Amid public outcry over cyber bullying of women in the video game industry, many game publishers have hit the mute button.
Companies are staying conspicuously silent about a spate of attacks on women who have been forced to flee for their safety after criticizing gamer culture. The dust-up, known as Gamergate, has put a harsh spotlight on the often macho world of gaming and scary consequences for people who dare to speak out about it.
Game developer Brianna Wu, who has harshly criticized the attacks on women, fled her home in Arlington, Mass. earlier this month after someone posted her address in a chat forum and bombarded her with malicious Tweets. Meanwhile, feminist video game critic Anita Sarkeesian canceled a talk at Utah State University following an emailed death threat.
Their plights spurred the Entertainment Software Association, the gaming industry trade group, to issue a statement calling for an end to these “personal attacks and threats.” But individual game publishers have largely avoided publicly supporting the women who were attacked or spoken out against the sometimes vicious gamer culture.
Of the seven top game publishers Fortune contacted, just one agreed to comment. The other six declined to speak on the record.
A spokeswoman for the company that would comment, Ubisoft, the Montreal-based publisher behind bestselling games like Assassin’s Creed and Watch Dogs, said: “We echo the recent comment made by the ESA: Harassment, bullying and threats are wrong and have to stop. There should be no place in the video game community for personal attacks of any kind.”
The companies are not alone in wanting to stay out of the fray. A number of industry analysts Fortune contacted who are normally chatty refused to tackle Gamergate.
“Nobody who takes a position gains anything from doing so,” said one analyst, who demanded anonymity. “It’s a story about a lot of people (mostly men) behaving badly, and I prefer not to contribute to the never-ending drama.”
Amanda Marcotte, a feminist commentator who has written extensively about misogyny in video games, attacked game publishers for their silence in a blog post for an opinion site earlier this week. If gaming companies thought keeping quiet would distance themselves from Gamergate, they failed, she argued. Their silence only makes them come across as unsympathetic to female gamers.
Gartner analyst Brian Blau explains gaming companies’ silence another way, boiling it down to pure economics. “Maybe it’s because they think it doesn’t affect their business,” he said.
Earlier this month, Intel seemed to take the side of the attackers when it pulled an ad campaign from the video game news site Gamasutra after some gamers complained about a series it ran emphasizing the role of women in gaming. One story, in particular, argued that the old-school concept of a gamer — “angry young men,” as the author put it — was dated, and that today’s gamers included a large cross-section of the people.
Initially, Intel (INTC) said it removed the ads to be sensitive to those who felt insulted by the articles. But a week later, under withering criticism, the company tried to make peace by addressing the criticism.
“We recognize that our action inadvertently created a perception that we are somehow taking sides in an increasingly bitter debate in the gaming community,” Intel said. “That was not our intent, and that is not the case.”
Intel went on to say “we apologize and we are deeply sorry if we offended anyone.” But it stuck by its decision to suspend the ad campaign.
Regardless, the longer Gamergate rages on, the more everyone stands to lose. Publishers’ revenues aren’t hurting now, but their silence runs the risk of alienating women — 48% of all gamers — and eventually impacting a $100 billion industry.
A worst-case scenario? Perhaps. But one where no one – Gamegaters, included — wins.