The Hidden Toxicity of the Grim Dawn Community and Crate Entertainment
Grim Dawn is a beloved game among the ARPG community, myself included. It is very well designed, fun, has great depth, and replayability. It’s a top-notch product, especially for the size of the small development team. I’ve recommended it for years to players who were looking for a solid ARPG. I enjoyed the game so much, I wrote a dozen detailed build guides for it to support the community, namely new and returning players.
While the game is fantastic, there is a growing problem with the core of the Grim Dawn community, namely from the Forums. While those seeking help and advice often quickly receive responses from a handful of very active players in the Forums, the second anyone starts questioning these individuals and the content they post, things get ugly. Most people just walk away and refuse to deal with it, but there’s a deeper issue that is impacting the community as a whole which not only connects to a collection of narcissistic toxic people who dominate the forums (and in some cases, reddit), but individuals who work for Crate Entertainment.
The number one complaint by new players coming to Grim Dawn is the lack of comprehensive build guides that are easy to understand and follow. This has been an issue for years, and continues to be an issue because the majority of “veteran players” on the forums who post “builds” share an end-game level 100 GrimCalc with all best in slot gear and final skill build-out. The majority of these builds provide no information on how to level a character, and new (or returning) players are left overwhelmed and confused about how to proceed. While the majority of builds fall into the above category, there are some very good build guides available on the forum, but they represent only for a handful of overall builds; and many of them are poorly written.
The reason I’m writing this overview is because the community needs to be aware of what happened (which is covered in detail below). This is important because what happened to me can happen to anyone else as long as things remain the way they are. Additionally, many players and streamers I have spoken with confirmed they avoid the Forums because of the very individuals and problems I encountered.
I love the game, have supported it for years, and have written detailed guides (and even reviews) in support of Grim Dawn, yet I was forced from the forums by a handful of toxic players, berated by the moderators, harassed by the same people on Reddit, and ultimately permanently banned by Crate for not allowing one of my posts to be edited by the moderators with injected nonsense.
I also believe it’s important to hold rotten and/or incompetent/unqualified people accountable for their harmful behavior. It is my hope this post increases awareness of an ongoing problem which has passively (and sometimes actively) hamstrung the Grim Dawn community for years, and continues to do so up to this very day.
Before I continue, I want to acknowledge the growing toxicity that is spreading throughout all aspects of the internet. Online communities with poor moderation have become havens for anti-social narcissistic, neurotic, toxic, and even evil hate-filled people who engage in behavior that would never be accepted in normal society. Unfortunately, the reason for this growing issue is the trend of tolerance of toxicity. There will always be assholes, but it’s the job of the moderators to remove these people from the community. The good news is the actual percentage of people who are “terrible” is quite low, but they cause the majority of issues. When moderators do their job, these people are removed. When they don’t, the community suffers; just as the Grim Dawn community has, and continues to.
I also want to acknowledge that plenty of people have absolutely no problems on the forums, but nearly all people who have only a positive experience on the forums have one thing in common: their interactions are almost always just asking for help and guidance, and rarely do they question anything said by the people who cause most of the issues.
If you want to find out how toxic a community can be, just challenge or question some of the most active posters.
I’ve been playing Grim Dawn on and off since BETA. When I returned to the game after the release of Forgotten Gods in March of 2019, I decided to try a number of new builds. Due to the complexity of the game and the fact I had been away for so long, I decided to follow build guides I found in the forums. As mentioned above, the problem was most of the build guides did not have proper leveling information, were very obtuse, or so poorly written it became a tedious task to either figure out the optimal way to build a character solely based on a L100 GrimCalc or wade through the bloated writings of some of the most active forum posters.
When I began to ask questions and make recommendations on enhancing guides or commenting that L100 PoBs do not help new or returning players in the Forums, I began to receive pushback, excuses and passive aggressive behavior by a handful of users on the forums (some of which were already known in the community as being “problem people”). When I pushed back in response, the passive aggressive behavior became outright hostility and even harassment.
