What A Video Game Fiasco Tells Us About Gaming’s Toxic Corporate Culture

In most industries, if something goes wrong in manufacturing a product, you announce it, you apologize to disappointed consumers, and reschedule it. Because while it’s annoying and costly, it’s not the biggest of deals. Unless you happen to run Activision.

Figure this convoluted saga: Two weeks ago, Activision announced that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was delayed on Xbox One, and only on Xbox One. Activision didn’t say why, didn’t mention a release date, and even stripped away all the Xbox One logos from the game’s official site. Conspiracy theories ran rampant, from Microsoft trying to stonewall Sony to Sony trying to make Microsoft pay more for the game. You know, because Sony wants to keep people from hearing about their summer blockbuster, and Microsoft cares so desperately about a licensed movie tie-in.

Yesterday morning, available for download in the Xbox One store is… The Amazing Spider-Man 2. It’s been paid for, downloaded, played, and nothing is wrong with the game on a technical level. Aside from the fact that physical copies seem not to be on the market, it’s a fairly standard release.

Considering the specificity of the problem, namely that the delay was limited to one platform, and the fact that digital copies are available, it’s almost certain there was some technical error in manufacturing the physical discs. They all got scratched, or had the wrong software, or somebody replaced the manual with nude photoshops of Bobby Kotick. Which is a bit embarrassing, sure, but it has to happen occasionally. Yet Activision has refused to comment on anything from the delay to the fact that the delay apparently doesn’t apply to the digital version.

Stop and consider, just for a minute, how utterly insane this is. Can you think of another industry that, faced with this situation, doesn’t just fire off a quick press release and have done with it?

And yet it’s commonplace in the gaming industry to act like their own customers are the enemy. Bethesda infamously referred to “sneaky press f***s” in internal emails because they might find out a studio was developing a game. Gearbox threw a fit when reporters put together the rather obvious clues that Borderlands 2 was being announced back in 2011. And these are just the stories loud and visible enough to come to the surface; corner a gaming journalist at a bar and he or she will tell you of at least one nasty email from a developer over something minor.

Part of this, quite honestly, is self-importance; many game publishers and large developers take themselves painfully seriously. But this mistrust of and disrespect for the consumer is toxic. It doesn’t just mean hissy fits in the press, it means that EA will ruin a franchise with restrictive DRM or that publishers will shut off a game’s servers without telling anyone.

If Activision doesn’t trust its customers far enough to issue a simple press release saying “We goofed,” that’s a problem. And it raises a question of whether we should trust them when they don’t trust us.