Episode 21 – Avoiding Game Overs: How to Navigate PR Disasters

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Episode Summary

When it comes to games PR, a single misstep or moment of poor communication can snowball into a PR nightmare, damaging your game’s reputation and your studio’s image.

Episode 21 of The Games PR Podcast offers essential strategies for developers to navigate PR disasters like a pro. Our resident expert, Max, equips you with the tools to maintain a pristine reputation for your game, even when the storm clouds gather. Max emphasizes the importance of being proactive. Anticipate potential controversies and have clear communication plans in place. Don’t wait for server outages or unexpected issues to erupt – have a plan B (or C) ready!

Max introduces a powerful framework for crafting impactful crisis communication statements: the 3 R’s:

  • Regret: Acknowledge the issue and express genuine remorse.
  • Reason: Explain what caused the problem, without excuses.
  • Remedy: Outline the steps you’re taking to fix it and prevent future occurrences.

This approach fosters trust with your audience and demonstrates a commitment to resolving the situation.

The team then discuss the unique challenges that smaller studios can face. With personal and professional lives often intertwined, especially on social media, maintaining transparency during a crisis can be tricky. Tom offers valuable advice on staying genuine and open with your community, even under pressure. Remember, in today’s world, your personal brand can significantly impact your game’s perception.

Another top piece of advice is to take criticism constructively! Look at examples like Cyberpunk 2077 and Helldivers 2 to understand the importance of managing expectations and adapting based on player feedback. Of course, communication strategies need to adapt depending on your studio’s size and stakeholder presence. We discuss accountability to stakeholders, the role of day one patches, and the ever-present struggle of balancing reality with the player’s desire for perfection. Understanding these complexities equips you to craft effective communication plans for any situation.

With this episode under your belt you’ll be well-equipped to navigate the unpredictable world of game development PR. Learn to anticipate issues, prepare clear statements, and maintain open communication with your audience. Remember, with a proactive approach and honest communication, you can weather any PR storm and ensure your game’s reputation remains stellar.

Content Hub
Gaming’s Biggest PR Failures and How to Avoid Them


Intro 00:02

Welcome to the Games PR Podcast, your regular dose of video game PR goodness. Sit down, relax, as our team of experts and special guests share tips and tricks to help you level up your PR game with media and influencers.

Jack 00:21

I don’t know if we wanted to do a preamble or just have a cold open. I thought on the topic of fighting video game we could do a video game animals you could take on in a fight.

Max 00:32

Video game animals.

Jack 00:34

Yeah, let’s not attack real animals.

Max 00:37

Am I kind of in that same world, so to speak?

Jack 00:42

I think it would be fair to be able to use everything at your disposal within that world so I’d probably say I think you could.

Max 00:49

If I was in a Yakuza game, then I’d have the ability of any main character in a Yakuza, which means I could take on a tiger, as Kiryu does, I think, three or four times across the eight games. It’s just a random scene where suddenly a tiger is unleashed and he starts actually having like a fist fight with a tiger um topless,

Jack 01:15

It’s ridiculous, um, but that’s Yakuza! Darktide (Warhammer 40K) feels very much like pest control uh, to the maximum, taking out those bugs, it’s like oh, I’ve got a bug in the garden.

Tom 01:27

Get the Helldivers in! I was thinking in like a dark version of Pokemon, there’s quite a lot of Pokemon that if you as a trainer could fight them like a Weedle, easy win. There’s quite a few pokemon, oh, your Pokemon’s fainted. You can just step in as the trainer and just deal the finishing blow not to murder them, to make them faint, obviously because it’s family friendly.

Max 01:55

You would turn the world of Pokemon upside down when the society is based on simple like letting two animals fight out to determine who’s the best, and then just you kind of break that rule entirely and everyone’s like, wow, why didn’t we think of that?

Tom 02:18

Yeah,Team Rocket are like why did we bother? Just give them all batons and send the grunts out to deal with the kids, rather than Zubats or Zigzagoon’s. Well, I don’t know.

Jack 02:34

Fictional animal slash creature fighting aside. Welcome to The Games PR Podcast. Today’s episode, trying to think of a, a segue, is going to be about fighting negativity? We’ve got Max back for his second appearance on the pod. It’s been a while, um, and really we’re gonna focus today on dealing with potential roadblocks, basic tips on forming comm strategy, planning and anticipating potential issues with a game, particularly around launch, and sort of what you should and shouldn’t do, because it’s something we haven’t really covered in much detail. So we thought it would be a good topic to to delve into, as we always talk about pitching things and timelines and actually getting things in the hands of journalists, and that’s all with the mind of when things are going well. But occasionally we have to turn that you know smile back into a frown and I think things aren’t going well. What do we do? So? Welcome Tom, welcome Max.