This whole issue started due to the fact there are very few leveling guides for builds on the forums. The majority of posts are end-game min/max builds that new and returning players can’t make heads or tails of (and honestly don’t know how to level). When I returned to Grim Dawn roughly 6-weeks ago and brought up a lack of proper leveling guides in the forums, I was quickly berated by certain forum members who are some of the most active posters. So, I decided to lead by example. I began creating guides (11 in total now) specifically designed to help new and returning players, and posted them in the Grim Dawn forums. They were well-received, but as I continued to post more, certain toxic members began to berate solely for the purpose of harassment, not for constructive feedback. The attached messages document the events appropriately.
A portion of my EMail to Arthur Bruno, June 2019
When it comes to hostile people online, just like real-life, the best thing to do is just walk away and refuse to deal with them, because they never shut up, always have something so say, usually lie, misrepresent and make things up, and act to engage in drama. Most of these troublemakers are narcissists, and even sociopaths; and dealing with them is extremely difficult.
When things began to heat up on the forums and I pushed for better build guides for new and returning players, somebody (I can’t remember who) recommended if I was so dissatisfied with the builds on the forums that I should make my own guides.
And that’s what I did. Starting in May/June of 2019, I began writing build guides for my favorite builds, and as I completed them, I posted these guides in the forums.
I appreciate your response; as an individual who has administered multiple game communities in the past, I understand the difficulties that can come with your responsibilities.
I am also supportive of making the GD community as inviting and welcoming as possible to any and all players, one reason I created the guides. I hope the work I’ve produced and the way I’ve interacted with the community represents that disposition. I just have absolutely no tolerance for toxic or rotten people. I learned years ago some people will just never shut up, some thrive on drama (which they create), others have to control the content, and a few simply cannot be dealt with (and have traits of a mental disorder). Many of these people are narcissists, others are just rotten. The approach I take is to simply tune them out and ignore them whenever I can. I do think there are a few key people at the root of nearly all of the problems on the forums, and more severe discipline could help address the issue (through private correspondence, preferably). An investigation of private messages (via the GD Forums) of the people in question could also support proper disciplinary action relative to the issues tied to our correspondence.
A portion of my EMail to Medea from June, 2019
As soon as I began posting these guides, I came under hard attack by some of the most active community members (some of who had a history of posting a dozen or more times a day): Malawiglenn, Maya, mad_lee, and Xervous just to name a few. The few times I interacted with these individuals, the conversation turned into a shit-storm of drama and garbage, and they tried to pass their correspondence off as “constructive criticism” when it was an attempt to discredit and bury the guides because it was taking away from their dominance on the forums (and some poorly written guides). I engaged with these individuals just two or three times (even though they wouldn’t stop posting) and it always turned into a drama fest. It quickly became clear who the key troublemakers on the forums were, and many of these individuals had a clearly defined history of drama before these events took place.
It was clear these individuals were hellbent on attacking, discrediting and burying anything I posted, and they did not like the fact my build guides were receiving praise and thanks by new players from the community. As such, they teamed up to attack the guides any way they could; not help make them better, but discredit them. Their behavior was vindictive, spiteful, and intentional; and any qualified moderator could see exactly what was going on.
I reported these problems to the moderators and looked to cite violations of the forum rules only to find out there really weren’t any (which we’ll learn more about shortly).
The core issue is the above-mentioned subforum is monopolized by a handful of elitist narcissistic posters who flood, control, berate and harass; mainly through passive aggressive behavior, but occasionally through overt intentional harassment. This isn’t just my opinion; I’ve spoken with some of the top Twitch Grim Dawn Streamers who have told me they intentionally stay away from the forums because of “certain toxic members”. Not only are the toxic people on the Grim Dawn forums, they also carry their behavior to Reddit as well, where they’re executing their same nefarious and harmful behavior, unimpeded. They seem to stay away from Facebook; probably because they’d lose their anonymous status and quickly be held accountable (it’s been my experience the Facebook Grim Dawn community is the best out of all of them – I’ve only had a positive experience there).
