As the situation with Activision Blizzard gaming company continues boiling after the company sanctioned a Hearthstone Grandmaster tournament player for expressing support for the people in Hong Kong protesting against China for their freedom, the explanation letter from president J. Allen Brack has done little to stem the controversy despite lessening the sanctions upon player, Ng Wai Chung, aka Blitzchung. Gamers have begun to organize in order to stage a protest outside of Activision Blizzard’s yearly convention, BlizzCon, scheduled to take place beginning November 1, 2019, at the Anaheim Convention Center. Access Now, an organization striving to extend and defend digital rights of users around the world, is also pressing Blizzard Entertainment for its clarification of policy surrounding the rights of gamers and tournament participants to freely express themselves.
The “Gamers for Freedom” website popped up recently in order to provide gamers who are in support of freedom of expression in gaming platforms and events a central location to send petitions to gaming companies identified who would censor freedom of expression, RSVP to the protest, join their digital communication channel on host platform Discord, and instruct gamers how to delete their accounts at Blizzard Entertainment.
As a private company, Blizzard Entertainment can implement any policy it wishes in its terms of service and end user license agreements. Those who wish to avail themselves of Blizzard products agree to abide by those terms, which one is refraining from political activism, engaging in political activity, refrain from bringing up religion or use religious references, and refrain from engaging in activities that may be controversial. However, Blizzard itself has chosen to include controversial social issues in their games by creating characters in its popular Overwatch game that are homosexual and bisexual to include players who identify as such. Moreover, the company has failed to implement sanctions against players or forum users who have violated those policies. Make no mistake here – no company should require or request any employee, participant in a sponsored event, or consumer of their product to relinquish any fundamental God-given right as a condition for employment, participation or end user. But, if the policies are going to be ignored for some and not others, this means other factors determine when, where, and why the policy will be enforced.
Because this issue has continued to fester, particularly on the heels of the NBA incident involving the silencing of Houston Rockets coach as the request of China, Access Now released a statement condemning the gaming giant and indicating it had sent an open letter to Blizzard regarding the incident. The letter is rather scathing, citing the vague, broad, duplicitous conduct policy that could and did result in arbitrary implementation. Access Now has requested Blizzard answer a few questions in order to clarify its policies affecting human rights.
- Does Blizzard commit to respect the freedom of expression of its stakeholders, including players and stream casters?
- What oversight does Blizzard’s leadership exercise over how the company’s policies and practices impact players’ freedom of expression and other human rights?
- Who is responsible for interpreting and enforcing the Competition Rules?
- What procedures do Blizzard employees follow in determining whether its rules have been violated?
- What channels are available to stakeholders, including players, to appeal determinations and comment on the Competition Rules?
Blizzard Entertainment has been embroiled in controversy for quite some time now, resulting in lost consumers, disgruntled consumers, employee layoffs (8% of its employee base), ceasing support for Heroes of the Storm esport, former CEO resigning, and awarding a new CFO with a $15 million bonus for taking the job. Some of this controversy surrounded deceptive practices – advertising content that did not make it into the final production of their games, charging the same price for the game, along with the monthly subscription fee, while providing less content than previous editions, and disparaging of players by some employees on social media. YouTube is filled with videos covering the current controversy as well as previous issues and more are added as new developments occur.
The gaming community continues to be divided on the issue between those who support Blizzard in the actions taken against Blitzchung, those opposed to Blizzard’s actions and those who just want any controversial political and social aspect kept out of the game altogether. However, Blizzard Entertainment let the genie out of the bottle when it rubbed the Aladdin’s lamp of homosexual/LGBTQrsuvwxyz acceptance with their Overwatch game. While the player base seems to accept this controversial social aspect being present in the game, many despise any reference to Christianity in game or on the forums while accepting other religions and Satanism, and some report any character or guild name that offends them whether it violates the ToS or not. Blizzard is quick to respond to anything reported as “offensive”, which these days can be the color of one’s shoelaces or the color of a character’s hair. But, as previously mentioned, some gamers can be harsh, elitist, exclusive, rude, childish, and particularly defensive of any of Blizzard’s actions. Overall, most gamers care about the state of the game, fairness and consistency when the company chooses to implement policies, and in treating others with dignity and respect, which many believe Blizzard is guilty of not doing. As many gamers and YouTubers covering gaming have indicated, when China isn’t looking, Blizzard is content to let violations of the rules slide.
