Epic Boss’ Confusing Comments About Games And Politics Don’t Add Up

Epic Boss’ Confusing Comments About Games And Politics Don’t Add Up
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 12: Tim Sweeney speaks during BAFTA Presents Special Award to Epic Games at The London on June 12, 2019 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo: Rachel Luna / Stringer, <a href="https://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/tim-sweeny-speaks-during-bafta-presents-special-award-to-news-photo/1155583311?adppopup=true">Getty</a>)

Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney gave the keynote speech at this week’s DICE conference in Las Vegas. The talk touched on many topics, including data privacy, loot boxes, and the problems with a lack of cross-platform games. It also seemed to call for keeping politics out of games, or at least out of marketing, or something.

What tied the various threads of Sweeney’s speech in front of a conference full of gaming executives and top creative people together was a request for companies and developers to end “customer-adversarial” practices that keep players apart in a time when, in Sweeney’s view, games function more as social spaces than entertainment products. Sweeney sees a need for these spaces to be politically neutral, but if you’re going to bring people together, you’re going to have to deal with politics.

Quotes from Sweeney’s speech have circulated since he spoke at DICE on Wednesday, with many people on social media seizing on his remarks about “gamer rights and freedoms” and his saying that there’s no need to “drag divisive topics” like politics into gaming. “We as companies need to divorce ourselves from politics and say that that is for individuals to engage in and we as platforms should be neutral,” Sweeney said in his talk, later taking to Twitter to clarify some of his points.

IGN made a video of Sweeney’s DICE keynote available last night.

Sweeney seemed to think it was ok for players to express their politics: “When a streamer jumps in and shares a political message in the context of an esport or just a streamer or commentator on Reddit expresses their opinion, we’re seeing gaming becoming more like a social network, and whether we like it or not we’re going to have to accept that gaming is now a platform for world discourse.”

Later, confusingly, he turned to whether marketing teams should add politics to games: “We need to separate the creatives’ commentary… from the marketing departments. We should get the marketing departments out of politics. The world is really screwed up right now: right now your political orientation determines which fast food chicken restaurant you go to, and that’s really dumb. There’s no reason to drag divisive topics like that into gaming at all.”

The comment about fast food appears to be a reference to U.S. chicken chain Chick-fil-A, which has been criticised for donating to anti-gay organisations. On Twitter, Sweeney clarified that he meant “a company like that shouldn’t take a position on an issue like this, because it’s out of the scope of their mission.”

He also clarified his comments on marketing departments by explaining that, when games address politics, those politics “should come from the heart of creatives and not from marketing departments seeking to capitalise on division.” These clarifications seem like good ideas in a vacuum, but we’re not in a vacuum. In his DICE speech, Sweeney said, “We need to create a very clear separation between church and state where our businesses are operating as neutral venues for entertainment and employees, customers, everybody else can hold their own views and not be judged by us for that.”

A platform, however, can’t be neutral, as convenient for its stakeholders as that would be. Politics are about the power structures that impact people’s daily lives. People’s access to platforms is political—being able to play Fortnite on a console you can afford and fit in your house is political, as is only being able to play on your mum’s phone while riding the bus. Having a credit card to be able to buy a battle pass is political. Where Fortnite gets its dances is political; what franchises and musicians it partners with is political.

Which games Epic lets on its store is political, even if Sweeney seems to think it’s not. Sweeney’s comments cast politics as something people can enter in and out of at will, as opposed to being the material conditions of our lives and how we relate to one another. No one—even a billionaire—can be politically neutral. The closest they can get is just not to talk about it.

Sweeney’s call for political neutrality feels like an extension of the belief he professed in his talk that removing some of the barriers that give companies artificial edges will make everything work out. “It’s a mind virus, the idea that publishers should own the customer or have a monopoly on the customer relationship through some form of login and ecommerce, and that’s just a bad idea,” Sweeney argued as he talked about expanding cross-platform play and storefronts. “It’s the opposite of the principles Epic has built Fortnite on.”

