Another Epic PR disaster

When the Epic Game Store came around the first time, I considered it an addition to the whole economy of digital games stores. There’s always more room to challenge Valve, GOG and the rest as long as the service is right, the price it tight and products stand out. The last bit Epic has been working on overtime, but not the way most consumers would want. Its not that Epic has put studios to work for unique games, but they’ve been doshing dough around like no other, picking up games off from developers from Patreon, Kickstarted products and such. Kickstarted products is the sore point, as many were promised either physical PC release or a Steam key, but with Epic bringing its bang to the table, these promises turn empty and they’re given Epic codes instead. While Kickstarter is not a store and changes are always going to happen, keeping tight on your delivered products. When things are like this, you need some good PR management skills to handle the situation. Ok, let’s be realistic; you need someone with excellent PR skill and background to manage the consumers and dampen all the possible damage. You never go in head first yourself, because you don’t have the skills or knowhow. You’d be an idiot to assume that consumers of any sort are a kind bunch. Outside already promised products e.g. via Kickstarter changing their form and direction, in principle there’s nothing wrong in Epic’s way of making exclusives. Personal opinion doesn’t exactly matter, when the majority has made their negative view on the platform rather vocal.

Consider why each and every successful corporation, company or individual businessman has a front while everything happens behind the curtains. That is to keep the consumer at an arm’s length away to keep some details behind the curtain while having proper discourse with the customer.

You probably already know ins and outs how Ben and his wife Rebecca have been working on a game titled Ooblets and how it became a timed-exclusive for Epic Store. I didn’t know about them two days ago, and apparently not many others had either. Still, Ben doesn’t mention his last name or sign with full title, so I’m going to call him just Ben, uncharacteristically. Sorry Benjamin, don’t mean to mix you with this Ben. After Ben announced the situation, he and his wife got some heavy backlash, which should have been completely expected considering how negative reception Epic has. Of course, being Ben he went on to Medium and wrote a long response. Archived version for your pleasure. We’re mostly going to concentrate on this, but you can jump on their Discord if you want to read how easily Ben is willing to take a shot at people for whatever reason. OneAngryGamer has some of them archived, just like his article is.

It really is largely trite to read through, as anyone who have followed any standard events regarding production of games from the start within the indie scene should know, especially the title has been Kickstarted. Most interaction with fans is positive, until you fuck up somehow. When you fuck up, that brings in the rest of your silent backers and other potential customers in like a lightning rod. Ben describes how their style has been jolly and non-serious all this time, which is the first error most of these independent creators do, because that means nobody can never really trust their info without analysing through the bullshit you’re spouting. Having a joke here or there to break the ice is great, but being tongue-in-cheek as your standard style of interaction is about as welcome as a rash on your ass. Sure its colourful and gives you attention, but in the end you want that clear and fresh feeling instead.

The Internet is nothing new when it comes to mad people. It is a misconception that the Internet brought us some sort of new era of hate messages or the like. No, hate mail has always existed. Before direct messaging and emails, people used letters published in news papers or sent directly to the provider, or simply calling by phone. The Internet just has democratised who and how they are able to voice their opinion. Ben listing some examples of people going over the board does show that there are people either genuinely mad, or that there are just people wanting to pitch in for good time’s sake. Neither really is constructive, but emotions tend to take over people very easily.

Ben makes clear that he doesn’t consider anyone a customer. He or his wife hasn’t sold anything to anyone, so there isn’t a provider-consumer relationship. He’d be wrong. The relationship that exists between the two and their audience is potential consumer base, which has effectively become their fanbase that they were nurturing. In the face of law this is the case, he can argue that. However, considering he team has a Patreon that is directly about funding the game. Still, they don’t offer any of the game there, just some merch when they begin to produce it. Maybe.

However, when you have a fanbase and interact with and constantly update them on your progress, you have a group of people you have cultivated as your main consumer base. There is a certain silent agreement between you and this group of people about a transaction and this has been going on for three years. If Ben thought for a moment that there wasn’t meta-transaction on an emotional level going on, he has been sorely mistaken. He can call people entitled all he wants or whatnot, but do remember that when you are promising a product to fans, and have given your word (despite this not being a binding contract), you’ve already made emotional connections and managed to tie the future consumer of your future product to your brand. That tongue-in-cheek nature nature of messages and updates is an element that backfires twice as worse in situation like these, as that tone is often seen as facetious and deceptive. At best it’ll be regarded as condescending, though often that’s the underlying tone. There has been implied promises going on for three years. Morally speaking, Ben and his wife do owe to these people. Furthermore, they owe their very current monetary situation and success to their fans and especially to their patrons.

Ben admits he has a PR disaster in his hands. Yet he blames this on a portion of gaming community rather than acknowledging  his own fuck-up. His business sense overrode the work he had done with his PR, where Epic’s offer for a timed-exclusive seemed a better option over long-term positive feedback. Even my sorry ass has heard enough tales of consumers and fans getting riled up over developers and publishers being swayed by Epic’s bucks. Any and all devs at this very moment should ask themselves Is my fame more worth than the money I’m currently offered? Hell, I’ll even argue that if a dev now would make a bold announcement that they have rejected Epic’s offer for exclusivity in favour if fans’ and consumers’ preference in a proper way, they’d be hailed, in words of an Australian, as fucking heroes.

If you screw your PR like this and make widely unpopular move all the while taking a good shit on people who could have been customers, then still proceed to take numerous dumps on people, belittling people, don’t go cry over a massive backlash. While regrettable, it is also the harsh truth of business and maintaining your image. Ben’s and Rebecca’s first ride on the PR train and it getting off the tracks was, ultimately, their own doing. A reaction always requires something to start it going. Just to make sure, I didn’t say they deserve getting the worst of the rap that’s raining on them, but they are the source of this reaction, which could have been mostly avoided. Not the way Ben and his folks were maintaining their interactions though.

This whole deal shows basic lack of consumer research and expectations evaluation. Both PC and console consumers have been vocal about Epic’s misgivings and even more about how the developers and publishers seem to have lost all contact with the people who buy their stuff. I shouldn’t underline the bottom line with this repetition, but as a provider, albeit as one who has not yet delivered one product, everything hangs on the people who are willing give you money. Now, with their decision to handle things like this, not practicing good sense and proper manners when interacting with audience and not clowning around, they’ll probably see less success and a very tarnished reputation. That’ll take some polishing to fix.

Providers aren’t your friend. They’re in the field to get paid. Directly interacting with them won’t change this, no matter what sort of relationship and emotional connection you have with them.

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