Gaming’s biggest PR failures and how to avoid them

Having a good PR strategy for your game is essential, whether you are a one-person development team or a multinational studio. However, not everyone gets their video game PR right – which has led to some infamous game PR failures.

Let’s dive into this pit of communication calamities, marketing mistakes, and – in some cases – breaking of laws.


With hits such as Dishonored and Deathloop, Arkane Studios had a perfect track record up until the launch of its multiplayer vampire FPS, Redfall, which was described as “a blood-sucking shooter with soul-crushing problems” at launch. 

But middling reviews weren’t the only issues with Redfall, as there were signs things weren’t quite going to plan well before the release date. 

It all began with the announcement that the game would require a constant internet connection to play, which raised a few eyebrows given it was coming from a studio renowned for single-player experiences.

But what got fans riled up on social media was when it was announced that the game would be capped at 30fps just weeks before its launch date on Xbox series consoles, despite earlier footage showing the title at 60fps – the industry gold standard for first-person shooters, adopted by titles such as Battlefield, Call of Duty, and DOOM.

To make matters worse, the news came so close to launch day that the 60fps mode had already been printed on the retail boxes due to be delivered to stores. 

Bethesda’s solution? To add an ugly sticker to the box stating the feature “is not available for launch,” which might as well have said, “this product isn’t as polished as it should be.”

Bethesda and Arkane eventually added a performance mode to the game, albeit almost six months later, which was too late. Combined with the launch day woes, the bad publicity has had a detrimental impact on its user base, which is now so low that you often can’t even pull together an entire team of just four players. 

What can we learn from this? 

It’s one thing to release a game that isn’t quite ready to play, but it’s another entirely to launch one missing key features expected by fans. If Redfall had never suggested it would launch with 60fps, the announcement that it wouldn’t have a performance mode at release likely wouldn’t have generated as much negative discussion in the run-up to launch day.

In other words, only announce features in your game or product if you’re confident you can deliver, as fans won’t hesitate to call you out if it all goes wrong.

Admittedly, this is an extreme example, and we have to wonder what level of miscommunication occurred between marketing and the development team for a feature that was nowhere near ready to be printed on the final retail product. Still, it goes without saying to keep everyone at the studio up-to-speed every step of the way.


Cyberpunk 2077’s issues, bugs, and glitches are well documented and, for the most part, have now been addressed at the time of writing, but these weren’t the only problems that CD Projekt RED had to deal with at the game’s launch. 

One of the most glaring problems in their PR strategy was the last-minute sending of review codes for console builds – seemingly due to the state of the build on PS4 and Xbox One consoles.

This gave the media no time to provide the game with a proper review on consoles and, therefore, no warning to consumers that the game they would be purchasing wasn’t a fair representation of what was advertised.

Console reviews came in much later, and initial reviews were only on PC due to the lack of console codes that had been given out.

Compounding this problem was the rabid nature of fans who were so hyped to play the game after waiting for years. This resulted in some Cyberpunk fans harassing and sending death threats to media who dared give the game a low, or even average, review score on the builds available for review. 

The damage was so significant that it’s taken CD Projekt RED almost three years to restore the reputation of the Cyberpunk franchise, which has taken tremendous work.  

However, even after launching a critically acclaimed anime TV series, an immense 2.0 update revising almost every system in the game, and the massive Phantom Liberty expansion, there are still some who simply can’t forget the initial disappointment they felt on launch day – and we can’t help but wonder if they ever will. 

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Don’t try and cut out entire platforms from reviews!

What can we learn from this? 

While it’s easy to point the finger at PR and communications here, many of the game PR failures start by announcing launch dates too early. The release date for Cyberpunk 2077 was pushed back on at least three separate occasions, with the third update confirming the game wouldn’t be delayed again. That’s a bad message to go out with, as Cyberpunk 2077 would have benefited from another month or two in dev time, at least.

The lesson here? Don’t announce a launch date for your game too early. Unfortunately, decisions such as these are often made higher up and are out of the hands of marketing and PR professionals.

If all else fails, always remember the words of Shigeru Miyamoto, “A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.”


Starfield is the first new IP Bethesda has released in over 25 years, a space epic that takes players across a galaxy so vast in scope that it makes Skyrim seem tiny. 

Its massive proportions had inevitably resulted in several delays. Still, it all paid off when the game finally released in September 2023, with most fans agreeing that it is by far the most polished game Bethesda has ever released.

So why then, was Bethesda so touchy about who got their hands on a review copy?

Before lifting the game’s embargo, several prominent publications in the UK published articles stating their Starfield review wouldn’t arrive until long after the release date as they were yet to receive a copy of the game, including Eurogamer, Edge Magazine, The Guardian and the Metro.

In contrast, most US-based publications got their review copies far before release, meaning their opinions were published in line with the embargo, and Bethesda declined to comment on the situation. 

This approach led to many fans assuming that Bethesda was trying to skew the review process so that scores tallied in their favour on launch day. The thing is, we’re reasonably sure that wasn’t what Bethesda was trying to do – or at least if they were, their approach didn’t make any sense. 

