Blizzard’s Folly

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Oct 15, 2019

Filed under: Column 150 comments

If you’re reading my humble site, then you’ve heard about the controversy surrounding Blizzard with regards to China and the Hong Kong protests. However, it feels wrong to start an  article with no context whatsoever, so here’s is a super-fast one-paragraph summary:

A week ago the pro Hearthstone player Blitzchung won a tournament. Afterward, he appeared in an interview wearing goggles and a face mask and shouted “Liberate Hong Kong!”, showing solidarity with the Hong Kong protesters. The interviewers ducked behind their desk and laughed, and then the interview was terminated. Two days later, Blitzchung was stripped of his prize money, stripped of his title, removed from the grandmaster league, and banned from Hearthstone competition for a full year. Additionally, the interviewers were also fired, even though they didn’t express any overt support for Hong Kong.

Everyone hated this move. The entire gaming community has already expressed their disgust for Blizzard’s behavior. I realize I’m showing up a week late to this party. I wouldn’t bother weighing in at all, except there’s another angle to all of this that I want to explore.

So here’s what I want to do: I want to defend Blizzard.

Also here is the video version of this article, for those of you who aren’t into the whole reading thingI really need to come up with a graceful way of offering both of these options without it feeling awkward.:

Link (YouTube)

Defending Blizzard

I hear what you're saying and you make some good points, but have you considered the fact that YOU ARE A HORRIBLE PERSON?!
I hear what you're saying and you make some good points, but have you considered the fact that YOU ARE A HORRIBLE PERSON?!

Now, if you’re a Blizzard executive then you shouldn’t get your hopes up. I’m not really on your side. I’m going to spend a couple of minutes pretending to be on your side, but this is part of a secret technique I’ve mastered after decades of arguing about things on the internet. The move is called “I see what you’re saying, but…”. It involves a quick gesture of empathy to get your opponent to let their guard down, followed by lifting them up so you can throw them down even harder.

This is a very difficult technique. I’m a trained professional. Please don’t try this at home.

With that out of the way, let’s look at this from the perspective of Blizzard entertainment.

Let’s start by giving Blizzard the benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume that Blizzard got a scary letter from the Chinese governmentThis is extremely unlikely – bordering on fantastical – but let’s just imagine things as favorably as possible for Blizzard. that demanded the company punish everyone involved. Let’s assume that the letter threatened severe and specific penalties if Blizzard didn’t comply.

If I’m sitting in the chair of Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby KotickYes, this controversy surrounds Blizzard, not Activision Blizzard. But we can’t pretend like the parent company doesn’t have any say in how Blizzard operates., then my first concern is for the people who work for me. The livelihoods of thousands of people are on the line. We have a lot of employees and partners inside of China. If China boots us out of the country, all of those people will suffer. China might even punish them directly once we’re gone. I don’t want to see anything bad to happen to them.

Just a reminder that Activision Blizzard runs five companies, three of which are named after itself. Right now we're working under the assumption that the parent company is responsible for setting the tone, policies, and corporate culture of its subsidiaries.
Just a reminder that Activision Blizzard runs five companies, three of which are named after itself. Right now we're working under the assumption that the parent company is responsible for setting the tone, policies, and corporate culture of its subsidiaries.

More importantly, what can our company do? We make video games. We can’t help the Chinese people. We can’t change anyone’s mind. This fight is happening in another language, in another country, in another culture, all the way around the world, and I don’t have any power in that battle. There are people who have built their careers around the partnerships we have with Chinese companies and the relationship we have with the Chinese people. Our games bring joy to millions. It won’t change anything if I defy China, but it will hurt thousands of my employees and millions of our fans.

We make video games here. It’s not our job to fight governments. We need to stay as neutral as possible. In fact, it’s our duty.

That’s what would be going through my head as the CEO of a corporation. Now, you might disagree with this line of thinking. You might even call me a coward. And you’re probably right. But I think it’s a pretty understandable and pragmatic position. History takes a dim view of people that try to stay neutral in conflicts, but it’s frequently a good survival tactic.

However, Blizzard isn’t trying to be neutral. They’re not even trying to look neutral.

If you actually wanted to stay neutral, then the most sensible course of action is to stonewall. This is right out of the standard corporate playbook. If someone big – like a major government – is being a pain in the ass and they’ve got leverage over you, then you start dragging your feet. Promise on the phone that you’re going to act right away. Then wait until it’s 1am in China and email them back requesting clarifications. When they call back the next day, tell them you want to comply but you need your lawyer present to help hammer out the details. So you set up a conference call for the next day. Then postpone it at the last minute for logistical reasons. Just draw everything out and hope the government gets bored and loses interest in the whole thing.

But if they keep pressing, then you keep devising new ways to haggle over details while claiming you’re willing to do whatever they want.

“You want us to take away his prize money? Oh, that’s difficult. See, there’s contracts and agreements, and something something sponsorships, and this would destabilize the league blah blah blah and upset our western partners. Oh, you insist? Okay, I’ll talk to legal and see what we can do.”

And then the next day you talk to them again:

“Okay, we’ve heard you loud and clear. We’ve suspended those two casters. Oh, you wanted those guys fired?! Sorry. There must have had some miscommunication. Fine, we’ll begin the process of interviewing potential casters and as soon as we find suitable replacements, those two guys are gone. Oh, you want them fired now? Okay, I’ll send the order to legal and they’ll begin the process of drafting a document to direct our partners to send a notification to the talent agency.”

Maybe this won’t work. If China is serious and they amplify their threats, then you’ll have no choice but to fully comply with all of their demands. If that happens, then you issue a public statement to put the blame where it belongs. Your announcement can say something like:

“We love all gamers and we want everyone to enjoy this hobby together. In order to continue working with our valued Chinese partners and serving our fans in China, we’ve had to do X, Y, and Z.”

The west might get mad at you, but at least people will understand you had a gun to your head.

But Blizzard didn’t do any of that. They could have. It would have made business sense to do that. But instead they immediately prostrated themselves before the Chinese government and did exactly what their masters wanted. They handed down harsh punishments to everyone involved in less than 48 hoursThey lowered the punishments and gave Blitzchung back his prize money on Friday, but that doesn’t change the fact that their initial response was so over the top., and we don’t even have any proof – or even a hint – that the Chinese government threatened them.

It’s not like Activision Blizzard is a stranger to corporate politics! This isn’t some innocent small-fry company that doesn’t know how to play hardball with major governments. Activision Blizzard is headquartered in California, but they technically sold their IP rights to a company in Bermuda and one in Barbados and those companies then license that IP to a fourth part of the organization, a Netherlands-based company that manages distribution and rights outside of the US. The idea is that when all of these countries come to collect tax, all of these entities can cook their books to make it look like the money was “really” earned elsewhere. The company is effectively avoiding billions in taxes with this.

And you know what? I could sort of respect that in a, “Don’t hate the player, hate the game” sort of way. Okay, these guys know how to play the game. I don’t like how they play, but they’re technically obeying the rules.

This company is willing and able to engage in tactical lawsuits, PR spin, tax evasion, review score manipulation, and duplicitous marketing. The company is willing to piss off consumers and governments around the world without a second thought. That’s not nice, but fine. But then they won’t offer even the slightest opposition to China’s authoritarian bullying?

We're neutral with everyone. (Except if you're a part of the CCP. Then we're on your side.)
We're neutral with everyone. (Except if you're a part of the CCP. Then we're on your side.)

That’s not neutral behavior. That’s not a company that wants to stay out of trouble. People are criticizing Blizzard for putting profits ahead of people. If that was the case, they would be just as sneaky and duplicitous with the Chinese government as they are with everyone else. Instead they’re willing to endure massive backlash, bad PR, and boycotts in the west to appease the only government they respect.

I don’t know what their corporate priorities are, but they’re a lot more grotesque than just being weasels that will do anything for a buck.



[1] I really need to come up with a graceful way of offering both of these options without it feeling awkward.

[2] This is extremely unlikely – bordering on fantastical – but let’s just imagine things as favorably as possible for Blizzard.

[3] Yes, this controversy surrounds Blizzard, not Activision Blizzard. But we can’t pretend like the parent company doesn’t have any say in how Blizzard operates.

[4] They lowered the punishments and gave Blitzchung back his prize money on Friday, but that doesn’t change the fact that their initial response was so over the top.

From The Archives:

150 thoughts on “Blizzard’s Folly

  1. EOW says:

    There’s also the hypocrisy of how harsh the punishment was vs how much they talk about politically charged topics on american media.
    So the “no politics” rule was clearly a cover up.

    1. kunedog says:

      Blizzard literally runs gay-pride-themed Overwatch League tournaments, while simultaneously banning the “OK” symbol. Their rules for political displays seem to be all over the place (or just selectively enforced).

      1. Hector says:

        What symbol did they ban? Or is this something I’d rather not know?

        1. Hector says:

          Actually, don’t tell me. Whatever they banned I don’t want to know.

        2. DanMan says:

          They banned the OK hand gesture where you make a circle with your thumb and index finger and leave the other three fingers splayed out. I have read that this gesture is being associated with White Supremacists. I don’t have much more detail than that.

          1. DeadlyDark says:

            It’s a four chan prank that was taken way too seriously. So it’s just like every other four chan prank ever

            1. kunedog says:

              These 4chan pranks are more effective than trademark registration. You can steal others’ symbols, prior art is null&void, and an army of press and activists constantly patrol the public to enforce it, working longer and harder (and accomplishing more) for the symbol’s new designated “owners” (who they claim to hate) than a few trademark lawyers ever could.

              1. BlueHorus says:

                The above post made me laugh. Because it’s probably true. And that’s terrible.

              2. kunedog says:

                That should have been “whom,” shouldn’t it.

          2. Asdasd says:

            It was originally a joke. 4chan decided to try and get the gesture associated with white supremacism to see if they could get overly sensitive media sites and other institutions to ban it in outrage, which of course they immediately did.

            Fast forward a few cycles of Standard Internet Period and there’s now no way of knowing, from a still image, whether a given person is using it with its original meaning, in an ironic attempt to troll liberals or as a wholly-meant expression of white supremacism. In pockets of the internet that have never encountered the scandal, there’s reason to feel any underlying tension at all, which leads to explosions of confusion and anger when they come into contact with the Extremely Online.

            1. Asdasd says:

              * no reason to feel any underlying tension at all. My edit privileges got revoked for this comment for some reason :(

              1. Hector says:

                Well, I didn’t want to know but found out anyway. I actually feel dumber after learning this.

                Thank you anyway.

