It seems that, in recent times, us gamers can’t go a week without starting some kind of controversy or tempest in a teapot. With the flames of Gamergate burning ever brighter, especially in light of alleged death threats, the last thing gamers needed was another schism. But that’s exactly what has been delivered unto us. If you weren’t already aware, this past week saw Mike Maulbeck, developer of Paranautical Activity and co-owner of Code Avarice, tweet death threats to Gabe Newell. Naturally, the people at Steam did not take too kindly to this threat and promptly cut all ties with his studio, removing their game and revoking Maulbeck’s developer license.
It turns out that Paranautical Activity had just launched that same day on Steam as a full release, however the storefront did not reflect this and still showed it as an Early Access release. Concerned with potentially lost revenue, Maulbeck saw only one course of action – to go nuclear.
Having come to the realisation of just how big a blunder he had made, Maulbeck then took to Twitter to explain his actions. Some of his followers even defended him, protesting that the whole thing had been overblown as the threat couldn’t possibly be construed as credible.
This isn’t the first time Maulbeck and his development partner, Travis Pfenning, have *ahem* ‘directed criticism’ towards Steam, either. Back in May 2013 the pair cried foul over Steam’s Greenlight rules, which prohibited them from bypassing their failing campaign by allowing Adult Swim Games to publish Paranautical Activity for them. Pfenning went further by suggesting that the massive power Steam wields was pushing indies out of the equation.
Steam isn’t the only company to fall foul of Maulbeck and Pfenning though. We (Critical Indie Gamer) also came under attack from the pair when we published our, less than stellar, early access Paranautical Activity review. Not content with our coverage, the pair directed their followers to visit the website, rate their game, and leave abusive messages – most of which were removed. Even the author of said review, highly respected A.I specialist, Luke Dicken, found himself subject to abuse via twitter from Maulbeck and his followers
You don’t have to be a faceless corporation or small gaming blog to be in Code Avarice’s crosshairs though; they’ll even take a pop at their own paying customers. A thread unearthed from the Steam forums, from May 2013, depicts both Maulbeck and Pfenning ridiculing and abusing a fan of the game who was having issues with its difficulty and some of their design choices. After branding the fan’s suggestions “fucking idiotic”, Maulbeck then stated that it is a “shame there isn’t a filter to hide people who don’t know jack about game design”.
Indeed, it seems that if you say something that either of the pair doesn’t like, you become a prime target for some pretty disgusting abuse.
Some of Mike’s followers have taken it upon themselves to make excuses for his outbursts, arguing that, at only 20 years old, he’s just a mixed up kid who doesn’t really grasp that his actions have consequences – and we’re inclined to agree with the latter half of that statement. As we have clearly demonstrated, Maulbeck has made it his “thing” to antagonise, belittle and threaten, without thought for any repercussions that may be visited upon him. And now it would seem that his uppence has come. With no presence on the Steam storefront Paranautical Activity’s sales will be considerably crippled, a sentiment echoed by Mike himself on Twitter.
So, what’s next for Code Avarice and Paranautical Activity? Looking to Twitter, it seemed that Maulbeck may have left the company, in a bid to help his partner get the game back on Steam. But in an apparent change of heart, he later resurfaced on the company website pleading with his followers to sign a petition to get his game back on Steam. In the comment section he appears to have learned nothing from his ordeal, with an account, purporting to be him, reprising the threat to kill Gabe Newell.
It remains to be seen whether Steam will let bygones be bygones and give Code Avarice another crack at the whip, but somehow we doubt it. And it seems that some fans of the game had seen this coming a long way off, with one concerned customer dishing out some sage advice to the studio back in july, regarding their conduct and public image.
This chapter in gaming marks another sorry entry in the history books. Toxic developers like Maulbeck give others a bad name, and make it that much more difficult for us to proudly describe ourselves as ‘gamers’ – especially in the midst of the Gamergate controversy. Removing Code Avarice from their storefront is a prudent move by Steam. Allowing them to continue trading would only send the message that this kind of behaviour will be tolerated. The bottom line here is, don’t bite the hand that feeds, respect your customers, and, if you are just an asshole, hire someone else to communicate with the public for you!
What are your thoughts? Do Code Avarice deserve a reprieve, or is Steam’s punishment justified? Leave your comments below.