For example, Gamespot has been one of Bethesda’s harshest critics, rating Fallout 76 a middling 4/10. Despite this, they were first in line for a review copy of Starfield and scored the title 7/10, which, while not a bad score, we would imagine if Bethesda had been trying to leverage things in their favour, they’d be hoping for something far higher. 

In the end, from what we can tell, all they achieved was a bunch of negative publicity right before the launch of their biggest game in over two decades.

If you’re aiming to reach for the stars, don’t start restricting who can or can’t review your game without good reason!

What can we learn from this?

Critics hold a lot of weight in any industry. If you’re on the edge about whether or not to buy something, a glowing (or scathing) review from your favourite writer or publication can be all it takes to tip you in either direction. So much so that it’s not uncommon for certain studios to have bonuses tied to critic scores on aggregator sites, such as Metacritic and Opencritic.

Because of that, it can be tempting to try and mess with the review process to ensure that everything goes in your favour.

However, as Bethesda has so kindly demonstrated, this is incredibly risky and will almost certainly backfire once (not if) word breaks out, as it simply gives the impression that you’re not trustworthy and don’t have faith in your product.

One outlier from all this is Kotaku, who didn’t receive a review copy as they’ve been blacklisted by Bethesda since 2013 for leaking key details about several of their titles prior to their official announcement.

While this is a separate issue, it goes without saying that blacklisting should always be a last resort, such as when an embargo has been deliberately broken or a major factual inaccuracy has been published, and shouldn’t be enacted for something like a negative review.


There have been some excellent video games based on the Lord of the Rings universe, such as Monolith’s Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor and EA’s Battle for Middle Earth 2. Sadly, Daedelic Entertainment’s Lord of the Rings: Gollum is not one of them.

Plagued by broken promises, disappointing gameplay and technical issues, one review at launch joked that the best thing to do with it is to “boil it, mash it, stick it in the bin.” The response was so catastrophic that Daedelic Entertainment cancelled a future Lord of the Rings project and tragically laid off most of its staff before exiting the industry entirely. 

However, before jumping ship, a public apology was posted by Daedelic on their social media channels, promising to address its various problems in future patches – or at least, so it seemed.

Some fans noticed that the copy’s apology had an obvious typo, stating Lord of the Ring rather than Lord of the Rings. While this seems relatively insignificant on its own, reports have since come out from ex-staff members that the apology was generated entirely by ChatGPT.

Regardless of your opinions on generative AI, using an AI algorithm to write a heartfelt, sincere apology for something that disappointed hundreds of thousands of people would never go down well.

To make matters worse, the former staff claim that the team working on the game only became aware of the apology once they saw it had been published and had no part in it whatsoever.

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Daedelic Entertainment’s allegedly AI-generated public apology

What can we learn from this?

Sometimes, despite best efforts, things are beyond control and don’t go according to plan. In those situations, the best approach is to hold up your hands and apologise for what went wrong. 

But if you are going to say sorry, make sure you do it in the right way. It should be written (or, better yet, recorded) by someone who deeply cares about the project and wants to make things right. Issuing an insincere apology is worse than having no apology at all, and will make the situation a million times worse than it likely already was.


Pride month has become a major cultural celebration in recent years, recognising the importance of sexual diversity in our communities, the media and pop culture.

Sadly, it’s become such a prominent event in marketing calendars that some companies have been too eager to get involved, putting together poorly thought-through and insensitive campaigns. 

One particularly dreadful example was in the mobile version of Netherealm’s DC-brawler Injustice 2, which was designed to celebrate one of the comic’s most iconic queer characters, Poison Ivy.

The ‘Love Conquers All’ campaign asked players around the world to join forces in beating Poison Ivy to a bloodied pulp in exchange for special prizes. They were told they would receive an extra special prize if they were collectively able to smite down Poison Ivy half a million times. 

Given the history of LGBT+ individuals has been shrouded in controversy, violence and discrimination, asking players to physically attack a prominent LGBT comic book character was probably the worst possible way to mark the occasion. 

Even more baffling was that players could choose to attack Poison Ivy as DC’s other prominent LGBT character (and Poison Ivy’s romantic partner in the comics), Harley Quinn, 

Once news of all this spread, the event was quickly taken down, followed by a public apology from Warner Bros on social media:  “Real-life violence against the LGBTQIA+ community and women within that community in particular is all too common and we should actively engage in efforts to end LGBTQIA+ violence, not normalise it. We apologise to the greater community, but especially LGBTQIA+ members.”

What can we learn from this?

It’s important to carefully consider your strategy before launching any sort of campaign or LiveOps tying into a culturally sensitive event like this, as a few missteps could rapidly cause it to appear tone-deaf or, worse, discriminatory.

Make sure you carefully consult your PR & marketing team before pushing ahead, as well as someone with a personal understanding and connection to the community who can assure you’re sending the right message.


Real-life marketing video games have gotten increasingly experimental in recent years, with amazing sights such as the Diablo IV ‘goremet’ chocolate shop and a Final Fantasy 16 armoury proving to be excellent ways to drum up hype.