            2. EOW says:

              why are americans so easily baited? Here from oversea we always hear about stories of american “journalists” getting offended at literally everything and taking even the most innocuous prank at face value.
              Seriously, here in italy we joke about bad journalism, but american journalism feels so cancerous. Just look at the outrage for Joker.
              Literally everyone but americans are enjoying the movie without getting their heads in a frying pan.
              Appearently watching a movie leads to copycat killers, but advertising the name of mass shooters that only do it for attention is a-ok

          3. Scampi says:

            The fun part (from what I read about it lately) for me is that it has lately been claimed to be related to White Supremacists but even the organization who put it on their list of extremist symbols (I don’t remember which one) seems to say it is only related to White Supremacists if the context makes it clear that it is meant this way. How is the symbol itself a problem, then? Isn’t it just allowing them to take full control of a symbol that was unproblematic for ages?
            Couldn’t they do similar things to lots of symbols or acts like e.g. waving the white flag or performing as mimes?

            1. Geebs says:

              It’s bloody inconvenient for scuba divers; the “OK” symbol is an important and standardised hand gesture. The alternative of “thumbs up” literally means “let’s go up” in diving sign language, which if misunderstood might actually be dangerous.

              1. Scampi says:

                Well, from now on it will have to mean “a great white one right behind you”

                1. trevalyan says:

                  I laughed far too hard at this. There may be a better marriage of scuba diving and white supremacy jokes this year, but I probably won’t hear it.

              2. Chris says:

                As part of some hindu celebration (which unfortunately I’m too ignorant off to know which one it was) some hindu coworker hung up swastikas around the office. Then the German came in, saw them, ripped one of the wall and demanded to know who hung that stuff up. A bit later it became clear what happened but its still kinda sad how the nazis stole that symbol. (and yes i know it turns the other way, but most people dont recognize that).

                1. trevalyan says:

                  Both Hindi films I’ve watched this year have swastikas as wholly inoffensive background pattern. The style of square swastikas in a line is very different from diamond swastikas in flags or 1940’s culture.

                  I would encourage both workers to learn about what the symbols mean to each other. The German could be arrested for possessing materials with swastikas in his own country. Games developers will erase swastikas in German localizations, even from works that relentlessly excoriate the Nazis. It really is down to culture.

                  1. Scampi says:

                    Yes, it’s insane. Playing Indiana Jones games might have given us the impression the Nazi symbol was a square.

                    Another story I’d like to relate: A Japanese acquaintance went to Japan, visiting a Buddhist temple. He wore a swastika shirt, and posted a selfie to Facebook, for which he was subsequently lambasted by Germans for his Nazi symbolism. Even when he explained the religious meaning it had to him, the would not cave in.
                    I guess it didn’t help him that he’s the kind of guy who would regularly make very off-color jokes in public and you could never say if he was serious or kidding.

                    1. baud says:

                      Also, in some parts of South-East Asia, nazi “fashion” is considered chic, which is not helping to avoid that kind of confusion. See this article on Wikipedia.

            2. Agammamon says:

              Isn’t it just allowing them to take full control of a symbol that was unproblematic for ages?

              You mean like the swastika? Which was an unproblemantic symbol for . . . oh longer than western civilization has existed – until the Nazi’s came around. Or the hammer and sickle? Or hell, red flags in general.

              1. Scampi says:

                Yes, since I don’t know the exact history of all those, I’m not sure, but I guess so?
                I just don’t get how such things are pretty instantly given up once someone tries to turn them into symbols for this stuff. This happens all the time in recent years and I don’t get how the mechanism for “right wing contamination” is never an attempt to salvage a symbol or “take it back” (however that works) but seems to always to default to “they touched it, now it’s evil”.

                1. Chad Miller says:

                  It’s because of the way group incentives work vs. individual incentives.

                  If everyone else is abandoning X because “it’s racist,” you don’t want to be the lone non-racist having to explain you’re not a racist every time you do X for innocent reasons. This is true even if you disagree with the premise of X being racist in the first place, even if you’re upset at the widespread assumption that X is racist.

                  1. Scampi says:

                    I just had typed a LONG rant on the issue, until I realized it went far too deep into political territory.
                    So I’ll have to content myself with mentioning that I don’t like this kind of reasoning, which can in some ways (which my rant would have provided an elaborately explained example of-it touched on sensitive subjects and I deemed it inappropriate for this board) have far reaching consequences which, instead of improving a situation, may sadly be extremely detrimental to the very cause they are supposed to serve.
                    I understand the incentives at hand, but can’t help realizing that sometimes people need to analyze their actions way better before coming to their conclusions.

                    1. Chad Miller says:

                      So, I hope it’s not bad form to respond when you explicitly mentioned you’re holding back, but I do feel the need to point out that I wasn’t making any value judgement in my comment so much as describing what actually happens. When I said “you don’t want to be the lone non-racist” what I really meant was “If you value not being perceived as racist then doing this is bad strategy.”

                      To elaborate a bit more on the process I was describing, consider:

                      * X is something completely innocuous.
                      * Someone spreads a rumor that X is racist.
                      * The rumor becomes popular enough that large numbers of people stop avoiding X for fear of being perceived as racist.
                      * The only people left doing X are people who don’t know about the rumor, people who don’t mind being perceived as racist, and people who know about the rumor and mind being called racist but actively defy the rumors and do X anyway.
                      * Because of various social pressures, the group least likely to stop doing X are the people who don’t mind being perceived as racist, a group which is likely to include large numbers of unrepentant racists.
                      * If this goes on long enough, X becomes a reliable signal of racism just because non-racists stopped doing X

                      I’ll be the first to agree this is ridiculous. What you have here is a situation where X can be flipped from “innocuous” to “racist symbol”, not because X was created or adopted with racist intent, and not even because enough people believed X was racist, but because enough people believed that other people believed X was racist. Sad but true.

                    2. Scampi says:

                      Let me first mention my rant wasn’t aimed at you. It was purely issue based, but the topic itself was, as you will see from the rest of this comment, a sensitive issue, and I’m quite sure there may be people who would declare me a racist if I elaborated my argument.

                      It was just a long and elaborate example about a specific example where extremists have almost completely appropriated some symbolism for their cause (or even worse, were handed it) and I believe (and I think can argue for the case, since it’s based on international law) the specific example might hurt everyone involved, because it could reduce the ability of courts to punish people for genocide of all things. I’m also aware that publicly elaborating this specific example might give people ideas and the last thing I want is to be the idiot who actually enabled people to do this.
                      I admit it requires a quite long slippery slope to come to this point, but any slope needs to start somewhere, and I’m cynical enough to think that, if I could think this up, someone else might do it again. And since the entire path up to the actual final step (where it becomes malevolent, obviously) can be walked under the pretext of benevolence, it could be done by someone entirely inconspicuous.

                      There was no bad blood and I didn’t feel offended by your previous comment, if you thought this might have happened.

  2. Tobias says:

    This kowtowing really makes me wish that the Chinese gov starts insisting that those megacorps move their taxpaying organs to China. Just to see what happens.

  3. Mersadeon says:

    I kinda don’t get how we are supposed to talk about this post without immediately falling into really ugly politics discussion.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Same. It’s sad, because there’s a lot of interesting things to say outside of the ugly arguments, but yeah.

      So then:

      Taking bets! Taking bets now!
      How long will it be before Shamus gets to stressed out and shuts down the comments section?
      Place your bets!

      (Me: 2 days ~200 posts)

      1. Asdasd says:

        Well, this was the major topic for yesterday’s post also, and (as far as I know) apart from one guy getting a couple of posts deleted it was far from a disaster. In fact there was a lot of interesting, polite, well-reasoned discussion.

      2. Filthy Neutrality says:

        I think it’ll be 3 days. Shamus isn’t active every day of the week, so it’ll have some lag-time built in.

    2. Scampi says:

      You may be right there, but right now I wonder how much of any given or at least many “This dumb industry”-post and subsequent discussion is actually ugly politics in disguise.

      1. Syal says:

        Yeah, all these posts about social gaffs seem inherently political, because the why of the problem can only be explained in social contexts which is hugely influenced by politics.

    3. kdansky says:

      I frankly find the self-censorship on the topic of politics annoying, to say the least. Turning the very fabric of society into a taboo does not work on the long run.

      And we currently see that quite well, with two sides entrenched, nobody talking to each other and everybody screaming insults and lies. Maybe more talk instead of less would have helped when “no politics” became the standard on the internet over the last 20 years.

      1. Scampi says:

        I really respect people for not wanting to talk politics and realize my interest in the topic really hurts me because it’s bad for my prevailing mood altogether, but because in the past I really LOVED talking politics in a friendly manner (something that was still possible at the time), making politics a no-go-topic was kind of a death knell for my social life. It was one of the few “everyday issues”-topics I liked to talk about. In my childhood, it was still a generally accepted smalltalk topic.
        Suddenly, all my favorite topics were “off-limits” for the general public (as in: nobody wanted to talk about them out of a lack of interest or an increase in polarization) and I refused to talk about stuff that I myself absolutely didn’t care about (in some cases: no more) just because the people around me decided every single topic I liked to spend my time on was forbidden.
        Politics is of course not everything I like to spend my time on, but it tends to creep everywhere and it really saddens me.

        1. Fon says:

          The problem is you might encounter someone who strongly supports an opposing political view. No matter how friendly you are, your oppositions might still… I don’t know, get enraged/offended anyway? Push their opinions on you? Either way, there are a lot of ways things can go wrong. Perhaps not here, but the odds of things going wrong when someone starts talking about politics is usually really, really high on the internet.

          I believe most people love to or would like to express their opinions, so I wouldn’t say there’s a lack of interest in talking about politics. When people say they’re not interested in (talking about) politics, they probably mean they’re not interested in having a debate/argument about politics. I’d estimate about 75% of the people avoids politics in order to avoid conflict/stepping on someone else’s toes, and not because of lack of interest in expressing their opinion.

          Instead of talking about politics to strangers, you should make friends with people who for sure wouldn’t get offended at you for having an opposition view. You can still talk about politics, but you have to be selective about whom you talk to, and probably talk about it in private.

          (Or if you’re daring, you can go to places which are dedicated to talking about politics.)

          1. Scampi says:

            Yes, that stuff happens, and at another time in my life, I would be that idiot myself. I own and admit it today.
            But that’s not the kind of conversation I meant. I thought of cases where you’d happen to talk about a specific problem and could at least agree it was a problem at all, then instead of starting a fight, you’d suggest different solutions and maybe argue why the suggestions might not work or need more thought and such stuff. The really productive kind of politics. And THAT was the kind of conversation that became increasingly impossible, even in a less polarized social climate than today. Right now, I honestly must say politics really piss me off, but I can’t really help reading news. I consider seeing a doctor because I think at the moment my news consumption habits (and my reaction to lots of it) really hurts my health. And I’m not one to get my news from social media.

      2. BlueHorus says:

        Maybe more talk instead of less would have helped when “no politics” became the standard on the internet over the last 20 years.