Fortnite is, notably, cross-platform, which means players can log into the game and access most purchases they’ve made on one platform on others. This is certainly part of Fortnite’s success: “The numbers prove that this is the future of gaming,” Sweeney said. “Just in Fortnite and our more recent efforts with the Epic Games Store, we’ve accrued 300 million users across all seven platforms, and they’ve built more than 1.6 billion social connections among friends, as you have on a traditional social network.”

Nevertheless, no matter how open the platform, what to include in it surely seems to carry some political message. In his talk, Sweeney mentioned the need for clearly-established rules about content moderation, suggesting his vision wouldn’t be a free-for-all.

In October, in response to the reaction to Blizzard’s stance on Hearthstone player Blitzchung’s comments about Hong Kong, Sweeney wrote on Twitter, “Epic supports the rights of Fortnite players and creators to speak about politics and human rights.” A platform moderating content or letting people talk about politics isn’t politically neutral.

The platform can avoid taking an official stance, maybe, but that can end it up in the morass of harassment and hate that competitor Valve has found itself in. It seems like Sweeney just kind of wishes politics weren’t a problem to be dealt with, that we could technology ourselves out of being human.

I’m with Sweeney on the stupidity of the Chick-fil-A sandwich controversy. As a queer person, I’ve given too many moments of my one and only life to thinking about a pretty middling sandwich. But that’s not because I’m bringing up politics when my family pulls into Chick-fil-A on a road trip. It’s because the decision about where to stop for lunch has implications we can’t avoid. It’s because my family choosing to eat Chick-fil-A is making a statement, even if they don’t mean it to, about their values.

It means I don’t get lunch and that we’re all a little miffed at each other when we get back in the car. It’s a stupid battleground about a stupid sandwich, but just wishing companies didn’t take political positions doesn’t make the issues go away, or mean that their employees and customers can just leave their lives at the door.

Even if Chick-fil-A didn’t, say, fund anti-LGBT groups, it would still have to grapple with the politics of meat-eating, and wage equality, and food access. Politics don’t just play out on the platform: they play out between people. And that’s going to happen on the Epic Games Store, and in Fortnite, and in all other games, whether Tim Sweeney likes it or not.


  • I see. your final paragraph seems to explain the problem here. not everything is a political statement.

    It isn’t a game companies job to moral people or enforce some political view. they can certainly be thought provoking. introduce new ideas and such. that is not however what most people mean when they talk about politics in games.

    they refer to when a company essentially insults its player base or entirely alienates them intentionally. no making the protagonists straight and white men is not an insult or intential alienation. make them run around and murder a bunch of black people specifically and then you have the problem.

    there’s also context. Kingdom come deliverance doesn’t exactly have a whole lot of black people. that’s not alienation either. it’s context for a historical period.

    I could keep going but, I’d rather not rehash the same arguements made over and over again. at the end of the day most people don’t see most aspects of a game as political and just don’t care enough to make a stand.

    • One problem happens when a game comes out that does intentionally try to make a political statement, and there are those who say they shouldn’t be doing that at all. And 9 times out of 10 it’s mainly because it doesn’t line up with their own social beliefs.

      Also, think about what is said in the final paragraph and relate it to your comment on Kingdom Come Deliverance. There’s really no political statement made in the game on race (to my knowledge) but the game was made by real people with their own political beliefs, some of which have been made public, and with that knowledge you can start to understand WHY they made a game centered in that area at that time (and of course no, it’s NOT the only reason they chose that setting). Politics isn’t just about which form of government you feels best represents you, the word means so much more than that.

      • the game was made by real people with their own political beliefs, some of which have been made public, and with that knowledge you can start to understand WHY they made a game centered in that area at that time

        I understand what you’re saying, but at the same time, that requires a lot of assumption. One also runs the risk of ascribing political beliefs and ideals upon a property then, and overriding the potential that maybe the product didn’t have a political ideal attached at all? Not necesserily Kingdom Come, but any other game?