We’re sure that the Pokémon Company had high hopes that their collaboration with the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam would be a similar success – but it simply wasn’t meant to be.

While the event itself was brilliantly executed, with a quirky exhibition of modern art by Pokémon artists who had been inspired by Van Gogh’s links to Japanese culture, a free giveaway of a limited edition Pokémon card caused the event to descend into chaos.

The card, which features a Van Gogh-inspired Pikachu, became so desirable amongst fans that it can be found on third-party websites for as much as £7,000, resulting in a swarm of scalpers descending onto the event hoping to make a quick buck.

Eventually, the situation became so dire that the Pokémon Company was forced to withdraw the card entirely amid safety and security concerns, disappointing thousands of fans. 

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The rare Van Gogh-inspired Pikachu card (Source: The Pokémon Center)

What can we learn from this?

A well-executed marketing event can be a highly effective way to grab the attention of audiences and the media. Equally, a poorly executed marketing event can be just as effective at generating negative publicity.

Given the popularity of the Pokémon brand, it wasn’t hard to foresee what would happen here before the event had even opened its doors, especially given that this was far from the first time something like this had happened. 

In 2022, a pop-up Pokémon Centre store in London ran out of exclusive merchandise within an hour of opening. Earlier this year, The Pokémon Company had to issue a statement after it completely ran out of trading cards in Japan following the release of a rare set themed around Scarlet and Violet. 

Remember, product scarcity will almost always heighten issues around scalpers and accessibility. If you’re working with a popular brand, you need to make sure you’re prepared to meet demand with enough stock and have steps in place to keep everything under control.

If the exhibition had been better organised, such as by an event team like ours, with an actual ticketing system to ensure that attendance numbers could be controlled, many of these problems could have been avoided.


The event involved players delivering COVID-19 Vaccines in-game to mark the widespread roll-out of the vaccines in the real world.

Both American Truck Simulator and Euro Truck Simulator featured the event, which soon became a battleground between pro and anti-vaccination groups.

Despite the announcement broadly implying that vaccines are a positive thing, developer SCS Software appeared to be rather comfortable with anti-vaccination sentiments. The press release stated: “We do not take a stand either for or against vaccines; we just wanted to express our appreciation and support for every real truck driver out there who have been facing very challenging times since the pandemic situation began!”

When delivering your messaging, be sure you are clear in what exactly it is you are saying!

PCGamesN here in this article explains the response from the developer, who got in contact with the site in order to try and provide some clarity on the messy situation!

What can we learn from this? 

It should go without saying that launching a PR campaign around a pandemic isn’t the smartest of moves. The issues here demonstrate that there wasn’t enough thought given to how this campaign would be received and the potential backlash.

So, when writing your press release, be careful not to fall into any traps with your messaging. Be sure you know – and stand by – what you are saying. And if you are worried about things getting lost in translation, you should spend some money having your release translated or copy-edited just to be safe.


To promote the upcoming launch of their latest title, Sniper Ghost Warrior, CI games invited game journalists and influencers to a physical event in the US. The event was held at a facility used to train law enforcement and military personnel but was decorated to look like a war zone in the Middle East.

Gaming publication TheGamer described how no game developers were at the event, with the press being left completely in the hands of the organisers who didn’t even mention the game.

Instead, the media were kitted out in military gear and receiving training to kill ‘bad guys’ who ‘had killed a lot of good Americans.’ These ‘bad guys’ were white actors dressed like Middle Eastern men.

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A shot of the facility as seen by TheGamer. Not pictured is the ‘Trump 2024: The Revenge Tour’ flag.

Unsurprisingly, members of the press didn’t have the best of times. When word got out about the event, CI Games made a lengthy statement about how it was ‘deeply disturbed’ by the reports.

What appears to have happened is that the developers got lazy with their PR strategy and didn’t do enough research or planning into the event and who exactly would be running it. Then, they gave up control of the event and messaging, which led to negative results and media focus on the company rather than the game itself.

So, if you are planning a media event, do so only once you’ve done your research and are happy with every aspect of it. Ensure it is actually promoting the game and not promoting insensitivity and offensiveness.

It sounds obvious, but sadly some people clearly need reminding.

What can we learn from this? 

The goal of curated press events is to drum up excitement, inform journalists, and ensure they’re looked after and, where possible, have fun. 

Doing this efficiently means knowing all of your event’s various ins and outs, who’s responsible for what, and the timings. Basically, all of the smallest details are nailed down and agreed upon to ensure everything runs as smoothly as possible. 

CI Games claimed in an apology tweet that the event organisers declined CI’s request for the event to be canceled.

What appears to have happened is that the studio wasn’t close enough to the PR strategy and didn’t do enough research or planning into the event and who exactly would be running it. 

Then, they gave up control of the event and messaging. This led to negative PR headlines and media focus on the company rather than the game itself.

So, if you are planning a media event, do so only once you’ve done your research and are happy with every aspect of it. Work closely with your PR team, too, rather than just letting them run off and do their own thing.


