Tuesday, May 4, 2021

What Really Happened To Vampire 5e, Chapter One: Olivia Hill



Note up top: A lot of people are asking about the case against Gen Con--the next step is we file a motion, then a notce within 30 days of that response, then it's in appellate court for a year, probably a year and a half. So: it'll be a loooong time before it's over.


Starting In The Middle

So this is the story of what happened on Vampire 5th edition behind the scenes. It'll be a series of posts, because it's complicated.

I'm going to screw up right from the start by putting two incidents from the middle of the story first, because they contain a moral of the story and I don't want that to get lost in all the details to come.

So:

  • First: sometime in the middle of all the trouble that Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition roll-out had, a bunch of Vampire fans did something that only haters had done before (or since): they organized. They put together and circulated a petition of support  (impressive and rare in the online RPG scene) that said that these haters were not making sense, that fans stood behind the designers, that this harassment would not be tolerated, that the new edition was exciting, all that good stuff. At least 2000 people signed it, which is far more than had liked, shared or encouraged the hatemob attacks on the game (600ish on the most popular hatepost I could find).
  • Second: sales of the game were...fine. There was no great wave of boycotting or backlash among actual consumers.

The net effect of these two facts on the parent company's upcoming decision to dump the game was: nothing. These things didn't help the game or the creators at all in any way, the game still got cut loose, people got fired, careers got torpedoed, etc.

The designers working on the project included Mark Rein-Hagen and Kenneth Hite, by no-means small fish as far as name-recognition goes. The designers who lead the charge to destroy the game--on the other hand--were folks who are visibly glowing on social media if they sell 500 copies of a game. I point this out just to establish that the power equation here isn't as simple as you might think: Mark Rein-Hagen and Kenneth Hite only have followers who buy things, whereas the haters have followers who do things. 

Are you sitting there thinking you're an anonymous disengaged nobody so what you do doesn't matter? Well, you're wrong--this story has names in it but is largely a story about what a bunch of anonymous people did. If name-recognition and a platform mattered, Mark Rein-Hagen and Kenneth Hite could've ended this in seconds--hell, Paradox--the video game company that owned White Wolf--could've ended it. But that's not how it works.

Going and buying a game and signing a petition full of positive platitudes are both things fans are comfortable doing.  Vampire fans did them and it didn't help at all. Haters are comfortable with doing way more: they name names, they go to the forums where narratives are being written and interrupt the story being told with their own story, they bring things up over and over and over, even when no-one asked, and most of all: they work together "When I do this, you do that" etc.. And normal people, even normal gamers if there is such a thing--people who just want to play a game--don't do any of that. They see drama and, at best, ignore it, or, worse, buy into the idea that all drama is equal and equally bad.

And remember the sales figures, games have gone on to be supported and become IP farms on far less--voting with your wallet alone doesn't work when the creators of what you're buying are told "You are risking trashing your Google results and professional reputation forever if you take on this new project" and the company itself doesn't want its reputation associated with that. Self-publishing doesn't solve this: The kinds of accusations made against Vampire authors don't just destroy someone's career or chance of being published but can (and in some cases has) harm literally every part of the lives of the people involved. If every time someone Googles you it says you committed crimes against humanity, it affects your entire life.

A petition or a statement from anyone which does not name the specific people responsible for the problems it is trying to overcome does nothing at all. 

If you ever want to hear any story about the RPG industry other than the one I'm about to tell: you, the fans, have to do something different than what you are doing now. You can easily fact-check haters without trolling, harassing or hurting anyone, but most of you can't do it while staying in your comfort zone. You have to be as persistent and dedicated to telling the truth and making things better as they are at lying and making things worse.

It's not that you're a terrible person if you don't--it just means the things you like aren't going to get made ever again.

Disclaimer 1


I am jumping the gun on this: I wanted to wait until later this year, when certain legal things would have had time to happen and I'd be able to provide even more evidence to back up what I'm saying. But Onyx Path authors Olivia Hill and Filamena Young being exposed as abusers (and not yet having suffered any real consequences I can see) has made it seem necessary that I do this early. If you still don't believe my story after reading all of it, come back around Christmas, see what I've got to say then, and feel free to rub my nose in this paragraph.