        ‘Talk’ is the operative word here. One that I wouldn’t use to describe a lot of political arguments that I see online; this just seems to be a…fact? facet?…of the internet. Take almost any issue, especially one that’s emotive, where there can be different interpretations of right and wrong, where there’s something people value at stake, and it’s almost guaranteed to descend into a bitter argument where people aren’t even trying to communicate or listen.

        Why? How? That’d be an essay in itself, but off the top of my head: how easy it is to troll, the ease of miscommunication online, outrage being (in a sense) addictive, the ultimate futility of this kind of ‘argument’… etc etc etc.

        Turning the very fabric of society into a taboo does not work on the long run.

        I have to say that I prefer a ‘No Politics’ rule to the endless, self-sustaining dumpster fires that pass for arguments on a lot of the internet. Shamus even made a post about leaving Twitter because he hated the type of discourse there…and ended up disabling comments on it because of the arguments that arose.

        The ‘No Politics’ rule is very much a response to the current state of political discourse, not a cause of it.

        1. Scampi says:

          where there can be different interpretations of right and wrong

          This strikes me as one of the core issues: in most cases when people get really bitter about politics it’s because they argue about something that has different interpretations, but neither side treats it this way, instead insisting their side is the only valid perspective on a given matter. It doesn’t help that often statements lack clarity due to different reasons.
          I also think many people have really invested way too much time learning about formal debating techniques and fallacies because they are in this talk to win it, and if their opponent makes a flawed argument, that means they win by default.
          The amount of people calling out formal fallacies in any debate, whether founded or not, and employing bad faith tactics is astounding to me and I’m not exactly sure I want all these people to believe that they, armed with this kind of formal knowledge, automatically transform into prodigy floor leaders.
          It’s nice to know why your opponent just committed a fallacy, but it doesn’t really help their own arguments become better.
          If used to such effect, it might help people understand their own mistakes, but I find it to be fundamentally unsavory to just throw formalities at people to pull the audience to your side.

          1. methermeneus says:

            As someone who’s invested a fair amount of time learning about logical fallacies, I can say that if I’m in an argument, it’s to be right, not to win. If the other person turns out to be right, then I want to know that so I can change my mind, and if either of us is engaging in logical fallacies, that gets in the way, maybe even leads to both of us being wrong, either by failing to recognize a bad argument or by discounting an argument for a valid position because one of us used bad reasoning to get there. I don’t know how many people think about argument like that, but I don’t think I can be the only one.

            That said, I hate formal debate tactics. It’s more about who sounds better than who’s actually right. Back in high school, I won a formal debate when I was assigned to the side that the moon landing was a hoax, because all you really need is to be a persuasive speaker, rather than the side backed by more facts and better logic. I felt morally obligated to point out the flaws in my argument afterwards just in case I accidentally convinced anyone of a lie.

            1. Scampi says:

              I’m sure you’re not the only one, but I see this a lot online, since lots of people have at times followed one or another political channel and come across this line of arguing.
              Even some science channels which I generally respect because they use proper scientific quotation, base their conclusions on both original papers and their own research and are largely independent due to a healthy mix of state and audience funding have at times dabbled in teaching their audience about formal debate tactics and fallacies, and while I applaud the attempt to teach people about applied philosophy (At least that’s how I’d describe this. Am I wrong?), I realized that people immediately began overusing and misapplying the new concepts and it turned the comment sections into a hitherto unseen cesspool, because everyone just wanted to claim their personal favorite adversaries were guilty of one or another fallacy, which of course would always prove they always had been right in their beliefs.
              I’m glad this happens way less offline, I believe because people don’t really internalize this stuff but can easily read it up online once they know it exists and where to find it. It might have other reasons, like a reduced risk of running into radicalized debates, but I think that doesn’t really account for the improbably high number of people who seem to debate in such a manner online. This is of course based on my own impression and may be caused by any number of misperceptions on my part.

              1. Syal says:

                I’m glad this happens way less offline

                Body language is huge. If you can see someone’s jokey smile when they make a political comment, and if they can see you showing discomfort when you respond to it, you’re both likely to try to smooth things over. In text, all you’ve got is the words, and it’s easy to assume everyone’s got their nose as high in the air as it will go.

                And radicals are less radical in person where they can be physically knocked out.

        2. Sabrdance (Matthew H) says:

          While I agree that a lot of the “no-politics” rules are a response to the environment, it’s also particularly hard to talk politics on the internet. I have other websites I talk politics on. Some of them are, by design, ideological homegenous (ish). We still get into knock-down-drag-out fights. The medium certainly doesn’t help. I teach politics -in person, most of the time, everyone can modulate their tone and how much they say at a given moment to at least facilitate discussion. The internet rips a lot of that away -and even writing a short response can be taken not as a respectful opportunity for the other person to get a word in, but as a dismissal.

          For online classes, this is one of the reasons I cap discussion board comments at between 100 and 400 words (the other is that I eventually have to read and grade those discussions).

      3. Ninety-Three says:

        “No politics” didn’t become a standard by random chance. People looked at political discussion, noticed that it always turned into flamewars, and banned it because it sucked. The underlying problem is not the taboo.

    4. Mistwraithe says:

      I think it is great that we can maturely talk about not talking about politics…

  4. BlueHorus says:

    I’m not convinced.
    The bullshit prevarication you’re describing might work with a different, more lenient country, where any punishment they incur will most often come after lengthy court battles; they’ll have ample time to spin, bullshit, or distract from the issue. Somewhere like the USA is committed to letting dissent be spoken and it takes time and effort to bring someone powerful to account.

    Meanwhile, from what (little) I hear, China’s commitment isn’t nearly the same. The CCP put a lot of energy into the appearance of a harmonious country, making the effort to not just punish dissent, but make sure people hesitate before they even think of speaking out.
    They know the kind of bullshit tactics Shamus is describing, and they simply wouldn’t put up with it in the way another country might.
    Even an oblique hint that the Blizzard did what it did at the CCP’s request could be punished, down the line.

    It’s not a great analogy, but I work in a school, and the kids there know the staff. With the lenient teachers – or cover staff – certain kids will be awful, pushing the boundaries, acting up.
    But when they’re in a class with the strict teachers? Even the worst – especially the worst – will shut the hell up and play along. It’s not about the rules, or even right and wrong; it’s about knowing what you can or can’t get away with.

    1. Narkis says:

      Yeah, I came down in the comments to write pretty much the same thing. I think Shamus got it wrong here. Blizzard is just “weasels that will do anything for a buck.” Western societies and governments may tolerate all that corporate stonewalling, rule-bending and not-technically-illegal-therefore-it’s-fine behaviors, but China has no problem with dropping the hammer swfitly and harshly if you don’t completely bow down to their demands.

      It’s not a Blizzard problem. It’s a problem all major corporations face, and if anything proves that we in the West have been way too lenient with what we’ve been letting them get away with.

      1. Terradyne says:

        Would adopting that sort of tactic actually be any better? I don’t know. I can’t help but feel that being able to demand anything and everything of a corporation without a hint of ability to resist is getting a little too far towards totalitarian for my liking. They go too far, but if you’re doing that, then you might as well just stop having them altogether.

        I’d agree that they’re weasels, though. In this case. It’s not that they don’t want to make money, they very much do – it’s just that it’s becoming clear that they’re valuing the Chinese market more highly than they do any other individual one. Protest or boycotts in other nations might affect their revenue somewhat, but even a moderate decrease can be balanced against the possibility of massive losses if they’re removed from China or have their access otherwise curtailed, and of course the Chinese market is still growing in scale, while Western ones are somewhat more plateaued. If they lose out now they also risk losing permanently to internal competitors.

        As such, yeah, they’re following the money. And that money is taking them straight to appeasing China for anything it could want, and trying to choke off even a hint of impropriety. China doesn’t even need to ask; they’ll do it anyway, for even the fear of reprisal.

        1. Narkis says:

          Corporations have been allowed to escape taxation, regulation, and basic ethics because, supposedly, if governments put pressure on them they’ll leave and take their money and jobs with them. China proves that’s not the case. Corporations will accept anything a strong government demands of them, as long as they keep making money. What China demands of them is totalitarian, yes, but that does not have to be the case. It’d be just as easy to get them to accept ethical demands, if our governments were actually as decisive as China. And I don’t really see an issue with finally making corporations play by the same book as the rest of us.

          1. Daimbert says:

            The problem with China is that it’s both a massive and massively expanding market. Corporations are more than willing to threaten, at least, to pull out of strong governments if they push them too hard, but from a financial standpoint China is just too big a market to ignore. And companies do tend to know that while China might hit them legally so hard that their only choice is comply or leave, that’s not likely the case for other or opposing markets. If they had to choose between the entire Western market or China, then that might be something they’d have to think about, but since even in cases like this they’ll still be able to make money from the other markets AND China the answer’s pretty obvious.

            So it’s not that China is a strong government, but that it’s a strong market. Companies will always overreact to strong markets.

            1. Narkis says:

              And companies do tend to know that while China might hit them legally so hard that their only choice is comply or leave, that’s not likely the case for other or opposing markets

              That is exactly what I mean when I say “strong government”. The Chinese market is big, but so is the US one. And if the US government were to pass a law to, say, make Blizzard stop avoiding these billions of taxes that Shamus mentioned or else stop operating in the US entirely, Blizzard would comply and start paying those taxes. Because making slightly less money beats making no money at all.

              Corporations in the West have been allowed to get away with pretty much everything they ask for. The excuse has ALWAYS been that instead of complying they’ll leave and deprive us of their products and their jobs. And that swift compliance to Chinese demands make this apparent for the bald-face lie it’s always been. Corporations will tolerate anything, anything at all, to continue operating in a profitable market.

          2. Sabrdance (Matthew H) says:

            The value of the US is that it has strong rule of law protections, at least most of the time, a fragmented political system that separates political, commercial, and governmental decisionmaking, and separately from the rule of law also has very strong property guarantees. None of those things exist in China -though China’s central government isn’t as centralized as people think, they have internal factions, too.

            The difficulty with stonewalling China is that China isn’t arms-length from Blizzard the way the US government is. China owns about 5% of Activision Blizzard by way of Tencent, but that ownership stake is also required to access China’s markets at all. So China has a very serious threat they can issue: comply, or they sell Tencent’s shares and Activision Blizzard is barred from the country. There wouldn’t even be legal recourse in the American Courts (assuming US courts could enforce a judgment on China -not holding my breath) because the sale of the stake would be perfectly legal. It wouldn’t be seizing Blizzard’s property, for example.

            I would rather the Western Governments retaliate against China, but they have their own problems. Failing that, I am coming around to the position that if Blizzard fears China -then fine, they may fear the US, too. Simply by virtue of the American system, it won’t be able to threaten Blizzard quite the same way, but there are surely protections that could be made contingent on how they interact with China. Say applying the Foreign Corrupt Influences Act to corporate board decisions, or somesuch. There are 535 members of the House and Senate -surely one of them can get creative.