Written to Arthur Bruno in June of 2019
As the problems persisted and the moderators failed to handle the issues appropriately, I began to notice the forum moderators also exhibited the same narcissistic patterns of behavior as the hostile and vindictive people on the forums, with Kamil “Zantai” Marczewski (full name included because he’s an actual Crate employee) acting as the lead and Medea trailing behind.
What’s very interesting is people are constantly praising Zantai for posting patch notes. Calling him awesome and saying how great he is … for posting patch notes. Zantai hasn’t done anything for the community except to post patch notes, occasionally show up to answer questions about mechanics, or tell people “don’t be an asshole”. He has absolutely no history of supporting or positively interacting with the community; at all.
When I approached the Moderators, asking about the rules governing the forums, I was told they followed the Wil Wheaton principle of “don’t be an asshole.” Below is a snippet of what I sent to Arthur Bruno:
While there’s no question a handful of people in the forums are causing 95% of the issues, the real reason they are empowered to do what they are doing is because of Zantai and his horrible mismanagement of the forums and culture within the forums. It’s not just my opinion; he actually posts rules that look as if they were written by a fraternity lead, such as “don’t be an asshole”. I was going to link to you the posts he made a week ago that included poorly written rulesets (which included “don’t be an asshole”) but it’s been removed from the new forums (at least I can’t find them). However, this is the “quality” of representation that Zantai brings to the community, and it’s amateur at best. I’ve also had enough correspondence with him to know he has no real ethical or moral standards when it comes to identifying malicious behavior or intent in an online community. He treats good and bad people the same and refuses to categorize their behavior and differentiate people’s intentions. This ensures a complete failure to consider and apply the motives and intent behind somebody’s actions, a critical requirement for an experienced community manager.
Written to Arthur Bruno in June of 2019
When I realized that Zantai (and Medea) didn’t have any interest in dealing with the issue, didn’t have a clue how to properly moderate forums by identifying and removing key troublemakers, and neither of them seemed to have any grasp of online ethics or etiquette (which, in my book, makes them unethical), I decided to pull my guides from the forums and host them on my website. In doing this, I announced to the community why I was doing this with the below entry:
It is with sadness and disappointment that I’ve decided to pull my builds from the Grim Dawn community forums and move them to a different platform. This is after spending hundreds of hours and more than a month focused on creating numerous detailed build guides for new and returning players. These guides will be hosted on a private website and made available to the public through the new Grim Dawn Builds Subreddit (https://www.reddit.com/r/GrimDawnBuilds) where constructive feedback and discussion is welcome, free of any drama or toxic people. My decision is due to a failing community culture in the Grim Dawn Forums that allows and even endorses toxic members to monopolize and harass posters, all without repercussion. This is not an environment I support or want to be a part of. I hope the individuals running Crate take interest in addressing these ongoing problems to build a better future for the Grim Dawn community.
The public post shared on the Grim Dawn forums as I moved my build guides to outside private hosting.
It’s important to bring up the history of the Grim Dawn Forums at this point; they were constantly down, and the community even made jokes about the Grim Dawn team not caring about the forums (for a period of years). The reality is the ongoing problems were a symptom of the simple fact they did not really care about the community or the forums. It was a burden to them that was something to be dealt with when they had time. This mentality is reaffirmed by their terrible moderation standards and unprecedented laziness of quoting an actor for the ruleset rather than writing clearly defined rules that would be enforced.
While the new forums are doing much better, it’s easy to forget that over a period of years, it was very common for the forums to be down an entire day (sometimes longer) as often as every few weeks… over a period of years. The reality is this level of incompetent community management is unprecedented for any commercial grade-game, even for an indie studio. Crate’s lack of interest in the community is reaffirmed by the fact the new forums destroyed all prior online links created over the years without creating a redirection table (which could have been done), and Arthur Bruno has always been MIA when it comes to any sort of community interaction or involvement.
While one could say my choice to leave the forums was voluntary, it really wasn’t. Zantai and Medea guaranteed I was forced out by failing to uphold any reasonable rules of discipline against the trouble makers, and each insinuated I should leave the community. They didn’t want to deal with the real problem, they just wanted it to end. This lazy and unethical stance rots at the core of what the forum culture has become, and Zantai is the root of it.
