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Gaming Industry PR Gaffes - A Recruiter's Guide on how NOT to do business

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In the lead up to Christmas last year, the Electronic Arts made international headlines due to the inclusion of what appeared to be gambling mechanics in Star Wars: Battlefront II, a game that was clearly marketed towards a wide audience including children and teenagers, involving digital currency bought with real money. This could be construed as an attempt to exploit gamers, motivated purely by greed.

This year it seems some of the largest contenders in the industry still haven’t learned anything from this very public mistake, and continue to show signs that they are lacking an understanding of the service that people are expecting them to provide when departing with their hard earned cash.

Recruitment is a tricky industry but provides a very worthwhile service to clients and job seekers alike. There is nothing wrong with making a reasonable profit as long as the service that you are offering provides genuine value to customers. It is this point that many gaming industry giants have forgotten. We’ll look through a few of the biggest blunders of the gaming industry this year, because there are some valuable lessons for recruiters, on how not to conduct business.

Mistake: Ignoring the interests of your audience 
The Issue: 'The Diablo Immortal' announcement at Blizzcon
The Lesson: Always make the timing of your communication relevant to the interests of your audience, not your own

Diablo is a beloved franchise from the games developer Activision Blizzard and has a hardcore base of fans, most of whom are PC Gamers. It was this type of gamer who paid the high ticket price to see the latest announcements from the makers of the Diablo and World of Warcraft franchises at Blizzcon 2018. Since it is quite some time since the last installment, the community were expecting at least a subtle hint that Diablo 4 was under development.

Well, an announcement came at the very end of the day but there was no mention of Diablo 4, just a transparent pitch about spin-off mobile game called Diablo Immortal. These PC gamers had absolutely no interest in micro-transaction riddled time killer designed less with entertainment in mind and more as a get rich quick scheme by milking players' wallets for all they’re worth.

When it was revealed that there were no plans for this to be released on PC, the venue was filled with booing and shouts of annoyance and the PR disaster quickly became the subject of numerous rants and memes online. The only people who would be excited by this announcement were the shareholders, and this is what Blizzard forgot about. They did not think about what their audience’s interests were or how they would react. Ironically, the shareholders are also annoyed as the stock price for Activision Blizzard has taken quite a dive since the announcement.

The Mistake:
Not letting your client know that you care
The Issue: The launch of Fallout 76
The Lesson: Always keep in contact with your clients and don't bury your head in the sand if you mess up!

Bethesda has had a few mishaps at launch in the past, but people have often let them slide because many of the entries to the Fallout and Elder Scrolls franchises have been so good. However, Fallout 76 was riddled with so many bugs on launch, some of which made certain aspects of the game unplayable that both critics and players have made it the worst rated Bethesda game in many years.

One of the most widely talked about problems was a glitch that made it impossible to get out of their power armour. However, what really frustrated fans about this was that there was communication or acknowledgment from Bethesda, giving the impression that nothing would be done about it. Eventually, they did respond with a list of dates for updates to deal with the issues and an apology stating: “We didn’t want you to think the silence meant nothing was happening. We’re sorry and understand this was not the right approach, and we’ll work to make a better bridge between you and the dev team…”.

Unfortunately, the damage had already been done, and many fans have now lost their trust in the studio for selling them a broken game and then taking so long to let them know what was being done about it.

The Mistake: Deceptive advertisements and inconsistency
The Issue: Fallout 76 (again) and the great 'Canvas Bag Scandal'
The Lesson: Don't promise something if you can't deliver. Honesty and integrity are some of the most valuable tools in the trade. Be fair and make sure you do your best to give everyone the service they deserve.

After the backlash from releasing out a broken game, Bethesda already had their work cut out in the PR department. Unfortunately, it didn’t end there.

Bethesda’s official refund policy states that no refunds can be given after downloading the game. However, some people reported that they did receive refunds after speaking to the support team. This lead to people being requesting refunds from Bethesda only to be informed that there was a no refund policy.

Bethesda also released a $200 “Power Armour Edition” of Fallout 76 which was advertised as containing a Power Armor helmet and a West Tek Canvas Bag. Luckily the Power Armor helmet was removable, unlike the one in the game. It was actually the Canvas Bag that was the problem, as it wasn’t a Canvas Bag at all. Instead, it had been substituted for a very cheap nylon bag that completely lacked the aesthetic appeal which attracted so many people to the offer. An offer which was also covered by the no refund policy, leaving many customers disgruntled.

Instead of communicating the change beforehand, issuing refunds or replacements the company is reported to have instead responded by claiming that they realized the canvas bags were too expensive to make and switched for a cheaper alternative, glossing over the fact that they hadn’t informed anyone. Needless to say, this did not go down well and a ‘Business Insider’ reported that a Law firm in Washington DC are investigating both issues and will decide whether to file a class action lawsuit against them.

