Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney says videogame companies should remove themselves from politics

Written by Chad Norton on Thu, Feb 13, 2020 12:54 PM

Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney delivered a controversial keynote during the DICE summit in Las Vegas yesterday. The billionaire head of Epic Games took to the pulpit to deliver a wide-ranging talk, touching on loot boxes, microtransactions and politics. It's certainly the latter which has stirred up the most unrest, however, with Sweeney saying ”we as companies need to divorce ourselves from politics.”

Sweeney highlighted what he viewed as a clear division between the creatives and the overall 'company mission'. "We have to create a very clear separation between church and state," Sweeney said, "there's no reason to drag divisive topics into gaming at all." Good point Sweeney, magnolia wall paint for everyone; we don't want to be in danger of actually thinking about what we're playing, that wouldn't be good for anybody.

Of course, games haven't inherently gotten any more or less political, they always were, it's simply our awareness of it which has increased. Particularly as the popularity of video games has boomed and it's no longer unfairly seen as the chief domain of young pimply teenagers jacking off to Lara Croft's triangular tits. It's important that we're aware of politics' many-sided influences, from the stories we are told right on through to the way in which the games are sold to us. 

Over the last few years though, the goalposts have moved. It's now seen as a political stance to include people of colour or fully-clothed women in a game, which is just wild. Anything outside of the absolute norms of the industry is viewed by some with disdain, and it's these folks Sweeney is attempting to court directly. Games have come a long, long way over the last 20 years, but here's multi-billionaire Tim Sweeney trying to appeal to that exact demographic.

Sweeney went on to say that games are “as much a communication platform as an entertainment experience,” adding that they now have “special responsibilities we’ll have to take very seriously.”

Since the video game industry became the number one entertainment industry in the world, it’s no surprise gaming has now become a platform for people to voice their opinions, but Sweeney believes that politics should just be removed from the scene entirely.

Where things get really muddled is Sweeney's division of creatives and their marketing departments. If the marketing for a game needs to be apolitical, how exactly are the creatives free to create politicised content? The Outer Worlds was marketed as a scathing anti-capitalist satire and that didn't stop Epic scooping an exclusivity deal.

The very idea of removing politics entirely is paradoxical in nature. Take the recent Blitzchung controversy, wherein Blizzard’s idea of trying to be as apolitical as possible became inherently political. Choosing a politically neutral stance became a political statement. The inherent philosophy behind what Sweeney is saying is now flawed as Blizzard's situation was impossible to address apolitically. Blizzard tried that and it blew back in its face harder than an Orc's fart.

Sweeney's idea is for games and games companies to just “divorce themselves from politics.” Which is all well and good for a man with twice the wealth of Donald Trump to say, particularly with his Tencent investment that ensures Epic Games will surely do anything it can to not step on China's toes.

You can view this whole situation in different ways, and it is definitely a very grey area to talk about it. There might be some truth in what Sweeney is saying - and some will feel that politics are pushed a little too hard in some games - but at the same time every decision he makes, whether it be supporting open platforms for Fortnite cross-play, or walled gardens for the Epic Store, is simply a stepping stone to the 'company mission': greater profit.

In other, rather ironic, news: Tim Sweeney also condemned loot boxes, saying that the industry needs to move away from a “customer adversarial model”, essentially meaning that conflict in marketing is inevitably what drives sales.

Even when the controversy surrounding loot boxes and gambling was starting to die down, Sweeney brings it back up again: “We have to ask ourselves, as an industry, what we want to be when we grow up? Do we want to be like Las Vegas with slot machines… or do we want to be widely respected as creators of products that customers can trust?”

What do you think? Is the gaming industry too focused on politics within their companies as well as the games themselves? And is the gaming scene starting to become a lot like a digital Las Vegas?

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01:22 Feb-14-2020

The only way to remove politics from games would be to remove any story and even that wouldn't work because then people would assume there was some kind of subtext. If Pac-man was only released now it would be seen by some as promoting drug use and low-polygon Lara Croft would be deemed to be commenting on the dangers of plastic surgery because of her huge lips et al.

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22:33 Feb-13-2020

trueee

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20:49 Feb-13-2020

Epic Games should remove themselves from Tencent.


Very unlikely to happen since they talk so much sh!t.


You see where this is going? Tim, no one is gonna listen to you and take your advice. They're still gonna pull the whole political bs.

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17:17 Feb-13-2020

I agree with him. Politics should not be in or involved with video games in absolutely any shape or form.


I am of course talking real life here. As part of a story or plot, it's fine.


