Raphael van Lierop, Director for Hinterland Games, recently discussed his team’s decision to leave /r/thelongdark back in May of 2017, expressing the need for developers to stand up to abuse from community members.
A Bit of Background
In the Spring of 2017, The Long Dark developer Hinterland Games posted a nondescript countdown timer on their website. Massive excitement and speculation ensued from early-access fans who had spent years waiting for the game’s story mode to be released. They waited with bated breath for May 4, when the countdown would finally tick down to zero.
Unfortunately, the end of the countdown was almost universally regarded as underwhelming, as the only news that broke that day was an impending launch date for both the “Wintermute” story mode and the Long Dark’s official release, still months away. The countdown had led to another countdown. The reaction from the vocal fanbase was harsh, eventually leading to the studio cutting ties with /r/thelongdark amidst the wrath of some particularly scornful users.
Van Lierop Explains His Decision
In late December, following the release of the Long Dark’s Rugged Sentinel update, van Lierop sat down to answer questions on the game in a Reddit AMA. Speaking about the studio’s abrupt departure from the game’s subreddit months earlier, van Lierop cited the way in which certain members of the community chose to react in the aftermath of the countdown drama.
“The sub became extremely abusive/toxic to me and my community team…” van Lierop said. “I don’t feel the need to participate in communities that think abusing developers is ok. We don’t tolerate it in Steam or our official forums, but we don’t moderate Reddit…I think it’s important for developers to be willing to draw a line at it, because it’s become so ‘normal’ online and it’s turning people away.”
Van Lierop’s claims speak to an ongoing and increasingly volatile problem in the games industry: abusive player feedback and interaction in unmoderated internet spaces like Reddit and Twitter. Abusive language is rampant in these arenas, and can be especially concerning for indie developers who may lack the means to utilize professional marketing and PR teams.
On January 8, Defiant Development Founder Morgan Jaffit published an article on Medium entitled “The topic every game dev is talking about behind closed doors: The cost of doing business.” In the article, Jaffit echoes van Lierop’s sentiment about the normalization of abusive language directed at developers, saying “We developers have internalised that abuse is the cost of doing business” and “…in the long term it renders indie dev too hostile a space to have any chance of attracting the best possible talent.”
So, what is the long-term impact of Hinterland removing itself from the Long Dark’s subreddit? How does van Lierop’s decision to speak out effect the play into the movement to draw attention to issues of verbal abuse in the gaming community? It’s impossible to know so soon, but it’s hard to deny that what we’ve seen so far is a positive change.
Now months after van Lierop pulled Hinterland from the subreddit and took a stand against the abuse he felt they were receiving, the game is perhaps healthier than it has ever been, having found an additional home and broader audience on PlayStation 4 (and a potential port to the Nintendo Switch in the future). The studio is growing, and they continue to interact with their community through moderated channels like Steam and the Hinterland forum.
The Long Dark subreddit, for its part, has seen a drastic shift in attitude. Its front page is now regularly covered with stories of adventure and beautiful scenic screenshots, with criticisms of the game expressed in mostly constructive and honest ways.
Unfortunately, though, this story is neither the beginning nor the end of abuse in the games industry. The Internet-age relationship between gamers and developers is complex and rapidly evolving, and torrents of abusive conduct still plague the greater gaming community. Hopefully, as people like van Lierop and Jaffit continue to speak out, the industry and its outspoken consumers can reach a place where civil discourse is once again the norm.