Blizzard's Face Plant Creates Marketing Opportunity For Companies With A Spine

from the one-man's-bumble-is-another-man's-boon dept

Blizzard's decision to pander to the Chinese government is a PR headache that simply isn't going away. Last week, games giant Blizzard stepped in a minefield when it severely punished a Hearthstone player for supporting the protests in Hong Kong during a championship live stream. The reaction was swift, justified, and severe, with everyone from gamers to Blizzard employees accusing the company of prioritizing profits over principles.

After days of silence, Blizzard ultimately issued a statement on the decision and, while public backlash forced it to retreat from some of the player's more severe punishments, the company doubled down on its decision to censor players for political opinions, ignoring most of the criticisms leveled by human rights organizations like Access Now. It also tried to claim with a straight face that its financial interests in China played no role in the decision:

The specific views expressed by blitzchung were NOT a factor in the decision we made. I want to be clear: our relationships in China had no influence on our decision. We have these rules to keep the focus on the game and on the tournament to the benefit of a global audience, and that was the only consideration in the actions we took.

Sure, Jan. While the gamer violated tournament rules by injecting political opinion, Blizzard's over-reaction (the gamer lost all awards and prizes and faced a one year ban from competition) showcased a company absolutely terrified of losing out on Chinese cash. It could have adhered to its rules by applying a more modest punishment. Instead it behaved in a way that made it clear to everybody that Blizzard's principles like Every Voice Matters--etched at the base of a statue at the company's headquarters--couldn't hold a candle to the potential money to be made in China.

But one company's disastrous face plant is another company's marketing opportunity. Fortnite developer Epic Games utilized the PR fracas to proclaim that it would not censor gamers simply for having political opinions, insisting companies can walk (embrace fundamental human rights) and chew gum (make a living selling games and game stream ads) at the same time:

Fortnite developer Epic Games said in a statement that it will not ban players or content creators for political speech. The message comes after Blizzard caught fire this week for banning a professional Hearthstone player for shouting a statement associated with Hong Kong protesters.

“Epic supports everyone’s right to express their views on politics and human rights. We wouldn’t ban or punish a Fortnite player or content creator for speaking on these topics,” an Epic Games spokesperson told The Verge.

That statement came despite the fact that Chinese tech giant Tencent has held had a 40 percent stake in Epic since 2011. In contrast, Riot Games, developer of League of Legends, is now 100 percent owned by Tencent. On Friday it effectively sided with Blizzard, proclaiming that broadcasters should "refrain" from discussing "sensitive topics" during game streams. Because, you know, god forbid some kid playing a game express something akin to empathy, while an authoritarian government threatens to "crush the bodies and shatter the bones of Hong Kong residents":

"As a general rule, we want to keep our broadcasts focused on the game, the sport, and the players,” John Needham, the global head of League of Legends e-sports said in a statement. “We serve fans from many different countries and cultures, and we believe this opportunity comes with a responsibility to keep personal views on sensitives issues (political, religious, or otherwise) separate."

Upsetting China's authoritarian government means potentially losing billions for companies dreaming of international expansion, so, more often than not, cutesy purported principles like "every voice matters" are going to hold up like tissue paper in a thunderstorm. Still, there's a marketing opportunity here for companies interested in showing how having a spine and respecting basic human rights isn't inherently "bad for business." Either way, with protests planned for Blizzard's BlizzCon convention early next month, this was an unforced error that's not going away anytime soon.

Filed Under: china, free speech, hong kong, video games
Companies: blizzard, epic games, riot games


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 15 Oct 2019 @ 5:54pm

    Words are cheap. Actions less so

    “Epic supports everyone’s right to express their views on politics and human rights. We wouldn’t ban or punish a Fortnite player or content creator for speaking on these topics,” an Epic Games spokesperson told The Verge.

    If they actually uphold that position when(because let's be honest, they might as well have begged someone to test it with that statement) it comes up that would certainly improve my impression of the company, but given past actions('We are pro-indie dev!'/'Indies that don't sign exclusivity deals aren't welcome on our platform') I'm not exactly putting high odds of them sticking to their guns there.

    Still though, as has been pointed out before when even Epic is slamming you you know you seriously screwed up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 15 Oct 2019 @ 7:48pm

      Epic is still a rather polarizing company (as well it should be) and nothing it does in response to the Blizzard shitstorm — ShitBlizzard? — will undo everything it did to earn criticism and scorn and a bad reputation. But when Epic can credibly hand Blizzard its ass on a silver platter adorned with American flags, I can’t help but laugh.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2019 @ 12:14pm

      Re: Words are cheap. Actions less so

      Depends on your perspective. Remember that Blizzard is partially owned by Tencent... the same company that Apple is using for Chinese domain vetting, and a company with close ties to CCP movers and shakers.