Disclaimer 2


It’s popular in these kinds of posts to disguise the writer’s intention under a layer of objective-sounding language—as if the author is just the Star Trek computer voice “The Alpha Quadrant is populated by a race of three-eyed tree bastards…” etc. I am not going to do that. This story is outright an attempt to persuade. Straight up. I am still under a non-disparagement clause with White Wolf (the company that makes Vampire: The Masquerade) and I plan to respect that, which is easy since this isn’t about them fucking up, this is about what some bad people did to White Wolf. When it matters, I have obscured the names of the innocent (and deadnames) but not the guilty.


I am also going to say something most reporters can't say: I am in the middle of suing people right now. If a single word of what I'm saying isn't accurate, I just volunteered, for free, to ruin my own case by writing this.



The Biggest Success In The History Of RPG Hatemobbing


It’s 2021, and there’s Critical Role and there’s Stranger Things and it’s been seven years since the 5th edition of D&D came out and, weirdly, no other RPG has managed to ride its coattails. There’s been no matching revival of Shadowrun, RIFTS, or Vampire, no new game or anything near close. 


There were two kinds of conventional wisdom on the 2018 5th edition of Vampire: one is that it committed a wide variety of terrible social justice crimes, the other—and the one, as far as I can see, that seems to have stuck around longer—is that it was solid in many ways, but it failed to generate any enthusiasm. It was...fine. It isn’t setting the world on fire, the company isn’t rushing to support, promote, or expand it. If you want to try playing Vampire again but with some tighter rules and the next generation of lore, well it’s there. People involved appear to have moved on to other things.


Did something happen? Yes.


This is the story of a group of bad internet people who, after many minor successes hurting innocent designers' careers, finally managed to take down a whole game. The biggest piece of RPG intellectual property of the 1990s was making a big push to get revived and got shot in the head, by people who are, by-and-large, now discredited and what’s more, had no idea they were even doing it.


And they and all their friends are still out there—and they keep doing the same stuff, and they will keep doing it to any game that isn’t too corporate to care or from a country so far away it hasn’t yet been swallowed by the toxic dynamics of the english-language RPG discourse.


This is the story of the biggest success in the history of online RPG hatemobbing. It's why, if nothing changes, games are basically fucked.



The Beginning


On October 29th, 2015 it was announced that Paradox Interactive had purchased White Wolf. This was big news in the tabletop RPG scene, especially since not much had been done with the White Wolf properties in recent years. White Wolf had ruled the roost in the '90s with Vampire, then Werewolf: The Apocalypse, then games named after every other monster (under the collective aegis World of Darkness), then it faded away as fans moved on and the property was all sublicensed out in various directions, with none of these descendants making too many waves.




I'm Hired


Since I'd just had a successful vampire-themed game out in the form of Red & Pleasant Land and that games was fresh off winning a bunch of awards, I decided to do the kind of thing you do five times a month as an independent artist just in case it works out: I asked Paradox to hire me. When I went over to their site they actually had a little box saying something like “Do you have an idea for a video game? Tell us and if we like your idea we’ll be in touch!” So I wrote in the little box that I had no video game ideas, but they should let me work on the new edition of Vampire.


To my complete shock, I got an email back:


Nice!


I have meetings, first over skype or hangouts and then the bosses fly over from Sweden and we meet up in a few places, including one long meeting at an airbnb with a very nice view in Hollywood.  There was a mixed crew of American RPG industry veterans and the new and very excited Swedes whom Paradox had put in charge of the new White Wolf. 


The Swedes' reality was: they worked for a video game company and they'd loved RPGs. Then one day the company said "Alright, you're now in charge of this game you love". They were LARPers, I wasn't, they told me I would have to LARP and they told me that would be great, trust them.


First, they wanted me to do a video game--a mobile game, specifically "like a choose-your-own adventure" they said. I think the idea was just to get something out there and put Paradox's stamp on the IP before digging in to the harder work like the tabletop game and, ultimately, a big, juicy AAA video game. On my end: The price was right and there were medical bills to pay.


