Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney is one of the biggest names in video games these days, thanks to the seemingly unstoppable success of Fortnite. And with the spotlight on him as the keynote speaker at the annual DICE Summit, (as recapped by The Hollywood Reporter, VentureBeat, and others) Sweeney gave his thoughts on the overall video game industry — including his view that gaming companies as platforms need to “divorce ourselves from politics.”
As Sweeney elaborated later on Twitter, his argument isn’t that games should avoid politics at all, but rather to say that games that tackle politics should do so from a creative perspective, rather than a marketing one. And that game platforms themselves should be “operating as neutral venues for entertainment and employees, customers — everybody else can hold their own views and not be judged by us for that.”
Sweeney’s speech also touched on a wide variety of hot button issues in the gaming world right now, including marketing tie-ins (“If you have an awesome new product, you start releasing free stuff in games and people get [engaged with it]”), loot boxes (“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?”), cross-platform games (“What we all really want and need to accept is equal access to all customers and give up our attempts to create our own private wall guard or private monopoly”), and privacy (blaming Google and Facebook for offering free services that customers pay for with a “loss of privacy and loss of freedom”).
Games can be political, but game companies should not
But the most contentious issues Sweeney touched on were his comments that “we should get the marketing departments out of politics,” he said. “We live in a world where your political affiliation determines what chicken restaurant you go to. There’s no reason to drag divisive topics like that into gaming.”
It’s all a bit confusing, though, given that Sweeney would go on to say that game companies should be politically neutral. “We need to create a very clear separation between church and state… employees, customers and everyone else should be able to express themselves,” said Sweeney. “We as companies need to divorce ourselves from politics… platforms should be neutral.”
It’s unclear how Sweeney’s view that creatives be allowed to make political games but that game companies — that publish and distribute those games — be politically neutral are meant to gel, but that level of neutrality does fit in line with Epic’s past history when it comes to political issues.
“Epic supports everyone’s right to express their views on politics and human rights. We wouldn’t ban or punish a Fortnite player or content creator for speaking on these topics,” an Epic Games spokesperson told The Verge last year, in the wake of Blizzard’s ban of a Hearthstone player after he voiced support for protestors in Hong Kong in a post-game interview.
It’s a careful line: Epic says that it supports players and content creators in speaking out, but won’t go as far as to actually stand up for any particular issue — after all, that might alienate people of a particular political or social view, and offended people are less likely to buy games. One only need look at fellow game company Ubisoft for an example, with the company’s constant insistence that its very political games aren’t actually political at all.