      Epic Games is also partially owned by Tencent.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 16 Oct 2019 @ 2:21pm

        Re: Re: Words are cheap. Actions less so

        5% and 40% for Blizzard and Epic respectively I believe, but what matters ultimately is what the higher-ups decide to do in a situation like this if the amount of the company owned isn't enough to issue demands, and while Blizzard's execs have made crystal clear that they will bend over backwards to appease china the CEO of Epic(Tim Sweeny I think?) has at least said that he values free speech more than appeasing a bunch of thin-skinned tyrants.

        Tim Sweeny however has said many things in the past, some of them aging rather poorly, leaving the question of whether he will follow through with that statement still up in the air until it's actually put to the test.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Oct 2019 @ 7:45pm

    General sentiment with regards to Epic is that they have never been in a position where showing their integrity on the topic matters.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 15 Oct 2019 @ 7:45pm

    Quoting Jim Sterling again:

    Blizzard claims any divisive statement is punishable. But what if, say, Blitzchung had spoken up for LGBTQ rights or asylum seekers or anything that can be argued in the exact same way to be divisive and deliberate and offensive to someone, somewhere? There's no way in hell that Blizzard would suspend Blitzchung for yelling “trans rights” and they shouldn't suspend anyone for yelling “trans rights” (trans rights, by the way) even as it would inevitably create an outcry from fucking assholes.

    Blizzard claims it's behavior had nothing to do with China. It just happened that this behavior mirrored exactly what dozens of other corporations have been doing to appease China. Sure, Blizzard, we all fucking believe you~. And I'm sure the fact that Blitzchung himself now says he'll be more careful about expressing his Hong Kong opinions totally isn't the chilling effect you were going for~. But well, I'm just saying it's fitting that your name is Blizzard.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2019 @ 1:57am

      Re:

      It's only a matter of time before someone in China/Chinese declares that they identify closely with being a Tracer/Soldier: 76 main due to their sexuality, and calls for more attention to be placed on China for their lack of inclusivity.

      That's going to be some shitstorm Blizzard will have to navigate.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2019 @ 7:45am

      Re:

      Blizzard claims any divisive statement is punishable.

      Statement or action as I recall, and "divisive" is anything that offends one person, without regard to reasonability. If an opponent is unhappy you shot them when they were respawning, you could be banned.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    finger "guns" are now a felony, 15 Oct 2019 @ 8:15pm

    And just exactly where do you draw the line?

    showing how having a spine and

    That would be shunning all trade with Communist China, the same regime that murdered at least 70 million people, and which is today killing prisoners on demand to sell their organs. The West should NEVER have traded with China. -- You kids just ignore fundamentals! It's simply not within your ability to advocate ZERO trade with China. You put out stoopy little pieces like this only to position yourselves as moral and promoting human rights, but you're not.

    respecting basic human rights isn't inherently "bad for business."

    Pffft! Show three examples on scale of Blizzard.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      finger "guns" are now a felony, 15 Oct 2019 @ 8:15pm

      Re: And just exactly where do you draw the line?

      Corporations and capitalism are SOLELY concerned with money and power. You kids tacitly claim to be socialist / humanist, but never attack corporations except as here, only criticizing this as a public relations gaffe! You are corporatists.

      Yet to be proven that any corporation acts as a moral "person" too. They are legal fictions. You are not only supporting fictions but going on to justify them by asserting they'll implement your humanism -- and thereby prosper. That's simply not common sense, let alone provable by any example.

      Also, you kids have been telling me for years that -- largely through CDA Section 230 -- corporations are to and do have total arbitrary control of message on "platforms" and can enforce EULA too. By your prior assertions this is Blizzard's Section 230 "right" and a clear violation of EULA. -- YET when serves purpose, Techdirt flatly contradicts itself.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 15 Oct 2019 @ 8:39pm

        Re: Re:

        It's Blizzard's right to "moderate" as they see fit. On the other hand, Section 230 doesn't protect Blizzard from other people disagreeing and calling it stupid for their China-sucking behavior.

        But nah, why have a nuanced discussion on the issue, when you can bitch about Techdirt supporting a corporation on an article where Techdirt literally criticizes a corporation.

        Nice try, blue, but you lose.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Stephen T. Stone (profile), 15 Oct 2019 @ 8:43pm

          And Blue still refuses to talk about how he hates corporate censorship but loves it when corporations use copyright to censor speech. If we could convert cognitive dissonance into electrical energy, Blue’s could probably power a small town for a month.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 15 Oct 2019 @ 11:47pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Nice try, blue, but you lose.

          It's funny how his arguments always fall apart once you wipe his spittle off your screen.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Rocky, 16 Oct 2019 @ 1:38am

          Re: Re: Re:

          He never wanted a nuanced discussion. His only goal is to be spiteful, facts be damned.

          In other news, harboring anger and negative emotions shorten your lifespan. You hear that blue? The time you spend shit-posting here shortens your lifespan.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2019 @ 1:58am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            The time you spend shit-posting here shortens your lifespan.

            In that case, what we need to do now is encourage more of it and let nature take its course.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Toom1275 (profile), 16 Oct 2019 @ 9:39am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Smoothbrains hallucinating that they've found some kind of hypocrisy here is quite amusing, in a sad kind of way. Like watching a puppy with a cup on its head fall off the couch.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 15 Oct 2019 @ 8:41pm

        The law allows Blizzard to suspend Blitzchung. The law also allows everyone else to call Blizzard out for its ridiculous behavior. The two concepts aren’t mutually exclusive.