Max 03:43

Yeah, great to be here. Hopefully my uh, my tech doesn’t fail me like it did on our last one.

Tom 03:48

Um, I’m hoping that I’ll have a more stable connection this time that would be a crisis in itself, which we’d have to uh solve which hopefully won’t happen but it was put. It would put us in potentially good stead if it did, but it weren’t, though, touch wood.

Max 04:08

That’s down to your amazing editing skills, Tom and Jack, to sort it.

Tom 04:14

I can only work with what I have.

Jack 04:16

We’ll jump right into it then. I think, first off the bat, I like this point here on the note sheet under crisis comms, we’ve got crisis or an issue. Do you want to do you want to define those two?

Max 04:30

So, uh, it’s a really interesting one because I think different companies, different agencies, different kind of crisis prep work will argue the difference. I mean, I’m very much speaking from my own background and experiences within that and, uh, and generally I think it falls into a few different categories. Um, I think, arguably a crisis and an issue can be segmented between the knowns and unknowns. You know, for example, if you are a game that’s coming out, um, and it may be related to certain sensitive material a great example might be like a GTA game that you know is going to to have certain kind of controversial material and everyone has that potentially could be argued as an issue, because the team putting out there knows that that’s going to be something that probably people are going to jump on and criticise or talk about, and so we can kind of anticipate how the world or the media will respond and be prepared ultimately as a result.

A crisis, on the other hand, can be something that can be completely left field and unexpected and you aren’t as prepared or you aren’t as anticipating that coming down the line and that could be anything from you know, day one issues that suddenly you’ve got tons of people flooding a server and that wasn’t expected and the game crashes.

Or it could be internal things, where you know team structures or the scandal might come out about workplace practices or anything that ultimately should be an issue, but some companies would see that as a crisis because they weren’t expecting that to affect their current market presence. So for me it comes down to the known and unknown. But for many it can also be segmented. People are prepared and where they are anticipating something, and so the routine of dealing with it is less stressful, versus something that is mission critical and everyone’s a bit nervous and, you know, holding their breath, hoping that you can get through it. So that’s where I often try to deal with, and often it’s a good way for you to. If you are dealing with it, thinking about it, you know, is this an issue? And if it’s an issue, then we can actually be a bit more calm and considered with how we approach it, because we knew this might come down the line, whereas if it’s a crisis, you you know that everyone needs to get their hands on deck and deal with the issue well defined.

Jack 07:01

So that’s a great breakdown of the definition of those two key areas. So if we take a step back and think, okay, we know this is a crisis or this is an issue, how do you plan or even prepare? Can you get ahead of those things you said? A great example is when you know there’s content within your game that could be problematic. I know we see frequently those who are making military games, specifically in the the WWII era. There are some very obvious content issues that that crop up a lot and it’s the balance of historical versus authenticity. Except perhaps that is a good way to start, surely, on just knowing your genre, there could be some issues and different things.

Max 07:50

Yeah, I mean, I think actually for a lot of people, you can actually anticipate and know what your issues can be very, very early on. It’s not brain science, it’s not something that’s completely a shocker to anyone that you speak to. You know if you’re speaking to a company, if you’re a developer or whoever you know. I think you actually sat down, took five minutes. You’d probably be able to list quite a lot of issues that potentially could come out about your game. I think what often happens is people don’t you know, fundamentally, I think, whether it’s because they want to stick their fingers in their ears and imagine it’s all going to be perfect, or whether it’s because you know time, money, whatever is preventing them from allocating the resources to that. I think actually, more often, not, people don’t want to deal with a crisis because they only see the value of a crisis and crisis management when that crisis is happening. But a huge amount of that crisis management is done in preparation and done in the planning stages. So so, yeah, I think a huge part is is just actually taking the time to actually sit down and write them down, and you can do it on a type of axis if you will, uh, be between, like internal and external, versus known um, or likely to unlikely, and they can kind of be mapped out that way.

So, for example, you know, an internal issue that you might know is that there’s a content element to your game that could potentially be a negative association within the market and that’s a. That’s something that you know is an internal thing that you can manage internally by prepping for it and you know it’s coming your way. An external, an external one could be that you might know that the game comes out with just a lot of negative reviews potentially and what those negative reviews can be. You can’t control those negative reviews. It’s not something that’s within your studio’s ability to control, but you can anticipate that might happen and so you can deal with that and you can have a prepared statement or whatever within that, going into kind of the more unknown stuff it could be. It can be quite dark I don’t want to get too dark too early in this podcast, but crisis doesn’t deal with that but you could have. You know, improper workplace conduct could be an internal, unexpected thing, because obviously these things often are a shock to the people in the company or they should be at least and so you have to almost think about the worst case scenarios with stuff that could happen in your company. That could be really bad, even though people don’t want to think about those things and additionally, like external unanticipated things, could be like you release your game at the same time that something major happens in the news of which your game is slightly related to not in the game world.