            1. Narkis says:

              I would be very much in favor of that. Western governments have been acting as if they’re powerless in regards to corporate abuse, when in fact they have pretty much all the power in their hands. When I saw Democrat and Republican senators united in their condemnation I hoped it’s finally time for action, but official responses seem to have quietly died down.

          3. newplan says:

            China isn’t any stronger a government as far as making demands then western governments it’s just that you have an incorrect idea of what western governments prioritize when making “no-shit-immediate compliance required” demands – no company comes out against “diversity” or “equal employment”, etc. Fish don’t see water, you don’t perceive western government demands – China comes along and “whoa, why is it so wet in here all of a sudden?”

            1. Mistwraithe says:

              Fair point, western governments do have bottom lines. Because western governments have due process corporations can sometimes delay through debating, stone walling and going to court before complying but ultimately if the western government dictates something then it will happen or the corporation will stop doing business in that country.

              I do wonder from time to time why western governments don’t crack down harder on Bermuda tax evasion in the same way they do about equal employment. But every time I conclude the problem is just vastly more difficult, there are legitimate reasons why an overseas company might have IP/products they developed overseas and are going to sell into the US/Europe/wherever and hence only report a fraction of their domestic turnover as revenue. That’s how international business works. Distinguishing those legitimate cases from the exploitative/evasion cases is reasonably easy in an informal context (eg, I’m pretty sure the Activision Blizzard example is evasion) but proving it in court is obviously much harder.

              1. Ninety-Three says:

                Important semantic point: Tax evasion is when you straight-up don’t pay the amount of taxes the IRS says you owe according to the letter of the law, loopholes and all. Tax avoidance is when you base your obviously American corporation in Ireland in order to legally pay less taxes.

                1. Shamus says:

                  I think I made the same mistake in my video. I know better (or at least, I know the difference) but I grabbed the more familiar (and thus incorrect) term when writing.

                  I spent four days on this and it still feels like a rough draft with a bunch of missing points and wobbly bits. I honestly don’t know how other channels do the same-day news posts.

              2. newplan says:

                I do wonder from time to time why western governments don’t crack down harder on Bermuda tax evasion in the same way they do about equal employment. But every time I conclude the problem is just vastly more difficult

                It’s not more difficult – it’s that revenue isn’t a priority compared to ensuring that every company employs diversity officers.

                Compare the measures employed – any private citizen is deputized to personally collect massive fines from a company if he can dig up evidence of wrong-thing about any of the aspects of diversity – the mechanism for this deputization are “hostile work force” law suits. If revenue was as high of a priority, the same type of enforcement could be brought to bear – empower accountants to sue their employers on vague grounds related to tax avoidance. The only logical conclusion is that one of those things is a high priority and the other isn’t – which makes sense because why does the USG even need more of a currency it can create infinite amounts of.

                1. Ninety-Three says:

                  You have no idea what you’re talking about.

                  If revenue was as high of a priority, the same type of enforcement could be brought to bear – empower accountants to sue their employers on vague grounds related to tax avoidance

                  Nevermind suing, the IRS straight-up pays bounties, 15-30% of tax, for anyone who reports tax evasion in excess of $2 million. You don’t even need to be an employee of the company.

                  which makes sense because why does the USG even need more of a currency it can create infinite amounts of


    2. Hal says:

      The CCP put a lot of energy into the appearance of a harmonious country, making the effort to not just punish dissent, but make sure people hesitate before they even think of speaking out.

      I’ve seen some reviews of a new book discussing the surveillance state inside China, We Have Been Harmonised, and it’s so much worse than you might imagine.

      There’s the Great Firewall, of course, but evidently the government mandates you use an app on your phone that allows them to monitor your device for forbidden material. Police checkpoints regularly check for the app. Want to skip the phone? Given how much life has moved to electronic payments through the phone, you’ll find that hard.

      But then the camera surveillance takes over. The AI in the system keeps track of you, where you go, who you interact with. If you start meeting with suspicious individuals, you get flagged. If you go outside the area designated for you, you get flagged. If too many people start congregating in an area, the system raises the alarm. It has a database of your family, your friends, everyone you’ve ever interacted with, even your fingerprints and DNA.

      The systems of control run deep. Assuming you can even get past the tremendous propaganda and brainwashing, you don’t dare even ask questions the State doesn’t allow, because your entire life is under their control. It’s horrifying.

      1. Will says:

        *sigh* 1984 wasn’t meant as a how-to guide.

        1. Biggus Rickus says:

          Well, it was a commentary on what the future might look under the kinds of totalitarian states that came to power throughout the ’30s and ’40s. The Chinese government is very much of a kind with Soviet Russia.

        2. Filthy Neutrality says:

          LoL, welcome to the future – we’re all fucked!

    3. Fon says:

      But according to Shamus… or wherever he got his source from: “They lowered the punishments and gave Blitzchung back his prize money on Friday,”. I can believe that China won’t humor shenanigans/stall tactics like the one Shamus described, but… did they (China/CCP) approve giving Blitzchung his prize money back? I know Blizzard has a lot of incentive for giving Blitzchung his prize money back– probably only because people are very displeased with how Blizzard has behaved– But did China actually relent? … Or perhaps China never actually asked for all this specifically, and Blizzard could have gotten away with a less severe action?

      I can’t help but think Blizzard is guilty here too.

      1. SidheKnight says:

        As far as we know, “China” ( i.e. the Chinese government, or Tencent) never asked for anything. Blizzard acted of its own accord out of fear of potential retaliation on part of the aforementioned Chinese entities.

        I don’t blame them, but I still think they went waaay to far. Something like a 3 game suspension would have been more than enough as a token gesture to appease the Chinese, taking into account that Blizzard was (again, AFAWK) acting proactively.

  5. Lino says:

    This is the best take I’ve seen on this topic. Extremely well done! Also, is the end-credits song new? It sounds like the old one, but just much, much, much better. Was it always like this?

    1. trevalyan says:

      Aside from the deluge of memes that have ended in Blizzard actually pulling Mei statues from their online store, they had to reverse policy and give Blitz his winnings back. But they still suspended him for half a year, which makes him far less likely to play Blizzard e-sports. And they’re still lying about why it was done.

      I’m impressed. You have to screw up quite badly before you unite most of the global political spectrum against you.

  6. Benden says:

    I feel like the format for a video post with its equivalent words has been established on Twenty Sided already. By you (Shamus), even! I’m not looking at the site archive or anything, but something like:

    Text intro (no need for any explaining that you’re about to see a video or that there’s a text version)


    (Jump link goes here)

    [lower level header] (Tran)script:

    I think this would be fine even if some of the text intro is in fact part of the tran/script.

  7. Matt says:

    I appreciate you extending such charity to Kotick and Co. Shamus, that attitude is so often missing in today’s discourse.

    As for Activision-Blizzard caring more about profits than people, I suspect that there was a carrot for them as well as a stick if they failed to punish the offending parties. There is likely no literal email detailing threats and promises, but I suspect that their China team understands that the more eager you appear to cooperate, the easier things will go for you in the future. Kotick isn’t just looking at the money today, he’s looking at the money to be made as China becomes an even larger market. Acquiescing today can mean billions down the road, since doing business with the Party is the only way to do business in China.

  8. Ninety-Three says:

    Seconding (thirding, fourthing, whatever) the commenters saying that stonewalling China is crazy. About a week before this Hearthstone thing, the general manager of the Houston Rockets (basketball team) tweeted a fairly anodyne “I support Hong Kong” thing and China responded by banning Rockets games and merchandise from the country. China is not big on bureaucratic due process and we have an extremely fresh example of them dropping the hammer on someone who didn’t play along fast enough. Malicious compliance simply isn’t an option for Blizzard.

    1. Shamus says:

      Not sure why this sentiment is getting fourthed, since I addressed it in the video. I don’t know if people are turning the video off early, getting distracted by the b-roll footage, or if I didn’t make the point well enough. In any case: If you can’t stonewall, then at LEAST message in the west to make it clear you’ve got a gun to your head.

      And if they’re not even free to do that – if China is policing their speech even in the west – then it’s insane to continue to work with them. If they’re willing to lie “Our relationship with China has nothing to do with this” on behalf of the CCP, then they’re not “neutral”. Sacrificing stable western income for a slice of the growing Chinese market is a crazy risk. If the CCP is willing to regulate your public statements now, what will they ask of you next year?

      If nothing else, a gamble like that ought to show up under risk factors in the annual report. “We’re burning bridges with our existing customer base in order to establish a foothold in a market that we believe will eventually be even larger, but which requires us to surrender an unknown and undefined amount of our autonomy over to a totalitarian foreign power.”

      I don’t know what the expected ROI is on that, but I wouldn’t put my money into that.

      1. Daimbert says:

        Well, as I just noted above, China’s not just a growing market, but is a MASSIVE one, and they know that while they might lose some Western customers they won’t lose the entire market, whereas they would if China shuts them down completely. And honestly, I don’t think saying “We need to do these harsh things because China will kick us out of the market if we don’t” is going to cause them to lose LESS customers over this. The same people who’d stop buying from them over the original issue are likely to still stop buying from them because they gave in. Some might take them being forced to do it better, but likely not enough to make a financial difference.

        1. Hector says:

          I know something about Chinese history, though I’m far from an expert. One big issue is that firms gave gone wild over access to China and its presumably immense market for some three-four centuries, but few have really done strong business there. One huge reason for this is that every Chinese government has used force to ensure that the outcomes meet their needs first.

          1. Daimbert says:

            Potentially true, but companies are making big in-roads into China currently, and China is at least pretending to be open for business and trying to make trade in-roads around the world (I sometimes watch CGTN’s business report and they really do focus on things like that). There is a lot of money to be made, at least right now. How long that will last is another matter.

      2. cheekibreeki says:

        And if they’re not even free to do that – if China is policing their speech even in the west – then it’s insane to continue to work with them.

        Corporations: B-But Shamus! Think of all the money! Money Shamus! Money!

      3. Ninety-Three says:

        I did the article rather than the video. It’s getting argued with (at least by me) because, to get a bit hyperbolic, your plan is like saying “NASA should build a really big trampoline and get an Olympic high-jumper to leap to the moon. If that doesn’t work maybe they can do something with chemical rockets.” Having a reasonable plan B does not shield plan A from criticism.

        And I’m pretty sure plan B gets them into exactly the same mess they’re in now. Like you say, the internet is mad because they assume that Blizzard “prostrated themselves before the Chinese government and did exactly what their masters wanted.” Announcing “China told us to ban this guy so we’re banning him because we really don’t want to lose access to the Chinese market” would be a confirmation of everyone’s worst accusations, that’s not helping!

        1. Syal says:

          I think it would help. People make far less noise if there’s no perceived enemy to shout down. If everyone shouts “Blizzard kowtowed to China” and Blizzard replies “yeah, we kowtowed to China,”, that one’s settled and any further shouting gets met with “yeah, everyone knows water’s wet, find a real topic.”