I said ok, but y'all should know before you hire me that there are horrible people who used to work at White Wolf who hate me and hang out on RPGnet, like Olivia Hill and...


I might as well have been telling them the sky was blue.



Conventional Wisdom Among Those Approximately As Or More Famous Than Robin Laws


Since you are all reading a blog full of inside-baseball on the RPG industry I assume you all know who Robin Laws is. You could probably name a handful of mainstream game designers who are well-known on the level of Robin Laws or better-known, and they are all roughly of Laws’ generation. I have never spoken to Robin Laws--I have, however, despite not being very in with the mainstream of the game industry, spoken to everyone else in that usually bespectacled, generally bearded, largely hawaiian-shirted, handful--at least a little bit.


Literally every single one of them has heard of White Wolf writer Olivia Hill and said bad things about her. She is known, in private, by the creators at the highest level of the industry as a bad person. (They said all this, I should note, long before she transitioned so this can't be blamed on misogyny or transphobia.)


The indie RPG scene likes to think they have a whisper network sharing vital information about toxic people—they don't. They have a yelling network. They by-and-large have so little self-control and information discipline that they repeatedly and openly complain about each other in public even when they think they’re being slick. If you notice them doing this they say you’re “stalking” them—rather than, like, reading their completely public statements that they are too stupid or too Extremely Online to understand are out where their victims can see them.


The successful full-time professionals in the scene, on the other hand—while still being confrontation-averse nerds like their indie colleagues—have figured out the vital professional skill of using DMs instead of @s. So their whisper network is genuinely made of whispers. And they are whispering that Olivia Hill is a missing stair--a real missing stair, not someone who everyone on Twitter talks about and hates-on, but rather a genuine monster that seems ok and safe to those not "in the know". 


For example and for background here's a screenshot from a conversation with a whole other well-known creator--one not associated with White Wolf, while we're talking about a whole other thing years earlier...




These aren't conversations between me and my indie RPG blogger friends, these are industry old-timers who never talk like this in public.  These are people I barely know, even in the parasocial online sense.


Bring up Olivia Hill around them and they go “Oh, yeah, horrible”.  It’s an open secret that Olivia is both willing and able to incite real harassment against almost anyone and that she doesn’t sort truth from fiction. 


But, again, it's private--“If you’re a major industry professional you don’t go around calling out shitty colleagues lower down the totem pole” might sound like both good praxis to avoid punching down and, moreover, serious careerist self-preservation advice but it also has allowed the rockstar designers of the 90s and early 00s to kind stay where they are, unchallenged, while they watch people who they know are problems devour the up-and-coming designers.


It’s worked: aside from Vincent Baker, who still hasn’t gotten hired to work on any of the blue-chip IP in the industry that I know of, nobody since the beginning of the online era has broken through to the professional level Laws and company are on. That's a little weird--that it's 2021 and we still don't have anyone recognized and accepted all over the mainstream the way Laws and his generation were.


Maybe they like it that way, maybe they feel bad for the rest of us, I don’t know. What I do know is: they do not have nice things to say about Olivia Hill.



The New White Wolf


The new White Wolf's creative remit was that the World of Darkness was going to have as much of the real world in it as possible. And not just the same old goth aesthetics, but broad, diverse, international. Full-spectrum worldwide personal horror. This all sounded good to me.


The new White Wolf's main issue with Olivia Hill was: they just didn't like her work.


Them: Ugh! Have you seen the new (something I hadn't read that Olivia worked on)

Zak: No.

Them: It's just...all this fantasy stuff and I'm thinking 'Why is this in a horror game? This isn't horror!


I had no opinion on this take, I'd never read Olivia's work. This isn't meant as a dismissal of it--I read work by people who I do not like all the time. I just never had any particular call in her case, no shade on the work.


However, I was happy to hear Olivia wouldn't be on the project because she is, actually, horrible.



I Attempt To Convince You Olivia Hill Is Horrible and Dishonest


If you already know Olivia Hill is a bad person, you can skip this section and wait until the next blog entry for chapter two--which is not about Olivia Hill. But for all of what follows to make any sense, you need to understand it's not just me talking here: she's actually bad.


