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 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.

doxy ask fm

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, 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.

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19 thoughts on “As Good As It Gets

  1. It is for this kind of article I wish I had an editor, just to see how some of this comes across before it hits the web. (Hmm, definitely going to get the third part of Petri Dish reviewed by somebody before I let it out.)

  2. If you click the waffle reference tweet right at the end, you’ll find those very suggestions turning up as replies. And there were a lot of replies.

  3. Yeah great way to get rid of hatemongers, make more out of the little sheep that follow you having a one sided pissing competition with a dev that is trying to move on but these little “hatemongers” your kind of people keep making make it impossible to move on

  4. Hi Zac,

    I was cautioned that maybe I would be taken seriously (well, I am serious but not in *that* way) but be assured I am not calling for more online hate. I approached Maulbeck to check if he and Zer0doxy would approve of using the ask. fm image, especially as this is two months after the last time things blew up: I didn’t want to stir things up again. Also, this tweet.

  5. No, no, it doesn’t count as hate if the dude is gross because gross dudes aren’t human. Self-righteous fury is different than hatred; it’s cool to kill people related to gross dudes, didn’t you know?

  6. Sigh. Sounds like Mike’s a bit of a dick and I’m on board with him getting his game pulled, but internet supernova-hate is always nasty.

    And messaging his girlfriend? His *girlfriend*? Saying she’s fat and that they hope she dies? Jesus *Christ*, internet.

    Oh, Joel, you ask: “Will “social vigilantism” be the death of social media? So far, it looks like the answer is probably not.” I don’t think this is the death of social media, I think this is social media’s bread and butter.

  7. @Richard: Get out of here Stalker.

    @James: I think your last point may be spot on. I think I needed another week before I pushed it to that point as originally I wrote “social vigilantism will be the death of social media”!

    When the “death threat” brouhaha kicked off, I rushed to Maulbeck’s account immediately out of car crash fascination. I expected he’d start getting abuse and it was instant. I wrote this article straight away but then thought twice about it: did I really want to start wading into “Twitter politics”? As I said in the newsletter, at the same time I had written two other articles both essentially whinging about social media from different angles. I almost canned all three. This wasn’t really Electron Dance writing… but I’d poured in quite a lot of hours already. It seemed a waste to bin them.

    Maulbeck’s case is particularly fascinating. I wanted to make the point that even if you don’t sympathise with the person (your observation is “sounds like a bit of a dick”), it doesn’t mean that person deserves internet abuse. I mean… who does deserve it?

  8. Well apparently *I* deserve it!

    Speaking of STALKER, I apparently have a copy of STALKER from a bundle and played it today. It was really awesome and cool and then I got to the first bad guy and he killed me in like two hits.

    I’m sticking to games where you are a dude or a lady who fights kobolds.

  9. @HM: It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that if you want to be a part of the “games community” or be in any way involved in the online world of videogames, you have to take a stand on the twitter/social media/abuse stuff. When I say it like that it sounds like a bad thing, but I don’t mean it that way: the world of gaming is having (and needs to have) a conversation about how people treat each other online, especially since the gamergate debacle. So articles like this are always welcome (even if, frankly, I care a lot more about the abuse Anita Sarkeesian suffered, and don’t care about the abuse suffered by this guy that much).

  10. Nice piece, HM. Glad you didn’t bin it.

    I find the sort of reactionary moral absolutism that leads to people hopping on the Self-Righteous Fury bandwagon really quite depressing. You’re with us or you’re against us! No room for nuance here on twitter! Expressing reservations makes you part of the problem! Any single action or error is an acceptable basis for judgement of character – forever!

    A corollary to this problem is ably demonstrated a few comments up: people not reading things properly. It’s more important to express an opinion than to take the time to understand someone else’s!

    I’ve been forcing myself to get back into Twitter as I feel like I’m missing out on a lot of stuff, but it is quite distressing to see so much of what makes Twitter dreadful. At the moment I still feel that being on it is more valuable than maddening, though.

  11. Oh! I recently reviewed Lauren Beukes’ novel Broken Monsters. One of the younger characters in the novel experiences something very much like what Maulbeck and his girlfriend went through after she batters a guy (who has behaved like an asshole and hurt her friend) with her handbag, forgetting that she has a ceramic ashtray in it. Beukes’ work (that of it I’ve read) is really engaged with social media as something fundamentally integrated into her characters’ lives; I think you might enjoy it.

  12. @Richard: No, no, Richard; you’re doing it wrong. Whenever someone criticizes you for doing something, you’re supposed to directly imply that it’s the critic’s fault -somehow. I mean, if your entire argument is built around being an innocent victim, then you need to make sure it’s someone else’s fault that you do bad things.

    Yeah, I know I’m cliche -bite me. I guess I just wanna say that we’re living in the gap between religion and philosophy, and that I think we got better odds of getting through it than the Romans.

  13. @mwm

    Thank God you’re here! My skype account got suspended and I’m Ba ing trouble getting back on it so I will be MIA until I can figure it out.

    Speaking of MIA, we want Bucky done gun. We want a fighter man. We want Bucky done gun. Get cracking. Get get cracking.

  14. Oh yeah, Richard? You’re baking them trouble huh? Well, uhhh… well, you still got your Steam account, right? Otherwise, like, there’s other ways to talk.

    Anyways, the message I sent last night, umm. I’m doing Wakfu next Saturday, so lemme get an idea what class you’re gonna take. I think one guy’s gonna do healing, so we’d probably need a tank and a damage dealer.

  15. @James: That’s kind of my point, that it’s often the case that a blind eye is turned whenever someone they don’t like is getting harassed, which implies the tactic is justified. It’s gone a bit Jack Bauer out there. This “you reap what you sow” attitude comes back to haunt everyone because, despite the constant demands for safe spaces online, we’ve pretty much blown the safe moral highground.

    I wrote this because no one is going to write an article pointing out what happened to Maulbeck is wrong, because of his stupid mistake. The focus on *who the victim is* seems to trump *what is happening* – a value decision is made of whether they are deserving of support or derision.

    As you bring up GG: I’m not sure anyone outside of GG is interested in looking into claims of anti-GG harassment, as it interferes with the role that the Gater is supposed to play. The number of people who are flying the GG flag is substantial and carpet bombing them with moral noise is not going to solve anything.

    GG has also become something often used to blacken characters; I read a tweet which attempted to link Maulbeck to GG when the Steam ban news hit the wires. The point of such a tweet is to make it clear this is someone who needs to be made an example of, deserves it. (Touching GG has now become online poison from both sides – Polygon’s Arthur Gies tweeted to his followers that he has no intention of playing Ethan Carter because of Adrian Chmielarz’s ongoing defence of GG supporters. I suppose I should also tread carefully.)

    In no way does this diminish the need to put the people engaging in doxxing or swatting (an attempt to cause physical harm possibly death) behind bars. This is not discourse. As opposed to random drive-bys, these are concerted attempts to eliminate the opposing point of view 
    rather than win an argument.

    @Shaun: I wrote this article during a time which I pondered quitting Twitter because I’d had enough of negativity from virtually every direction; it’s a medium into which we pour snark without a second thought, casual meanness instead of discussion. There’s always space for more bile. I get a fair shake of traffic from Twitter – I would’ve just left otherwise.

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