Mass Effect: Andromeda is making headlines for all the wrong reasons. The big sci-fi action sequel releases tomorrow. The first ten hours been available over the last week through Origin Access. Apparently it suffers from some awkward character animations. Players are blasting the internet waves with mockery and jokes, like they did with Battlefield 1 and pretty much every Assassin’s Creed. Things quickly took a sinister and cruel turn, however.
A targeted harassment campaign focused on a female employee at Electronic Arts, who was singled out as being the “lead animator” and sole arbiter of Mass Effect’s woes. Not only are video games vastly collaborative products, but the woman in question isn’t even a current employee.
BioWare’s General Manager Aaryn Flynn responded via Twitter: “Recently a former EA employee was misidentified as a lead member of the Mass Effect: Andromeda development team. These reports are false. We respect the opinions of our players and community, and welcome feedback on our games. But attacking individuals, regardless of their involvement in the project, is never acceptable.”
— BioWare (@bioware) March 18, 2017
The harassment campaign can be traced back to the Ralph Retort, a GamerGate-friendly blog. The GamerGate losers are always at hand to make gamers look like complete troglodytes by harassing game developers – particularly any that aren’t straight white dudes. A similar situation happened with Alison Rapp while she was employed at Nintendo, and blamed for localization in which she had no hand in. The most recent case was with No Man’s Sky and Sean Murray, who had to all but withdraw from social media. Writer Katherine Cross has a good twitter thread breakdown of this terrible cycle of online abuse.
This isn’t even BioWare’s first rodeo with targeted harassment. Jennifer Hepler wrote much of Dragon Age: Origins and its sequel, but was harassed right around the launch of Mass Effect 3.
BioWare is known for creating heavily story-based action-adventure games with an emphasis on characters and relationships. They have a passionate and vocal fanbase, which can be terrifying when things get ugly. Exhibit A is the controversy that still surrounds Mass Effect 3’s ending, and the fact that BioWare would later go back and update it due to the feedback.
The industry would benefit from game companies being more open about the design process. Many complaints stem from the general public being ignorant on how video game design and creation actually works – especially the amount of time, money, and people it takes. But when game developers are hit with witch hunts it doesn’t exactly embolden companies to become more open. If anything, it’s the opposite. As game developers become more diverse and games more mainstream, hopefully we can strike a nice balance in the future – and shut down any harassment as soon as it crawls out of the sewer.