This is the first part of The Petri Dish trilogy.
I wasn’t sure if it was my kind of thing, but when IndieGameStand sent me an indie first-person shooter as their latest offering, I picked it up without too much thought. I didn’t realise it was an alpha until after I’d installed it. It was starting to bother me that I kept buying alpha games off IndieGameStand without realising it, somehow they never seemed to make that fact prominent enough, that the “sale” was actually an early access funding drive.
The game was a total twitchfest and I’m not very good at this sort of thing any more, my thumbs don’t snap into place like they used to, but I made a good fist of it. My son was entertained for awhile watching me, but I always tended to flounder and die after a few levels.
Still, I like to follow videogame people on Twitter at random, just to inject a little unknown into my feed. If I find them offensive or frustrating, I’ll mute or unfollow and be done with it.
I followed the developer of the game… and he tested my patience.
He didn’t espouse gems of wisdom but he was an entertainer of sorts. “Bought huge box of frozen waffles,” he tweeted once. “Tried to have some and realized I don’t own a toaster.”
He had a stronger following than Electron Dance and he also had a Let’s Play channel of his own. He knew how to cater to his Twitter audience. For example, he tweeted that he was trying to climb around the outside of his home to sneak into the room his girlfriend was in, doing a Twitch stream of a horror game. He wanted to give her a scare, live on-air.
He never became my favourite person and sometimes I’d find a whole hour of my Twitter feed polluted with him, him and more him. Tweets like, “Peeing into a toilet while it’s flushing is one of life’s great pleasures.” Lord knows how he escaped my unfollow or mute buttons but I suspected relative obscurity was the only reason he’d not got into some hot Twitter water so far.
Things changed somewhere along the line and there were accusations that the team were abandoning the game. The pressure of being the front man seemed to take its toll and some fans turned against him.
But after two years of development, Paranautical Activity (Code Avarice, 2014) was complete and went live on Steam. The big day. In an oversight, Valve left it labelled as Early Access. Remember that Burak Tezateser pointed out that “if your game can’t beat other games in sales during the first hour, you will be destined to rot in the depths of the platform.” Well, upset they might be haemorrhaging sales while on the front page developer Mike Maulbeck lost his temper waiting for Steam to fix their mistake.
He lost his temper… on Twitter.
“I’m going to kill Gabe Newell,” he tweeted. “He is going to die.”
Having pissed off some fans and other developers over the years, it wasn’t going to be long before someone reported this to Valve. The response was swift and decisive. Valve cut the team loose and Paranautical Activity was instantly gone from Steam. Now we were talking news. Developer issues death threats to Gabe Newell and is… reported to the police? No, issues death threats and gets game pulled: Rock Paper Shotgun, Kotaku, IGN, Polygon. His comment might have been safe in relative obscurity, but now the videogame spotlight of Twitter was beaming up every word Scotty was broadcasting. Developers who’d had a bone to pick with the Code Avarice team were also starting to tell their stories. This was the day they had been waiting for.
People get caught up with the ethics of Valve’s power or Maulbeck’s unprofessionalism. Whatever. None of that is the meat of this delicious meal. We found out that Maulbeck was trash. Valve punishing him and his company wouldn’t be enough. We needed to step up to the plate. He who calls for death threats needs to be sent death threats because this is the only way these people will learn. I didn’t have to run to an anonymous Twitter account and send him my scorn because others did it for me.
“Don’t read the comments,” they cry. Try not reading the tweets screaming into your mentions, firing into your smartphone. We don’t have to find out where you live, because you already let us in through the front door. Hey and we don’t care if you say sorry, because you probably don’t mean it.
Family members or partners are all fair game through guilt-by-association. Someone lit up Maulbeck’s girlfriend’s ask.fm account and this is exactly the kind of good work I am talking about. More of this, please. It’s the only way to stop these hatemongers.
In an attempt to salvage the situation, Maulbeck sold his share in the company and walked away from game development, hoping Steam would put the game back on sale. Steam didn’t so Maulbeck reversed his decision a month later, which promptly made him the news again.
Some say we should be better than this. But maybe this is as good as it gets.
- Update 18 Jan: To clear up any confusion, this is not an attack or call for an attack on Mike Maulbeck but hitting out at harassment across the board no matter how much you might justify that they deserve it (I need an editor).
- Will “social vigilantism” be the death of social media? So far, it looks like the answer is probably not.
- This is Phil Fish
- It seems that the widespread usage of social media is ramping up this kind of drive-by abuse, far more than newsgroups or comments used to do. Small internet communities often ended up policing themselves but Twitter is not a small community.
- In 2010, I wrote Punchbag Artists on the effects of destructive criticism, featuring interviews with Dan Marshall, Paul Eres, Chris Park, Derek Smart… and Gabe Newell.
- Tweet references: Life’s great pleasures, useless shill, waffles, can things I say stop being news now. Image from ask.fm, account since deactivated (consent to use this image was given).
- I still follow @SpooderW.
The second part of The Petri Dish is How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Cat Videos.