      • some of which have been made public, and with that knowledge you can start to understand WHY they made a game centered in that area at that time

        what exactly is this supposed to mean?

  • The entire article comes down to the last paragraph. the author cannot take their own politics out of anything, therefore they assume a business cannot either.

    • It’s like meat pie and sauce

      I’m fine with Sweeney separating games and politics, IF it’s under his roof, his house his rules

      Vote with your wallets, choice among a diverse market is wonderful

    • To the surprise of nobody, some douchey snowflake conservative who can’t handle being challenged in any form lest their feelings get hurt or they have to face their ignorant beliefs at all doesn’t like the idea of not being given a safe space in all things.

      • Wow, I better get my sunnies out lest I be blinded by the sheer amount of projection you’re shining.

        You obviously have a problem with my original comment so I’ll expand upon it.

        It’s not at all common these days to see at places such as Kotaku, Polygon, Waypoint etc journalists absolutely obsessed with politics. They live and breathe it. Every week there’s something political to be outraged at. It is exceptionally tiring. Articles like this one is also very tiring. The author insists that literally everything is political. That’s fucking insane. It is obsession manifest. Not everything is political, not every game is political.

        Do politics have a place in games? Absolutely. There are games that explore inter-country wars, games that explore sexuality, games that explore the effects of decisions made by people with power, and that’s all fine. But there’s still a place for games without, and that’s fine too.

        But if you insist that what platforms a game is available on, if a game has micro transactions or where a game gets its inspirations from, that all that is political as the author does, you might just have a problem.

        Let me finish up with a question to you, Ody. You seem to know sooo much about me based on your assessment of my original comment. Tell me, what was my opinion on gay marriage? How do I feel about legalising marijuana? Who have I voted for since I hit voting age?

        • That particular chap seems to often claim to know all about people that they simply could not, and act as though they’re smarter than anyone they come across.

          So very many of their comments can be paraphrased with, “If you peasants had the intelligence that I possess then maybe you would see as I do, but you do not so you are doomed to idiocy.”

          Their fedora collection must be absolutely phenomenal though.

        • I’d argue that the author’s claim that everything is political is objectively true, from a certain sense. As he explained, socio-economical factors (i.e. “politics”) in our world determine, very generally the acquisition power of different communities and demographics, and it’s the same for media representation/acceptance, etc. Historically, the arts (I consider videogames an art form) have always been a direct, undeniable and inevitable distillation of their era’s zeitgeist and analyzing it provides an excellent snapshot of reigning politics and culture.

          Now, the question that we must ask ourselves and which is the crux of the disagreement between the author’s position and commenters here is whether these inherent politics /need/ to be constantly brought to the foreground, constantly prickled and poked and, ultimately become an inseparable element of the art/entertainment form.

          My position nowadays is “yes and no”. I 100% can understand and sympathise with folks that /just want to derive some carefree fun/ from their videogames. Life is hard and we all can use a bit of escape from time to time. Having said that, I can also empathise with those who do the full socio-economical reading and point the flaws in these media products, which often are a reflection of flaws in the system. There have always been scholars dedicated to such dissection, but in our post-year 2000 world, more and more people are interested in doing it, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise: in many ways, we’re at a tipping point in history.

          You must pardon my bias on this regard, but in a world that aggressively encourages people to turn off the thinker and drift along with what the powers that be decree, I find heartening that young people, particularly gamers and other geeks (“my people”) try so hard–sometimes too hard, and not every time correctly–to stay engaged and see beyond.

          Nevertheless, I think that both groups just need a bit of mutual tolerance. The ones who just want to play, should try to tune out the would-be pundits instead of complaining about their yammering, whilst the ones who cannot help but see the political “dimension” of everything should try to understand that some people do not wish to engage nor be forcefully engaged.

