Sweeney highlighted what he viewed as a clear division between the creatives and the overall ‘company mission’. “We have to create a very clear separation between church and state,” Sweeney said, “there’s no reason to drag divisive topics into gaming at all.” Good point Sweeney, magnolia wall paint for everyone; we don’t want to be in danger of actually thinking about what we’re playing, that wouldn’t be good for anybody.
Of course, games haven’t inherently gotten any more or less political, they always were, it’s simply our awareness of it which has increased. Particularly as the popularity of video games has boomed and it’s no longer unfairly seen as the chief domain of young pimply teenagers jacking off to Lara Croft’s triangular tits. It’s important that we’re aware of politics’ many-sided influences, from the stories we are told right on through to the way in which the games are sold to us.
Over the last few years though, the goalposts have moved. It’s now seen as a political stance to include people of colour or fully-clothed women in a game, which is just wild. Anything outside of the absolute norms of the industry is viewed by some with disdain, and it’s these folks Sweeney is attempting to court directly. Games have come a long, long way over the last 20 years, but here’s multi-billionaire Tim Sweeney trying to appeal to that exact demographic.
Sweeney went on to say that games are “as much a communication platform as an entertainment experience,” adding that they now have “special responsibilities we’ll have to take very seriously.”
Since the video game industry became the number one entertainment industry in the world, it’s no surprise gaming has now become a platform for people to voice their opinions, but Sweeney believes that politics should just be removed from the scene entirely.
Where things get really muddled is Sweeney’s division of creatives and their marketing departments. If the marketing for a game needs to be apolitical, how exactly are the creatives free to create politicised content? The Outer Worlds was marketed as a scathing anti-capitalist satire and that didn’t stop Epic scooping an exclusivity deal.
The very idea of removing politics entirely is paradoxical in nature. Take the recent Blitzchung controversy, wherein Blizzard’s idea of trying to be as apolitical as possible became inherently political. Choosing a politically neutral stance became a political statement. The inherent philosophy behind what Sweeney is saying is now flawed as Blizzard’s situation was impossible to address apolitically. Blizzard tried that and it blew back in its face harder than an Orc’s fart.
Sweeney’s idea is for games and games companies to just “divorce themselves from politics.” Which is all well and good for a man with twice the wealth of Donald Trump to say, particularly with his Tencent investment that ensures Epic Games will surely do anything it can to not step on China’s toes.
You can view this whole situation in different ways, and it is definitely a very grey area to talk about it. There might be some truth in what Sweeney is saying – and some will feel that politics are pushed a little too hard in some games – but at the same time every decision he makes, whether it be supporting open platforms for Fortnite cross-play, or walled gardens for the Epic Store, is simply a stepping stone to the ‘company mission’: greater profit.
In other, rather ironic, news: Tim Sweeney also condemned loot boxes, saying that the industry needs to move away from a “customer adversarial model”, essentially meaning that conflict in marketing is inevitably what drives sales.
Even when the controversy surrounding loot boxes and gambling was starting to die down, Sweeney brings it back up again: “We have to ask ourselves, as an industry, what we want to be when we grow up? Do we want to be like Las Vegas with slot machines… or do we want to be widely respected as creators of products that customers can trust?”
What do you think? Is the gaming industry too focused on politics within their companies as well as the games themselves? And is the gaming scene starting to become a lot like a digital Las Vegas?