Adam Orth Just Had One Of The Best Years Of His Life

Adam Orth Just Had One Of The Best Years Of His Life

It sounds impossible, and it might sound crazy to you. Adam Orth, Internet Enemy #1 this past spring — the Deal With It, always-online ex-Microsoft guy — is sizing up the past several months of pain and hurt and sounds like a man reborn. "It was a good year for me," he says.

"It was dark, in the beginning," he told me earlier this week over the phone, "but I got through it. It feels, looking back on it now, it feels good that it happened, and I got a lot out of it. I'm a better person for it."

This is the happy twist to a story that has gone in an unexpectedly good direction. Adam Orth is a man transformed.

Adam Orth, a 43-year-old game designer who had worked at EA, LucasArts and Sony Santa Monica, was virtually unknown on the Internet at the start of 2013. But on April 4, that changed. Orth was working at Microsoft at the time as a creative director on the Xbox TV team, back when Microsoft wasn't even admitting that they were working on a new console. Rumours were flying that the console might require an online connection. And on April 4, I reported that two of my best sources believed that an online connection would indeed be needed to start playing any game on the machine. This console would be, in a manner of speaking, a machine that required the Internet.

Orth says he hadn't seen my story, that it was just coincidence that hours later he Tweeted the following:

Adam Orth Just Had One Of The Best Years Of His Life

And then he made some jokes publicly on Twitter with a game developer friend about people complaining about this kind of thing, jokes about whether the Internet is bad outside of cities and, in what always struck me as playful un-serious banter, who would want to live outside of the big city?

He said stuff that, in many eyes, looked like a Microsoft guy justifying making a console that would require online. He likened being worried about buying an always-online console like worrying about potential blackouts while buying a vacuum.

Orth struck a nerve, and he struck it hard.

On Reddit, on the NeoGAF message board, and surely here on Kotaku as well, readers called for his firing. They raged against him, dug into his past and decided he was a jerk, railed against him in YouTube video after YouTube video and mocked him relentlessly.

This was the kind of thing people were saying:

Hey guys I brought my pitchfork. So how does this go down? Where do we go to get him fired?

Edit: I'm serious.

This, too:

This guy is video game poison. Micro$oft should fire him immediately.

A week later, he was out of his job at Microsoft. All he'll say about that is that he resigned.

Orth regrets those Tweets. "It was never my intention to cause any of this trouble," he says now. "I just made a mistake. I deserved to be criticised rationally, but that's not what happened. It just turned into this epic moment in time where I couldn't go anywhere on the Internet without running into it. It was really powerful and really big and really painful."

But he also doesn't think the punishment, as it were, fit the crime. The online reaction to him was swift and nasty.

Orth: "It was never my intention to cause any of this trouble," he says now. "I just made a mistake. I deserved to be criticised rationally, but that's not what happened."

Orth says the Internet blowback made him physically sick. "I don't think I slept for the better part of the week that this happened." He had nightmares. He says he was "feeling like I'd destroyed my life and my family's life." He was embarrassed. "My family is the most important thing to me and having put myself in a position where it would drastically change and hurt our lives was a really hard pill for me to swallow."

He was ashamed. "Deep humiliation," he recalls feeling. "It's hard to talk about those things other than with those labels because it was a very painful thing." He felt like he couldn't escape it, and he didn't know what to do. "There's no handbook or anything you can use to figure out how to handle when you become a target like that."

Orth struggles now to remember everything that happened. "Details at that time are a little blurry, because everything was happening so fast," he says. "It's a really odd feeling when everyone is piling onto you like that. It's not something I can really describe well. It's a horrible, horrible feeling that I wouldn't wish on anyone. You know how the Internet is, right? There's no checks and balances for what you can say so everything just became the most super-negative thing ever."

He says that on the evening of April 4 he actually unplugged and got himself off social media. "I saw the first wave of it, and that was enough," he says. Friends still told him what people were saying. His wife read a lot of the comments. "It was a horrible experience for all of my family."

"I realised early on that getting taken over by the kind of darkness that you feel when something like this happens is very dangerous, and I decided pretty early on that I wasn't going to let that happen to me. I tried whatever I could to make it positive."

Orth says his family and friends rallied to support him. He is also struck by how much the game industry came to his support: "All kinds of notes and texts from people I knew and people I'd never met before, lending their support even when they didn't agree with me. It felt good to know that some of my colleagues were feeling for me. It was initially those kinds of things that got me to see the lighter side of this and allowed me to pull myself out of the nosedive."

He credits two developers in particular, his friends Harvey Smith and Brenda Romero, for reaching out. "They were really pivotal in helping me see that this was a bad thing and it would be better." Easier said than done, of course. "It was very hard to believe in the beginning," he says. "It felt like it would never be ok. Eventually, I couldn't deal with the negativity anymore and started taking their advice and started trying to turn it all around."

