‘Toxic trolls. ‘Entitled man-babies’. ‘Fanboys’. These are just a small collection of nicknames given to the most active and argumentative individuals who partake in and fan the virtual flames of discourse in the gaming industry. It’s worth noting that most gaming communities have people who fall into the broad definition of the above-mentioned individuals; even the Xbox community is rife with these ’Gaming Ultras’ as I will refer to them in this article. Xbox, the youngest of the main pillars of gaming (Nintendo, PC, and PlayStation) has attracted the passion of the Gaming Ultras. A quick Wikipedia search results in the following definition: Internet Trolls are ‘people who post inflammatory, insincere, digressive, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community’. Often seen as purely troublemakers, I’m going to look into the benefits they bring, and the discourse that comes with them, but ultimately what they can bring to the table.  

The problem with internet definitions though, and many other blanket descriptions, is that a lot of it is open to interpretation. Engaging in activities such as provocative or inflammatory posts aren’t as black-and white as the aggrieved parties might claim. For example, in 2018, Blizzard presented Diablo Immortal (a mobile game for a franchise made popular on PC) at Blizzcon. The same people who are normally lumped in with the trolls, brought a lot of attention to Blizzard’s misstep by posting memes and jokes that could have been interpreted as inflammatory or provocative depending on who was reading them. As for their impact on the gaming platform as a whole, the examples are numerous. From the EA Battlefront 2 Fiasco, to Bethesda Monetizing Mods, both instances were met with passionate posts from the Trolls, or ‘Gaming Ultras’, and both were rolled back and I believe that the Ultras contributed to this result.   

If one were to take the time to look through most of the posts made by this group in the above examples, one could easily find material to be offended or insulted by. But that’s the aim! Gaming Ultras have mastered the art of getting people ‘through the door’. Soon after the bait has been snagged, this fresh audience is open to listening to new ideas that they may not be aware of. In terms of current affairs, exploitative microtransactions, lack of unionization for game developers, and advantageous subscription services is just a small example of the most common themes right now in the gaming industry.  

Source: the guardian.com

Let’s begin by viewing Gaming Ultras the same way we see the “Ultras” of football teams. An example of the impact Ultras can have would be Juventus, the football club. When they were relegated from Series A in 2006, during that one season, the home stadium was visibly less occupied, but the players never felt abandoned or disheartened. And as a consequence, they were promoted the following season. To say that the clubs’ Ultras had a helping hand in achieving that feat would be an understatement. This is a beautiful story about fanatical supporters getting behind a brand and catapulting it to success but like all things dealing with humans there is a negative impact. In 2018, twelve leaders from the biggest Ultras associations within Juventus were arrested for criminal association, extortion, money laundering and violence linked to ticket sales. The basic summary being that the football club was being blackmailed by its most loyal supporters for cut price tickets that would then be scalped to regular supporters. This is the essence of Ultras to the video game industry; the same people that are the backbone of the industry can sometimes be the ones to do the most damage to it.  

A good example of how the Ultras have helped to sustain and support the gaming industry would be to highlight the gaming crash that occurred in 1983. This was a large-scale recession in the video game industry where revenues fell from $3.2billion to $100 million in two years. Among the many reasons for the crash was market saturation with examples including the Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Emerson Arcadia & Sears Telegames Console, and lack of interest in consoles in favour of personal computers. The crash lasted roughly two years, and in that time the Ultras were the majority of purchasers of gaming-related products as the mainstream reached the point of even doubting the long-term viability of video game consoles and video games as a whole. This was seen with articles like the one published in the New York Times titled: ”Video Games Industry Comes Down To Earth”.  

Source: ign.com

Were it not for the Ultras maintaining their fanatical attachment to gaming, who is to say if the industry would have recovered? In hindsight, it’s easy to assume that it would have been fine but back then it wasn’t so certain. The Ultras have also kept oblivion at the gates with the continuing fight against exploitative micro transactions (hereby dubbed MTX) on their respective platforms. This has been one of the few subjects where even the ‘Console Warriors’ from the 3 companies, Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft have shared the proverbial common ground on.  