Written to Arthur Bruno in June of 2019
After I made the announcement about leaving the forums, my post was modified by the moderators (not sure who) to include a statement from Zantai, which really didn’t belong; but the core issue is this violated the cardinal rule of forum moderation – you don’t modify people’s posts. You either delete them or reply to them. That wasn’t good enough; Zantai wanted his statement injected as part of mine. This paints an even broader picture of how far gone he is relative to what is considered proper or even ethical behavior when it comes to forum moderation; especially when that injected content berates the original poster’s content for the purpose of discrediting a valid complaint (which made the moderators look bad; because they were).
Not only did Zantai delete all my build posts but one, he edited and amended my initial post with his berating statement, talking about “ego wars”, etc. To be clear, he actually edited my post to include his statement inside my post. This was rather alarming as it’s common knowledge among community moderators that you do not edit people’s posts. An administrator responds or deletes. For him to have edited my post is another sign he simply doesn’t understand the unspoken rules of administering forums. Note I deleted his edits to my post and returned it to the original state.
Written to Arthur Bruno in June of 2019
After leaving the Grim Dawn Forums, I began to post the build guides on the Grim Dawn subreddit. As soon as I began to do this, I became the target of a downvote campaign. New build guide links to my website were downvoted (sometimes to -10 or lower) “out of the blue”, and each and every post I made in the grim dawn subreddit was target. This is very important to emphasize as it confirmed the outright vindictive and harmful unethical people who were behind the issues I had on the forums – they went out of their way to go to a completely different community and continue their campaign to discredit and cause problems. The campaign was so obvious, other people commented, asking (along the lines of) “what’s going on? That’s a great guide. How come it was downvoted so bad?”
Additionally, because your staff have completely mishandled these issue, I am now under constant harassment on Reddit (in the GrimDawn subreddit) by these individuals as well (note this started only after the 10th build post). I cannot post anything relative to Grim Dawn without being downvoted into the negative, or receiving statements with the sole intent on discrediting and harassing. These individuals are executing a personal vendetta to silence everything I say and do because their behavior goes unhindered. While I understand this particular example is a Reddit issue, the origins come from the mishandling of problems on the Grim Dawn forums. This happened because Zantai did not do a reasonable job of identifying, determining and then properly acting on behavior any rational person would identify as harmful, malicious and/or harassing. As such, these individuals have been taught by Zantai and his staff that their negative, harassing and harmful behavior is allowed. So there’s no reason for them to stop.
Written to Arthur Bruno in June of 2019
What these individuals were doing was a violation of the Reddit Terms of Service. They were reported, and a few weeks later, the campaign stopped. I believe some of them were permanently banned as a few of the accounts went “quiet”. Thank goodness the Reddit moderators enforced their terms of service.
It was at this point I reached out to the founder of Create, Arthur Bruno. While Arthur responded in a concise and professional fashion, it was quickly apparent he was completely disconnected from the community and really had no interest in investigating or understanding the issue to properly resolve it. He even recommended I engage in a “fresh start” and create a new user account to avoid the issues. This reinforced the fact he didn’t have a clue as to what was going on, nor did he understand what accountability was. He basically said “hide under a different user name to avoid these terrible people”. This proposal was simply shameful and absurd.
Your “fresh start” recommendation also shows a complete disconnect from what it really means to be an active member of online communities. Insinuating an individual who has an established user name and account should abandon it and start a new one to avoid people who are engaged in behavior inciting such an abandonment merely misplaces the real problem and responsibility. Failure to identify good from bad, right from wrong, and take action is the root of this problem.
I’ve seen the impact of horrible and toxic people going unchecked online; they spread like a virus and slowly destabilize communities while pushing good people out and spreading misinformation and inciting bad behavior by example. Yes, the size of the active GD forum community is only a fraction of the entire playing (or active) base; however as I mentioned, it should be about quality, not quantity. It’s important to have a positive and supportive environment for the players looking for such a place.