With loads of social media channels to get their messages out there and various community managers on the team, THQ Nordic should have no problem running an online Q&A, right?

So, where did they decide to run their Q&A? Twitter? Facebook? Reddit?


In what’s got to be one of the most unorthodox communication decisions of 2019, THQ Nordic decided that 8chan – yes, 8chan – was the perfect platform to hold an important Q&A.

A quick Google search of 8chan brings up hundreds of stories about racism, sexism, and loads of other stuff that’s so terrible we don’t really wanna mention it, to be honest. 

THQ Nordic could have easily researched the platform and realised that hosting a Q&A there posed the same corporate risk as deliberately starting a fire in head office – but they went ahead with it anyway. 

THQ Nordic made a big PR failure with this campaign.
Nobody knew why THQ Nordic was doing one, either.

As expected, the Q&A was a disaster, and THQ Nordic was forced to apologise. It took the company one whole week to put out a statement disavowing the AMA.

What can we learn from this? 

For all its flaws, stick to traditional social media if you want to do a Q&A. Also, don’t respond to controversial questions and engage with platforms known for being full of trolls!

It really is that simple.


A classic PR move is sending stuff to media in the form of press kits to promote the game you’re working on. 

These press kits come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from themed USB pens and T-shirts to replicas of in-game items and soundtrack CDs. 

In the case of the presskits for Godfather II, EA decided it wanted to send journalists a replica of an in-game item. In this case, brass knuckles. 

Brass knuckles are illegal in most US States, including California, where EA is based. 

This is where things started to go downhill after EA posted the press kits and realised the error, the studio contacted journalists, asking them to send back the brass knuckles. 

As we’ve already mentioned, the problem here is that brass knuckles are illegal. So while EA has already broken the law, they’re also asking journalists to break the law if they then ship the weapons back to California.

All of this was very messy and certainly not a good look for EA. After getting members of the press excited about playing as a criminal mastermind, they unwittingly turned them into criminals themselves. 

EA shipped weapons to the media - a huge PR failure!
EA wanted The Godfather II to be a hit with the press. But they almost KO’d their media list!

What can we learn from this? 

Outside of the obvious lessons about not sending banned items through the post, make sure you think carefully about the contents of any press kits you’re sending out and how journalists receive them. 

Are the items in that press kit inclusive? Do they risk causing offence? Are your press kits environmentally friendly? All of this stuff matters! 

11. Watchdogs safe appeared anything but safe (Ubisoft, 2014)

Here’s another press kit blunder for you: imagine sending journalists a press kit and having them call a bomb squad in response. 

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A brilliant lesson in how not to PR your game thanks to Ubisoft and Watchdogs.

That’s exactly what happened with Ubisoft and its press kits for Watchdogs after one Australian journalist received what they believed to be a mysterious package. 

Watch Dogs is a game about hacking, so the PR kit contained a safe and some very cryptic clues on how to open it. 

Unfortunately, alarms were raised once the safe started beeping, especially as an accompanying note told the journalist to “check their voicemail,” and the journalist in question didn’t even use voicemail. 

Still, the journalist checked in with his peers to double-check the safe in front of him wasn’t just a press kit. But none of his peers had received the same kit. 

So, there is a mysterious safe with no code to open it, and then when an attempt to open it is made, the safe starts beeping. 

So what happened next?

The bomb disposal squad was called in, and the entire office building was evacuated. 

The bomb disposal squad managed to crack the safe and reveal a review copy of Watchdogs, a baseball cap, and, thankfully, no explosive device. 

A dodgy PR stunt, and one which caused such a stir that Ubisoft had to acknowledge the situation in their communications publicly and apologise. 

What can we learn from this? 

Again, think about the materials you’re including in your press kit. And rather than surprise journalists with random press kits, you can inform them in advance that they’re due to receive one. Or, even better, ask if they actually want it. You should do this, especially when allocating a limited number of costly kits to a few journalists. 

It’s a waste of your time and money if no one is available to collect the press kit, which is returned to the sender. 

12. Duke Nukem Forever wanted to ban negative media forever (2K, 2011)

When sending your game out to the press, of course, you are no doubt hoping for glowing reviews.

Unfortunately, you can’t force the media to like the game. That doesn’t stop some companies from trying, though.

PR firm The Redner Group, hired by 2K for this project, posted about Duke Nukem reviewers on Twitter:

“Too many went too far with their reviews… we are reviewing who gets games next time and who doesn’t based on today’s venom.”

They would be blacklisting journalists who didn’t leave positive reviews for Duke Nukem Forever.

This didn’t go down too well with the media, and 2K quickly fired the firm. 2K issued a statement:

“2K Games does not endorse the comments made by Jim Redner, and we can confirm that The Redner Group no longer represents our products.”

Duke Nukem Forever 1
2K’s PR strategy went up in smoke after the firm they hired attempted to blacklist negative media.

What can we learn from this?

Certain publishers have blacklisted media – Kotaku has seemingly made it onto Nintendo’s naughty list – but it cannot be an official policy.