      4. BlueHorus says:

        I would question how much effect this actually will have on Blizzard’s western customers.
        As far as I know both Microsoft and Google have come under criticism for co-operating with Chinese censorship law – there was a predictible outcry when the news came out, but it died down in time. Google & Microsoft just had to ride out bad press for a bit and then go back to raking in the Yuan.

        I expect both Blizzard nd the CCP are planning to ride this out and get back to business as usual. It’d be nice if this did have a big effect (and help Hong Kong) but I’m not hopeful. It’s not like Tibet is in the news that much anymore.

      5. Fon says:

        I think it’s because the idea of trying or even THINKING about stonewalling China is… incredibly risky and dangerous. But I agree with you– Blizzard could at least avoid being so gung ho about it. Or at least express a lot of regrets regarding what they had to do. They really ought to have known that this move is going to be very, very unpopular with almost everyone outside of China.

      6. Bookwyrm says:

        If the CCP is willing to regulate your public statements now, what will they ask of you next year?

        I agree with your overall view pretty whole heartedly. That said, you’ve done several articles that talk about just how short-sighted so many large games companies seem to be. In many cases, I suspect that generalizes to most very large companies.

        “There’s profit to be made right now, and shareholders to keep happy. No time to think of next year.”

      7. evileeyore says:

        “Not sure why this sentiment is getting fourthed, since I addressed it in the video. I don’t know if people are turning the video off early, getting distracted by the b-roll footage, or if I didn’t make the point well enough. In any case: If you can’t stonewall, then at LEAST message in the west to make it clear you’ve got a gun to your head.”

        You’re presuming China will allow this level of negative messaging about the brand that is China. Remember Shamus, inside China, Tiananmen Square never happened. And no one who does business with China will ever mention it, ever.

  9. Mark Cheverton says:

    Im just here saying my possible goodbyes to Mei, my main in Overwatch who people have chosen as a symbol for the HK protests which means there’s a 40% chance that Blizzard will remove her from the actual game to simply appease the Chinese government (I mean, they already removed a figure of her for sale)

  10. Duoae says:

    Just a technical side-comment on the video: I really liked the “phone call” audio segment. I think it worked really well. Similarly, the cut-in where you broke down the Kotick/Activision Blizzard clarification. But they both served to highlight how muffled and “bass”-heavy in equalisation the main speech was. It was a bit jarring to my ears… I guess I’d just love the main voice audio to be a bit sharper.

  11. shoeboxjeddy says:

    The thing about taking such an extreme stance for the sake of China is, okay yeah. They’re the biggest market. Gotta chase that cash! But you’re forgetting that you’re a US based company. Your employees are Americans. What do you think will happen if they start to DETEST the corporate culture and become openly resentful? What if you leak your best talent because they have souls? The local government are Americans. What happens if the sweet tax break you enjoy (or if we’re talking professional sports, the stadium funded by taxpayers instead of by your budget) goes away because people see your company as openly in league with a hostile government? What if one of your smaller rivals decides to take “patriotic and freedom loving” as a successful marketing point to stab you with? It’s funny to me that a company would actively DESTROY their reputation, using a rule that says that the company has the right to ban people to PROTECT their reputation.

    1. Shamus says:

      It really seems crazy to me as well. It’s like the entire business plan depends on them keeping a solid PR quarantine between east and west markets. That’s just not how the internet works.

      Also, if they’re chasing Chinese money, then that would imply that they’re playing a long game and focusing on long-term profits, which goes against how they do everything else. Every other game is designed and marketed like it’s going to be the last. “We’ll get the review scores locked in and then poison the game with microtransactions! What happens when we release the next one? Who cares! Money now!”

      And now all of a sudden they’re supposedly playing this long game where they’re sacrificing profits now for promises of lots more money in the future. Like, if they were so worried about the future then where was that thinking when they made all of their other decisions this year?

      My worry is that they’re making these decisions because they think consumers aren’t paying attention and we’ll have forgotten all about it by the next time they release a new shiny thing.

      Actually, my worry is that – on a macro scale – they could be right. People are pissed off now, but we’ll see if this anger lasts long enough to make a dent.

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        You don’t understand that “poisoning” the game with microtransactions is thinking long term. Overwatch makes more money from lootboxes than from selling copies of the game, and the fact that it does so allows them to continue development on a game that would otherwise need to be shelved once it stopped selling copies. Hearthstone is going strong five years in and its entire business model is in-your-face “give us money for cards” microtransactions. Parts of Starcraft 2 are now free because the obstacle of a boxed-copy price was getting in the way of them selling microtransactions.

        But also, “poison” is a really weird word for Blizzard’s approach to microtransactions in particular. Hearthstone is has been open about following the standard “pay to compete” TCG model since day one. Heroes of the Storm is free with microtransactions for cosmetics or unlocking new characters to play as, again from day one. Overwatch is cosmetics-only microtransactions, I dare you to accuse WoW’s microtransactions of poisoning the game…

        I can’t help but suspect you grabbed the “Microtransactions are the devil” script without considering that you’re talking about Blizzard, who are not particularly diabolical in this area.

        1. Shamus says:

          The “poisoning” I was referring to was CoDBLOPS4 (I liked it above.):

          Like I said in the article, I’m pushing the blame up to Activision-Blizzard, because I don’t want to let Activision off the hook.

          But yes, I agree the Blizzard is pretty good about microtransactions in general. They’ve always done a reasonably good job of asking for money without ruining the mechanics in the process.

          1. galacticplumber says:

            Well…. Except for launch Diablo 3.

            1. djw says:

              They botched that Diablo 3 launch, but I don’t think “Microtransactions bad!” really captures the way in which they botched it very well.

  12. Ninety-Three says:

    I don’t know what their corporate priorities are, but they’re a lot more grotesque than just being weasels that will do anything for a buck.

    This accusation doesn’t make sense. It’s been argued above that noncompliance was not an option (at least in the ways you describe), but for the sake of the argument let’s accept the premise that Blizzard could somehow bullshit China and opted not to. What exactly would they be if not greedy weasels, currying favour and market access? Was Blizzard secretly infiltrated by Chinese nationals to the point where all the executives are now sincere adherents to Xi Jinping Thought? Are they mustache-twirling cartoon villains who are siding with China because it seems like an effective way to increase the amount of evil in the world? Stop darkly hinting and tell us: if this isn’t about money then what is it about?

    1. Shamus says:

      Like I said in the sentence you quoted: I don’t know. I don’t think they’re actually pro-totalitarianism, but it’s weird how all of their decisions seem to be gross, harmful, and maximally infuriating to their core audience.

      They do one shitty thing and we get the excuse “Oh, they’re just focused on short-term profits!”

      Then they do another shitty thing and we get, “Oh, they’re playing 4-D chess and looking for a long-term payoff!”

      They’re short term! They’re long term! They’re clever! They’re stupid! They’re just complying with the rules! They don’t care about rules!

      I mean, the ACTUAL answer is probably something along the lines of “They’re deeply dysfunctional and lacking in coherent leadership”, but that’s just a roundabout way of saying, “They’re random and nobody can make sense of their actions.”

      To me it doesn’t matter if their cruelty is the result of incompetence or malice. I would actually respect them a lot more if they came off like a clever amoral corporation that’s willing to do anything for a buck. (Disney is always my go-to example here. They work with the CCP a lot, and they never run into ridiculous situations like this one.)

      1. Shamus says:

        To add to this:

        Many people have said that they would still be angry at Blizzard if they came out and said, “We’re only doing this because China is making us.” I guess that’s where our difference of opinion is coming from. There’s the crime of working with the CCP, and then there’s the additional crime of lying and pretending they’re not working with the CCP. Some people don’t care about the second one because the first one is so much worse, but I’d rather they were honest because then we could have a real discussion about things.

        “Here is what the CCP is making us do. If we don’t comply, then our games stop existing in China.”

        That sucks, but then we can talk about what we’re willing to accept from them. Do I really expect them to close up shop and put all of those people out of work? I don’t know. That’s an interesting problem. Instead we get:

        “We chose to do these things freely and are under no pressure from the CCP.”

        Like, okay. I think that’s a lie, but if I take you at your word then that means you’re twisted, unjust, amoral, and incredibly foolish.

        I guess in an abstract sense, I have sympathy for someone who collaborates because they’re afraid, but no sympathy for someone who collaborates because they’re into it. For whatever reason, Blizzard wants to deny being guilty of the former, even though the latter is worse.

        1. Nick-B says:

          This is exactly my stance as well. I would most certainly care more for Blizzard if they admitted (even subtly) that this was a request of China. A sentence along the lines of “These actions are not conducive to the Chinese governments demands for solidarity” or something like that would be a big enough hint to ME that it was a China demand.

          Instead, we got zero hint that it was influenced by China at ALL. The NBA backtracked very fast, but there were at least some penalties levied by China FIRST, indicating this was a money decision. Blizz bowed before any complaint was publicly announced by China. Before any penalty was levied by China.

          This sounds to me that BLIZZARD cared more about shutting up the protests than freakin China did.

        2. Asdasd says:

          I’m by no means an expert in Chinese culture, but I understand there’s this notion of ‘face’, which is like a public measure of esteem or honour. To be publicly upbraided or to have blame appointed to you causes loss of face, and a great deal of influence is expended in private to mediate when and to what extent this happens. The threat of lost face is a very dangerous thing.

          To this end, I suspect that coming clean in the West and saying ‘this is what we have to do to please our partners in China’ is absolutely off the table, because it would look like instead of tanking the loss of face themselves, Blizzard would instead be redirecting it onto their partners in portraying them as the bad guys. They can’t even think of taking that route because even if it would put out fires over here it would make them much worse there.

          As a cold hearted cynic, I can’t say I have a great deal of sympathy. Blizzard have been a company happy to portray themselves as a courageous and independent political actor in the past, and reap public adulation and fawning attention from the press for taking stands on easy positions. Now the wind is blowing the other way.

        3. TLN says:

          “Here is what the CCP is making us do. If we don’t comply, then our games stop existing in China.”

          That sucks, but then we can talk about what we’re willing to accept from them. Do I really expect them to close up shop and put all of those people out of work? I don’t know. That’s an interesting problem.

          I get what you’re saying, but I think it’d be a bit of a cop-out for them to just wring their hands and go “well China demanded it, so you know it can’t be helped”. I sincerely doubt that their worry is that their Chinese employees will be out of a job, and it seems a lot more likely that their focus would be to protect the 12% profits (or whatever the number is) from the Chinese market. It’s still their decision to make and if they want to prioritize pleasing the Chinese government, well then so be it and I guess it’s not hugely surprising from 2019 Blizzard, I don’t really expect any big company to make decisions that make them less money (although their reaction to all this was so quick that you have to wonder if they really thought it through).
          Either way, all this SHOULD raise a lot of red flags and people need to ask themselves some serious questions about what kind of behavior they are OK with from a game developer, regardless of if they made the decision on their own or were “forced” by the Chinese government.