        And pointing out that corporations have rights like Blizzard’s right to suspend Blitzchung is not kissing their asses (or whatever you think we’re doing when we say that). Your ignorance, be it feigned or real, will not find comfort here.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2019 @ 7:49am

          Re:

          The law allows Blizzard to suspend Blitzchung.

          Yes, but taking away a prize is questionable. They're advertising that the winner of a contest will get a prize, and then the fine print says they can avoid paying it for any reason whatsoever (because there's no way to win a contest without offending somebody, and anyway, Blizzard has sole judgment re: offense). It's an unconscionable and possibly fraudulent contract.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2019 @ 11:47am

        Re: Re: And just exactly where do you draw the line?

        We draw the line at you blatantly lying about never darkening our doopstep with your shadow ever again bro.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    AEIO_ (profile), 16 Oct 2019 @ 4:14am

    "Blizzard's principles like Every Voice Matters" .. to a black hole. THAT's how much we want to hear from you.

    Why don't you just play our game and give us money? Or better yet, just give us money. You can go protest on your OWN time, but be sure and send up that check first. Bad things happen out there occasionally -- not that we'd know.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2019 @ 5:39am

    Reaching peak capitalism here where an American company is just bending over backwards for an authoritative communist state since they want those sweet sweet Pooh-Bucks.

    Although Epic Games message is a bit... over the top. While I'm sure they'd be fine with a quick "hey here's my quick mostly non offensive (to anyone other than government entities) stance on a thing!" I doubt they'd want to be a platform for some Jordan Peterson circle-jerker just pontificating for an hour about how veganism is communism because it rhymes and that's why women shouldn't be allowed to vote.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 16 Oct 2019 @ 6:41am

      I doubt they'd want to be a platform for some Jordan Peterson circle-jerker just pontificating for an hour about how veganism is communism because it rhymes and that's why women shouldn't be allowed to vote.

      We might agree that Epic has the right to kick that asshole off — and that we dislike the asshole’s message. But if Epic Games does something to kick that circlejerker off an Epic-owned platform, we’ll call out that hypocrisy, too.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2019 @ 7:44am

        Re:

        I agree it's hypocrisy because of their over the top statement saying they support all sorts of free speech, speech all you like!

        I can see announcing support for a movement or a political figure would be usually a fine thing to say you are in support of.

        The problem is not all "political speech" is so sterile and mostly harmless to a large entity that exists to make money. Ok that dude likes Hilary I'm not going to kick him off for that. OKAY that dude during our streamed game tournament is going on about how we should all dress up like wizards and kill black people. Banning this dude.

        Yes, this person is calling out for violence directly but there are plenty of dog whistle ways to say the same thing and pretend you had only the best intentions while saying it.

        My main contention is... Epic is dumb and blatantly so here. They are just jumping on some outrage bandwagon real quick to get people to like them.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Stephen T. Stone (profile), 17 Oct 2019 @ 7:59am

          The problem is not all "political speech" is so sterile and mostly harmless to a large entity that exists to make money. Ok that dude likes Hilary I'm not going to kick him off for that. OKAY that dude during our streamed game tournament is going on about how we should all dress up like wizards and kill black people. Banning this dude.

          The difference between those two examples is easy to spot: Only one of those statements is calling for (arguably politically motivated) violence.

          If two separate streamers say on-stream that they’re voting for two different candidates (e.g., “I’m voting for Trump” vs. “I’m voting for Bernie”), you can write that off as benign. If one of those streamers then says something that can be construed as a call to violence (dogwhistled or not), that cannot be similarly written off — no matter which streamer said it.

          Epic could easily allow for a wide berth of political speech while also banning “harmful” or hateful speech. It can also distance itself from any such speech by saying the opinions expressed by streamers don’t represent the views of Epic as a company or any of its individual employees. And that still gives it room to punish any speech that crosses the line into advocacy for hatred and violence — on both “sides” of the political aisle.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Edgar Wallace Cooper, 16 Oct 2019 @ 6:08am

    Hong Kong Protest

    So are the headlines about a Hong Kong Protest, or are they asking - Is Hong Kong Pro Test? I mean if you say "Hong Kong, Pro-test?", then just maybe they're keen on exams in part of Hong Kong. At least the Hong Kong Pro-test part of Hong Kong.

    And will they be keeping giant apes off the buildings?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 16 Oct 2019 @ 6:42am

      Blue Balls is funnier by accident than you will ever be on purpose.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2019 @ 10:17am

      Re: Hong Kong Protest

      And will they be keeping giant apes off the buildings?

      The giant apes are trademarked characters and their depiction is subject to copyright. All rights reserved.

      See you in court, buster.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 16 Oct 2019 @ 11:37am

    Any company banned in China for their stance on freedom and democracy is a company I want to give my money to.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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