Sep 07th 2017

Do memorials belong in video games?

Warner Bros. has come under fire recently. They have been making a lot of questionable changes to Middle-Earth: Shadows of War as it has gotten closer and closer to release. Now people are calling into question whether they are trying to profit off of the death of someone on the development team. Warner Bros. has come out and outright denied that though.

Last year Michael Forgey, part of the development team for Shadow of War, died from cancer. He was apparently much beloved at Monolith, and they created a character based off of him for Shadow of War to honor his memory. This character is named Forthog Orc-Slayer and will randomly show up in the game to help out the player when they're struggling in a fight. However, this character doesn't come with the base game, and to get them you'll have to buy him as $5 DLC. This is where the problem begins.
The DLC may cost money, but Warner Bros. has assured people that $3.50 of every sale will be donated to Forgey's family until December 31st 2019. This itself ruffled some feathers, but many people were willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. After all, Steam, the Playstation store, and the Microsoft store would all be taking a cut of those profits, so maybe that along with taxes would bring it down to $3.50. Well, then you read the fine print. 

This didn't look good for Warner Bros. and Monolith. It certainly appeared like there was something fishy going on. After all, this game was releasing in a lot more places than just the U.S., and even six states within there were excluded from them making donations. People wanted to know, why? What was going on. Was it because of stricter charity laws in those states, or some other reason? What about international purchases? Well, Warner Bros. did not really satisfy those questions. Their response was, "Neither WBIE nor Monolith will profit from any sales of the Forthog Orc-Slayer DLC regardless of the territory in which that DLC is sold." 

This response has been parroted throughout their social media whenever this question is brought up. Word for word it is repeated from the script, almost as if there is a legal reason for the word choice. Anyway, it's sad to see something meant to honor someone who passed away turn into a fiasco like this. It also isn't unprecedented for games to honor people. In Star Wars Galaxies, the lead gameplay designer committed suicide, and to honor him they created the Freeman memorial made up of a small statue and plaque that said, "The Freeman, gone but not forgotten. Thank you for all your works of wonder. You will be missed." Another example is from Mech Warrior Online. A 5 year old girl played who played the game with her father died from cancer. So, working with the family, the team created a custom mech called Sarah's Jenner, and sold it to players for a limited time. However, 100% of the proceeds went straight to the Canadian Cancer society and so no one questioned their motives in the slightest.

I sincerely doubt that the team who worked so closely with Michael Forgey had anything but good intentions when they created Forthog Orc-Slayer. It is also unlikely that Warner Bros. is trying to profit off of this, but it certainly doesn't look good for the big company. Video games are no stranger to creating memorials for people who have passed away. They have also done it in many different ways, so Warner Bros. had a fair amount of things they could have looked to for ideas on how to go about this. The idea was nice, it's the execution that needed some work. Now, if you would like to help Michael Forgey's family directly, they have a donation page set up here