      2. Ninety-Three says:

        They’re short term! They’re long term! They’re clever! They’re stupid!

        There’s a simple answer here: Blizzard is not an assimilated member of the Activision-Satan hivemind, all the poisonous microtransactions and brimstone are on non-Blizzard games, and if you just think of Blizzard as its own entity there are no contradictions. How much short-termist bridge-burning can you pin on Blizzard in particular?

        1. Nick-B says:

          Overwatch has lootboxes. Starcraft 2 has co-op character packs and tiny map packs for single player, and sold it 3 times to us. Diablo 3 had the RMAH that they got a cut out of. WOW still charges full price for Xpacs, has $15/month subscription fee, real money services such as server transfers and race changes, in-game pets/mounts for 20 freakin dollars. Hearthstone is trying to get into the “pay us money for cards, many many cards” deal that Magic The Gathering perfected only without a physical product to own outside their garden.

          1. Ninety-Three says:

            Yes, and I dare you to use the words “short-term” to describe a business model that WoW has been raking in money with for (12/15/11/9 respectively) years. Hearthstone isn’t trying to get into it, they got into it five years ago and have been swimming in money ever since. I get that you don’t like those things, they’re “greedy” or whatever, but that is consistent with Blizzard making long-term decisions.

        2. Shamus says:

          Why do you keep doing this? I addressed that point in the comment you quoted.

          Earlier I said “I don’t know”, and yet you keep asking me why I think they’re doing this or that. I said “They’re deeply dysfunctional and lacking in coherent leadership”, and now you’re attacking a strawman position where I supposedly said they were a hive mind? I don’t even know what point you’re arguing AGAINST at this stage.

          You started off by arguing with my final paragraph and now we’ve gone and argued about a bunch of other stuff and I honestly have no idea what you’re trying to say / prove.

          I don’t mind hearing your point of view. I’m just asking that you take me there via a more direct route.

          1. Ninety-Three says:

            and yet you keep asking me why I think they’re doing this or that

            Hold on. I asked you in the first post of this thread. Elsewhere in the comments I critiqued your proposed Blizzard PR strategies. Elsewhere, and midway through this thread I critiqued your take on microtransactions. I also made three posts replying to other people not directly about the article or you. But I only asked you once why you think they’re doing anything. I even went back to yesterday’s article to check the comments, I didn’t ask you anything there.

            I’ll respond to the rest of your post after, but now I am confused and we should probably sort this out: what do you mean keep asking?

            1. Shamus says:

              Looking back at the comment I was responding to, you asked this:

              “How much short-termist bridge-burning can you pin on Blizzard in particular?”

              On my first read, I thought this was a question about the decision-making within the company. Like, “Who do you want to blame for this?” I thought you were again asking me about their decision making. Now I suspect the question is rhetorical and you’re just trying to draw a line between Activision-Blizzard and Blizzard proper. I understand the distinction: They’re run by different people.

              Here is where I suspect we’re misunderstanding:

              I’m trying to erase the line between AB and Bliz, because I want to shove the blame uphill to Kotick. And maybe you’re objecting to this because you think I’m trying to blame Bliz for the crimes of AB?

              (Also, the naming system of this company is completely obnoxious and it makes discussion a nightmare.)

              On a macro scale the article is pointing out that AB is a duplicitous rule-breaking sneak in the west, and an absolute stickler for mindlessly obeying the rules in the east. Yes, this is because of the varying leadership between AB and Bliz, but the net result is that the company – deliberate or not – always favors the behavior that does the most damage.

              1. Ninety-Three says:

                As much as EA’s tone at the top has probably pushed Bioware towards online multiplayer and some other practices, Bioware is still a distinct entity and you will be way worse at understanding the videogame market if you think at the level of “EA, the company that makes Madden and Modern Warfare and also Dragon Age”. “They churn out yearly releases, they spend five years on a game! Their games are driven by microtransactions, they have pay-once dialogue-heavy singleplayer campaigns! Which is it?” Nevermind where the blame is going, I am objecting to you erasing the line between Activision and Blizzard because the line exists, just as the EA-Bioware line exists.

                Throughout this you talk about the “them” who made this decision and there is no room for that to be Blizzard Entertainment. You don’t even mention Blizzard’s president*, instead skipping straight to the suggestion that Bobby Kotick is wearing BE like a sock-puppet: he must be the one who China’s nasty letters go to, and he must be the one who decides how harshly to punish this Hearthstone nobody who stepped out of line. I don’t get why you’re complaining about my hive mind line when you admit you’re trying to remove the distinction between them. How would you prefer I critique you merging the two entities to the point where you’ll talk about CODBLOPS microtransactions in an article about Hearthstone and attribute it all to “them”?

                *This is especially bad because the statement explaining Blizzard’s reasoning came from J. Allan Brack. Officially, this whole thing is being run by Blizzard and you’re not even acknowledging that long enough to say “but obviously Kotick is running the show”.

                1. Shamus says:

                  From my view, you’re really letting Kotick off the hook. Sure, Kotick didn’t personally have those two casters fired. But it’s been over a week and I’m sure we can both agree that he’s not going to leap into the fray and announce he’s intervening in the Blizzard situation. Yes, a line exists between the two entities, but that doesn’t mean the president is safe from blame for what his army of flying monkeys are doing. I can understand not wanting to blame the developer for the sins of the publisher (we can’t blame Blizzard for CODBLOPS) but I feel it’s perfectly reasonable to lay the blame for the HK fiasco on Kotick’s doorstep because he’s the only one with both the duty and authority to intervene when Brack screws up.

                  If we take your view, then Kotick can continue to pretend he’s not involved, not complicit, not responsible.

                  I have no problem with dumping blame on Blizzard and Brack. By all means. I just feel like everyone else has that covered. Although, your suggestion is good that I should have slammed Brack on my way to the final boss, just to make it clear I wasn’t letting Brack off the hook either.

                  I want to make sure we don’t let Bobby put all that sweet China cash on the Activision annual report while pretending he’s not responsible for how it was earned. (And obviously it REALLY annoys me that Activision is a massive scofflaw in the west while Blizzard is obedient and compliant to the CCP.)

                  1. Duoae says:

                    Chiming in from a completely different business sector (Pharma and Banking), Shamus’ description of how he sees the corporate interactions working out meshes the most with my experiences in those sectors.

                    Despite “subsidiary” distance. Despite “regional” jurisdiction. Each of those entities has a limited amount of autonomy which then feeds back into the overall “direction” of the company as a whole. The “overseer” of the local region will be in constant communication with the “regional overseer” at the main company. Whilst there are things that the former will do without the input of the latter, items with worldwide repercussions (such as international tournaments or non-regional-specific product price increments) would be delt with (and billed) on a more vertical company philosophy.

                    [edit]As a tangent: This is why I think that Sony’s powergrabbing shenanigans are going to leave them at a disadvantage to the next Xbox… though this probably isn’t something Shamus will cover.

                    1. Shamus says:

                      I’d love to hear more about your tangent if you don’t mind taking the time to elaborate.

                    2. Crimson Dragoon says:

                      To add another, more specific, anecdote, I’ve seen the same thing in my own line of work (windows and doors). A couple of years ago, our main door supplier got bought out by a bigger company. Despite initial promises that they would largely stay separate and allow the smaller business to run itself, the exact opposite happened. The parent company pushed all sorts of demands and changes on its new subsidiary, and replaced most of the their corporate structure. From the outside, they look like two completely separate companies, but its clear that there’s little line between the two anymore. And from everything I’ve seen, this is standard operating procedure when a big company buys out a smaller one.

                    3. Duoae says:

                      Sure, Shamus. Though I warn you it’s 9 parts crackpot theory and 7 parts conspiracy theory.

                      I’ve been meaning to write up an actual blog post on this stuff but I just can’t formulate it into a coherent article at this point in time. I need to think about the situation a little more and to gather some more data.

                      Basically, there are two parts to this:

                      1) American publishers/marketers do not understand the rest of the world markets.
                      2) The next Xbox could release early.

                      No. 1) is the more solidly grounded item. Basically, one of the reasons Xbox never did well in the rest of the world is lack of understanding of local markets – which feeds into the poor “brand value” certain Western companies experience in those markets. Microsoft also always preferentially treated its American Xbox customers with better offers and features, later (sometimes) releasing them to other markets on a “slowly, slowly” basis. Regardless of arguments for or against regional content ownership, customers in the non-american markets were paying the same (or more) for a subset of features. Added to this was the style of marketing of the Xbox brand and products to those other markets which did not ring true to the consumers in those markets. You could say that American marketers are “tone deaf” when it comes to other countries.

                      Contrast this with SONY who have historically enjoyed a strong consumer base in the EU, Asian (unofficially, except for Japan and later Korea) and South American regions due to their decentralisation of marketing and control. Added to this, the majority of marketed features were available in all markets for whatever asking price SONY had put forth (advisable or not: see the PS3).

                      However, now SONY are in the midst of a major international restructuring, with SONY America taking the lead on EU marketing and advertising… making a large portion of SONY EU redundant and not even informing them of the PS5 reveals. Aside from the total complete chaos these sorts of shenanigans have internally, these actions will also have repercussions externally, where the specific benefit of having staff who understand specific markets undermined or removed entirely will come back to bite SONY in their potential market share.

                      Sure, SONY have momentum. However, I think this then leads into point 2). (The crazy conspiracy point)

                      2a) TSMC are fully-booked. 7nm AMD and Apple iPhone 11 orders have put the fab at a 6 month full capacity. 6 months from that announcement puts us at Feb-Mar 2020.

                      2b) Microsoft bought up a number of independent developers earlier this year and delayed each and every one of their projects to Feb-April 2020.*

                      2c) Looking at the announcement to release window of the last two major console launches (360, PS3 & XBO, PS4) shows a specific trend – 360 and XBO launched within 6 months of first full reveal. PS3 and PS4 launched within 17 and 9 months of their reveals respectively. Going on the reveal dates of the PS5 and Scarlett, if they both released in Nov 2020 then PS5 would be 19 months and XB3 would be 17 months.

                      Given that Xbox have been very bullish about getting out there first and making noise (okay, with very few specifics) and SONY’s more detailed throw-downs appear reactionary, I think this trend holds true. Xbox seems better prepared and has a better “battle plan” than SONY’s, “don’t look over there” message. I think there is a distinct possibility that the next Xbox could launch earlier than is expected in order to capitalise on SONY’s lack of direction and infighting.

                      I don’t necessarily think that was the original plan but I think that, if possible, Microsoft will be pushing as much as they can to make that opportunity.

                      *I should point out that Feb-Mar 2020 is ALREADY extremely “full” in terms of large game releases (from delays and anticipated intended releases) so why would you stick your newly-purchased entities there? And isn’t it a bit odd that each and every one of those purchases happened to need another 7-9 months development work?