Not giving access to the game to certain journalists or sites is one thing. But stating that due to ‘venom,’ people won’t be getting them is another.

13. Shadow of Mordor and shadowy contracts (Warner Bros, 2014)

Back in 2014, video game journalist Jim Sterling and critic TotalBiscuit revealed that Warner Bros’ marketing partner, Plaid Social, alarmingly requested that all YouTube influencers who wanted pre-release codes for the upcoming release of Shadow of Mordor would have to provide positive sponsored content for the game.

Ultimately, Plaid would have full control over what material was and wasn’t published for Shadow of Mordor, essentially controlling the critical consensus of the game. 

If that wasn’t bad enough, Influencers had to meet strict quotas, including one live stream, one YouTube video, one Twitter post, and one Facebook post – again, all of which had to be lovely and positive about the game.

Reviewers were told their content should ‘persuade’ audiences to buy the game and were told not to mention the Lord of the Rings films, The Hobbit films, the books, or related media.

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It’s safe to say that once this news got out, people were less than happy about these unethical and restricted business practices.

What can we learn from this? 

By all means, provide journalists and influencers with review guides but do not, under any circumstances, try and control their editorial output. 

Journalists, influencers, and media creators must do their job independently and without influence from the press. It is not within your right as a PR or marketer to try and control or steer their editorial output. 

Similarly, you should never limit or dictate access to review copies by setting rules for expected coverage. 

Word quickly spreads within the inner circle of gaming journalists. If you think blacklisting an outlet because of how they previously covered your games is a good idea, they might just stop reviewing any games published by your client’s studio in the future. 


The goal:

“We wanted to provide a unique collector’s edition that was utterly Dead Island and would make a striking conversation piece on any discerning zombie gamer’s mantel,” said Paul Nicholls, Deep Silver’s sales and marketing director in 2013.

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The only thing this ‘bait’ ended up catching was controversy.

The result:

“…what kind of sociopath would actually want this 12-inch resin nightmare? Even putting aside the weird message a sexualized corpse torso sends, it’s just … ugly.” said game journalist and media commentator Jim Sterling.

As a limited-run in the UK and Australian market for Dead Island: Riptide, the ‘Zombie Bait’ edition of the game left critics and fans of the series feeling disappointed and creeped out by the bloodied torso in a Union Jack bikini and caused its fair share of online controversy. 

What can we learn from this? 

Not much that most people probably don’t already know to be honest. Maybe don’t bundle a sexualised bikini corpse covered in blood with the collector’s edition of your game. 


You know when PR disaster has struck when you need to roll out the phrase: “We’re sorry for any offence caused….”

This was the case for the Hitman: Absolution companion app for Facebook, where players could put ‘hits’ on their friends by selecting the reason for the hit and choosing identifiable body features to help make the hit. 

Once the hit is confirmed, an automated voice message would be sent to their target, including the stated purpose for the hit. 

But here’s where things get really messy… 

The identifiable body features used to make the hit included hair colour, bad tattoos, skinny frame, and – we’re not making this up – genitalia size (or lack thereof).

Go ahead and pick any one of them; they are all bad.

Square-Enix admitted they were “wide off the mark” and “decided the best thing to do was remove the app completely.”

What can we learn from this? 

Just… Erm… We think… How was this even signed off? 


Bethesda announced the Fallout 76 Power Armor Edition in the lead-up to Fallout 76’s release. Players would get a variety of cool goodies, including a replicate power helmet, collector’s figurines, and a branded canvas bag for $200. 

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What players expected to get when they ordered the Power Armor edition.

When the Power Armor edition arrived, it wasn’t quite what people were expecting (a perfect allegory for the game itself). In particular, they were disappointed by the quality of the bag, which wasn’t canvas as described, but a cheap nylon one instead. 

A member of the Bethesda support team apologised, citing that the original bag was too expensive to make. This caused further outrage as people waited for an official statement from Bethesda.

Bethesda stated they were investigating the response from the support team and said:

“Unfortunately, due to the unavailability of materials, we had to switch to a nylon carrying case in the Fallout 76: Power Armor Edition. We hope this doesn’t prevent anyone from enjoying what we feel is one of our best collector’s editions.”

Bethesda, hoping to remedy the situation, offered 500 Atoms (Fallout 76’s virtual currency) to affected players. Given that 500 Atoms is the equivalent of just $5, this only angered fans further. 

A summary of audience reaction.

Bethesda then stated that they would manufacture the original bags after all and gave players until January 31st, 2019, to request a replacement bag.

To make matters worse, players who pre-ordered this edition of the game eventually discovered the influencers were given different bags entirely, which were made out of far better material than those sent to fans who paid $200 for the game.

What can we learn from this? 

While the main issue here is down to budgeting, it led to a PR nightmare because of mixed messaging and poor communication in the aftermath of the main issue. 

If you’re monitoring social feeds and communication channels and can identify a potential issue, it needs flagging immediately and staff – including support staff – need to be provided with lines to take and given clear instructions on how to respond. 