But a good association would be there was a lot of TV shows that aired and obviously had episodes of their show prepped prior to 9/11 that were dealing with terrorism, and a lot of them had to just pull that episode and the episode never aired. And there’s a huge list of the ones that are in the box set but never actually made it on TV because of the cultural sensitivities about that. They couldn’t obviously anticipate that that could happen. But you kind of have to think about those type of things, as wild and as speculative as they may be. That’s the kind of preparation matrix that you should be thinking of and obviously it helps when you have an external person to actually look at it without bias of working in your company or working with the people that you’re with or has seen it happen in other studios, to provide that like fresh perspective, because often when you’re working on something together, you don’t want to think of the bad stuff yeah, I think, I think this is obviously an area where I’ve got a lot less experience than I know you do, max.

Tom 11:32

I think the most important thing and it’s like what you said is just that recognising, you know, taking a neutral look at what you’re working on what you’re working with and being, um like, not naive about it and kind of recognising okay, these are all the places where we could like with content, we can trip up, yeah, you know, even if it’s something where, like themes of death or mental health, um, suicide, things like that, they can quite. They’re things that are quite apparent when you’re in the process of making something. Yeah, so, just being prepared for anything, you kind of owe it to yourself to make sure that within those realms, you’re prepared to handle stuff, because those are the ones that, if issues do come up, if it’s related to those kind of things that you know you should be able to, you know you’ve got to put yourself in a position to be able to deal with them, otherwise you’re just creating more problems further down the line.

Max 12:36

I completely agree and I think what you’ve also got in that situation is that it’s about removing the emotion from it, because often these can be emotionally charged, especially with something creative, like a game. So within the world of, say you know, b2b world and from some of my things, like you’d have you’d develop if you were running this with kind of real corporate big company that wants to really scrutinize all the risks in front of it, the end result is that you produce a thing called the Red Book of it. The end result is that you produce a thing called the red book and it’s essentially a playbook for potential scenarios, and they’re not obviously going to be perfect, because each crisis or issue is going to be unique to that particular time, but it’s a template model that means that whenever you’ve got something come up, it’s already got a semi-complete statement ready to share to the press or to your customers or to your investors or whoever it is, to reassure them, to show what’s going on. And, generally speaking, that’s something that you would do and you’d have and you’d refresh every time, like once a year or whatever. Obviously, that’s not always. That’s quite an extreme case when you need to think about every single risk in front of you.

If you are a company that might be facing a lot of challenges, especially if you’re a bigger studio and especially in the current landscape of the games industry, there may be an argument that you need to do that because there are certain challenges the sector’s facing, but um.

But it is about removing that, that emotion, because, because people do face um, when they’re blindsided by criticism, whether it’s on social media, whether it’s whether it’s from a press interview, especially if you’re, uh, you’ve kind of done your own pr as a studio and you’ve not relied on a third party, you know people are calling you. They’re not calling, they’re not calling a third party. Who can, you know, pace them out and keep them arms, arms? So then you’re dealing with a whole world of things where suddenly a senior developer or the head of the company is getting these calls from journalists going. Why has this happened? And naturally, because we’re human. Our instinct is to potentially speak before we actually think about the impact of what we’re saying. And I think you see that a lot you know, know outside of the games industry as well as within it so.

Jack 14:47

So within that say, there’s a hypothetical situation has arised. Um, when is the time? Let’s say a comment versus a response? Is there a difference? And I believe there is the term of the three r’s, if you’d like to illuminate yeah, no.

Max 15:07

So I mean, I think I think the first one is uh. I’ll go through the three r’s first, because I think that’s an important uh foundation and anyone you know. Obviously there’s an art to it and this is very much a framework. It’s not, this is not the the one-stop-shop solution that is the silver bullet for everything. It’s very much a framework that you need to test and you need to workshop.

But basically, the three R’s stand for regret, reason and remedy, and if you look at any crisis that’s happened where there has been a statement that has been issued, it addresses the issue and regrets that it’s happened. It explains it as best as it can, um, or in a way that tries to address, like why this has happened or how this issue has come about, or this crisis has come about and then it it results to rectify the issue. So a really simple one, you know could be that. You know we recognize that. You know we’ve had this real issue with our servers and the game is unplayable day one. We really appreciate that. That’s really upsetting for our players. This is due to an overwhelming number of players joining our network and our servers not being prepared for that much followers or users at one time. We are currently working on this and aim to have an update for you by the end of the week that can help rectify 90% of these issues. Obviously, that has to be backed up.

You can’t just say it and not deliver it, and I think that an example we’ll go on to later is that some developers do kind of keep on issuing the same statements of apology and regret and reason and remedy and it starts to lose its power the less you’re delivering on that.