          There’s a third group for which I do not have sympathy, which is the people who can see the politic aspect of games but for one reason or another (often, the belief that the status quo benefits them) seek to mock, silence or crush those who seek change and progress. Regarding such people, my only advice is “don’t be one of them”.

  • But he’s totally cool with removing a persons choice for where they can buy games on PC. Sounds pretty “customer-adversarial” to me. Hypocrite.

      • You know the keynote speech wasn’t just about one thing right?
        Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney gave the keynote speech at this week’s DICE conference in Las Vegas. The talk touched on many topics, including data privacy, loot boxes, and the problems with a lack of cross-platform games.
        request for companies and developers to end “customer-adversarial” practices that keep players apart

        • Indeed. However I did think we were keeping on topic 🙂

          However I will say, after trying to navigate Steam today, for the first time in ages since I’ve booted it up, it was a disgusting experience. Talk about an absolute shitshow. Wading through the pages and pages of shovelware and abandonware to find anything worth playing or buying was an absolute joke. I can definitely see why Epic and others are picking up popularity these days with their storefronts. Steam really needs to get its shit together.

          • It truly reminds me of The Dark Knight, ‘You either die the hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain’.

            It’s a pity, but that’s definitely happening to Steam at the moment.

  • I’ve been waiting for Kotaku’s version of this article since he made his comments.

    Far too many of these apparent game jouranlists really don’t like anything that says “No.” to shoving the ‘correct’ beliefs and ideals down the throats of others just wanting to have some fun playing, and now even making, games.

    This article, and the others just like it, was as predictable as the sun rising.

    First it was Ubisoft, now it’s Epic’s turn for this shitshow.

    • Games are not your personal escape from having to face your own ignorance or immoral beliefs. They owe you nothing. Does film have to be apolitical? No, it doesn’t, and neither does any other art form.

        • Only reason I play games these days. It’s rare to get something that is not overly diluted with multiple genres and political agendas that you can immerse yourself into for a few hours..

  • People who want more politics in games actually just want their politics in games in order to indoctrinate others.

    We saw it with Far Cry 5. When that was announced a lot of people were hoping that the game would be Far Cry 5 Orange man bad edition, but once the game came out and it wasn’t they got annoyed that Ubisoft didn’t inject politics into the game.

    As much as I disagree with Tims views on his storefront, I think his views here are sound. The game makers themselves should be deciding what they put into the game. Not the marketing department. Not every game has to be a platform for someone to spout their political views.

    People should respect a persons decision not to inject politics in their artistic work.

    If you want more politics in games it has to be all politics, Not just the ones you agree with. Otherwise, you are just a hypocrite.

    • Wrong. There is a thing as universal bad and universal good, it merely takes sufficient intelligence to see it, which as we all know, close to the majority do not have. By any measure conservatives’ only goal is to make the nation and the world a worse place to live in for everybody including themselves, while aiming to bring about the downfall of our species and civilisation while they’re at it by denying science and knowledge. Why would anyone encourage such evil to be present and promoted in their media? That is stupid.

      • Well i guess i don’t have sufficient intelligence because my obviously limited understanding on moral philosophy is that there is no evidence to suggest objective morality exists, maybe you can point out who solved that little tiff between subjective and objective morality for us smaller minds.

        In all seriousness however if you truely hold the beliefs you are spilling out that certain political view points are evil and need to be stopped it would probably improve your argument if you were more specific on what your problem is (i.e calling out conservatives is too broad a group as most people are conservative or liberal on an issue by issue basis, i imagine from your statement that you are conservative on points such as the environment and probably conservative on many economic issues as opposed to the liberal economic views that erode workers rights and benefits) and then maybe not immediately call anyone who disagrees with you stupid or evil as all this will do is reinforce their view that they are right and anyone who holds your views is their enemy.