MTX on their own are not inherently bad, especially when dealing with free-to-play games like Fortnite, Apex Legends etc. They are free games that need to make a profit to pay developers and servers so one could argue that $5 skins are reasonable additions. There is a fine line between profiting by offering a fair product and going overboard with regards to profiteering, and the following from Victor Zagury, the lawyer of a French player in FifaFUT who sued EA Games, sums it up perfectly. “In this game, everyone wants to have a dream team to go as far as possible. My client spent €600 in five months without ever getting a big player. The developers of this game mode have created an illusionary and particularly addictive system. The more you pay, the more you have the possibility of getting big players. We believe that a gambling game has been integrated into this video game because buying packs is nothing more than a bet.” He went on to say, “It is the logic of a casino that has entered their homes. Today, an 11 or 12-year-old teenager can, without any restriction, play FUT and commit money because there is no parental control system in this mode. Belgium and the Netherlands have already taken up this issue.” 

Source: thexboxhub.com

The same people that are loud in their support for these corporations are the same people that used their platforms to encourage negative practices by the industry’s biggest and most powerful publishers. To the point that over 50% of the countries on the planet have or are in the process of taking steps to regulate these practices as gambling that is unfit for underage people. Belgian Regulators have already graded MTX as gambling and will fine all violators €800,000 and the possibility of up to 5 years in prison. Many other countries such as Spain, the U.S and Brazil, are also studying the relatively new money-spinning technique that accounts for such a large percentage of the industry’s revenue.  

Ever since the disastrous launch of the Xbox One in 2013, the lack of AAA exclusive content was one of the main points repeatedly presented by the Ultra’s throughout the generation. Given the previously mentioned point, is it a large leap to say that Ultras had a hand in influencing the big wigs at Xbox to fund and present more AAA exclusive games by having up to 23 first party studios? I think not. 

As far as the obvious negative impact of the Ultras is concerned, there is no denying that their fanatical love for and attachment to their respective platforms can and has led to a lot of unflattering situations. From sexist posts on reddit such as ”KotakuinAction”, where the head moderator u/david-me called it” a cancerous growth” in a lengthy post citing racism and sexist comments, as reasons for shutting down the forum. In addition, Twitter posts proudly sharing misogynist views like the below screenshot showing Twitter user smiddertwidder sharing his belief that women belong in the kitchen is also a prime example. There are countless moments that rightfully paint Ultras in the absolute worst light, and because they are some of the loudest and most listened to people around the space, it can seem like the entire community is this way leading to catastrophes like Gamergate.   

Source: cnet

For those not familiar with ‘Gamergate’ “Gamergate concerned a perceived harassment campaign, centred on issues of sexism and anti-progressivism in video game culture. The quote that most aptly summarises the chaos was by Liana Kerzner, GamerGate Neutral journalist: “People came to the table with many different priorities. Some people had pre-existing grudges against Zoe Quinn. Some had pre-existing concerns about gaming media and some were concerned with the politicization of gaming. Some just wanted it all to burn.” It was with all this going on that the gaming Ultras failed to realize who and when they were up against; ‘‘who’ being femininity and ‘‘when’ being general cultural views of the time. See, in every cultural cycle, there will always be groups or ideas that cannot be challenged, and not because they are right or wrong, but because the cycle of cultural change has forced it. There was a time when the white man and his ideas were untouchable, there was a time when men were untouchable, there was a time when certain religions could not be challenged but like all things we built. These ideas were eventually challenged and replaced by new untouchables. 

In conclusion, the fact that internet trolls and real-life Gaming Ultras exist is a double-edged sword. It’s rare to have an industry where the people who are its most loyal customers and who are also the ones that threaten, in this case, the viability of the industry in terms of being safe for all to partake in and enjoy the products and community. There might be some exceptions – as with all things – but in general, the Ultras are the last line of defence when it comes to making sure the soul of this cultural phenomenon we call ‘gaming’, remains relatively intact. Knowing this, I believe the industry can look towards the future with optimism, but never forgetting that there is much work needed ahead. As for the Ultras, they will never not exist, no matter what is said or done. Why? Because everything that inspires love will eventually inspire passion and passion is like fire, it can burn your house down or it can light your village and keep generation upon generation safe and sound.   

Patricio Rosario

Article Team

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