A $5 giveaway of an in-game currency was not the correct way to fix this issue. Rather than hoping players might not notice a difference in the quality of the bags, supply issues should have been communicated upfront, along with a solution for how the issue would be addressed. 

Never ignore a problem or downplay it in the hope it might disappear. Often, it will only get worse! 


Grand Theft Auto has had its fair share of controversies over the years, but the ‘Hot Coffee’ mini-game is one of its biggest.  

‘Hot Coffee is the name of a mini-game in GTA: San Andreas, with protagonist CJ, invited into his girlfriend’s house for what we will term ‘coffee and chill,’ basically resulting in playable and animated sexual intercourse in the game. 

Rockstar initially claimed that the mini-game resulted from ‘hackers’ on PC, but players found it hidden in the console versions, which meant Rockstar had communicated a lie to cover themselves. 

This led to lawsuits, patches, the game being withdrawn from sale until versions could be released with the content wholly removed, and the reclassification of the game’s age rating in certain regions.

US Senator Hillary Clinton suggested that new regulations should be put on video game sales. The US Congress passed a resolution for a Federal Trade Commission investigation to determine whether Rockstar had intentionally undermined the ESRB rating system.

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Coffee and chill led to controversy in GTA San Andreas.

What can we learn from this? 

We can take a couple of lessons from the crisis management rulebook here. Mainly: 

  • Take responsibility for the situation (Rockstar didn’t) 
  • Act quickly, transparently, and be accountable (Rockstar didn’t) 
  • Get ahead of the story before it consumes you (Rockstar didn’t). 

Rockstar should have done its best to immediately remedy the situation by acknowledging the mistake, explaining why it happened, and having a clear, actionable plan in place to address the situation. 

Of course, there is no magic solution to solving an issue that’s so controversial it ends up capturing the attention of US Congress. But removing the mini-game from the PC version of San Andreas and not the console suggests they were aware of how controversial the mini-game would be. They should have had a plan in place to deal with any such controversy as a result.


Cast your mind back to 2011. We had the Royal Wedding between William and Kate. NASA found evidence of possible water on Mars, and ‘blockchain’ was added to the English dictionary (people said it was a word that would never be used!).

2011 was also the release of Homefront, an FPS set in an alternate world where North Korean forces occupy the United States of America. The game’s release was marked by PR firm TrashTalk FCM releasing 10,000 balloons into the sky at GDC 2011.

These were, according to THQ, bio-degradable balloons and primarily soy-based. So good for the planet, right?


It transpired it was actually a threat to wildlife, costing TrashTalk $7000 in fines as the balloons mostly ended up in the water of the Bay Area.

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Avoid combining PR campaigns and balloons, or you’ll sink as THQ did with Homefront.

A spokesperson for the environmentalist group Save the Bay said of the stunt:

“Obviously, we have a problem with polluting the bay and this is just polluting and littering.”

The balloons were also found to contain Gamestop advertisements, a very materialistic take on mimicking the efforts of South Korean activists to send balloons into North Korea filled with medicine, dollar bills, and USB sticks that contain K-Drama videos and K-Pop music for North Korean citizens to enjoy in secret.

The retailer quickly distanced itself from the incident and blamed it squarely on THQ.

“…the balloon drop stunt in San Francisco was created by THQ …and Game-Stop had no prior knowledge of it,” a spokesperson said at the time. 

What can we learn from this? 

Don’t use balloons in PR stunts. It’s as simple as that. While they used to be a great way of capturing attention, there are way too many concerns about the damage they can do to the environment, as proven in the case of Homefront. 

Anything you release into the environment as part of a PR campaign needs cleaning up afterward. If there’s no way of sensibly doing that in a controlled area, your idea no matter how good it is, is destined for the bin.


While hosting a competition to drum up excitement for a game is by no means a unique strategy, it’s a proven method of getting great results. 

BUT – and this is a big but: if the competition requirements and its resulting prizes are in bad taste, then be prepared for backlash. 

This is exactly what EA discovered in 2010.

EA ended up in the sin bin with this failure.

EA asked comic-con attendees to ‘sin to win’ as part of their Dante’s Inferno campaign.

Entrants were tasked with taking photos with the models working at the Dante’s Inferno booth or any other ‘booth babes’ working at the show. These were to be uploaded to Twitter and Facebook or emailed straight to EA.

The handpicked winner would win ‘dinner and a sinful night with two hot girls, a limo service, paparazzi, and a chest full of booty.’

Ironically, the contest rules stated that entries would be disqualified if deemed inappropriate for reasons including depictions of sex and alcohol.

A lengthy statement was quickly issued as criticism piled in, and Twitter saw the hashtag #EAFail trend.

The contest was, after that, seemingly abandoned.

What can we learn from this? 

Any PR campaign that sexually objectifies people or involves doing something in bad taste is just a bad idea.


A year after the global Pokemon Go phenomenon, Niantic decided to bring together 20,000 Pokemon Go trainers from across the globe. Held in Chicago, the plan was for a day of events, games, and community – culminating in a challenge to unlock a legendary Pokemon.

