We’ve heard many stories at this point about video game producers attempting to use copyright and the DMCA as a censorship tool against criticism. As it happens, the frequency of these stories has tapered off somewhat as best as I can tell, even as the indie gaming scene has resulted in an explosion of small gaming studios. The reason for that delta is probably that the gaming community as a whole has become both far more educated and vocal about any attempts to use copyright as a censorship tool. Rightly or wrongly, honesty and transparency in gaming reviews and commentary has become something of a thing the past few years and one of the possibly unintentional results of that campaign has been for attempts at stifling criticism about games to be top of the average gamer’s mind.
Which brings us to Wargaming, the studio behind World of Tanks. If you have not heard about the drama from last week yet, it began with a YouTuber called SirFoch, who issued a scathing and expletive-laden review of a specific tank customers could purchase withing the game.
In the video, which was re-posted on another YouTube channel, SirFoch said things like, “Fuck Wargaming, fuck their terrible way of making these premium tanks lately, and fuck this premium tank in particular.” Specifically, he criticized the tank’s lack of weak points behind the machine gun ports by showing viewers its collision model which he argued made the Chrysler K overpowered.
Crude language aside, he was making an otherwise evidenced-based point, whether you agree with him or not. The problem is that SirFoch has signed up to be a “community contributor” with Wargaming, which is essentially one of the more common fan-influencer platforms becoming more fashionable in gaming circles. SirFoch was not paid for his reviews or commentary, but he was given early access to content. In return, Wargaming requires an amorphous “level of decorum” when discussing the game publicly. It was apparently this lack of decorum on SirFoch’s part that gave Wargaming license to threaten him with copyright infringement.
In the wake of the video attacking Wargaming for its perceived use of pay-to-win mechanics, a community manager at the company who goes by Zoltan “Ph3lan” Sipos contacted SirFoch over Discord. Ph3lan explained, according to screenshots of the conversation provided by SirFoch, that the YouTuber would be dropped from the program giving him early access to content and would need to take down his video or else Wargaming would be forced to have YouTube remove it for copyright infringement.
SirFoch took down the video in question, but then immediately went public with how Wargaming had threatened him because of course he did. The studio, meanwhile, tried to combat the ensuing backlash in its own forums by complaining about the tone and language choices the YouTuber had used, indicating those factors warranted the copyright threat. Gamers watching this discussion rightly realized that this was essentially copping to censorship by copyright of criticism. The backlash grew in size. Over the next several days, Wargaming reps began suggesting to media outlets that SirFoch’s video had been laced with not only vulgarity, but homophobic hate speech as well. The video did not in fact include any such language. The backlash grew even louder.
Grew loud enough too that the studio has now backed down and issued a public apology.
We have further reviewed the incident of last Friday involving SirFoch and his “Chrysler K GF rant” video, and know we could have handled the situation a lot better. We strongly support our players’, including our Community Contributors’, right to speak critically about us and our games. We acted too quickly and over the line when we threatened to have YouTube remove SirFoch’s video through a copyright infringement complaint and we are apologizing for that.
We’re committed to doing a better job on this front. We’re going to improve the way we communicate with our Community and our Community Contributors, and as part of that effort we will work with them on more detailed, specific guidelines to help ensure incidents like this don’t happen again.
Our official position is that Wargaming will not take copyright action against opinions based on our publicly released content.
Over the weekend we released a statement to some media outlets regarding the content of SirFoch’s video that inferred that SirFoch’s videos contained hate speech and homophobia. While we would obviously not want such content to be associated with any of our games – this video clearly did not. We apologize for this statement, and we don’t stand behind those claims.
It’s a good apology but, frankly, a bit tough to swallow given how far the studio went to try to first bully and then defame one of its own contributors entirely because it didn’t like the criticism that contributor issued. Wargaming is likely hoping that this incident hasn’t tanked its reputation beyond repair, and it’s probable that it hasn’t. If not, that official position to not be a copyright bully over censorship had better be sincere, because reputations rarely are offered a third chance if there were to be another such incident.
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Author: Timothy Geigner