But bringing real life politics into video games either as part of the game itself or the development of it?


I strongly oppose that.

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18:53 Feb-13-2020

"as part of the game itself"


What do you mean by this? Surely story or plot is part of the game itself.


"or the development of it"


So we shouldn't be able to comment or have journalism that focuses on companies that for example treat their workers terribly or have a culture that alienates specific groups of people?


The creation of a video game is by its nature immersed in politics.

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22:04 Feb-13-2020

No it isn't. Politics is about government, and law.


When I said development of game, I mean strictly the contents of the games itself.


The actual process of development such as working conditions, hours worked, and treatment of workers is a whole other story.


I strongly suggest you look up what politics is about.

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18:35 Feb-26-2020

all art is political you're just bad at media analysis

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18:54 Feb-13-2020

How a video game is funded is political. How a video game company is organised is political. How a video game company hires, shares its revenue, treats its customers, treats its workers, treats its owners, and behaves in general is political. The very fact that we have a system structured to allow companies to generate revenue in an agreed-upon set of monetary exchange and investment is political.

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22:09 Feb-13-2020

Out of all the things you mentioned, the only thing that is even remotely related to politics it is revenue since taxes are a thing.


Revenue share, and treatment of workers/owners is non-political, that is more about moral responsibility.
It only becomes political when the government gets involved.


Politics is about government and law.

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23:08 Feb-13-2020

"Government and law" is one definition of many. And even with that narrow definition, it still underpins everything about how society is structured. Just glancing at the history of movements for worker and minority rights reveals how political that setup is. Taxation and revenue share is political due to the actual structure of companies which is defined by... you guessed it, government and law.

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23:08 Feb-13-2020

Let's just say the workers don't own the means of production in our system.


Framing the rest as "non-political" "moral responsibility" detaches the HUGE political history effused into the existence of these structures. It's an extremely politically capitalist perspective to frame it that way because it removes agency from government and law onto the freedoms of those with corporate power.

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23:09 Feb-13-2020

This is similar to the argument that there should be no welfare state, only charities i.e. "we can't improve the system, people should just be more generous". It does a huge disservice to the long history of workers fighting for the rights that exist in employment law today. Having said that these were just a few examples.

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23:09 Feb-13-2020

Also I'm still confused about what you meant by you opposing IRL politics into a game's contents but still thinking it's fine as part of the story/plot. All politics in story/plot is analogous to IRL political structures or ideologies. E.g. Bioshock is heavily political and pretty bluntly a critique of extreme libertarianism. Do you oppose that? Sorry for spam, my character limit is low :)

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18:54 Feb-13-2020

Now how you feel about those politics is another matter. But what I see is people complaining because those normalised political structures are being questioned. And that critique is what is seen as "political". Never question. Never critique. That is the dominating intellectual thread of this complaint.

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16:22 Feb-13-2020

'Which is all well and good for a man with twice the wealth of Donald Trump to say, particularly with his Tencent investment that ensures Epic Games will surely do anything it can to not step on China's toes.'


Oof, right in the jugular. Sweeney must surely be impartial on the question of politics as a massive multi-billionaire with financial links to dodgy political regimes, huh?

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14:34 Feb-13-2020

I don't think Swooney means that the idea of "politics" as in, debates between policies, governance, opposing ideas, power etc. should be removed from games entirely, but more like nowadays topics like the complete embarrassment American (and not only) politics are, in which delusional people are brainwashed to identify with the extremes and consider any opposing idea irrational.


As with any political topic, journalists seem to unsurprisingly take the same stance across the industry, with the usual double standard of course. They jump to criticize any game which dares highlight a part of the politics they don't like, like the "colonialist Greedfall" or "racist Kingdom Come" and praise stereotypical junk like multiple scenes in Life is Strange 2 as "pro social".


Same old story unfortunately, however Swooney is still an unbearable hypocrite to me.

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13:45 Feb-13-2020

OMG, now it comes to their minds. Politics shouldn't be in anything, it's cancerous.

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13:48 Feb-13-2020

Politics is a part of life and games are based off life :P .

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13:14 Feb-13-2020

Is it me, or is Tim Sweeney envisions himself as the Steve Jobs of gaming?

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13:16 Feb-13-2020

I think he envisions himself as the cock of the walk but he's more like the tip of the penis

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08:21 Feb-14-2020

Is it a Tactician? If it is, sometimes they get stuck in the back and you never know where will they end up.

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13:24 Feb-13-2020

The lord and Jesus of the video gaming industry

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