Orth: "I basically hit a reset button on my life. When I realised that that's what it was going to take I just totally embraced it and totally went for it."

April was terrible. In May, things changed.

"I decided that I wasn't going to let this define me, and I wasn't going to let it destroy my life. I just started being creative and focusing on raising my daughter. I had probably the greatest summer of my life not doing anything — not working, not worrying about it. From May to September I just lived life and didn't worry about what happened."

He changed his diet and lost 50 pounds. "Mentally and physically I was transformed by what happened. I did a lot of changing as a person and as a parent. I basically hit a reset button on my life. When I realised that that's what it was going to take I just totally embraced it and totally went for it." He says he rebuilt who he was as a friend, as a developer, as parent, as a husband. He found himself becoming more patient and open-minded, less likely to criticise things without knowing the whole story. "I appreciate things that I maybe didn't before." And he got more creative, dreaming up an idea for a new game that he's now working on. He's moved to Santa Monica. He's gone indie. His shop is called Three One Zero games.

Part of Orth's year-long journey involves me. I'd met Orth early in the year at a gaming event and had kept in light contact with him. Nothing major. Our interactions were pleasant. I'd heard about him before; heard good things, also heard from people who he'd been gruff with or snarked at online. He wasn't a source, but he was a person in the gaming industry who I'd crossed paths with. In March, he brought a hat to the Game Developers Conference, took as many pictures of gaming people wearing it as he could, made a Tumblr out of it and I posted about it. We were, at best, associates or new acquaintances.

When I ran my story about Microsoft's new console possibly requiring an Internet connection, I was stunned to then see Orth write his Tweets. I don't think we'd spoken about that story. He certainly wasn't a source for it. But there he was on Twitter, a Microsoft guy and, to me, this was a possible corroboration that my reporting was correct. Before the story ran, we communicated through an intermediary who asked that we try not to make things worse. At the time, all the "deal with it" and stuff about living in cities was pissing people off, but it seemed peripheral to the real news, that this online-required new Xbox was possibly that much more a confirmed thing.

I felt bad for Orth, though. I believed it was right for us to report about his on-topic Tweets, but I didn't think the guy deserved to be fired, especially if he was not inadvertently confirming Microsoft's plans (turns out, of course, that they were indeed planning a console that would require an Internet connection; a plan since reversed).

A day or so after our story ran, I sent Orth a private message. I expressed my sympathy for what he was going through and said I hoped we could still be in touch in the future. I meant it to come off as, "hey, that sucked, I'm sorry it's been rough, I look forward to when things are so normal that we can just casually chat again." But in 140 characters and a dark time for Orth, it didn't come off that way. "It felt like, 'Sorry I poured gasoline on the fire but let's keep in touch,'" Orth says.

I'd heard that Orth was angry with me. And so I was surprised that by June he and I were crossing paths at E3 and he seemed still a bit rattled by things but doing ok. I was also surprised when, several weeks after that, he told me he would be in New York and wanted to have lunch. "I wanted to straighten that out with you," he tells me now. Our lunch was off-the-record. We talked a lot about who we were, what we'd done in our lives and what we valued.

At the end of our lunch, Orth asked me if he could take a photo of me at our restaurant. He liked to keep a record of the people he was hanging out with, he said. He Tweeted it. I didn't see it at first. He'd made his Twitter feed private. But shortly after our lunch ended, he added me as a follower. One of his game developer friends saw the photo and replied that it was as if hell had frozen over. "I mark that encounter as a big point of moving forward in my journey," he says. Frankly, I'm flattered and glad to have helped him find a happier place with that lunch. I don't regret our reporting, but I do regret any pain I caused him with a tactless private message.

Orth expects the kind of Internet rage he went through to keep burning. He's past it, but he knows that soon, someone else will become the new Adam Orth. "There's no way to stop it," he says. But he's heartened by signs that some game development studios and Internet companies are trying to find ways for the pockets of the Internet that they're involved with to be more positive.

He does warn people to watch what they say on social media and to be really clear on what their employer does and doesn't allow. And he wants anyone who gets abuse like he got to keep their chin up and trust him that, as Smith and Romero told him, things get better. "It's not always going to be like this."

Orth: "I often tell people that this was the best thing that ever happened to me. It's hard for people to hear that, because they saw what happened."

It did get better for Orth, which leaves him saying things that he'd have never expected to say months ago, things I'm still surprised to be relaying.

"I often tell people that this was the best thing that ever happened to me," Orth says. "It's hard for people to hear that, because they saw what happened...But, you know, it was an amazing, life-changing experience for me. I wouldn't want to go back to the person I was before then."