In a bid to appease complainants and gain some positive PR, a gift of 500 atoms, Fallout 76’s in-game micro-transaction currency was offered to anyone who could provide proof of purchase. The real word value of this gift is around $5.00 which hardly seems suitable compensation. In addition, this amount of atoms won’t get you much at all on the in-game store. In fact, it won’t even get you the digital version of Canvas Bag! This is a commonplace strategy designed to get people to spend more money on the digital in game currency. Hardly a heartfelt apology.

To make matters even worse, customers found out that superior quality bags were given to influencers and journalists for free! Bethesda has a lot of work to do in order to claw back trust from the community.

The Mistake: Mistaking negative feedback and criticism as an attack on your person or values
The Issue: The Battlefield V controversy
The Lesson: Listen to feedback carefully and learn from your mistakes. Just because you think an idea is great, it doesn't mean that everyone else will. However, it could be received well if you are willing to make compromises.

Whenever Electronic Arts (EA) and DICE release a new Battlefield game, players usually flock towards it in the hopes of a realistic, ‘boots on the ground’ first-person shooter experience. It is this attention to detail and realism that is one of the battlefield’s key selling points. So when a trailer was released for a new game based in WWII, there was of a lot of debate about a number of historical inaccuracies in the trailer. The main talking point was a female soldier with a fully articulated prosthetic limb capable of firing weapons whilst jumping around and fighting on the front line, who was also featured on the front cover.

Some people pointed out that it was very rare to find women fighting on the front line and felt like it was a deliberate re-writing of history in an attempt to appear make the game more politically correct rather than focusing on any developing and improving of the experience. Others focused more futuristic aspects of the prosthetic, stating that this isn’t what the game franchise was about and the hashtag #NotMyBattlefield was created.

Unfortunately, the response from Patrick Söderlund, Chief creative officer at EA, was not so constructive: “These are people who are uneducated—they don’t understand that this is a plausible scenario, and listen: this is a game”. After many bouts of fact throwing between different sides of the argument, it was clear that this was not a point that players agreed on, many of whom felt like they were being fobbed off. Instead of dealing with the issue of historical accuracy, the narrative was spun into one suggesting that the whole controversy was due to sexism and misogyny. Since this is not the first time that this accusation has been aimed at vocal members of the gaming community, it quickly emerged that there was now a divide between those who weren’t bothered, those who stood up for ‘the cause’ and those who believed that the development team wanted to use the franchise they loved as a platform to make socio-political statements at the expense of historical accuracy in their games.

In another interview, Söderlund said: “We stand up for the cause, because I think those people who don’t understand it, well, you have two choices: either accept it or don’t buy the game.” Judging by the underperforming pre-order and sales figures, it sounds like quite a large number of the fan base have listened to him and taken his words to heart.

The Mistake: Focusing too much on the short term
The Issue: Micro-transactions: The Video Game
The Lesson: When doing business development, focus on making leads into long-term, loyal customers instead of making a quick commission

Developers such as Electronic Arts and Activision Blizzard have gained a bad reputation for changing the mechanics of their games so that they can rinse the wallets of customers by making them pay for content that should have been in the game in the first place. One great example is when Activision Blizzard released a remastered version of a fan favourite, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. This time around, some of the multiplayer maps included in the original game, which you probably bought the first time around, were taken out. However, you could have them back again for a small fee – much to the dismay of those just looking for a bit of nostalgia.

Another tactic that has been employed by multiple developers is to deliberately make the game such a grind that players feel like they have to fork out more cash just to get ahead, essentially making people pay additional fees to skip a part of the game. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey has come under fire for making its game too grindy when it comes to accumulating experience points to increase the likelihood of players buying an XP boost. What does that say about your game if people are willing to pay real money in order to avoid playing it? These predatory practices have not gone unnoticed and have left many gamers feeling disenfranchised with the industry and have even led to some disastrous publicity which has sent stock prices crashing for many of the offending businesses. Gamers have become wise to the fact that they are being exploited and have started to complain, and even boycott certain games, in droves.

On the other hand, CD Project Red has developed one of the most loyal followings in the industry, due to their pro-consumer approach and commitment to value for the player, which was evident in games like the Witcher 3. The game had two huge additional, downloadable expansions which were completely free and cemented the company as a favourite in the hearts of many. As a result, announcements about of their upcoming release, Cyberpunk 2077, caused their share price to almost double over the space of a few weeks, and still remained around 50% higher than the previous months after the initial hype had cooled off.
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