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Do gamer boycotts accomplish anything?

In September 2009 two Left 4 Dead fans, under the pseudonyms of Walking Target and Agent of Chaos, were taken on a guided tour of Valve’s HQ and treated to an exclusive sneak peek of Left 4 Dead 2, by Valve's Gabe Newell. The pair had been invited to the studio as special guests after they boycotted L4D’s sequel over concerns that promised DLC for the game would be dropped.

Above: The banner of the public boycott

“It changed my mind about the slapdash method we had thought was used to put the sequel together,” confesses Walking Target. “What we were really interested in was the support the original L4D would continue to receive. With another DLC now confirmed, I feel Valve is living up to what they had told us.” The fact a publisher of Valve’s weight should pay attention to an online boycott shows how much power protests can have. By refusing to sell Modern Warfare 2 on its Impulse service, Stardock sent a strong message to Activision for packaging the game with Valve's Steam client.

“This was something we could not accept,” says Stardock boss Brad Wardell. “It is akin to being forced to install a web toolbar in order to use something completely unrelated.” Although publishers may take notice when the masses get hissy, the effectiveness of online boycotts is questionable. After all, the L4D2 protest didn't affect its release in any way, and although other online retailers, like Direct2Drive and GamersGate, refused to stock Modern Warfare 2 it still became one of the biggest selling titles of all time.


Above: Modern Warfare 2 pissed off people for a slew of reasons

Ineffective boycotts have been around for years, only traditionally they were led by church groups or politicians. In 1976 an arcade game called Death Race caused mass furor, even though it looks like a bunch of albino ants playing hopscotch. Since then videogames have been boycotted by everyone from sex workers (the killing of prostitutes in Grand Theft Auto) to Native Americans (over stereotypes in Gun).

Recently it’s been gamers who are more likely to launch boycotts. Most of the time, their organisers' motivations are weak: Square Enix didn’t blink because fans were angry that Final Fantasy XIII was released on consoles and the PC. Likewise Diablo III devs at Blizzard haven’t lost sleep because some think it isn't dark enough. And boycotts over charges for DLC – as was the case for Assassin’s Creed II – are futile. After all if you don’t want DLC, you don’t have to buy it.

Nevertheless, last year’s L4D boycott, which rallied over 28,000 supporters, suggests carefully coordinated campaigns can be heard. “It wasn’t a protest against L4D2: it was a protest about the lack of support for the original L4D,” says Walking Target. “Valve has a track record of supporting their games and standing by their community. I thought Valve might listen to their fans as they had done in the past. I figured we might get a few thousand, but that was surpassed within a week. We were talking with Valve very early on, probably when we hit the 5,000 to 8,000 member mark.”

But can gamers change the ways of publishers? The Call of Duty fan community was fuming when Infinity Ward announced its abandonment of dedicated servers in Modern Warfare 2. It was as insulting as calling your granny a slut, they reckoned. Over 85,000 signed a petition, but the developers didn’t dismantle IWNet or add dedicated server support to the PC game. Then, a few months later, most of the leading protestors could be found on Infinity Ward’s own matchmaking service, playing the game.


Above: No more LAN parties for StarCraft

Some protestors attempt a polite route. Christian Sorensen amassed 246,350 followers for his campaign to get LAN support into Blizzard’s StarCraft II titled, “Please include LAN functionality in your future classic.”

“We know this helped our petition,” says Sorensen. “Keeping a sober tone is always the way forward. There’s no reason to start a flame war with big companies who most likely won’t listen to you anyway. So, we’d give this a try, and we know it worked.”

Sorensen says he talked to Blizzard about the issue, but it doesn’t seem to have done much good. Chris Sigaty, StarCraft II's lead designer, recently announced that LAN will definitely not be included. Instead, fans will get their online kicks from Battle.net.

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  • InFeRnOg - May 27, 2010 4:32 p.m.

    There was/is one for Yakuza 3, with the hopes of getting the content that was removed for the North American version in a future free download / patch. I believe the petition is open so you can also say if you'd like the content as DLC, but obviously I think this should be optional free content.
  • sephiroth8808 - May 27, 2010 1:06 p.m.

    Starcraft 2 and its lack of LAN really annoys me. simply because I have a LAN set up in my house for the purpose of playing RTS games over LAN. In my corner of the globe there is not enough bandwidth available(without laying my own fibre optic cable) to have 2 machines online gaming at the same time. I also dislike playing RTS against those online who take it too seriously meaning you can't have a relaxed game its always rush rush rush. oh and the people I tend to play RTS with either use one of my spare gaming rigs(supped up wifes computer) or don't have anything above a 512k broadband. so no starcraft 2 for me other than single player and lets face it its a game that is largely about multi player.
  • ranivus - May 27, 2010 7:21 a.m.

    This is proof that in the internet, no gives a rats ass what you think.
  • AbigCAT - May 27, 2010 2:47 a.m.

    this is why i love capcom so much. they listen to thier cunsumers more then any other Company I know. i mean look at super street fighter 4, the megaman series, lost planet, even with the plee to get marvel vs capcom out as a downloadable game on the market place was all driven by us, and they delivered. all we need to do is say please at the begining and thank you at the end. =)
  • TyeTheCzar - May 27, 2010 2:17 a.m.