Part of the response to Arthur Bruno in June of 2019
Out of professional courtesy, I am not sharing Arthur’s responses to my correspondence (we had a few EMail exchanges). However, I can say this: Arthur doesn’t care about nor does he want any involvement in the Grim Dawn community. At all. He just wants to work from home to make a game. I also confirmed he has no community-based experience at all (my interpretation was he avoids communities). This reaffirms why an unqualified and ethically void person like Zantai is in charge of the community; Arthur simply doesn’t have the interest or experience to understand what it takes to run an online community properly.
We obviously have differing view on these issues based on our background and experience. All I can say is because your moderators failed to identify and act on bad behavior and malicious intent by a handful of vindictive users, I’m now dealing with regular (often daily) harassment on reddit by the very same people I left the forums to avoid; something I’ve never had to deal with in 11 years as a redditor. These individuals have teamed up with the simple goal to push me out of the Grim Dawn community any way possible, and I have done nothing to interact with them since my last forum engagement – yet they persist because they are narcissistic and vengeful individuals who are going unchecked (thus believing their behavior is acceptable). One of them even said in your forums it was their personal mission to stop me from posting build guides. We’re talking next level crazy. Their behavior violates every rational online rule and qualifies as harassment, vote manipulation (for reddit) and bullying. By doing nothing to stop this behavior, your team has endorsed this behavior. This is completely unethical. Once again, I left the forums because of these people, and they followed me to reddit to continue their deplorable behavior. This is an ongoing problem I now have to deal with almost daily.
Part of the response to Arthur Bruno in June of 2019
Since I began posting my guides in July of 2019, they have become the #1 resource of Grim Dawn build guides outside of the forums. With more than 500,000 unique hits since their posting, I’ve received more than 500 positive comments from players thanking me for the guides, many citing how they couldn’t find anything well-written on the forums.
Over the past few months, I’ve occasionally checked in on the Grim Dawn forums and manually deleted Zentai’s injected statement from my public statement. I did this three or so times over a period of three months.
I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but as of January, 2020, without any message or warning, I have been permanently banned from the Grim Dawn forums for “Interfering with Moderation”. Apparently they did not like me deleting their injection of Zantai’s ridiculous statement into my post.
The issues with the Grim Dawn community have been around for quite some time, yet are fairly unique in the industry. This is because Crate Entertainment is so small but successful for creating a great product. However, it’s obvious they really don’t care about supporting or interacting with the community; their sole focus is to make a quality product that sells. That’s it. They are also a virtual company where the staff all work from home and their product is sold solely through online digital stores. Arthur Bruno has been successful because he knows how to make a solid game with great mechanics; but he’s an introvert and never interacts with the community.
In the end, refusing to address the issues covered herein encourages abusive behavior and produces a toxic environment that ensures the forum community’s purpose of bringing people together is undermined.
There is an opportunity here. Hiring an experienced and capable community manager would remove the burden of forum administration from Zantai (so he can focus on game design) while also enriching the forums (and community as a whole, including Reddit and the Facebook community) with a dedicated and focused individual who knows how to lay out proper rules, support good, and remove bad behavior. I think such a decision would only enhance the Grim Dawn community and product line.
I hope this correspondence entices some sort of change and/or shift at Crate to make the Grim Dawn community a better and welcoming place for all gamers.
Part of the response to Arthur Bruno in June of 2019
Unfortunately, I’ve lost all interest in playing Grim Dawn anymore. To be banned solely for standing against a handful of vindictive bullies after providing numerous guides to help enrich the community is simply ridiculous; but this isn’t any surprise as the result simply reinforces the real incompetence and unqualified nature of Zantai and the rest of the Crate staff haphazardly running the community based on rules uttered by an actor while turning a blind eye to vindictive, toxic and hostile forum members.
I can only hope Crate decides to do something about the ongoing issues in the Forums and Arthur finds an individual who cleans things up and really starts building a solid foundation of supportive players, not only for Grim Dawn, but the next project they release.