He screwed up. He got mauled by the Internet. He changed. Really, he took his most famous advice to heart. He dealt with it, and he dealt with it well.


    He wasn't joking, he made an ignorant and beyond stupid comment and his follow up tweets only made things infinitely worse. He deserved to be sacked, there were no if's or buts. Most specifically because it made his employer look bad but also because the ridiculous notion he made to begin with was something that needed to be promptly stamped out.

    Finished reading not, while its unfortunate that nameless internet trolls destroyed his life, im sure he got everything from total social media obliteration to death threats via snail mail. But that at least he seems to have gotten past it and improved himself.

    Last edited 07/11/13 4:21 pm

      But it wasn't promptly stamped out, was it? People turned all their attention on this one guy who had no influence over anything. Instead of banging on Microsoft's door they were content to bang on some totally insignificant guy whose stupid comment went viral.
      It's like stamping out racism by going after one specific YouTube commenter. It'll feel really satisfying watching some 14 year old twerp get slammed but it doesn't solve jack.

        Dammit your comment stopped my edit, i had re do everything :P

        But at the same time you have to wonder if his comments never happened would Microsoft have back peddled on its DRM plan?

        Because you do have to wonder if this wasn't the catalyst for everything that followed and that without it we might still have a console with a perma connection required. That by the Internets collective obliteration of the ONLY man to come forward who worked with Microsoft and give his opinion on the matter, that they proved to Microsoft that the people wouldn't tolerate that elitist attitude.

        Even if in an alternate realm those comments weren't made and the DRM was still revoked, there is no possible way you could classify his comments as insignificant. His comments at the time basically reflected what Microsoft's policy was, that all the loyal gamers without internet can go fuck themselves, which was further cemented with that dicky birds "then buy the 360" remark around E3 or w/e.

        So in this instance yes, im sure it was satisfying, all those people who felt cheated angry or annoyed at the decision vented on one man. While not fair to that one man, its a far cry from vilifling a single racist youtuber, because that single racist doesn't represent all racists and snuffing his opinion wouldn't change anything. But by condemning Adam's opinion (one man's) Microsoft (heard the peoples outrage) promptly DID change its ways, so your example comparison collapses on itself, though i do still get your point.

        Last edited 07/11/13 4:37 pm

          But at the same time you have to wonder if his comments never happened would Microsoft have back peddled on its DRM plan?

          That's the thing though, they only back peddled when it was aimed at them. They fired him, kept his attitude and continued with the plan. Even before his comments Microsoft knew what the reaction would be and they knew it would be vocal. They assumed they could weather the storm based on the exact same line of thinking from his comment - when it came down to the crunch the important people who could comply with the rules reluctantly would and the few people who literally couldn't connect their XBOX One to the internet would eventually just fade out. DealWithIt is a pretty accurate summary of Microsoft's XBOX One attitude per-reveal.
          It almost worked too. If they had of learned something from that whole thing they would have eased up a bit and made it a weekly check-in. That's not much but it could have seriously tipped the scales.

          Microsoft learned nothing from Adam Orth they didn't already know. It wasn't until the pre-orders flat out died that they realised they bit off more than they'd misjudged the appeal of the XBOX brand. They're looking down the barrel of a generation where the Playstation, a brand that even after a totally botched launch and awful first year remained head to head with them, has an outrageous head start. They're back in original XBOX territory. They know what that costs and they don't want to get any further behind. That's why they're desperately trying to get back on gamers good side. If gamers weren't hooked on XBOX Live Microsoft would be out of this race.

          His comments weren't insignificant, although like I've said I do think the response to them was totally ineffective at getting the message to people who mattered, but Adam Orth himself is insignificant. He got the boot instantly. He had no clout at Microsoft. He wasn't dictating policy or setting trends. Hell, he was probably just one of many at Microsoft going with the flow. Destroying him didn't show anybody anything (unless the PS4 was also intended to be always on and Sony learned from it). How many people reading this recognised the name before reading the article? He's probably a nice enough guy, he may even be good at what he does, but he's not significant. He just made a comment that went viral and crushed him.

          Dammit your comment stopped my edit, i had re do everything :P

          Sorry about that. Didn't even know that could happen. Could be worst though, my expensive internet connection dropped out and almost ate this reply.

    People are just people, and we often forget that on the internet. Glad to see this guy's managed to get past his mistake and the backlash he got for it in order to make something good out of it.

    I thought this was going to be about him going back to play with Weezer.

    I'm happy to hear he's doing well... when the internet witch hunts start up, they can be pretty fucking ruthless.

    That's great to hear. This could have really messed this guy up; more than just his career. It was crazy that people used this guy, specifically, to use as a target for their anger.