What has disturbed many, as well, is the time frame in which Blizzard waited to respond to the controversy, on Friday at close of business with the release dated the next day, without addressing the conflicting statements made on the Hearthstone website and the Chinese social media site Weibo as well as its continued hypocrisy. The Friday close of business release of a response is a tactic used by government to avoid extreme backlash when addressing controversial issues or passing controversial legislation. It has been postulated that Blizzard will issue or provide some sort of “shiny” on Monday, as it has in the past when dealing with controversial issues and issuing a release on a Friday.
This issue is continuing to garner international attention as Norway is refusing to allow any Blizzard Entertainment events to be held within its borders. And, the international community should not forget China’s aggressive takeover of Tibet forcing the Dalai Lama into exile nor the imprisonment of the rightful Panchen Lama, who has not been heard from since his discovery and was replaced with China’s own proxy pick. Its aggressive nature continues toward the rightful government of China in exile on Taiwan as it seeks to claim Taiwan as part of the communist mainland. Now, the communist Chinese government wants to bully Hong Kong through an extradition treaty where China can retrieve anyone from there for violation of its draconian laws, likely disappearing them to some internment death camp.
The bigger picture here involves China. Right now, Blizzard Entertainment enjoys a 12% market share of the Chinese gaming market. As with all companies, opening new markets generates new revenue. And, the emerging gaming market in China is attracting all gaming companies to rush to get their share of the pie. That share of the video game pie surrounds mobile gaming more than console or PC games. Because of the rapidly emerging Chinese gaming market, gaming companies are partnering with Chinese entertainment companies to introduce their games to the growing mobile market.
With China being “ruled” by a dictatorial, oppressive, tyrannical regime under Xi Jinping, any company doing business with China has to abide by the laws dictated by the government. The Chinese government has implemented the social credit system and will soon implement facial recognition in order to purchase cell phones, which can be used to play mobile games. As has been seen with the NBA, Disney, South Park, and Winnie-the-Pooh, the Chinese government will censor products and cease allowing companies to do business in China if or when the government finds any action, speech, or meme offensive to its government or government leaders. In response, American companies are towing the communist oppressive censorship line in order to keep their market shares or gain market shares. Don’t play ball with the Chinese government and you will get NBA’d, South Park’d and Pooh’d.
These American companies chose to court Chinese business and/or move production there because of cheaper labor. In return, the Chinese government has stolen intellectual and technical property from American companies through threats and restricting business if companies do not comply. Moreover, the Chinese government expects American companies to uphold their laws regarding violation of human rights, as was demonstrated by the NBA and Blizzard Entertainment when both entities urged employees to remove tweets supporting freedom for Hong Kong and Blizzard sanctioned a player who voiced support for the liberation of Hong Kong.
While many may scoff at this coverage because it involves video games and a video gaming company, the real issue is China’s government and leaders using American companies to do their dirty work to silence voices who dissent against Xi’s perpetuation of violating basic human rights and increasing the police/nanny state. China knows that it cannot control speech in opposition to its despotic, tyrannical and oppressive laws across the globe unless the government gains a sizeable number of companies to do business in China, even when those companies are located in nations upholding basic human rights and civil liberties. As it stands, companies are lining up at the proverbial China door to gain access to emerging markets at the expense of consumers, stakeholders and employees located in free countries and fueling the Chinese government’s continuation of human rights violations of its own people. But, when it comes to the bottom line, greed rules and all sense of morals and values are left at the door by companies pandering for Chinese government hand-outs.
If truth be told, China, particularly the Chinese government, needs the world more than the world needs China. Companies and nations would do well to remember that. China’s government is not going to change because it’s getting what it wants through the weakness of corporate greed and the lack of principles, morals and values of those running the corporations.
Blizzard Entertainment will certainly have its hands full in dealing with the continued fallout. Now that gamers are organizing protests slated to occur during the annual Blizzard convention and an international human rights group is requesting clarification, the ball is now in the gaming giants hands – continue with Blizzcon as scheduled or cancel since this controversy is sure to bring more journalists to the event in order to attempt to gain access to personnel for statements. It is fairly expected that Blizzard will not respond at all to the open letter by Access Now in order to avoid any further missteps. But, if the past actions of Blizzard is anything to go by, the company will not learn or refuse to learn from its mistakes and continue a laisse faire attitude toward its player base, journalists, and associated entities.
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