  13. Chad says:

    My understanding is that the too-fast, too-harsh, too-subservient response was actually from Activision-Blizzard’s Chinese (owned, run, mandated, etc) partner corporation, rather than from A-B or one of its parts. (Also, that A-B itself was unhappy with that reaction, after the fact.) Can anyone confirm or deny?

    If that’s true, then the stick is pretty clear: if A-B try to disavow their Chinese partner corp, then the government probably can (according to their own laws) and arguably will (witness NBA China) immediately turn off their ability to collect money inside China. Additionally, there’s a much higher likelihood that the partner corp actually leans more towards “Hong Kong is troubled by riots instigated by anarchists and foreigners” and less towards “individuals have the right to express heir own opinions”.

    TBC: none of this is meant to support the premise that the moves were good, right, acceptable, or should stand; rather, I’m suggesting a theory about how mostly-comprehensible decision making might have led to this (bad, wrongheaded, overly-harsh, should-be-even-further-recanted) state. Importantly, this is just a theory; I can’t even state where I saw the claim that the reaction was from the partner corp — I think it might have been from the comments on an earlier post here?

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      My understanding is that the too-fast, too-harsh, too-subservient response was actually from Activision-Blizzard's Chinese (owned, run, mandated, etc) partner corporation, rather than from A-B or one of its parts. (Also, that A-B itself was unhappy with that reaction, after the fact.)

      You’re blurring together several things. The punishment was handed down by Blizzard, with no known involvement from Activision or China (but cynics may speculate on both). The bootlicking Weibo post about the punishment was made by NetEase, the Chinese partner. All that is public, the comment on an earlier post you’re thinking of was mine, where I knew based on talking to a Blizzard dev* that Blizz did not authorize the Weibo post and were upset about it.

      *I don’t expect people to believe an internet rando like me coming forth with “my uncle who works at Nintendo” stories, but I figured I’d share for any of the regulars who trust me based on my posting history

    2. BlueHorus says:

      Tell you one thing: an issue this big, about video games and with a political dimension: [Movie]Bob Chipman’s gonna throw his opinion in sooner or later.

      Get your popcorn ready.

      EDIT: Agh, this comment was supposed to be its own thing, not a reply to anything. Oops.

      1. Hector says:

        I’m sure it will be as informed and useful as his other hot takes.

  14. King Marth says:

    Now, if you wanted to really defend Blizzard in this, here’s
    a favourable interpretation – Blizzard isn’t banned in China, and the actions of one video game player which would have only been seen in a small community (people who watch pro Hearthstone) have been magnified to a less small community (video gaming news in general). Blizzard’s own reputation might suffer, but it’s for the sake of getting a signal out there. They’ve even been able to walk back some of the punishment, getting another wave of reactions while reducing the collateral damage. Which group is the puppet here?

    Conspiracy theories are fun. It’s like starting from “never attribute to malice what is equally explained by incompetence” and wrapping all the way around. Make your involuntary exposure to these sorts of controversies positive by assuming the silver linings were the primary intended consequence.

  15. Ciennas says:

    Personally, I see it as a capitulation to at best a bully, in pursuit to not being locked out of a huge market.

    So, money. On top of that, considering what’s happening in Hong Kong right now, money that they can’t pretend is purely ethical and without harm.

    However? I [i]looooooove[/i] how Mei has been coopted as a symbol of the movement.

    How badly you want that money, Acti-Blizz?

    1. Nessus says:

      I mean, that’s what it reduces to, no matter where you stand in any of the debates or opining in the comments or the article. All of that is just about the internal process of how Blizzard came to it, not about the nature of what they ultimately decided on. The important part is, as you say, their decision to openly spread the will of a deeply creepy totalitarian state outside its borders in exchange for money.

      Given how the US/USSR Cold War ended, I feel like the PRC having the hegemony to sway western businesses to openly embrace the PRC party line in the western market should really be setting off much, MUCH bigger alarm bells than it apparently is.

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        openly embrace the PRC party line

        If people keep using words this sloppily, we won’t have any terms left to describe the situation when a company actually embraces the PRC party line and announces that the Hong Kong protesters are treasonous rebels who must be put down to maintain order.

        I know it’s tempting to grab the harshest possible words for a thing you hate, but the situation could be so much worse, and if you’re really worried about it getting worse, you probably shouldn’t lay the groundwork for people to accuse you of exaggerating how bad things are.

        1. Nessus says:

          In the immortal words of Batman’s ex-girlfriend: “It’s not who we are inside, but what we do, that defines us”.

          I chose my words deliberately. I’m not interested in abstract goalposts. You can nitpick the severity of their rhetoric compared to some arbitrary standard, or about their internal motivations, but that’s academic: they’ve functionally met the bar for both “embraced”, and “openly” in terms of their actual practical public facing actions/statements, and the IRL consequences of such.

          It doesn’t matter whether they say “the Hong Kong protesters are treasonous rebels who must be put down to maintain order”, or merely aggressively suppress anyone who contradicts their PRC partners who are saying that. Either way, they’re doing the same damage in terms of actual IRL consequences to the parties involved.

          In Blizzard’s case the only practical mitigation is that they’ve now partly walked some of it back, but they’re still publicly avoiding acknowledging what they did or the implications thereof, and they’re only walking back enough to try to superficially placate controversy why still continuing to do the actual practically problematic thing. At first they took a very definite side, now they’re kind of trying to take both sides at the same time instead of neither, which doesn’t work: they’re still knowingly helping the PRC extend its influence in exchange for money, they’re just trying slightly harder to not get noticed for it.

          The NBA hasn’t done this at all. Disney’s been doing it more or less successfully from the start. They’re all openly taking a side, the only difference is in how loud they’ve been.

          1. Ninety-Three says:

            Banning a man for saying “Liberate Hong Kong” is the same as telling people to put down the treasonous rebels? It’s exactly as bad? So if tomorrow they did the treasonous rebels thing, it wouldn’t be any worse? There would be no different damage to any of the parties involved, and since you claim that no new consequences would have been introduced, you would be no more upset than you are now?

            I really doubt that.

            1. Syal says:

              If we’re going to be pedantic, “openly embrace” is less harsh than “actively enforce”. On a practical level, people are pretty good at coming up with new terms when they need them. They could just use math; “this is double-Blizzard evil”.

              (Also actions speak louder than words. A speech about killing all the protesters is not as bad as suspending a protester.)

          2. Asdasd says:

            I like that quote!

            In my country there were two parties who spent a time in coalition government. The minor partner was nominally to the left of the other on the traditional spectrum. Whenever the major partner introduced a bill to further austerity spending cuts, the leadership of the minor partner would abstain ‘in protest’ on the vote while instructing their other representatives to support it. That abstention was effectively the same as support, because the arithmetic had all been worked out in advance. The major partner got their bills through, the minor partner got a fig leaf of respectability while retaining their presence in government.

            There are plenty of analogous situations in the world, where ‘refuse to oppose’ and ‘actively support’ amount to the same thing.

  16. Geebs says:

    If I’m sitting in the chair of Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick

    I’m not sure I’d want to sit in Bobby Kotick’s chair. It’s not that it’s constructed from the still living bones of game developers who didn’t read the small print, it’s not the puppy-skin cushions or the fact that it’s upholstered with the skins of seal cubs; it’s that, for reasons only known to Mr Kotick, the seal skins are blubber-side-out.

  17. Taxi says:

    Yea there really is nothing that can defend Blizzard.

    It would be one thing if Blitzchung was calling for violence or something. Or he did was put on a mask and say a few words.

    A warning should be the most he should get. And those casters? They didn’t do anything whatsoever. Maybe send them a note ‘hey careful about people potentially disrupting casts like that’.

    As someone who used to live under communist regime, this is very recognizable.

    And I don’t even have that much against China, they actually do a lot of things right while the western ‘democracy’ is completely falling apart. Still this is exactly what communists regime do (at their kindest anyway).

    I guess the only ‘defence’ of Blizzard is that as a rich American company, they don’t recognize the patterns.

  18. Khizan says:

    The truth of the matter is that China’s the largest market in the world and Blizzard makes beaucoup money in China, especially off of Hearthstone. So of course they’re gonna go out of their way to preserve their access to that market, and they’re not going to let people use their highly publicized events as a platform for issues like Hong Kong or Tibet.

    This is because the worst they have to face in the USA/EU is possible boycotts from a relatively small percentage of their playerbase. In my WoW guild, I know exactly one person who was willing to unsubscribe over this. I’m not, and neither are the other 50ish people I play with. On the other hand, if China decides to drop them, that’s it, they lose the biggest market in the entire world, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

    In a purely practical sense, whatever damage they take stateside over this is worth it to preserve access to that market.

    I mean, are they assholes for this? Sure. Would it be better if they were willing to take an ethical stand on this? Sure. But what they’re doing does make sense if you look at it from a purely practical viewpoint.

    1. Mistwraithe says:

      I think that is the core of the issue. There is a lot of talk and even anger being directed at Blizzard but only a fairly small fraction will change their buying actions as a result. Whereas China is now the worlds biggest gaming market. Even if they were definitely going to lose 10% of their US market (which they won’t) then Blizzard might still see this as the more profitable outcome (although if they thought it was going to be that bad I am sure they would have tried more of a middle ground approach).

      1. Taxi says:

        Well I do have Diablo on my wishlist but I doubt I’ll buy it after all this.

        Mind you I only buy PC games from gog (and and such) because I refuse to give money to companies that don’t have my respect.

        Obviously you can’t avoid it completely. It’s really hard to avoid Google for example but at least I only give them as little personal information and money as I absolutely have to.

        Sadly while technically consumers do have the power over businesses, in reality very few people really exercise that power to any extent. I mean, those companies are just businesses to make money right? So let’s give them all our money…

    2. Taxi says:

      Sure but I’m also sick of the “They’re a business” excuse that all the corporations get.

      It’s like as soon as you get corporate, you aren’t meant to have any ethics or non-business sense whatsoever, you are expected to go only after money and nothing else.

      Which doesn’t make sense. Companies are made of people. There are people making such decisions. So it’s real people willing to do, sometimes quite abominable things.

      And to be completely honest, in order to climb your way on top of a corporate ladder, you often need to be extremely ruthless. So I think it’s also fairly safe to say that people making decisions like that just… Don’t give a crap about what’s going on outside of their little bubble.

      And obviously this trickles down from the top, so people lower on the ladder work to please their corporate overlords, the ethics further diluted by committees.

      I mean forget Blizzard. Just look up some advertising videos of weapon manufacturers to have a hint how far “they’re a business” can go.

