What happens when a game goes wrong? There’s a problem and it isn’t working properly. It isn’t selling as well as folks expected. People aren’t accepting a premise. There are greedy microtransactions. Unfortunately, there is one reaction people can count on: shifting of the blame. When something goes wrong, companies are going to try and deflect to make themselves look better. Which is absolutely easy to see through. We know what is going on, yet still they persist.
The most recent example of this is Cliff Bleszinski’s LawBreakers. After a worse than tepid launch, all sorts of explanations were cited for it being a flop. It was being described as a slow-burner that might suddenly pick up steam after people discovered how great it was. Overwatch was pointed to as too strong a competitor, zapping its life. But most recently, Nexon said it is all PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds’ fault. Nevermind that PUBG’s success didn’t start skyrocketing until after LawBreakers’ release or it being an entirely different sort of game. It is totally the reason the bland, unappealing, and unintuitive LawBreakers flopped. Sure. But really, it was Nexon’s and Boss Key Productions’ fault for not making a good and interesting game.
But that’s only one recent example of a company trying to look for a scrapegoat, rather than own up to their own failings. EA is another. When its 2017 Star Wars: Battlefront II storm was raging, it had all sorts of excuses for the pay-to-win nature of the game. The most disappointing was the excuse that Star Wars canon forced them to go that way with microtransactions and DLC. One of the most famous lines was EA CFO Blake Jorgensen saying people wouldn’t want a Pink Darth Vader customization option. Well, it’s months later and not only are people still pissed about the add-ons that were released, but modders went out of their way to make a pink Darth Vader that players love! It’s another situation where the companies shouldn’t try and lie or deflect. Admit they were wrong for being greedy, instead of looking for an excuse for their behavior.
And while those are only the most recent examples, this is something that has been happening a lot over the last few years. Remember when Call of Duty: Ghosts and Skylanders: Swap Force didn’t perform well? Activision didn’t take the blame for the off years. Even though both games weren’t as good as their contemporaries, either due to mechanics, storylines, or figures that forced you to purchase multiple, larger and more expensive than usual toys so you could reach every possible area in the game. No, it blamed everyone else. Call of Duty: Ghosts didn’t do well because people were transitioning from the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One! Skylanders: Swap Force faltered because Pokemon X and Y and Disney Infinity were there. Again, it is shifting away from themselves, when really there were probably internal issues at play too.
But one of my favorite cases of blame shifting has to do with Gearbox. Remember Aliens: Colonial Marines? Remember what a mess it was? It was buggy, glitchy, didn’t stay true to the source material, looked terrible, had misleading footage ahead of launch that was not indicative of the final product, and just not fun to play! There was tremendous backlash against Gearbox, Sega, and everyone involved in its creation. But the funny part came when Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford spoke at the 2015 Develop conference and tried to say that some of the Aliens: Colonial Marines backlash was from a small, vocal minority who were sadistic people who thrived on hatred. Really. His exact quote from the speech was, ““I read it in this way: we moved those people, we touched them – even the person who hates [your game] so much, you’ve affected them. That’s why we fight, we’re creating emotion and experience – and some people thrive on that type of feeling, some people are sadists.”
Publishers need to remember people are smart. We are playing these games and know when things are going right or wrong. Don’t try to deflect or search for a scrapegoat. Own up to mistakes! Admit you were wrong! Sincerely apologize and make things right!