But as a general foundation, that’s a really good way of of in your head how you respond to something in a mature way, not trying to be too emotional, not trying to not trying to kind of scramble around or answer something or over commit to something, but actually providing clarity to people around you. The second point point Jack is very much about the difference, about how you engage. It very much depends on the company and your situation. If you’re an independent studio, you’re self-published, you’re pretty much having to just address your customers and your employees and in the second case, sometimes you’re such a small studio you don’t need to address your employees because everyone knows what’s going on. You might just need a statement to your employees that goes on social media, a statement that might come from press. That is going to be, they’re going to be your platform to talk about, you know, and to promote your statements.

But, like that might be your way. Obviously, if you’re a bigger studio and you have investors or you have a publisher or you have other kind of parties that you are working with, you need to have statements for them to reassure those individuals. Especially if it’s something serious like a data leak or something like that, you want to make sure everyone feels that it’s all in hand, it’s all being looked after and it’s all being sorted. I think often a lot of this is being sorted. When there is especially a technical issue, a lot of it people just get on to try and fix the problem, but the lack of silence is often what causes people to get worried and scared and start speculating that things are worse than they may actually be.

Jack 18:15

That’s exactly what I was going to go on to is the silence. We see it all the time, even with just patch notes and things. It’s important to keep people in the loop with the game at any time, really, but mostly especially if there are long gaps between phases, to show people that your project is still active, because there are so many games that just get silently cancelled and there’s nothing, because there’s no statement. But it was the social media bit I wanted to ask tom about, because I know you follow a lot of indie devs and projects and a lot of for them. Their whole company profile is just their twitter. Really, that is the the one area they have. They’re not working on a linkedin, they’re not putting out big statements with press releases through wires and having company spokespeople. It’s somebody who has a large following on their twitter and that is their personal profile, but also the studio’s main profile, as it were, because the nature of it.

Tom 19:13

There’s a risk, I think, about getting the personality connected too much to the project yeah, and I think this is a much wider point in itself and I think it’s probably something that would that could be an episode on its own. So I’ll try to keep us quite tightly with what we are talking about, but to give some context, um, yeah, you see, you know, especially nowadays, with the amount of independent studios and you know a lot of a lot of them are still, in cases, one person or it’s a really small team of people, and a lot of the success these independent studios can have in terms of followings on social media does come through the fact that they are so personable on those platforms. But that is a double-edged sword in, in ways, and when it comes to addressing problems, um, or or dealing with things that that go wrong, oftentimes I’ve seen I’m not going to name specific examples because I don’t think that’s right but I’ve seen cases where developers or you know in, like trying to think like individual accounts, like you were saying, or just accounts for a game, people know who’s kind of behind those accounts, because that’s how these communities operate and if there are issues, they can tie a lot of emotion to it and it’s like max has said you know many times. You know so far in this podcast. As hard as it might be, you have to just detach emotion from a lot of these situations. And I know jack you mentioned about bad reviews. I’ve seen cases where a game gets not even necessarily bad reviews.

But you know, every developer releases a game into the world. It’s a passion project, it’s a labor of love and it’s difficult to deal with it if someone who you think would like it and you say, yeah, go and play it turns around and they’re like I don’t think it’s that good. But the answer to that isn’t to start blocking people on social media or, you know, being like well, no, you’re wrong, because it’s unprofessional. And these are much smaller issues. It’s not a wider crisis, it’s just someone saying they don’t like your game. But just the way to manage these accounts, I think, is to. You know you want to engage with people and you want to do that in a way that gets across your personality. But you have to. When these problems come up, you you do have to detach yourself from it.

And you know the games industry has good parts. It has bad parts, but I don’t think there’s very few people who are in this industry because they hate games. You know, everyone loves games, everyone’s passionate about them and they’re passionate about the people who work on them. Because, you know, we’re talentless. We can’t make games as a three. We don’t know how to make them and most consumers don’t know how to make them and most consumers don’t know how to make them. So there is always that respect for developers.

Um, so if people don’t, you know, as the example I’ve given, if people don’t like your game, the answer isn’t to be mean to them. Um, it’s like max has said, you have to take neutral. You know reactions to this kind of stuff and and and think before you say anything. Yeah, um, because whether it’s you’ve launched a game, it’s got bad reviews, whether, you know, as we’ve discussed, there is content issues or there’s internal problems at a studio. The solution to any of those, I can’t tell you what the solution is always, but I can tell you what the solution isn’t, and it isn’t blasting people on social platforms or going to journalists and, you know, reacting badly to it. You have to remove yourself from these situations and and really think about what you, because if you say the wrong thing, that’ll probably stick with people more than whatever happened in the first place. Max has something to say, so I’m going to let Max speak.