  19. Expat says:

    I’m seeing a lot of these takes, but have you guys been actually reading Chinese twitters? I don’t think Blizzard was kowtowing to the Chinese government. You can argue about *why* all you want (propoganda, ethnic animus against Hong Kong people, reaction against Western media), but there is a genuine dislike of the protesters in mainland China. I suspect rather than being some heavy-handed governmental censorship, this is Blizzard reacting to something that genuinely ticks off their huge Chinese customer base.

    I don’t have a dog in the fight here, but if I was a shareholder I’d probably support this move. The bet is that your Chinese customer base would hold a grudge far longer than the goldfish-attention-span Western media. I’d take that bet.

    1. shoeboxjeddy says:

      “a genuine dislike of the protesters in mainland China” How genuine anything is HIGHLY questionable in a country with both state run media outlets and censorship on doing research on certain topics. That’s like saying North Koreans genuninely hate the West. Sure… they probably do. But also, they’re told lies about what the West (and the world) is on a constant basis and have no access to true information to make up their own minds about it.

      1. BlueHorus says:

        It’s not about the truth, though, or even about whether the offense people express is real. Maybe some mainland Chinese genuinely dislike the Hong Kong situation, maybe some of them are feigning their disdain so they don’t stand out. Others might be looking for a promotion, or to curry favor, etc, etc, etc.

        But whatever it is, it’s all irrelevant to Blizzard; all they care about is how many players they might lose / how much trouble they might get into.

      2. Expat says:

        Like I said above, the feeling is genuine. China isn’t North Korea, basically everyone has the app called fan qiang [‘climb over the wall’] and can use Google, Youtube, etc. Speak to folks from China, you’ll get a bunch of different reasons for disliking Hong Kong (like I said, ugly ethnic animus is definitely in there). Nobody is locked in Plato’s cave unaware of what Western media loves to emphasize. They’ll also enthusiastically share videos of protesters beating up old ladies, and that story is the one that gets embraced with a lot of enthusiasm. The support for the CCP vs. the protestors is real, with the causes of course a huge mix of propaganda, nationalism, and classic greengrocer effects. I’m not a fan of the regime (to put it mildly), but I don’t dismiss its supporters as either delusional or ignorant victims.

        Whether this was “Blizzard’s Folly” or “Blizzard’s Unethical But Ultimately Profitable Move” remains to be seen. Reputation doesn’t seem to matter as much as we’d think. People still buy EA games…

  20. Scott Pedersen says:

    Yes, AB is a duplicitous rule-breaking sneak in the west. That is because, in the west, the punishment involves years of litigation finally ending in a plea agreement where, without admitting wrongdoing, you have to pay back twenty to thirty percent of your ill-gotten gains. AB is an absolute stickler for mindlessly obeying the rules in China because the punishment there involves an opaque unappealable process where your entire operation is annihilated overnight. It isn’t surprising that they are walking on eggshells when it comes to China. Walking on eggshells means you can’t stonewall China. Even trying to shift blame onto China, portraying them as forcing you to do something, might set them off.

    I assume AB’s strategy is to do whatever it takes to collect as much profit in China as they can while trusting western consumers to not know or care enough for it to significantly impact their profits there. It is the strategy that most large companies with business in China follow and it seems to work well enough most of the time. It still remains to be seen if this most recent contretemps will have any meaningful impact on AB.

  21. Syal says:

    Never try this at home. You should only try it at work, or in a public forum.

  22. Decius says:

    It was never about China

    It was always “If we allow our esports league to be a vehicle for political activism, our esports league will quickly become nothing more than a vehicle for political activism, with all the toxicity that comes with that.”

    They walked back on their punishment of Blizzchung, but if someone starting making ‘one China’ statements at their interview, they would receive at least the six month suspension that BC ended up with.

    Firing the casters is either indefensible or the result of non-public information. I suspect, based on the speed of the response, that the principles had been specifically warned not to use the interview to push a political agenda.

    1. Scampi says:

      They walked back on their punishment of Blizzchung, but if someone starting making ‘one China’ statements at their interview, they would receive at least the six month suspension that BC ended up with.

      Are you sure? If so: Why? As far as I know the general idea of a ‘One China’ policy is pretty much universally accepted in all parts of China (even including Taiwan) and it’s only contested what that is supposed to mean. It might be I’m not up to date on the issue, but any change should be rather recent, or not?
      Unless someone made a statement about the specifics of their idea, I think this kind of comment might fly.

      1. Decius says:

        Making a ‘one China’ statement in the current climate, which includes this event in the context, would be unambiguous, in the same way that there are utterances about US politics that would have been ambiguous in 2013 but are not ambiguous today.

        Yes, I am sure- and that’s because now Blizzard has to be hypersensitive to the matter, lest they suffer another PR hit for being biased when in fact they are merely capricious.

    2. Lino says:

      I also don’t agree with Blizzard’s overreaction, but the casters were definitely complicit with Blitzchung.

      1. According to some outlets, they definitely weren’t blindsided by his statement, because before he made it, in Chinese they said something like “All right, say what you’re gonna say and then we’ll end this”

      2. Even if they were blindsided, all they did was laugh and hide behind their desks which was basically a way for them to show support. Instead, they could have been more serious about it, they could have tried to interrupt him, and say something to the effect of “We’re happy he won, but it’s not OK to use this tournament as a platform for expressing political views, and we in no way condone that”. What they did was a tongue-in-cheek way of saying “Hell yeah! Stand back, cause this just got real!”

      1. Taxi says:

        Yea I didn’t have all the information a few days ago about the casters’ intentions.

        Regardless. Okay so someone wins a tournament and you make an interview with them about how they feel.

        Well you can’t make them talk ONLY about how super excited they are about a video game. Maybe their dog has died, maybe they are getting divorced, maybe their family member is in the hospital and maybe their country is getting overrun by a totalitarian government.

        They should be able to speak about things like that as long as the entire interview isn’t about just that and they can keep it civil. And you can’t argue that taking a few seconds to make a statement is derailing the entire thing.

        Because you know what? We are PEOPLE. We are not walking advertisements for a video game.

  23. Alrenous says:

    “Christianity is the most adhered to religion in the United States, with 75% of polled American adults identifying themselves as Christian in 2015.”

    How many Christians are in Overwatch? 0. 0%. Putting one overt Christian in there would be ‘controversial’ enough, let alone having a majority of Overwatch characters be Christian.

    Now do the equivalent numbers for transsexuals. I’ll wait.

    Blizzard does the exact same thing for the American government as it does for the Chinese; you don’t even notice because it matches your cultural habits as opposed to matching theirs.

    1. Biggus Rickus says:

      The US government doesn’t tell them to do that. It’s in line with their own values.

    2. shoeboxjeddy says:

      This comment is nonsense because Overwatch (the team) is international, as are all the battlefields. The demographics of America are therefore not relevant data. It kind of sounds like you wanted to stir up some shit (especially with that term you chose to use) without knowing ANYTHING about the topic.

    3. Decius says:

      There’s a literal angel. That’s an overt Christian.

      A proper way to portray a trans character is to not make it a point, or even mention, that they are trans.

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        So many ways to snark, not sure which to use first!

        You’ve got a strange definition of “literal” if you’re equating robot-winged humans and immortal servants of God created at the dawn of time.

        There’s a literal witch. That’s an overt Pagan.

        It’s a good thing angels are completely unique to Christianity, otherwise we might not be sure what Mercy’s religion was.

      2. shoeboxjeddy says:

        “There’s a literal angel. That’s an overt Christian.”
        This is strange. In a lot of ways. Let’s take it from two directions.

        Mercy is ACTUALLY an angel and her powers are supernatural. (This is basically confirmed false by various lore, but let’s go with it.)
        -What kind of an angel is she? The Norse have angels. Various other faiths have angelic type beings.
        -If she’s an angel from the Abrahamic faiths… does that actually make her a Christian? Would you state that the Devil and his pantheon of Fallen are Christians? I think you actually have to be a human to be Christian, the whole point of the belief system is that you have to take it on faith, you don’t interact with the supernatural aspect on a day to day basis or are actually made up OF the supernatural aspect.

        Mercy is using tech like basically every other character.
        -Dressing like an angel is just a visual theme. It’s not like McCree often participates in cattle drives because he dresses like a cowboy…
        -She could dress like an angel and be any faith at all. It’s not like if a girl wears an angel Halloween costume, you now know for a FACT they are of the Christian faith. That’s ridiculous.

  24. Jeff says:

    Complete tangent here, but is The Other Kind of Life not available on Amazon (Canada) as a physical book?

  25. Viri VR says:

    I really liked your article. I am a big fan of Blizzard games. I play Hearthstone for a very long time. But he has not won yet. Blizzard Entertainment® is a global leader in entertainment software. The company was founded in 1994 and quickly became one of the most successful and respected manufacturers of computer games. Our absolute priority is the creation of beautiful, detailed and entertaining games. Since its inception, this principle has ensured Blizzard Entertainment a reputation for exemplary quality. I am very happy for them. Waiting for new games! Good luck.

  26. Taxi says:

    I once wrote a comment on some other forum about something completely different but the point just keeps popping up over and over again.

    I live in a post-communist country. So when I was at school (after the old regime fell), we essentially had to learn about how capitalism and democracy works from scratch. We were getting sort of an idealized version of it.

    As such, we, coming from the old regimes, can tell when this ‘better’ way to run countries is failing and completely defeating the entire concept.

    People who have been living in democratic countries all their lives don’t necessarily have that radar. It’s a boiling frog syndrome – they can see things are getting worse but they always find ways to make excuses (such as the ever so popular “they are a business, they are in it to make money”).

    Some eventually notice at some point and complain or e.g. engage in a boycott, but most people don’t really realize it.

    And that’s why we have this sort of corporate ruling class regime where we buy new products as soon as they appear even if we don’t really like them, we freely give away tons and tons of personal information and we don’t care if corporations support dictatorships.

    We might care but we don’t see where it leads, not unless you’ve already lived in a world without freedom.

  27. shoeboxjeddy says:

    Yo Shamus, Viri VR is pretty clearly a bot of some kind… I don’t see a flagging system on here to tip you off to this otherwise.

    1. Lino says:

      BTW, has anyone followed the link that bot is carrying? I would, but:
      a) I don’t want to give them the traffic, and
      b) it might be malware, and
      c) I really like making lists, and would rather do that than follow some spambot link

    2. Shamus says:

      I have stripped the URL payload. I just felt like like the bot deserved a little respect for posting something:

      * Spelled correctly.
      * Formatted correctly.
      * In the right language.
      * Following basic grammar rules and forming complete sentences.
      * Approximately on-topic.

      I can’t remember the last time I saw that happen. Hats off to this brave little bot. It is both a nuisance and pollution, but I like it when their creators put in the time to do things right.

  28. Shamus says:

    Thanks to everyone who took part. I’m going to close the comments now. Nearly everyone was civil and we got a few good discussions out of this, but I need a break from reading these discussions. I may even step away from the computer for a bit.

    Thanks again.

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