Ticket prices on the reseller market soared to a reported $2000 due to the hype among hardcore fans.

Unfortunately, the 2017 Pokemon Go festival was a bit of a PR disaster due to game crashes, connectivity issues, and an angry crowd sharing their disdain in front of Niantic CEO John Hanke.

The Pokemon GO community was very vocal about their situation on the day.

These technical issues began at 6 am, four hours before the event started. 

Press interviews were pushed back before ultimately being canceled. Niantic gave out $100 in the in-game currency and refunded the $20 ticket price to every player who had made it through the queues and checked in to the event.

And to top it all off, the legendary Pokemon challenge was scrapped. Instead, everyone who had checked in successfully to the event got a free Lugia. This was great – for a few hours at least, as it wasn’t long until Lugia was released to players worldwide.

What can we learn from this? 

Planning a physical PR event can be a logistical nightmare at the best of times. But planning such an event for an AR mobile game that relies on strong signal strength for a franchise as world-renowned as Pokemon makes things even more challenging. 

Unfortunately, there are times when things just don’t work out as planned. In fairness, The Pokemon Company quickly handled the criticism surrounding this festival and responded to it very well. 

The key lesson here is to overprovision for your event if the budget allows it when working with a major franchise, and be aware that when you’re dealing with an online game – especially on mobile – there are some factors, such as network issues that are out of your hands. 


This is one of the biggest PR blunders in gaming history. You can read the full email exchange here, but there’s a quick summary below. 

Back in 2011, a man simply known as Dave emailed Ocean Marketing politely asking about the status of his order. He had ordered two Avenger PS3 controllers.

This should have been a simple explanation about his order, and the current situation, but it escalated into personal threats from the man behind Ocean Marketing, Paul Christoforo.

Paul claimed that they were such a big name in the industry that even if Dave showed people their email exchange, it would be no problem for Ocean Marketing.

Dave then added some big media names into the email chain, including Mike Krahulik, who just so happens to run PAX, showing the correspondence and how absolutely not to talk with customers. 

Ocean Marketing claimed that they would be at PAX – to which Mike told them that they would no longer be able to attend.

Ocean Marketing dismissed this, claiming that there were bigger and better shows to go to, and then started questioning if Mike really was from Boston – as Ocean Marketing ‘knew everyone in Boston.’

Things escalated further, causing IGN to state in no uncertain terms they did not support Ocean Marketing nor want anything to do with it. Ocean Marketing became a meme that even unrelated companies like Geico got in on.

What can we learn from this? 

Always treat your customers, clients, and anyone you’re dealing with on behalf of clients with the respect they deserve. 

Be aware that any messages shared over email or other communication channels can be easily shared and reproduced by recipients. Every time you communicate, you’re leaving a paper trail. If you speak to people like dirt in that paper trail or say things that you absolutely shouldn’t be saying, be prepared for them to come back and bite you. 


In 2011, Sony’s PlayStation Network (PSN) was hacked and taken offline, but not before the details of around 77 million PSN users were compromised.

People were obviously very confused, and speculation was rife as people waited for Sony to clarify what had happened.

They waited and waited.

Sony took a long time to respond to the criticism, only confirming the possibility that data was stolen nearly a week after the outage.

This is, of course, where the PR failure comes into view.

Forced to respond to why it took them so long to notify consumers of the extent of the problems, Sony’s director of communications, Patrick Seybold, said:

“There’s a difference in timing between when we identified there was an intrusion and when we learned of consumers’ data being compromised.”

A class-action lawsuit was filed the next day, just one of many that were to come from this incident. In fact, at one point, Sony faced no less than 55 class-action lawsuits due to the incident.

Sony apologised numerous times and attempted to gain favour with their customers again by offering them two free PS3 and PSP games from a small selection. However, many complained that they already had the titles on offer. SCEE Head of communications Nick Caplin said:

“We’ve tried really hard to put together a list of high-quality BD games, rather than simply offering cheaper PSN titles…the average Metacritic rating for these games is over 84 percent, so these are high-quality games.”

What can we learn from this? 

If something disastrous happens and messages need to be communicated, they must be communicated as soon as possible – even if you just confirm that you are investigating it. 

This is especially important with something as serious as a data breach. Word spreads quickly in today’s online environment. If you don’t acknowledge and address a situation, you risk it running ahead of you and looking like you’ve lost control – which is exactly what happened here.

23. EA tells people not to buy Battlefield 5 if they don’t like it – then complains about low sales (EA, 2018)

If getting audiences to buy your game is the primary goal, then telling them to do the opposite will never be a winning strategy.

Faced with mounting criticism that Battlefield V’s heavy focus on female combatants in a World War II game was becoming unrealistic and pandering to changes in the social climate, EA’s chief creative officer Patrick Soderlund said:

“…I think those people who don’t understand it, well, you have two choices: either accept it or don’t buy the game. I’m fine with either or.”

