How (Not) To Do PR For Video Games
The DICE Reddit AMA turned out to be even less exciting than I imagined. A whole lot of vagueness and dodging the question, massive downvotes, and boilerplate PR drivel. In a specific sense, there’s not much of importance or interest to talk about here. In a general sense though, this serves as a great object lesson for how not to do PR. For any company in this kind of situation, not just for video games.
If there is a controversy surrounding your product, there are two main approaches that work: Open, honest discussion, and complete silence. The former because it gets you goodwill back from your customer base. If you have something specific to say, concerns to address, even ideas to a workshop for how to fix the problem or compensation for those affected, your customers will respond favorably. People, particularly where video game developers are concerned, place a high value on communication. Approachability is a godsend for any developer, even if it’s only the illusion thereof. Humanizing yourself makes people more likely to assume the best of your motives. If you’ve done something wrong it is more likely to be forgiven for a mistake, something that can be corrected, and people will have faith you will do so. Even a step in the right direction will be perceived favorably here.
Complete silence, on the flipside, signifies at least a surety: You are aloof, you pay no attention to concerns of the masses. A decision made is a decision made and no amount of griping will change it. People will beat themselves against the ironclad wall of silence for a while, then realize they’re wasting their time and energy and move on. So long as you are committed to not saying anything the danger to you will pass. You might take a hit to sales, but not as much as if you took the approach that EA did today:
The middle ground. The half-measure with all the disadvantages and none of the strengths of either of the other two options. Sending those DICE employees in could have succeeded were they allowed to speak their minds, but they were not. This move broke the wall of silence; People have seen that you will cave, if ever so slightly, to their demands for discourse. It also failed to humanize the company, only throwing more fuel on the fire of outrage when they were greeted with people that only spouted robotic responses generated from a stock PR response fountain. Rather than calming the crowd by assuring them that this was all a mistake, something that can be rectified, it reassured them the opposite: EA does not care. DICE does not care. The perception is now that they couldn’t even be bothered to participate in a simple discussion, could they? Their contempt for the audience is such that canned responses were believed to suffice in quelling their anger. Is this necessarily true? No. But it’s the image that is manufactured by this move. It neither projects the strength of conviction silence would provide nor the good will that honest discourse would. It’s doubtful that any change will be received favorably now, even if it is changed for the better. The narrative has shifted. Were the company humanized, any slight change would be a step in the right direction. As-is any such change for the better will be greeted with contempt. “This is all they did? What a waste of time.”
Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps things will change, and the community will take it well and greet the changes with open arms. But I doubt it. The most likely outcome is that the damage is now irreparable. I would not be particularly surprised if Battlefront 2 goes Free To Play sometime in the coming months, or relaunches an overhauled version similar to Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Or maybe it will simply fail and be remembered only as a good game ruined by a bad publisher. Only time will tell.