This was inevitable. From the moment Jontron went on Twitch and began talking about politics – the writing was on the wall. For the popular Youtuber, it’s the latest controversy to land at his feet – and it’s arguably the most damaging. Playtonic quickly moved to separate themselves from the entire controversy and while some may decry this as a breakdown in freedom of speech, ultimately Playtonic have made the right decision. It’s just a shame it took them a long time to get to that decision.
For many of Jontron’s more hardened supporters, today’s news will likely cause them to bypass Yooka-Laylee entirely. For them, this will be the action of a video game studio that was only responding to mounting pressure. Instead of standing by their man, Playtonic have burned the bridges and arguably tarnished Jontron’s reputation further. If he wasn’t viewed as advertiser unfriendly before, today’s events will almost certainly bring that tag on.
It also brings Yooka-Laylee uncomfortably into a discussion that the talented team at Playtonic would probably rather avoid entirely. They’re crafting a game that’s aimed at all ages and races, deliberately being as broad as possible. At the end of the discussion, they only included Jontron as a means of trying to generate positive fan reaction. His Youtube videos in the past have focused on Banjo Kazooie and the impact they had on his gaming life. He loved that series of games, so why not bring him on board? It seemed like a great idea on paper.
Yet now that decision will almost certainly be the biggest regret hanging over the title as it marches towards release. Instead of bringing back a classic genre and relishing fan adulation, the discussion now centres over a man who couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Instead of talking about how great Yooka-Laylee is (or isn’t), the discussion several weeks ahead of launch is about a man who had nothing more than a background role in the title. It’s an unnecessary distraction for a game that was looking to be a clean break. So why make such a heavy decision when this entire controversy has been brewing for months now?
Why did it take so long for Playtonic to react? The initial Jontron controversy began back in January, peaking in mid-March with his infamous Twitch appearance. Even throughout today, Playtonic have remained quiet as fans and gaming journalists have peppered the studio for answers about whether Jontron would be featuring in the games credit. It seems that this mounting pressure was enough to force the studio’s hand – but it all feels slightly too late to really undo the damage this has caused.
If people hadn’t noticed that Jontron was going to feature in the credits for Yooka-Laylee, would they have made this decision? Or would they have continued to support a man they clearly didn’t agree with politically purely to entice his viewers? Given how close we are to release and how the changes will only be brought about through a content patch, it points to a snap decision made by a studio that was beginning to feel the heat. They jumped before they were pushed.
Some will also attempt to say Playtonic have unnecessarily politicised this situation. They could have left Jontron in the game and simply downplayed his role. At the end of the day, his role is only tiny in the grander scheme. His opinions, while vulgar and ultimately divisive, don’t change anything to do with the game. I understand Playtonic can’t be seen to endorse the opinions of a man who seemingly has lost touch with the biggest section of his audience, but this seems like a damaging move so close to release. For Playtonic to endorse this, even passively, up to this point raises questions about why now was the best time to do this. They knew this was coming when the first wave of this controversy hit, why wait until now to react?
Ultimately we’ll never know if this was the plan all along. It’s clear fan pressure mounted enough to force their hand – but I suspect that Playtonic only reacted now because the negative press was threatening to overshadow their upcoming game. As it stands, they’ll lose a few sales from Jon’s more hardcore fan base – but ultimately I don’t think it’ll be a huge loss to the titles legacy. It’s just a shame that this decision, right as it is, wasn’t made before the controversy washed up on Playtonic’s door. For all the grand sentiments that their statement makes, it’s ultimately meaningless if you endorse it for longer than you should.
As it stands though, I feel Playtonic made the right decision here. They don’t want to be dragged into a needless political mud slinging match. Yet I feel that their delayed response to the issues only points to a studio that was holding out hope that they could have the best of both worlds. That they could still use Jontron’s huge Youtube following while also avoiding political mudslinging. Perhaps if the decision had been made on principle a few weeks ago – I’d feel this wasn’t just a coy attempt to save face. As it stands, both party’s will likely come of this looking worse for their arrangement.
Maybe next time, Playtonic will consider more carefully whom it jumps in bed with.