It hasn't metastasized yet. But there is a malignant growth eating away at the video game industry.
Angry, petty, self-entitled gamers, a small but disproportionately noisy group, are slowly trying to take over the conversation in the world of video games.
This minority of gamers so viciously attack game makers, often threatening to kill them, kill their children, financially ruin their lives, that some game developers have decided to leave the industry while other future developers are weighing whether to enter it at all.
The real impact this has on real people is terrible, but so is the secondary impact this form of harassment has on the industry. This cyberharassment doesn't just tear down developers, it also derails the important conversations that should be happening between game maker and game player. The hyperbole also provides a smokescreen for bad design and business decisions, empowering developers to ignore the more reasoned, more reasonable complaints and conversations about their creations.
Dismissing a valid complaint becomes much easier when it is tinged with the fanatical support of people literally calling for a developer's life.
That Microsoft initially required the Xbox One to have an Internet connection to operate was a bad decision. That then Xbox head Don Mattrick once told me that people who wanted to play offline should go buy an Xbox 360 or that backwards compatibility was backwards thinking is thick-headed. But by so viciously, personally attacking a game developer who joked about the online requirement, that angry mob nearly shifted the conversation away from what was an authentically bad corporate misstep, into the dangerous, emotional territory of harassment and entitlement.
While the issue of fanatical harassment seems to be bubbling up everywhere these days, it's worse in fields empowered by creativity and with the projects that that artistry breeds.
That's because artistic creations are often a two-way conversation between creator and consumer. Add to that the rise of player-created content, fan fiction that inspires changes in official content and Kickstarter-backed projects, and those already fuzzy lines that separate maker from player become even more blurred.
Is it surprising then that when players, who feel like they're part of the creative conversation, get angry when they're calling for one direction and the game goes in another?
The key here is to have productive, not threatening conversations.
What's important is for game players to know that ultimately, no matter how connected they feel to a project or the people who are creating it, fans are an audience separated from the creative process unless explicitly invited to help. Equally important, though, is that creators realize that they are going to be held accountable, not through threats but through sales, for the promises they make and the goals they set for their works.
No one ever deserves to be dragged through a gauntlet of harassment, to have to worry about the safety of their loved ones or for themselves. Let's all agree that's off the table so we can get back to those meaningful two-way conversations that can help elevate the industry, rather than tear down its most talented stars.
Good Game is an internationally syndicated weekly news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Brian Crecente is a founding News Editor of Polygon.