Microtransactions, false advertising, or the firing of a beloved developer are usually the main reasons gamers boycott on a publisher. These are just reasons, and consumers should always remember that how they spend their money is how they vote on these subjects, but they are something relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of life. Or at least they are when compared to a company supporting a police state that is demonizing protesters that want freedom from the self-admitted dictatorship. That situation with Hong Kong and China is what led to the recent #BoycottBlizard protest that saw people on Twitter uninstalling every Activision Blizzard title from their gaming systems. However, that outrage dissipated during BlizzCon 2019 as the internet was fawning over Overwatch 2 and Diablo 4, showing that gamer outrage doesn’t always stick when tested.
Rather than people ignoring the games that they said they wouldn’t buy just less than a month prior, they were talking about how cute one of the unnamed characters in the Overwatch 2 was, how excited they are for Diablo 4, and how dope the World of Warcraft: Shadowlands expansion looks. It’s never a surprise when boycotts wind up meaning nothing as not supporting a developer usually equates to players not buying a game from them until they make something that does appeal to them. As someone that doesn’t care for Blizzard’s games, it would be easy for myself to boycott Blizzard and take the moral high ground, but that would be disingenuous as I wouldn’t have bought their titles in the first place. So, these sort of boycotts live and die with the consumers that are actually interested as it is them that can make an actual difference.
Because boycotts can sometimes be flimsy, faux-declarative rally cries, the almighty dollar is the best way to show your actual outrage, and if BlizzCon’s announcements equated to crickets on social media then players would be showing that they really do stand with Hong Kong. That’s not to say that people that previously tweeted their support and joined in the #BoycottBlizzard moment were doing so disingenuously, though. It’s very likely that they do wish to support the protesters and wish Blizzard would do a better job as a company. After all, while what they do on the business side doesn’t represent their employee’s creations, it is being supported by players that continue to give them money and interest. It is possible for some to damn the executives at Blizzard for their extremely jumbled PR response to the Blitzchung controversy and praise the teams for their creative games. And not everyone who criticized Blizzard was calling for a boycott.
If you’re really outraged, then keep that same energy
But here’s the thing: if you really do want to stick to your guns and not have your tweets be a bunch of empty smoke that is ultimately meaningless then you have to follow through with the boycott. Yes, Overwatch will continue to have cool-looking characters, Blizzard’s games will still be of a high quality, and Diablo 4 will probably rule since the action RPG has always received critical acclaim.
However, that doesn’t matter. If you truly believe in something, and in this case it’s supporting the people of Hong Kong, then you have to be willing to give up something you’d enjoy. The bright side is that there are hundreds of great games coming out every year that don’t support China’s government, so it’s not like you don’t have other options for your entertainment. If you can’t give up these wholly selfish desires then that ultimately falls on your lack of resolve. As the kids say, your tweets were all cap and had nothing to back them up.
Now, it’s not fair to expect every gamer and journalist to be an activist. In fact, it’s the opposite as most people just view gaming as entertainment and want something fun to escape the real world for a few hours. If that’s you, then that’s fine and I won’t judge you for simply looking for escapism. The Hong Kong protests had been going on for months prior to the Blizzard situation and I had barely heard any support for them during that time. Once it was trendy and affecting games, though, then everyone was coming out in support.
On one hand, it is heartwarming to see the gaming community come together in support of people in need. But people are also using this situation to grow their own personal brand and essentially profit off of it as their brief support will get them retweets and adulation even if they don’t bother to keep up with the situation less than a month later. Without fail, some new controversy will come up and people can just give their thoughts on that instead. No accountability is ever needed in a world full of hot takes.
So, are you going to buy these games or not?
Blizzard isn’t asking players to buy anything yet, which is in its favor. Of the recent announcements, World of Warcraft: Shadowlands is the one nearest to release and it isn’t coming out until next year. By the time that Overwatch 2 and Diablo 4 release, most people will barely even remember the controversy that happened more than a year prior. After all, if people’s short-term memory was so bad that they couldn’t remember they were supposed to dislike Blizzard when it made announcements, then it’ll be a non-issue when these games actually release.
It’s not to say everyone is going back on a word they may or may not have made on Reddit or Twitter. A few outlets put out pieces talking to BlizzCon protesters that were sticking to their guns, even after J. Allen Brack gave his questionable, vague apology in the opening ceremony. It’s more that the offense against Blizzard seemed to have been weakened when Overwatch 2 and its impressive suite of features and Diablo 4‘s fan-requested darkness took center stage. Boycotting is a relatively extreme action to take and it makes sense since companies only truly respond to money, but it just feels weak when such a small portion of the audience follows up with the same vigor it uses to damn Blizzard.
These announcements weren’t some master stroke of public relations by Blizzard like some have posited. It just underlines how ready some people when they speak of protests and boycotts. While they might truly believe in the hashtag that they spread, it doesn’t mean that they will sacrifice their own interests and entertainment for it. It’s just human nature as people are naturally selfish and it’s easy to put the people suffering in Hong Kong out of mind the minute Bastion shows up with a new hat.