Max 23:28

No, no, I think I just literally just to add to that. I think also, it’s really important to remember how social media works and, for better or for worse, how kind of a lot of media can work is the nuance has gone, you know like you know, if you look on something like x or if you look on most social media platforms, you know it’s either the best thing in the world or it’s the worst thing in the world. And actually, even if something is a five out of ten, most people will consider that rubbish. Unless it’s a nine or ten out of ten. People don’t don’t praise it. They’re going to point out the, the problems and the issues, and so you have to look at the, the medium in which you are dealing with, and recognizing the biases within that and and that’s definitely with what you’re saying, thomas, is a hundred percent. It’s removing yourself and not thinking that it’s real life, that these, these people are actually, you know, wanting to burn you at the stake because you released a game that had a bug in it.

Jack 24:19

I think it’s very much more that’s where the the steam page especially um, as we we’ve talked, touched briefly on reviews. I think it’s worth delving into that a bit further is perhaps one of the most obvious uh situations where our advice today can apply to someone is your game has launched. You check your right, refresh. Steam reviews are coming in and you see the thumbs down, it’s all red. You’re going hang on a minute and, as you talked, we’ve talked about emotion your initial feeling is you’re upset, you’re angry, you’re gonna hit reply to someone’s review and suddenly you are writing an essay or you’re arguing with them. That is really, really not good for anyone in that situation, I think, yeah, I think, unless you know a different perspective.

Tom 25:12

But you know, before I joined the dark side of pr and marketing, I, you know I wrote a lot of stuff and I did a lot of games, journalism, and I reviewed a lot of games and you know there were a few occasions where people you know disliked strongly I’ll say a review that I wrote about a game they obviously really enjoyed. And you know, people sending messages are just. You know, people sending messages are just silly. You know there’s no need for it. But I think, in relation to what we’re talking about with these reviews, I think, unless Unless it’s warranted right.

That’s what I’m getting at. In all walks of life you can be criticized for something and I think, unless, to you know, bring it back to this example if you’ve made a game and someone doesn’t like it, you you’re not going to be able to change their mind by going back to them and saying, you know, anything harsh or abusive or anything like that, unless I’m not saying that if someone is abusive to you, you go back and give it to them. Um, obviously I’m not saying that, but I think you know, unless, unless someone is being abusive or being, you know, determined in determining themselves that they will be nasty to you couldn’t speak them. You just have to take these things as constructive criticism. And you know, look at what they’ve said. And there’s developers that I follow who I think are really good people and when I go on reviews for games they’ve made on steam, I see they’ve replied to people who have said, you know, given negative reviews because obviously steam it’s either good or bad, which doesn’t help.

Um, but I’ve given negative reviews and you can see our developer response and I’m thinking, oh, come on, I like you and I go in, but they, they take it the right way and they go you know what? Fair enough, you didn’t like it. You’ve mentioned this. We’re looking to address this. Thanks for the feedback and oftentimes I think again, I’m not a developer but I think, having worked with developers, I think oftentimes the the ways you can really improve your game after it has come out is by looking at what people didn’t like, as opposed to just looking at all the stuff that they’ve praised and again, we’re coming onto a slightly different topic here. But I think, in terms of working with those reviews, you can take on board constructive criticism and thank people for taking the time to play the game and then move on. You don’t want to get into shouting matches on the internet. You know that’s what the youtube comment sections are for if you really want to do that.

Max 27:52

But I think you’ve also got to like separate what is controllable, what versus what is out of your control. Like, if it’s released and there’s a bunch of balancing issues or bugs and people are bringing that to your attention, then I think you can respectfully hold your hands up and go yeah, you’re absolutely right. Thank you for bringing that. We’re going to look into this. If and and we’ve seen it, unfortunately, lots of times where people are sending horrible threats to the developers and being really inappropriate in terms of just because the game hasn’t been a 10 out of 10 and I think that’s that’s obviously there’s two sides to that first side is not addressing it, but the second side is also going well. Actually, you need to rise above this because, regardless of whether we did a good job with this game or not, we won’t stand for that type of behavior because that’s just inappropriate and unfair, and so you rise above it and in some ways, that can be of whether we did a good job with this game or not, we won’t stand for that type of behavior because that’s just inappropriate and unfair, and so you rise above it and in some ways, that can be a really good response, and we’ve actually seen that in in recent times. Without naming any specific games where you know the fan backlash I say that with inverted commas because I wouldn’t class them as fans if they’re being that inappropriate, but they’ve. They’ve kind of come out with very horrible rhetoric around the game and the response has been from developers and even appears in the industry going well, actually, no, we don’t stand for that.

