Ex-Blizzard boss’ tipping comments show the industry needs to pay devs fairly

Ex-Blizzard boss’ tipping comments show the industry needs to pay devs fairly
Image via Blizzard

Written by 

Joseph Kime


16th Apr 2024 16:08

The cost of games will always be a relevant talking point in the industry, as even though inflation adjustment has brought us to the cheapest video games in history, comparatively to what we’re spending on our essentials, a new release will still end up being a substantial chunk of the money that we make.

Yet, video games are perhaps the most fluid medium in terms of art, with indie titles you can play for hundreds of hours coming in under the $20 mark, and titles you’ll play for ten running you $70. There’s little consistency - and as it happens, the same is true of the conditions of the creators actually making the games.

We see all too often that game companies aren’t treating their staff as they should. Reports seem to be pouring out from teams like Deck Nine, Quantic Dream and even giants like Activision Blizzard that allege a toxic work environment that urges crunch, and for teams to endure sexism, mismanagement and, especially in Activision Blizzard’s case, a “frat boy culture” that has led to dramatic lawsuits.

Malpractice is rife in the industry, and yet, it keeps moving with layoffs and devastating changes for its core staff. And now, by the estimation of one ex-president, gamers should be allowed to pick up that slack. We’re not buying it.

Mike Ybarra wants to introduce tips for video games

Ex-Blizzard president Mike Ybarra must have been having the time of his life playing a game recently. After all, it’s hard to blame him - we’ve all been won over by the excitement of a video game at least once in our lives, and the medium continues to prove its worth as a storytelling champion. His love for the gaming world reached over the brim so far that he put it into words in a tweet.

“When I beat a game, there are some that just leave me in awe of how amazing the experience was,” he says. “At the end of the game, I've often thought ‘I wish I could give these folks another $10 or $20 because it was worth more than my initial $70 and they didn't try to nickel and dime me every second’.

Games like HZD, GoW, RDR2, BG3, Elden Ring, etc. I know $70 is already a lot, but it's an option at the end of the game I wish I had at times. Some games are that special.

This much might be true - AAA games are a wide-stretching source of excitement, and much like any other form of entertainment, some reflect their price tags better than others. But man, does it sting when a man who had a great deal of control over one of the biggest video game companies in history brings personal responsibility into the gaming industry.

Players shouldn’t have to tip game devs. They should be treated fairly by default

A night elf in World of Warcraft.
Click to enlarge
Image via Blizzard

This implication from anyone else would seem simple and off-the-cuff, but the same can’t be said of Mike Ybarra, who chose to leave Blizzard and Microsoft at large when the 1,900-strong wave of layoffs struck both companies. As a high-ranking team member at Blizzard (and formerly, Xbox), he knows just what it’s like to be a part of wider game development, and the impact that management can have on its output.

And, equally, he knows full well the experience that Blizzard staff had to endure that led to the “frat boy culture” allegations coming to the public, albeit before his time. With this, he has taken his opportunity to suggest that game developers deserve the right to receive a little bit extra. We agree. But we’re not valued with a market cap of $74.28 billion.

The suggestion, especially from Ybarra, is insulting. Game developers deserve to be rewarded for creating a game that touches, inspires and excites its players, but to ask the layperson to foot that cost after the recently-raised AAA price tag is simply unreasonable.

We’re sure it’s easy to want to tip developers when you’re on a Blizzard presidential salary, but we certainly aren’t, and it’s reflective on the other figureheads in the gaming industry that they may think that the money a developer makes, even after crunching away time with their families or experiencing waves of alleged sexual harassment, should fall to the consumer.

Change is possible - but it isn’t your responsibility to save game teams

Kirk uses her ultimate ability in Overwatch 2.
Click to enlarge
Image via Blizzard

It’s not impossible for this to come to life, either, as FromSoftware proved by funnelling profits from Elden Ring into an extra 50,000 Yen per month into the pockets of those who helped bring it to life. It’s a far cry from Ybarra’s claim that players should be able to tip game teams, especially during a time when it’s harder than ever to believe that much of the money we spend on games actually makes it to the coders, designers and playtesters.

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It’d come off as a well-meaning tweet if it was from anyone but Ybarra. Instead of being a sweetly smiling suggestion that we try to make game developers’ lives easier (a sentiment we can all get behind), all it does is prove once again that when something goes wrong in development, layoffs sweep hard-working teams and those same staff members work to the bone against the odds, the presidents of gaming conglomerates think that we, the fans, should be doing more. There’s only one statement we can issue to creators like Ybarra - you first.

Joseph Kime
About the author
Joseph Kime
Joseph Kime is the Senior Trending News Journalist for GGRecon from Devon, UK. Before graduating from MarJon University with a degree in Journalism, he started writing music reviews for his own website before writing for the likes of FANDOM, Zavvi and The Digital Fix. He is host of the Big Screen Book Club podcast, and author of Building A Universe, a book that chronicles the history of superhero movies. His favourite games include DOOM (2016), Celeste and Pokemon Emerald.
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