Dear Mr. Appleton,
I do not know if this will ever reach you, but I'm hoping that, by writing this, I can at least close the book on Greed Monger properly in my mind.
I've been writing professionally about video games on and off since 2006. In that time, I've seen all manner of things online. Whether it be the Jack Thompson saga, the Activision-Blizzard merger, the Electronic Arts hatred, or the growing discontent with DRM and always-online initiatives, I've seen all manner of gamers provide both stunningly well-written opinions of dissent and hurtful statements of disapproval.
Greed Monger is in an unenviable position at the moment. As a game in development, not a lot of people know its status, and you've been taken to task for how you've handled criticism pertaining to either your game-in-development or yourself.
Perhaps you feel justified in the things you've done to protect your good name. This letter I'm writing, however is my attempt to serve as your devil's advocate. Simply put, I do not think you understand how the social webs online are designed, and you have to adapt your thinking to the situation or face the eventual criticism towards your game becoming abject apathy towards it.
The January Situation
In case you feel I do not understand the situation at all, allow me to present an abridged timeline of when the issues reached a startling point in the MMORPG.com community.
Prior to January 16, a number of people had taken you to task on the status of Greed Monger as a game. Some of them may have had valid concerns as Kickstarter backers. On January 16, an MMORPG.com forumgoer by the name of Taus01 supposedly received a message from you, which he then made public. The premise of that message would look like a thinly-veiled threat to anyone else, though I myself do not know if you see that.
As the controversy heated up, MMORPG.com posted an interview with you on January 21, where you seemed dismissive of dissenting opinions, and assumed that everyone had “a grudge, or an agenda of some kind.” You also went on to dismiss forumgoers in the very next line of that interview, saying that because they are on an online forum, “they can enjoy the anonymity of such a setting and never have to be accountable for anything they say regardless of how untrue or slanderous it may be and nothing is to stop them from throwing a bunch of rubbish at a wall and hope something sticks.”
What is unfortunate in this case, is that what has stuck onto the minds of people who have any inkling of Greed Monger's existence are your words, and you are being held accountable for them.
Words Have Power
In your interview with MMORPG.com, you also said the following:
My reputation in any industry is important to me. The success I've found in MMA and the music business both stem from me being brutally honest, aggressive and maintaining certain integrity. People know where they stand with me and know I mean what I say. Many with nothing to hide or fear found that refreshing and it helped me establish many relationships. When you go from dealing with men trained to bust people up to dealing with anonymous forum warriors, it's a totally different arena I'm still not used to.
There is a certain truth to what you said, and it was, sadly, one of those unfortunate realizations you put on the Internet that you ignored prior to saying it and immediately after you said it. I can see from that statement above that you do comprehend a fundamental difference between communication in the physical world and in the online world. You do not, however, seem to see the importance of that fundamental difference and have not applied it to any lasting effect other than to your detriment.
On the Internet, words have power. While it is commonplace to see lies and truth intermingling on the Internet, the words one says here will inevitably have repercussions in the physical world. It is as much a real-world construct as an MMA ring, and if you do not respect the Internet as much as the fighting ring, you will likely receive lasting damage of a different sort or get trampled on by everyone else who exists in this ring.
To put it in the context of mixed martial arts, everyone on the Internet who engages in discussions or arguments is engaging in verbal jiu-jitsu. They have latched onto each other's words and are engaging in a battle of wits. Some people may simply use facts and figures, while trolls will try tricky deflections. Some may come out jabbing and punching, while the most accomplished players in the ring know best: they will simply let you beat yourself into submission with your own rage.
Forumgoers intrinsically understand how to use these maneuvers to engage people in discussion and debate. You simply stepped into the ring looking to win arguments by using threats of litigation to stop people from engaging in discussion. If you've not noticed yet, I killed the metaphor. Despite whatever metaphors one makes, the Internet is not an MMA ring.
Early this April, people noticed that Greed Monger had disappeared from the roster of games on MMORPG. Bill Murphy went into the forums to explain why, and he wrote,
He emailed me directly and asked us to remove the negative posts about the game. He also hinted at taking legal action if we didn't remove the posts of our users, and we decided we didn't need a baseless lawsuit.
If you want to blame someone for the removal of the game listing and forums, blame Jason Appleton. But when someone threatens us with legal action, we can either a.) ignore it or b.) react with what we think is appropriate. In Greed Monger's case, it's probably just better to igore (sic) its existence as a website.
I wish the Greed Monger devs well, but I'm not too thrilled with how they handled the negativity our forum users tossed their way. If they can't take the criticism and claims of trolls, they're in for a rude awakening in this industry.
Maybe one day we'll re-add the game to our list, but that depends on whether or not our users are allowed to post about it without the site being under threat of legal recourse.
Mr. Appleton, if you haven't realized yet, this was your doing. Because you did not respect how the Internet works. Because you did not treat others with respect, even if you didn't think they were deserving of it. Because you tried to deny others the power of their words with threats. As you said yourself, “arguing with someone with an agenda serves nobody but them.” Your agenda was to preserve your dignity and the honor of your game at any cost.
The cost, as such, was that the editor denied you the power to be recognized as an entity, and wished you well in your travels. Rather than be brought to legal recourse, it seems my editor decided to simply walk away from a fight that wasn't worth it.
The Final Words
I did not back your Kickstarter. I have no vested interest in either your failure or success. I simply want you to realize that, from one human being to another, I care enough about you and your struggles to develop a game. I wrote this so that you can better yourself, not just as a person on the Internet, but as a person in general. So you could see that, even if I am a stranger on the Internet, I have power enough to remind you that every person you interact with on the Internet is real, and is a person as well, deserving of respect and a thoughtful, honest discussion.
The final words I have for you are simple, and they are sincere: I wish you well.
Victor Barreiro Jr. / Victor Barreiro Jr. maintains The Devil’s Advocate and The Secret World columns for MMORPG.com. He also writes for news website Rappler as a technology reporter. You can find more of his writings on Games and Geekery and on Twitter at @vbarreirojr.