If you don't already know about Olivia, here's a short list of things she did--you can stop reading and wait for the next chapter when you hit the one that makes you, personally, understand that Olivia's bad news:


-The first thing I'm aware Olivia and her wife, Filamena, ever did was decide Cosplay Deviants shouldn't be at GenCon. 

Now, being a porn performer whose friends are mostly porn people or porn-adjacent, this, no joke, makes her Mike Pence-level bad on the spot with no further discussion. If I was trying to prove she was bad and anyone I know in LA wasn't sure I'd just tell them she had an issue with Cosplay Deviants--not with how they run their business or with any specific thing they did, just them existing at the con--and we'd just hit the airlock button. But I accept some of y'all need more, so...

-The reasons they gave were a horrible mix of "think of the children" and SWERF-logic

Here's the link to the whole story with receipts. They did the whole "I have nothing against  ___(kind of person)___ I love ___(kind of person)___ I just think they shouldn't do their job near me because it makes me less safe. Proof? I have no proof. I just feel it."

-They kept at it for years.

Is that enough to convince you Olivia's bad? No?

-Later that year, Filamena said the D&D With Porn Stars crew appearing in Maxim Magazine hurt women in games 

This was the first time I ever talked to her or heard of her.

-Filamena gave no proof and lied a lot

This is kind of a whole tangent from the story about White Wolf, but it made Filamena (and later Olivia) hate me specifically--which matters later in the story--but if you want documentation and details and to go into all the fucked-up claims she made that's here.

-For years Olivia claimed Star Wars was a right-wing conspiracy despite never having seen Star Wars 

-When I wrote an essay about how that was a very good example of bad criticism (here) her friends lied about it and said I "harassed her for not liking Star Wars". 
She didn't call them out for lying...

...when they said that even though, objectively, she must've known it wasn't true because she read the essay.

(-Nevertheless, she likes Gundam a lot...

but that's different, apparently, for reasons you'd know if you watched Gundam. Because apparently to know why one space wartoy franchise means something different than the other you have to watch it. )

Still not convinced? Does this all sound petty?

-A few weeks ago Olivia's girlfriend accused Filamena and Olivia of being abusers





-They aren't apologizing, despite having spent years spreading stories of their colleagues being abusers based on way less evidence.


-If you're now convinced Olivia Hill is a bad person--great!


Come back tomorrow for the next episode, which will be about other things.


-If you're not because you don't believe the evidence: leave a comment.


If you tell me any part of this doesn't seem right to you, I will do my best to get you any documentation you need.


-If you're not because none of this seems bad: keep reading!


She lies about threats against her kids later!


-If that isn't bad enough: ask for more.


There's more. So much more.


-If you know other reasons Olivia Hill is bad: leave them in the comments.


I didn't list them all for the sake of keeping this readable.


Otherwise, stay tuned next time for: Video games, New Orleans, Kenneth Hite, Bailey Jay, Stockholm and the threeway conception of Vampire 5e

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16 comments:

trentb said...

bated breath.

David Parkinson said...

Yay! You did it! Now, run it into the end zone (and apologies for the bad football reference, I'm not American)

Simon Tsevelev said...

"-For years Olivia claimed Star Wars was a right-wing conspiracy despite never having seen Star Wars"

- and publicly acknowledged having never seen Star Wars. I'd mention that, too. Back to reading.

Benjamin Cusack said...

