Earlier this week, a man with "Game Dev @EA" in his Twitter profile wrote that he had received death threats from angry Star Wars Battlefront II fans. His story was covered by news outlets like USA Today, the BBC, and Yahoo.
With around 5,000 followers on Twitter, BiggSean66 doesn't have a particularly huge audience or platform, but when he tweeted Monday that he was "up to 7 death threats, and over 1600 individual personal attacks now," he went viral.
Gaming and mainstream outlets picked up his story, writing about how the outrage over Star Wars Battlefront II's microtransactions led to gamers threatening BiggSean66's life. Hundreds of developers and journalists also quoted him, sent sympathies, and talked about the incident on Twitter, condemning those who felt the need to sent death threats to BiggSean66.
Yet, after speaking to several current EA employees, cross-referencing his details with Linkedin and Facebook pages, and reaching out to BiggSean66, I've become convinced that he does not actually work for EA. In fact, since I sent him several messages yesterday and this morning, he has changed his Twitter profile to remove all mentions of EA.
Left: BiggSean66's profile on November 13. Right: BiggSean66's profile on November 15.
EA says it also has not been able to confirm that BiggSean66 works for the company. This morning, the publisher sent me this statement: "We take threats against our employees very seriously. Our first concern is ensuring safety and support for our people, and since the reports first surfaced we've been investigating this internally. At this time, we're not able to verify this individual's claims of employment at EA, nor the threats made against him."
When I first saw BiggSean66's Twitter account on Monday, I thought something seemed off. His tweets appeared too bizarre and unprofessional to be coming from a real employee, and he would publicly comment on subjects that I couldn't imagine anyone at EA would ever dare talking about on the record.
For example, in response to my story last month about the collapse of Visceral Games, BiggSean66 wrote that the situation was "clearly quite a bit more complex than a simple EA hates SP games":
After digging into his old tweets, I became even more sceptical. BiggSean66 would often chime into other people's conversations, telling them he worked for EA and offering his perspective. He tweeted frequently about working at EA, without offering many specifics on what he did or what kind of position he had.
Although he was always gregarious and defensive of the company, he had a tendency to speak on behalf of EA in ways that struck me as questionable.
He also had a tendency to get into strange fights with people:
BiggSean66 created his Twitter account in early 2015, and almost immediately, he began claiming that he worked for EA, cultivating relationships with fans and even some employees of the company, like Battlefield community manager Jeff Braddock.
Some EA employees have also followed him on Twitter, especially in the wake of his Monday tweets about death threats. But out of 100,000 tweets, BiggSean66 didn't appear to offer many specifics about his identity or role, except in one tweet, where he posted a photograph of what he said was him and his wife (which we won't share here).
He would often tweet at people telling them to come say hi to him on EA's campus, in Redwood Shores, but after searching for several hours, I couldn't find any cases of him actually meeting or interacting with anyone as an EA representative. Earlier this year, he tweeted frequently about EA's June event, EA Play, but he then told others on Twitter that he had not been able to attend.
There were some contradictions on his Twitter feed, too. In July 2015, BiggSean66 said that he had started working at EA "a few months ago" and couldn't get time off yet.
But last week, he said he was about to hit his four-year anniversary, which would indicate that he started in November or December of 2013.
With no luck verifying BiggSean66's identity on Twitter, I started trying to connect the dots elsewhere. He had a YouTube account and Google profile, which seemed like a good lead. In it, BiggSean66 said he did "Data Entry & Analysis at Electronic Arts":
This was a start. I spent some time combing Linkedin and Facebook for people named Sean who worked in data entry and analysis at EA Redwood Shores, but only one person fit the bill, and his personal details didn't match with BiggSean66's photo or other information I'd found on the Twitter account. Then I found this tweet, in which BiggSean66 said he was a QA analyst:
Again, no luck on Linkedin or Facebook. I considered that his name might not really be Sean, but I still couldn't find anyone who fit his details or whose picture resembled BiggSean66's.
Contacting BiggSean66 also proved difficult, but thanks to a clutch assist from the Kotaku Twitter account, I managed to get in touch with him via Twitter DMs. I told him I was working on a story and really needed to talk to him, ideally on the phone.
He said Twitter DMs would be best, and that I was welcome to ask him my questions, "as long as it's off the record." I said OK, but his request wouldn't matter much, because after I sent over this question, he stopped responding.
BiggSean66 didn't respond to any of my follow-up questions, but at some point after receiving them, he changed his Twitter profile, removing all mentions of EA. He has also locked his account. He hasn't tweeted since Monday.
The debate about the economy of Star Wars Battlefront II has been ugly, and threats against developers, players and anyone else are no trifling thing. (I've been there, too.)
BiggSean66's tweet resonated with a lot of people because it feels true. Anger tends to swell in gaming communities. Furious, partisan players do sometimes cross the line and send threats. Game developers often are brow-beaten for design decisions they made, sometimes for decisions over which they had no control.
But it's not often you find a game developer's death threat go viral -- making its way not just to game sites but to large mainstream outlets -- only for it to turn out that he might not be a developer after all.
UPDATE (November 17, 1250 AEDT): The day following this story, we received a whole lot of reactions as well as some new information about BiggSean66. I heard from and reached out to a few dozen people, including BiggSean66's acquaintances and current and former EA employees.
There were two developments worth noting. The first was that BiggSean66 had a different social media page where he'd posted a few photos that appeared to be taken from inside of EA's offices in late 2015 and early 2016.
Problem was, three of those photos had been posted on the Visceral Games Twitter feed months before BiggSean66 posted them.
One of BiggSean66's photos, which we have not seen elsewhere, featured a sign from inside of EA's Game Lab, where the company brings in focus testers to check out new games in exchange for swag or gift cards.
Photo via BiggSean66
The second development was that several EA employees confirmed to me that there is nobody in the employee database matching BiggSean66's full name, which an acquaintance of his shared with me (and which, as I later found, he had tweeted to a few of his followers).
One former EA developer who worked at Redwood Shores told me that, as far as they could tell, there had been nobody named Sean in the QA department whose information matched with BiggSean66.