That’s not right, that’s not on, and I think that’s a really important thing to recognize. Is is drawing the line as well. It goes back to the thing of being like removing emotion from it. Sometimes you can go too far and remove emotion from when something actually is really unreasonable, when a game might be being review, bond bombed actually review bombed and not just getting negative reviews or when people are being threatening to your team, stuff like that. That’s not on. Regardless of whether your game is is having issues or not, it’s not on um. So there needs to have that. That objectivity needs to come in to actually help you distinguish those boundaries.

Jack 29:43

So at what point do you think a person can look and say is this a situation where I need to apologize or a situation where we can just say we’re working on things without having to apologize?

Max 29:58

I think the problem with apology is and I’m British, so obviously I’m going to apologize for everything I do. But the thing is I’m a southerner as well, so that’s also another thing against me for apologizing. But the problem with apology is that you’re dealing with something that facilitates potential legal implications, especially if you’re in a bit more of a corporate world or your company has more corporate responsibilities associated with it. And if a game developer acknowledges or says they’re sorry for something, then that is an admission that they are at fault. And if that is involved within a certain bit of activity that could be liable, then you’re in a difficult position because actually your lawyers wouldn’t necessarily say that, because you know I’m not here to moralize, but you know there is that conversation of, like, the company needing to be profitable and if certain apologies are made and that can be used as evidence of guilt, and so on um mobile games.

Jack 30:54

I think with with in-app transactions is a really good case for this. That is an area where there’s going to be lots of areas for pitfalls yeah.

Max 31:02

So I think you need to have a careful approach to it. If it is something that you can genuinely not put up to, something that you can rectify down the line, something that is complete screw up, then yeah, an apology is essential. And and this is where you know, without kind of getting on onto a sales pitch this is where, obviously, agencies can be really important, because they’re a third party in this and they can be the person’s like no, you’ve screwed up, you just need to, you need to own up to it and accept responsibility, or no. Actually, this is the way you properly respond to it, because it’s not technically as bad as you think and, depending on who you’re working with, some people are immensely guilt-ridden if people are upset with them and so they feel the need to apologize. And because society and in different cultures and in different groups within people, our natural response is if we feel guilty, we apologize, because we hope people like us by apologizing and we can move on from it. But often that’s not how it turns out to be. It can actually blow up. So it needs to be handled with a degree of objectivity.

But a hard and fast rule that you can kind of follow is, if you’ve genuinely screwed up, then yeah, you have to apologize for that. But if there are certain issues at play or certain things that can be rectified fairly in a reasonable amount of time, then I think it’s there’s no problem, kind of just acknowledging regret that it’s happened, um, and not, you know, not in that gaslighting way of saying like I’m sorry that you feel that way, but like, no, we regret that this has happened, this, this shouldn’t have happened and we’re working on resolving it. But clearly just going I’m sorry, or yes, we screwed up, when potentially you haven’t, or it might have just been a bad, a bad player in your team, or something like that which can happen, then your whole company can be at risk of just apologizing because you’re trying to be nice yeah.

Tom 32:53

I think you make a good point there, max, about you know when things can be fixed and you know kind of you know hold your hands up and be like you know yeah we screwed up, but here’s what we’re going to do about it. And making sure that they’re not false promises. But I think you know we all play games. That sounds very fellow kids doesn’t it? We all play games, we all play games.

That sounds very fellow kids, doesn’t it? We all play games. But yeah, and we’ve all played and we all know about games that come out with huge issues on monumental scales of mass refunds and critical panning and so on and so forth. But through hard work and through communicating with their communities, go on to you know, rise above those issues and and years later you look back and and you have a completely different image of that game. Um and I know cyberpunk’s always the obvious example of that, but I think it is a really good one um, most people now, if you went back four years or however many years it’s been, and you were like when cyberpunk came out, one day most people will be like this is an amazing game, isn’t it?

People wouldn’t you know, because the situation then was everything’s terrible. You know this and that, but it’s a good example of you know, through communicating with your players and making promises and sticking to them and saying, yeah, we, you know we screwed up, we know there’s problems, but here’s what we’re going to do to fix it. Community feeling and the feeling of consumers is malleable enough to accept that statement and then sit back and say, okay, well, now you have to deliver on it and they’ll give you the respect when you can deliver on it.

Jack 34:43

What’s important about the cyberpunk uh example for me is that they had spent enough time building up their, their brand, regardless. Yes, it’s cg project red, but I’m talking about, uh, the very much the yellow images with the text on, because I I worry that people listening to this might go right. I’m in’m in a bit of a crisis. I need to hire someone who’s going to fix everything for me. It isn’t as simple as that. It starts with you having to lay the groundwork not just having a plan, as we alluded to at the start, but knowing what your brand is, because if you have to put out a statement, it needs to be done in a way that feels authentic, as we’ve alluded to. So it has to feel real. It has to match the rest of your branding. Not that you have to follow a cyberpunk style of we’re going to have bright colors and how we do this, but it needs to, like I said, feel authentic. It needs to match so that people believe it.