So a viable solution to producing work in the RPG industry might be to self publish/provide your own funding?
This seems to somewhat stem from when people make it their job, and not a hobby, so how do we protect the people who rely on it?
only independents, true independents will always have things going on, and big business will pick up things when they are safe, neither changes.
So the new and changing and treacherous are the middle strata, the "indie" kickstarter and self publishing with crowdfunding and patreons and ko-fi and twitter and deviantart and youtube channels and vlogs and blogs and SOCIAL MEDIA PRESENCE.
The use of social media as an energy source has proved to be more than capable of catapulting things up, but in the same sense has proven a way to shoot things down, and the safeguards are simply not in place.
It is just too fragile.
Would love to hear thoughts from people. This is all more complex than I can claim to understand yet, because I have not been participating for years, but as someone who WILL be writing things and releasing them, I want to understand how to move and shake without getting harpooned by a frothing cesspool of madness.
Should I avoid social media, and if so, all of it?
Should I entrench myself in it, and draw strength like the people that would chop me down just to count my rings?
Jeez, this is so complex, and I am excited to read more and garner more knowledge and insight into such a complex problem and the causes that led to it.
Thank you Zak, for always prefacing things you write about people by saying that you understand how your words could be used against you, this demonstrates a level of courage and honesty few achieve nowadays. I hope this leads to good results or some shift, and also hope all the other fronts you are trying to push also move the way they should.

Zak Sabbath said...

@Benjamin Cusack

Self-publishing addresses only one part of the problem.

Let's say you are targeted, Benjamin Cusack.

Then you self-publish:

-You've solved the problem of "How does Benjamin Cusack make sure someone can buy a Benjamin Cusack book"

-You've totally failed to solve the problem of "Every time someone googles Benjamin Cusack they see 'Benjamin Cusack killed an Inuit family of 4 and ate them but only after molesting them and their dog"--which will destroy not just your career (small potatoes, really) but every other part of your life.

The solution is easy to describe and it's right there in the first section:

"
...you, the fans, have to do something different than what you are doing now. You can easily fact-check haters without trolling, harassing or hurting anyone, but most of you can't do it while staying in your comfort zone. You have to be as persistent and dedicated to telling the truth and making things better as they are at lying and making things worse.
"

Zak Sabbath said...

@GRIM

erased. no gamergaters in my comments

Simon Tsevelev said...

I have a question, one I don't like. Was there any precedent of people being persistent and dedicated to telling the truth and making things better that actually prevailed over the haters?

Zak Sabbath said...

@Simon Tsevelev

The OSR 2011-Sept 27, 2017.

ZCW said...

what happened on september 27 2017

Zak Sabbath said...

@ZCW

Patrick Stuart joined the hatemob.

I take some responsibility: I was stupid to promote his work, especially after the time he literally said he couldn't handle conflict and so no disagreement was allowed in his comments. That's not a reliable, thoughtful person.

But anyway, once Patrick went pro-hatemob, a lot of people had cover to go with him because of his status in the OSR, and it was just a matter of time before it all fell apart.

ZCW said...

you're being a bit dramatic zak

Zak Sabbath said...

@ZCW

I disagree. Say why you think that.

ZCW said...

the osr didnt lose honesty and accountability overnight and it didnt start with that post

Zak Sabbath said...

@ZCW

I'd say it was a landmark on the path or a dramatic dip in the downward path.

Like if you think of 2011-2014 on one side, with Contessa being founded, edition warriors disappearing off the scene, story gamers losing their presumed stranglehold on the awards and the moral and intellectual high ground and on the other side you think of the current situation where the Troika Trolls can pretty much harass anyone they want off social media, the OSR discord has no rule against lying and the idea of asking someone to not lie is considered at best rude and at worst harassment then Patrick joining the hatemob was the moment when a lot of people went from "I want to be able to lie but I dont' want to say that in public" to "Fuck it, lying is fine"

Zak Sabbath said...

@GRIM

Erased. Misinformation is not allowed in the comments.

If you believe your misinformation is not misinformation, leaving more random comments won't help--send an email to zakzsmith AT hawtmayle, state your case, and engage like a grown-up.

Dee Arr Cee said...

Thank you for all the hard work on this, Zak. This whole time I had thought that Hill and Young's beef with you started over you calling Hill out for criticizing Star Wars without having seen it. I was largely unaware of Young's role in all this. The nerve of her to treat your D&D group and the Cosplay Deviants the way she did while trying to claim the moral high ground is so infuriating, not to mention her presuming to speak for all women in the rpg scene and her implication that said women are all unattractive. I'm sure that despite everything that she's done, she still thinks of herself as pro-sex worker rather than swerf. Unbelievable.