  • What tied the various threads of Sweeney’s speech in front of a conference full of gaming executives and top creative people together was a request for companies and developers to end “customer-adversarial” practices that keep players apart in a time when, in Sweeney’s view, games function more as social spaces than entertainment products.Customer-adversarial practices huh? Like, say, monopolising games with exclusive contracts that prevent them from being sold on other store fronts? If you’re excluding people from these “social spaces” because of where they choose to buy their games, then you are an active contributor to the problem of politics in the gaming space. If you’re using these tactics to push your own agenda and dominance in a particular business space, you’re a major contributor to politics in the gaming space.

    If you’re so adamant about making the games industry politically neutral, perhaps you should should start by taking a look in the mirror and fixing what you see first. /rant

  • I remember being so excited as a high schooler knowing that the latest issue of the official Xbox magazine was due. No matter how bad the day had been, that glorified marketing material and demo disk just brightened my day.

    The people writing for it seemed like people that legitimately liked video games too.

    Anyone know a decent Aussie site for gaming news that updates regularly?

          • I stay for those sweet auto-playing videos they added that nobody wanted… I just love me some of those cheap, underhanded ways to shove unwanted content in people’s faces.

          • @kasterix I suspect most people here aren’t actually watching them, or at least, not watching them more than once despite the same videos popping each and every time someone opens another article.

            Instead, it’s cheap, underhanded way to pad the video’s view counts so that advertisers can be mislead about how many eyeballs their ads are actually getting.

      • Gah. Seriously? Moderated for five down votes as a result of recommending Kotaku as a decent Aussie site for gaming news that updates regularly? Kotaku, I changed my mind. You suck.

    • Kotaku’s Aussie authors are generally pretty good.

      Too many US ‘gaming’ authors (from Kotaku and elsewhere) have an absolutely unhinged obsession with political bullshit, and their articles are more about trying to shove their beliefs down people’s throats than they are gaming news. For some of them it may as well be their personal political blog with a “This is gaming news!” facade laid over top.

      • In all fairness, they have as much of a right of having and publishing these opinions as you have of disliking them. Every publication in the world has an editorial board and guidelines that shape their opinion articles and the way they frame news. They are not “shoving them down your throat” because you have full autonomy to choose not to click on these clearly and intently politically provocative headlines to avoid being lectured, if it’s not your cup of tea.

        And, I don’t mean this rudely, but if you constantly find yourself disagreeing with the editorial direction of a given publication, I am afraid that the burden is on you to stop patronising them, rather than yelling at them and expect them to change for you. I personally would be sad to see you go, because although we often disagree, I find you more rational and centered than most, but you really ought to care for your peace of mind in the end.

        • I really don’t think it was your intent, but you are essentially suggesting that people like myself just keep quiet and never criticise or say anything negative about things they disagree with.

          Naturally I disagree, as saying nothing and leaving is how a lot of questionable things are allowed to continue in the first place. I am far from being any sort of crusader for the cause or such, I just don’t care about staying quiet when the incentive for doing so is simply so I don’t irritate those doing things I disagree with. Saying something also costs me nothing, not even peace of mind.

          My issue really isn’t with the opinions either… It’s very much with supposed professionals pushing personal beliefs and ideals under the guise of it being game news, reviews, etc. It’s underhanded, deceptive, and absolutely not what I or anyone I know would consider as the actions of a professional.

          As @lawlorz alludes to elsewhere, this author is quite apparently incapable of separating their own personal politics from anything. They had their conclusion first and then proceeded to hammer square pegs into round holes to support it.

          Authors like this get upset at people not adhering to their politics and suddenly every breath you take, and where you take it, is a political statement they’re going to use to judge you with. All they’ve done is taken the old “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” shtick and given it a fresh coat of paint before they started beating people with it.

          Saying something might not change anything, saying nothing is guaranteed not to.