Max 35:44

Yeah, yeah, I think there’s a certain I mean I have a slightly differing view on cyberpunk, which it’s very much my opinion.

It’s not necessarily like the truth, but I feel that with the cyberpunk situation, the challenge was is that the way it was promised and the world it was promising was so astronomically high that and and then the day one issues were so equally astronomically challenging that the iterative improvements that they were making, while good, and while we’re doing the right things and saying the right things and and doing everything that you should do in that situation, it was like a lose-lose scenario, because people were still willing to go oh yeah, no, the police system has been fixed, but actually now this issue’s happened and oh, this is this, is this is done, but actually this thing’s face being faced.

What you have to kind of remember with a game is that you are especially with a game, you’re dealing with a world and the imagination of people, and I think you know kind of a slightly different scenario would be the game that we seem to be obsessed with here at bgm, which is helldivers 2 and how that had a lot of server issues from the beginning of it, but and even though that’s still going on like we still see you know updates and stuff that there’s not.

It’s not perfect yet, but no one seems to be criticizing them on that, because there wasn’t that huge amount of expectation that this was going to be the game to end all games, that this was going to be the multiplayer experience that everyone wants. So the excitement of actually the game, when it’s working and when the servers are fine and you can get a good team, it it kind of overrides the fact that there are challenges there. Um, but when the game is so over promised and the world is so over over examined, I think people just just feel that fundamental disappointment that it’s not the game that they were wanting and they were hoping to experience.

Tom 37:36

Um, I think, and that’s also not to interrupt.

But on the hell divers point, that it’s a good example, I think, again, of why you know you can overshare and you can over communicate, but I think it’s hard to do that like it’s hard to communicate too much sometimes, and I think helldivers 2 is such a prominent example is a case of you know, a team who who have been very open about and very transparent about the problems that they’ve had with stuff like server capacity, yeah, and when that came out, they were quite upfront on like twitter and to the media about we didn’t expect this, these are what our capacities are, server wise.

So, you know, keep trying, we’re doing our best to fix it. But there wasn’t the attempt to kind of pull the wool, yeah, over the eyes and be like, oh well, you know, keep trying, uh, keep trying to log on, you might get there eventually, um, and they kind of. I guess hell divers, I think, is such a unique example because there’s a much bigger universe within the game. That’s also not in the game and it’s everyone who plays its role, playing constantly. It’s, yeah, it’s, I think don’t look to hell divers to learn lessons about how to communicate, because, because it’s very strange, I think you’ve also got to recognize your own nuances.

Max 38:55

I mean, unfortunately, cd project red and I’m not, obviously I’m not involved in any of that, so it’s very, it’s all speculative, but like they had investors behind them, they had an investment community that were hoping for a return on their investment. So that also creates another dynamic where you can’t necessarily be so open and transparent because that potentially could upset your, your price, and that could upset investors and all that messy, complicated business stuff. Behind the fact that the game is my is potentially having issues, is also a play and I think contrasting it again with another game is like no man’s sky where you know they were a small studio. Yes, they had a lot of hype brought about by sean murray, but also about, like you know, the helping of playstation raising its, the game’s profile, and but like, because they were still a small studio when things were going bad, they literally just, you know, battened down the hatches and just got on with the game and from, from reality wise, it’s pretty much they haven’t stopped just getting on with the game. Um, and they’ve and, and as we all know, it’s kind of gone into full positive mostly positive sentiments and stuff like that and continues to be updated and improved upon.

It really does depend on the dynamics of your studio and your company and if you are dealing with all the messy business stuff behind, then there should equally be an equally conscious mindset to deal with that, because you’re going to have to reassure investors if something bad happens. You’re going to have to reinsure market stakeholders or whatever you you’re. If you’re even bigger than that, you’re going to have to issue statements on um during agms and and to the kind of stock market and things like that and give like stock warnings and all that, like you know, price warnings and stuff like that, whereas obviously, if you’re smaller, you have a lot more flexibility and you can be a lot more honest. Because it’s a passion project, you have that freedom for it. So it really does require like an understanding of where you fit and what you need to do so that you don’t upset the apple cart during an already difficult time yeah, yeah, I think there’s accountability at every level.

Tom 40:59

It’s just you’re accountable to different people and if you are a small studio or, like you know, a one-person development team, which is as, quite literally as small as you can get fun fact, that’s how maths works um, you know you’re, you are accountable first and foremost, really, to your player base.

