For those not in the know, Adam Orth is a former Microsoft Creative Director who made a Twitter post on April 4 of last year that earned him backlash from outspoken gamers across the web. It was about Microsoft’s Xbox One always-on policy announced at the time (see below).
Four days after that post, he resigned due to the volume of vitriol he got. At this year’s Game Developers Conference (via Games Industry International), he shared his experiences with the outrage on his talk called ‘Mob Rules: The Destructive Power of Opinion and Online Community‘.
He first started out about how the crisis affected him personally, “I was becoming the next victim of the internet hate phenomenon. It was an absolute feeding frenzy. My public and private life was fair game. People began to distance themselves from me. I was dejected, ashamed and embarrassed. I destroyed my career and feared being blacklisted by the industry. I went from income to no income.”
Orth mentioned that the death threats went out of control, and added that this level of internet toxicity is still acceptable to this day and age. “The reason that internet threats are terrifying is not the possibility of the realisation of a violent act; it’s that society has regressed to a point that this behaviour and discourse is an acceptable and expected response to something someone doesn’t like or agree with,” he said.
Orth said that most game developers shrug this off because of this toxicity being a standard, perhaps even desensitised to this sort of behaviour, “[...]it’s overwhelming, ubiquitous and unstoppable. Somehow we’ve devolved while moving forward, and there’s no going back…”
He spoke and tried to get comments from developers on the situation back then, though they remained anonymous for obvious reasons. The result was that internet toxicity was hurting these folks and were making them rethink their career. “It’s chilling. [A developer told me that this] represents a total breakdown of how our industry fundamentally functions and foreshadows possible dark times ahead. Internet toxicity has the power to s*** on something beautiful and destroy it,” said Orth.
He also brought up examples like Flappy Bird creator Dong Ngyuen who had to take down his game because of internet vitriol. To counterpoint, he brings up League of Legends creator Riot Games who handled online misbehavior effectively and Journey creator thatgamecompany who removed voice and text chat from its game to foster co-operation.
Despite its torridness, Orth was grateful for the experience as it taught him a lot, “You either curl up in the fetal position or you carry on…This was the best thing that happened to me. When I tell that to people they can’t believe it, but it’s f***ing true. When everything burned to the ground, it became a forcing function for radical reset. I saw it as an opportunity of a lifetime. I grew closer to my friends and family, I matured as a person, I became a better parent, got healthy and lost 50 pounds, and I recommitted and rededicated myself to my creative life.”
His advice to developers facing such issues? “Life is too short to worry about anonymous internet activity,” he said, “You have to look inward and block it out. What they are saying is a reflection of their life, not yours. Fighting back on their level is pointless. Eventually they tire out. Keep building, keep dreaming.”