    Unlike these guys who failed to boycott MW2, I boycotted anything by Activision the moment Bobby Kotick explained his reasoning behind getting rid of Brutal Legend. It turns out Activision pretty much is the corporate pig I made them out to be. But alas, I'm somewhat of a hypocrite for buying Blizzard's games because of how good they make them.
  • nemesisuprising - May 27, 2010 2:06 a.m.

    @NotBrave yeah your totally right, and if people weren't such dick heads they would actually not buy the game, I wish there was some way to track all of the people that signed the petition and played the game, that way we could spam them :)
  • mentalityljs - May 27, 2010 12:14 a.m.

    Add Jesus to GTA? I'm not a very religious person myself, but come ON! If Rockstar wants a real lawsuit on their hands they'll add JC to the list.
  • initialreactionshow - May 26, 2010 10:51 p.m.

    Answer: no
  • GwaR - May 26, 2010 6:18 p.m.

    Yes, as many have already said, the fundamental flaw with them is that most gamers don't have the will-power to follow through. We're like crack addicts that can't keep away no matter what we tell ourselves. MW2 is the most telling example. If core PC users had truly boycotted the game, Activision would have felt it in the lack of sales. That didn't happen, though, in fact one statistic I read put PC copies purchased through retail at over 20% of the total sales. That doesn't even count Steam, which has had MW2 firmly slotted in it's top 10 sales list every week since it was released. In other words, almost none of the 'MW2 boycotters' actually boycotted the game. What good is a boycott if you only threaten to do it? Activision called their bluff and proved that they were full of crap. On a happy side note, as someone already pointed out, it did still have an impact -as one of the first announcements for COD Black Ops was dedicated servers.
  • LIKEUCARE - May 26, 2010 5:54 p.m.

    Well, theres many reasons to boycott games. One would be shady DRM à la Ubisoft. Two, the removal of a game's features, like dedicated servers for MW2 PC. Three, exclusive platform title that was supposed to come out on another platform but got cancelled. And four, by the huge amount of games coming out, you do have to slack and just rent/try/buy the main games that appeal the most to you, meaning you don't buy that other company game at launch day. Most of the time, boycotts doesn't work fully, but the developers DO GET the message. I'd still say the best way to boycott them is by your wallet. Your not satisfied for a said game DRM, features, etc, then don't buy it and tell them why you aren't buying it. EA did listened to that measure with their Spore suing episode and now their giving us goodies if you do buy new, "Project 10$".
  • oryandymackie - May 26, 2010 4:36 p.m.

    As of two weeks ago, I am now boycotting Ubisoft over their decision to do away with game manuals altogether - a game isn't complete without a manual, in my opinion.
  • WickedSid - May 26, 2010 2:31 p.m.

    @ jmcgrotty: Do you think that would hold up in a court setting? To be kind of ironic, No, it would not. You would need evidence to prove that they do not really work, and that exactly is what this article provides, gamer boycotts do accomplish something some of the time, the L4D2 piece comes to mind. Most of the time, though, they do not achieve anything but, the point is to show that there are some people who think alike and are willing to "stand", Stand is used figuratively of course because, well, this is the internet, for what they may believe.
  • BigBoss - May 26, 2010 10:44 a.m.

    You could argue the boycott of MW2 proved to be successful in the sense that dedicated servers have been confirmed for Black Ops.
  • philipshaw - May 26, 2010 10:20 a.m.

    It makes no difference because they end up buying and playing the game anyway, just check the boycott groups on steam and most people on there are probably playing the game that they are boycotting against
  • Joshin69 - May 26, 2010 8:55 a.m.

    by its very defenition a boycott only works when those that say they will, do.
  • Samael - May 26, 2010 8:41 a.m.

    As much as I hate to agree with db1331 on something...yeah, he pretty much said it. Game boycotts don't work because 90% of the boycotters will buy the game anyway. And the developers know this. That's it, plain and simple.
  • hazelam - May 26, 2010 7:43 a.m.

    if boycotts don't work it's because far too many people just assume they don't and give the publisher the money anyway. the truth is they need us more than we need them, we can buy our games from somebody else who won't screw us over, but they can't suddenly find another group of customers that easily. the publishers don't want us to know that though, they want us to keep thinking they're in control when that's not true unless you let them. if people acted on their complaints instead of just complaining then much more would get done.
  • jmcgrotty - May 26, 2010 7:28 a.m.

    Someone must be paid by the word, to have such a lengthy article, when all that was needed was: No.
  • BlackElement17 - May 26, 2010 7:25 a.m.

    The reason petitions fail is because no one actually follows threw
  • DontEatRawHagis - May 26, 2010 5:32 a.m.

    I am successful in boycotting Modern Warfare 2. Only time I played it was when my friend asked me to play him, on his xbox. I kicked his ass and was satisfied that I didn't buy it. As long as I am successful in boycotting something I dont care if everyone else fell off the wagon.