People were all too happy to take Soderlund up on his offer. Battlefield sold over seven million copies, but EA was expecting a few million more than that. Battlefield V’s limited single-player campaign at launch, unimplemented cooperative missions, and disagreements over the title’s presentation of history led to players holding off buying the game. The confusing staggered launch complicated matters further.

EA blamed the popularity of battle royale modes in the genre on Battlefield’s lack of sales, with EA executive Blake Jorgensen saying:

“This year, battle royale modes became incredibly popular in shooter games. As a result of these decisions, we struggled to gain momentum, and we did not meet our sales expectations for the quarter.”

What can we learn from this? 

It can be hard to isolate a specific reason for the lack of uptake for your game. But avoid actively telling people not to buy your game if you want them to buy it.

Plus, relying solely on PR for sales isn’t a good use of time or resources – it should be used in conjunction with a marketing strategy for best results if that’s your goal.


When Team 17, the studio and publisher responsible for the iconic Worms franchise, announced the launch of themed NFTs for the series, the backlash amongst games was so significant that it backstepped and canceled the launch within 24 hours of announcing it. 

So significant was the backlash to this NFT project that some of the studio’s development partners, such as Aggro Crab, released statements saying they were cutting ties with Team 17 unless they backstepped on the announcement. 

This isn’t just a case of ‘gamers don’t like NFTs,’ though. A lot of the controversy was down to the fact that Team 17’s Social and Community teams had not been told about the launch. 

As such, they were caught off guard, but they were the ones having to deal with angry backlash on communication channels about a decision that they had nothing to do with – and in some cases, had even warned the company against.


What can we learn from this? 

There’s no quick and easy way of solving public perception of NFTs amongst gamers, but if you plan on rolling out NFTs, we’d strongly advise you to be prepared for backlash. 

This backlash includes your own team as well. Be sure to communicate with your team, no matter the size, so that nobody feels ignored.


Staying within the blockchain space is a cautionary tale about going too big, too soon.

Untamed Isles was the ambitious debut project for indie team Phat Loot Studios. An expansive MMORPG, it also turned out to be an expensive MMORPG too.

The monster-taming turn-based MMORPG took to Kickstarter to fund its development and raised almost $500,000. However, this sum wasn’t enough, as Phat Loot had hired more developers than it could sustain, with over 70 members brought on board for the project who would sadly lose their jobs.

Crypto investment was sought as the solution to these issues, but due to the crypto crash, the increased number of investors expected didn’t happen, with many instead backing out and leaving Untamed Isles dead in the water.

The PR failures regarding Untamed Isles stem from a lack of communication.

The project’s links to crypto were unclear to audiences, with only a brief mention of the play-to-earn elements on Kickstarter. To muddy the waters of Untamed Isles further, the Steam Store had no reference to blockchain or play-to-earn at all. This goes against the rules on Steam!

Questions were asked about the project’s relationship with crypto, and many in the growing Untamed Isles community were left feeling like they had been lied to. When asked about removing the game’s blockchain elements, Phat Loot CEO Joshua Grant said he was unwilling to do this, as it wouldn’t be fair to those crypto investors who had already put funding into the Untamed Isles project.

Phat Loot was battling a tidal wave of negative sentiment, a lack of media interest, and a dwindling supply of funds to keep things running.

An Early Access release date in October 2022 was the target, but in August 2022, Untamed Isles was put on indefinite hiatus. No refunds were given to Kickstarter backers, and more details came out regarding how influencers were misled and the misconceptions around the implementation of NFTs from the start.

What can we learn from this?

Opting for a business-focused PR strategy would be an excellent way of ensuring the ethos and goals of the project are communicated to business and financial journalists. Building credibility is just as important as building the game, especially in a growing but controversial space such as crypto.

Being transparent about funding sources and what said funding is being used for, when it comes to the project, is essential to avoid a PR failure. Being open with the media also means being open with fans and creators you wish to work with.

If features are going to change dramatically or if a new business model is going to be implemented, it would be wise to make it clear in a press release or statement.

It also helps to keep grounded and not scale up the size of the team without a solid plan.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew, to use the classic phrase!


If possible, don’t mess around with balloons, even if they are supposedly environmentally friendly. The animals will thank you.

Is something big about to boot off? Tell people immediately, don’t leave it a week when it’s too late. 

Research the platforms you want to communicate on before you go and do so. I’ll help you. If it has a number in the title, literally any number, followed by ‘chan,’ say no.

Don’t try to be too clever when sending things to the media. Do not send weapons to the media or anything construed as a weapon. If the bomb disposal squad has to be sent in, you have messed up promoting your game to journalists big time.

Make sure that if you have promised to send players something, you send what was promised. No shortcuts, no cheap alternatives. Don’t mess around with the mail.

Don’t hide inappropriate mini-games within the code, then blame it on ‘hackers’ when you know who is at fault. Try not to get too graphic with zombie games and PR stunts. 

Finally, don’t try to control the press and influencers. You cannot blacklist them or coerce them into leaving positive coverage for your game. It is only going to reflect poorly on you if you do.

By avoiding these game PR failures, you should be able to create and run a stable but safe PR campaign for your game.