    Sounds like justice to me. Be a prick, get your life ruined.

      That's not justice. There is no justice on the Internet.

      There is just mob rule. And that mob is the biggest prick around.

      As a collective, we should be ashamed for what we did to Adam Orth. And thankful it didn't end in tragedy.

      Last edited 07/11/13 5:08 pm

        Pfft, you think I or anyone on Kotaku should be ashamed? I never said a word against the guy, at least as far as I can remember. Certainly nothing that would reach him personally. And I doubt anyone on here did either. If anyone should be ashamed it's the people on Twitter giving death threats, and they should be personally ashamed, not as a collective.

        People need to watch what they say on the internet, especially on Twitter. Does he deserve a mountain of hate for what he said? Personally, the evil part of me thinks he does, but morally I don't think he should have his life ruined. Still, what do you expect for making such a dumbass comment, on Twitter of all places? It's been proven multiple times that people who don't have that much of a following can get mountains of hate for a few comments.

        Does anyone deserve it? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, use common sense and keep controversial opinions to yourself if you don't rule out the possibility of it exploding and biting back at you. Tough way to learn a lesson, but I'll be buggered if he didn't learn it well.

        Last edited 07/11/13 5:24 pm

        You're being too kind. Kotaku's gracious enough to repost only that initial tweet, but every subsequent one was confrontational, rude and dismissive of fans This came at a time when anti-Microsoft sentiment was at its highest and unluckily for him, was followed up by Don Mattrick's "get a 360" line, no wonder he was dragged over the coals.

        I'm not condoning the internet's behaviour, but the internet is the internet, it magnifies the best and worst of human behaviour. For a guy who worked as a creative director for a consumer-facing brand like Xbox, who preached the pervasiveness of the internet, he should have known better since internet vigilantism is not a new concept. At the very least, he didn't conduct himself in a professional manner. He used a personal twitter handle, he indirectly all but confirmed things he shouldn't have, and antagonised possible customers. People have been sacked for worse.

        Should I feel ashamed? No. I didn't contribute to any of this. Even if I did, he deserved some scorn, and while it's tragic that it affected him and his family the way it did, you cannot heap all the blame at my door. No-one can control the effect their criticism might have on another person.

      Here comes the Internets.

      Did you know the internets lives in a little black box on top of big ben?

        It's where you get the best reception!

    Can't really feel sorry for him. You just don't act like that when you're in that sort of position (with Microsoft, with all the Xbone news flying around).
    Really though, you shouldn't act like that all? The internet doesn't need more jerks.

    He was working on a multi billion dollar investment for his parent company - that they hadn't even announced yet - and talks about policy on Twitter? I mean there's NDA, and there's discreet methods to discuss such things, but he chooses to chat about it over Twitter? And he's unclear about what could and couldn't be said? On the top secret multi billion dollar project he's working on?

    I mean, I don't condone the abuse the guy got - but it still boggles my mind that he did what he did.

    Good lord people are hysterical and seem to have taken this as some sort of personal slight against them. I like games too but this is just pathetic.

    Anyone can get internet access for their console if they have a smartphone/$25 USB 3G modem, a computer and a network cable.

      You. Don't. Understand. Whenever anything seems pathetic (or causes you to be equally judgemental without the mental capacity, awareness or empathy required) you should really look harder at the issue.

        I know exactly what you mean, but I have looked harder at the issue, in fact I don't even have landline internet (though I do want to get it hooked up) and I know how difficult it can be for some people especially in areas with bad mobile reception.

        What I was referring to is the overblown ridiculous response to something which can be easily solved for practically everybody with a computer. I think that is pathetic.

    So the internet won then, made him realise he was a moron and so now he doesn't comment on things unless he knows the whole story? Congrats Adam Orth, you obtained human decency level 1.

      If kids make that much misdirected fuss over a gamingtimebox they are still at level 0.
      What does he win?

    this is pathetic - gamers really are a bunch of self centred, self entitled bullies.

    If you don't like the direction a product wants to take its really simple - DON'T BUY IT. its capitalism 101 and yes if you are a gamer you live in a capitalist society as you can afford luxuries such as digital entertainment systems.

    Blaming one guy and one sentence for something you disagree with is disgusting.

    consider my jimmies rustled.

    I'm about as surprised as I should be unsurprised to see people taking this heartfelt (and fairly brave) parable of a real life human being, you know with feelings, to justify their own actions and preconceived notions of a person they know only by three words: 'deal with it'.

    Maybe the Internet should take Adam Orth's advice. It was stupid of him to say that, for sure. But it does not justify the kind of treatment these unlucky people are getting on a weekly basis for silly public mistakes. We're all public, now. We all need to 'deal with it' sooner or later. So be nice.

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