Yeah, um, and you know, I know I’ve said it a few times, so I I won’t keep repeating myself, but I just think communication’s the most important part of what we do on a much wider level, even necessarily having rocky launches, but you know that have come out, and you know there’s been problems, others, you know there’s been small issues or bigger issues, and I think the thread that has gone through all of the ones that have gone on to overcome those problems is, you know, facing up to the issue, recognizing it and doing your best to correct it. I think, I think it takes a strange player of games to expect a tiny studio to be able to, you know, do things that huge development teams are able to do, and that comes, and that’s the same with fixing problems as well.

Jack 42:26

Um, no one’s expecting perfection, um, and I mean, if you happen to make perfection, good for you we’re in the age of the day one patch that yeah day one part has almost become accepted that your game might have a rocky launch, but there’s a day one patch that’s going to fix things. And we hear it sometimes from devs where they say, look, the game isn’t in proper shape, but download the day one patch and it’s more of what we wanted it to be, so that can be part of it. But I think, in summary, we’ve talked about needing to be transparent and, ironically, sometimes that is just weathering the storm for a bit and then taking your time to collect your thoughts, either put out a statement or realize you don’t need to and that was going to make things worse and rise it out a bit while you work on those fixes and then say, hey, we’ve been working these past few weeks on fixing this, etc. Etc. And then you can present the new version of your game and the things you’ve been working on.

So we’ve discussed a few different strategies here. It all comes down to that have a plan, first and foremost, and think what aspects can I anticipate? What do I need to be prepared for? What should I plan for? And so you know, perhaps I don’t need to start worrying about having to write huge essays and apologies and things, because again. That’s going to make things worse. You don’t need to do that. So just step back, think, don’t get too emotional, as we’ve we’ve discussed. Go back to those three r’s which max are I?

Max 44:07

regret, reason and remedy. But I mean, you know having to plug our own thing. I think you do need to speak, having that objective conversation, and, whether that is with internally and taking time out from the actual developing of the game, or or speaking to someone else, I think you need to know that the the way you’re going to approach this is is going to have the right effect, because we can all assume and we’re all living in our own little bubbles and if you’re not dealing with multiple games going on at the same time, you don’t necessarily know whether something’s going to work or isn’t going to work.

Tom 44:39

So yeah, the games industry is a kind place and I and I’ve said this on a lot of the episodes we’ve done. But you know, as Max has said, as agencies we kind of know how to deal with stuff like this. But also, you know if you’re a developer and you know you’ve encountered a problem, one of the other best parts of Call is other developers is people who have had those experiences and you know, know, maybe chat to some who’ve come out the other side well and some who haven’t, and then you can play, spot the difference and see what to do or not to do.

Max 45:12

I think it’s really true and and the final thing I just want to throw out there is that you know the games industry. I agree with you, tom a very lovely place, but I think it’s also a place that has a very good detector for when someone’s trying to pull the wool over your eyes or trying to take the mick, and actually sometimes when you’re creating a game. You are probably a gamer yourself or have been or have enjoyed the games experience, and you’ve probably faced those same issues. But just now you’re in it. It’s very difficult sometimes to realize, oh that’s, you know, I’m on the other side of the curtain, I know what’s going on now. So actually remembering the industry that you’re part of and remembering how they they like things or don’t like things is, is also a really important play.

Jack 45:53

Um, as part of this, yeah, life lesson life lessons, well as as they said memorably in the phantom menace. This turn of events is unfortunate. We must accelerate our plans, and that’s the key you gotta have a plan I’m not going to comment on you quoting the phantom menace to me.

Max 46:10

I can’t believe that.

Jack 46:10

But the best prequel so there we go we’ve uh, yeah, almost I think we’re done there. There’s, as ever, lots of resources available on the big games machine website if you want to dive into some topics in more detail, so check those out we’ve got not to interrupt jack, but we have got quite a few.

Tom 46:35

We’ve got a few really good um again plug in our own stuff. So I’m going to say it’s really good. But we have got some genuinely good um stuff related to, like, pr, mistakes to avoid and stuff that’s adjacent to this topic, and that’s all. It’s all on the website, free to access. So you know, be sure to be sure to go check that stuff out, cause you can never know too much. You can never know too much when you’re stepping through the minefield of PR and all these other, all these other bits.

Jack 47:06

If you’ve stumbled across this episode and you like what you hear, we are available on all major streaming platforms where you can get more. This is we’ve done over 20 episodes now, so there’s a great backlog to work through, and if we haven’t covered a topic yet that you’d like us to, then let us know. We’re on social media. You can message us there and we’d be happy to add it to the ideas list. We’ve got lots of exciting content in the planner and we can’t wait to share more with you. That’s the key word there share. Please share this if you found it useful. Share it with someone if you think they will find it useful, and we’ll catch you and the rest of our listeners on the next one. Thank you all. Bye-bye.

Tom 47:48

Bye Farewell.


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