So…Red Dead Redemption 2.
A game that has been in development for nearly a decade. A game that millions of people have been anxiously and excitedly awaking. A game that brings players to the Wild West frontier in a way they’ve never experienced before.
A game that I refuse to support, and a game that I will never buy.
Some of you are probably wondering why. Most of you likely already know the answer: I will not give my money to a company that treats its employees like Rockstar Games does.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then stop here and go read these articles from Kotaku’s Jason Schreier and Eurogamer’s Tom Philips. Consider them required reading for this blog post — these articles go significantly in-depth about what “crunch culture” is and how Rockstar’s management seems to have no issue at all making it their company standard. They’re eye-opening, and it’s important that you understand what Rockstar’s employees are telling the public.
Without further ado, let’s begin.
In the aftermath of Rockstar’s actions and policies being exposed by several of its current and former of employees, myself and a fair amount of other people have chosen not to buy Red Dead Redemption 2 in boycott fashion. People like me, though, have been getting quite a lot of hatred for that decision because of this bit from Jason Schreier’s piece:
“Some fans have asked if they should avoid buying or playing Red Dead Redemption 2 to show support for those who had tough experiences making it, but many of Rockstar’s current and former employees—even those who had the worst things to say about the company—say they’re against the idea. For one, those who put long weeks into the game want people to see what they’ve done. Also, given that this year’s bonuses will be based on royalties, any sort of large-scale boycott may hurt Rockstar employees more than it helps, some current employees have said. What fans can instead do, those people say, is speak out about crunch and workplace issues like this, helping put public pressure on the company.”
— Jason Schreier, Kotaku.com
This is certainly a thought-provoking situation. Is the decision to boycott a game that developers say they want you to play, regardless of how they were treated, justified? What about when their payment bonuses depend on large-scale commercial success of the game?
For me, neither of these things influence my decision to boycott Red Dead Redemption 2. And despite what you might think of me due to that, I can promise you that my choice to do so is 100% rooted in care for the developers that work at Rockstar, and a desire to influence both Rockstar and the wider industry in general to change. In this post, I hope to convince you of that, and to show you that myself, and people like myself, have a very valid reason to boycott Rockstar’s latest title.
The Power of the Consumer
Earlier this year, the gaming community achieved a monumental feat: getting Electronic Arts to permanently remove its infamous gameplay-impacting microtransactions from one of its games, Star Wars: Battlefront II. Do you know how we did it? Spoiler alert: the answer isn’t “social pressure”. No, it wasn’t that EA was weary of re-earning its title as the Worst Company in America, like it had in 2012-13. No, it wasn’t that EA ended up having the most downvoted post in Reddit history when they responded to the controversy. While it’s true that the company temporarily disabled their gameplay-focused lootboxes right before the game launched, they said they were going to add them back later.
It was the fact that Battlefront II sold just 882,000 physical units instead of the expected 1,720,000 units, which are numbers from Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter. Even with digital sales boosting that number, the total sales of Battlefront II in its first month were dwarfed by its 2015 predecessor, Star Wars: Battlefront, which sold 2.1 million units in its own first month.
The answer is obvious, especially if you go back and look at EA’s long history of lootbox controversy. Gamers have hated its systems for nearly a decade now, but players have always bought its games anyway, giving EA their hard-earned cash and telling themselves, “This time will be different. This time EA will listen to feedback.” Yet, until now, it never has. And when you look at the differences between Battlefront II and EA’s other games, the only thing that stands out is that the community finally said “enough”, refusing to give in to EA’s scheme. They hit EA right where it hurts the most for a AAA gaming corporation. Its wallet.
You might be asking, “How does this relate back to Rockstar Games and Red Dead Redemption 2?” Well, while the issues that players had/have with Battlefront II and Red Dead Redemption 2 may be different, the way we can make Rockstar listen to us like we made EA listen to us is the same. We need to vote with our wallets if we want the mistreatment of Rockstar employees to stop. If you believe that Rockstar will cave and make internal changes within its company because of “social pressure”, then you haven’t paid attention to how capitalist society works. Corporations controlled by the 1% have been facing “social pressure” from the lower and middle classes for decades in Western society, yet the struggle with them rages on with no sign of change. With Rockstar, nothing is different.
You may think that my worldview in this regard is pessimistic; I consider it realistic. In capitalist society, money speaks the loudest, not “Worst Company” labels or downvoted Reddit posts. If anything, I guarantee you that the reason EA even temporarily removed its lootboxes back during Battlefront II’s launch was because it was afraid of the possibility of disappointing sales, not because it was afraid of a poor public image.
Everything comes back to money. And, yes: Red Dead Redemption II, unlike Battlefront II, is selling tremendously. In fact, ScreenRant projects that it might sell 20 million units by 2018’s end. Because of this, some people have asked me why I choose to boycott the game when it’s obvious my choice is only reciprocated by the few, not the many. To them, I say that change has to start somewhere.
A Hard Choice, But the Correct Choice
Believe me: once I read that payment bonuses for Rockstar employees were tied to sales numbers, there was a voice in the back of my head that said, “You should buy the game.” But as frustrating as it was to not purchase something that would directly support the people that myself and other Rockstar critics have been defending in the first place, it needed to be done.
For all the reasons I stated above, the only way that we’ll ever get Rockstar, or any company for that matter, to change is by not forking over cash. In Rockstar’s eyes, victory is achieved the second you hand the cashier your money or confirm your digital payment. Rockstar doesn’t care why you’re buying Red Dead Redemption 2. They don’t care if you’re doing it for the sake of the developers or not.
They only care that you buy it to begin with. That’s it. And as long as the consumers buy a product in droves, the creators of said product have absolutely zero real reason to change. In an alternate reality where Red Dead Redemption 2 doesn’t sell as well, the developers at Rockstar would lose out on bonuses, true. But the working conditions at Rockstar locations would most certainly improve, and a much more stable and employee-friendly working environment would be spawned in the long-term as a result.
In my opinion, between a short-term payment increase and a long-term shift towards a better, healthier experience for Rockstar developers, the latter is easily the best outcome. What happens when we hear similar stories for the next Grand Theft Auto or an L.A. Noire sequel, if it ever gets made? How much longer are we willing to let Rockstar’s employees get worked like dogs? Rockstar has been facing scrutiny for poor working conditions since 2010.
The argument could be made that we shouldn’t boycott the game due to how badly the developers want us to play it, but to that, I ask this: Do you think the developers of Star Wars: Battlefront II didn’t want people to play their game? I guarantee you that DICE’s coders, artists, modelers, mocap animators, sound effects composers, etc. were extremely bummed out to see Battlefront II fall like it did. Yes, it sucks, but that’s the entire point of a boycott in the first place: to show corporations behind creations that we want to enjoy what was made for us, but we’re choosing not to because we won’t support the shoddy practices that come with it.
I don’t know about everyone else, but I’ve had enough. And I’m personally going to protest Rockstar’s actions in the strongest way a consumer can. I don’t look down on others that choose to buy Red Dead Redemption 2 anyway, but be aware that nothing will change moving forward until we collectively put our feet down and refuse to feed the machine the money it wants.
Thanks for reading. I hope this article shone some light on the reasoning behind boycotting Red Dead Redemption 2.
Happy Halloween, too. Don’t eat all your candy at once.
Trick or treat,