          • Yeah, I don’t mind criticism at all, but when you are feeling as though they are shoved down your throat, even though you choose to engage with them, fully knowing the editorial direction of Kotaku… it seems almost masochistic to me. Even I, who more often than not agree with Kotaku’s point of view, some days I’m tired enough that I see a headline and I think “boy, that’s going to be a shitshow in the comments and I know I won’t be able to stay silent myself soooo, let’s keep scrolling.”

            I have to say I also disagree with your description of opinion articles such as these as “underhanded”. I mean, they’re pretty overt in their being personal opinions and in the particular lean of those opinions. This right here is not a “professional” report of the interview, it is 100% an opinion blog post written for certain kind of people that come to the website precisely because they know they will find this sort of content.

            That said, I agree that that doesn’t mean that it should be above criticism (I myself posted a light objection above) and as I mentioned, I welcome the sort of criticism you usually bring. My post was mostly motivated because the language you were using almost sounded like you felt personally attacked by the existence of this opinion piece which I thought could be indicative of reaching a point of exasperation with Kotaku’s usual content.

          • For what it’s worth… A lot of my comments probably seem hostile/aggressive just due to the nature of how incredibly blunt and direct I tend to be, more often than not I’m typically pretty relaxed while commenting though. Also because I tend to swear it likely adds to it, and don’t subscribe to the idea of “if you swear you must be stupid” that I know some people love to throw about as a sign of their supremacy. Profanity packs a lot of emphasis in a small space is all it really boils down to.

            I also skip commenting quite often for similar reasons to yours… Can’t remember the specific article a while back but I just remember seeing the headline and was like “Nope.” because it could only have ended in a dumpster fire.

            And I’ve straight up stopped replying to some people on here and other places, simply because I know it’s a lost cause bothering to deal with them. Some people get super bent out of shape if you dare disagree or criticise something, and then its like they fixate on your name and argue or downvote you anytime they see you post. Purely because they don’t like you. It’s a little fucking weird actually.

  • Games are not one’s personal escape from having to face their own ignorance or immoral beliefs. They owe you nothing. Does film have to be apolitical? No, it doesn’t, and neither does any other art form. We know what evil is, it is oppression, it is suffering, it is exclusion, it is hate, is wilful ignorance and all of these are clear to see in conservatism. To fight against the efforts to make the world a worse place, hold back our species and even attempt to ensure the downfall of our civilisation by dismissing science and knowledge… that is a fight which must be made in every form and every medium possible, for the sake of good. Why the f*** should we care if the mindless hordes of hate who try to destroy all that is good get their ‘feelings’ hurt in the process?

    • Oh mate. You’re a few sandwiches short of a picnic.

      I especially love the “dismiss science and knowledge” line… Especially because it’s your sort that dismisses “science and knowledge”, and even economics on a daily basis to further your own agenda.

    • Ody,

      You arent some noble hero on a quest to stop evil. You are nothing, You are irrelevant.

      Your views are just as backwards as the ones you decry.

      You will achieve nothing, You will amount to nothing.

      You will not be remembered.

    • Funny how both sides say the same thing. instead of mouthing off like a rabid animal spouting the same rote talking points, you might consider doing something productive with your life other than responding to almost every comment here.

      I mean geez I thought I was bad at commenting multiple threads and checking in every day or two but, this is nuts.

      • Troll would be disappointing… I’d like to think he’s the internet equivalent of the crazy guy on the street yelling at everyone about how the world is ending and they’re all going to burn in Hell for their sins.

  • There’s an unhelpful belief in these so-called “culture wars” that having an opinion against the status quo is “political” and an opinion in favour of the status quo or having “no opinion” (which is in practice also in favour of the status quo) is apolitical. But this is completely untrue.

    It is indeed political to support the status quo. No idea or opinion is objectively “normal”, and every way that’s “supposed to be” has not always been. Similarly, its certainly political to stand in the face of people wanting to share their opinions and views but demand that “we all be neutral”. That’s not neutral. It’s just implicit.

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