I’ve often criticised modern video game developers, saying that they lack the tact of their predecessors both in and out of industry. One thing that has been an age old golden rule; don’t attack your customers. However, this latter part of the 2010’s has seen the media itself come after its consumers, like Gamasutra with their Gamers don’t need to be you audience article, which was echoed in numerous other outlets at the same time. For example, now beaten to death event where one of the staff members of Battlefield V outright told the consumers and outlets that if they didn’t like the direction where they were taking the series and the title, they always had the option not to buy it. A corporation shouldn’t really remind its consumers that wallet voting is the best way to make their voice the most heard, especially when some sort of controversy or contest is going on, as this effectively ended up in the game being delayed and the game overall taken to a slightly different direction.
To give a short run about what the whole thing was about, Battlefield has always sold on its more realistic take of warfare (within video games). The trailer shows a female character with a rather high-tech artificial limb going on a battlefield of World War II, and while such thing may have occurred, the statistical reality of that is absolutely minuscule. Well, completely impossible if it was a bionic enhancement, but I’ve read some disagreeing info. Outside this being an highly implausible scenario, the game’s demo more or less confirmed something that other series have done time and time again and rarely succeeded; we want the other game’s audience. Fortnite has been mentioned many times to be the target this new Battlefield target, changing elements of the series to fit this new mould to some extent. For any business, it is at least twice has hard to gain new customers than to keep the old ones, and trying to go half-cocked way in trying to do both is not the answer. Or you could be Patrick Söderlund and make this completely unrelated but politically much more rosy issue and tell your consumers not to buy the game. Unsurprisingly, after this debacle Battlefield V‘s release date was pushed back and the game is seeing further additional work to get it back into the Battlefield formula to a larger degree, but seeing how the game play itself suffers, not to mention the whole approach how the game has been designed, I’m not trusting that the game will come out at the top and satisfy any real consumer base as such. For context, give this video a look for the review for the demo.
Damage control is important, but it should really come from somewhere else than telling your consumers off. Well, I’m guessing we all know the reason why Söderlund is no longer with EA, nothing hurts a corporation more than losing massive sales due to single person fucking PR up.
Söderlund has not been the only person to tell his customers off. Total War: Rome II has been patched for some year now with increasingly more and more questionable changes in regards of historical authenticity. Scratch that, supposedly Creative Assembly’s stance is that Rome II is authentic, but not accurate. This is standard bullshit weasel worlds and the situation should have never achieved this point. What the patches have done is that the number of female generals with darker skin tone have seen a raised percentage, which would seem to contradict historical records. However, the thing is that the patch that changes the percentages are over half a year old. The current controversy is about Creative Assembly telling their consumers to stop playing the game, or mod the patches out. Again, it’s easier to give this a spin the narrative to something that’s politically more palatable than having a PR catastrophe at their hands. One Angry Gamer has a rather decent article on the debacle, but do keep in mind that it is somewhat one-sided.
I want to reiterate that no corporation should tell their consumers to piss off. The end result is that they will and they will go to the competitor, or simply go without your product. Especially with video games, which are a non-essential luxury product nobody truly needs, and there are always alternatives. Even in an industry that is at the top of the entertainment ladder, losing one big sale can damage a property to a point where it is simply cut off. Look at what happened to the sales of the most recent Mass Effect and where the series is now. A franchise once dead in the water is rather hard to resurrect, as it requires winning back the old audience first and foremost, and to make a splash in general. Despite the slow change of mass demographic throughout the years, the fact is that any product that is aiming to sell widely should stay universal. When brands get into politics, it automatically cuts a section of your consumers off intentionally. Your competition will only gain consumers through these actions. Your conscience might have it good, but not if your company starts going under. Imagine if something like Cif, the window cleaner, was announced as the choice of -insert politician and party you dislike here- and the company producing Cif now openly supports whatever political agenda or message they have. I’m making a wild guess a lot of people would trade brands if they would, for example, become pro-Trump in their next ad campaign. While this sounds like the issue is only on the business side, both Battlefield V and Total War: Rome II were affected by decisions unfavoured by large portion of their consumers who enjoy historical authenticity and accuracy. The results of going against the consumer has visibly affected the games’ contents negatively and their reception has seen a downfall. This can be seen especially in the reviews of Rome II on Steam, where it has seen a drop from Positive to Mixed. This is about a game that came out five years ago no less, so before the consumes were really enjoying the game as it was. Creative Assembly’s stance and message has also caused a consumer backlash, resulting their other games being rated downward on Steam, though there is no real reason for this outside consumers just getting back at the company. This is, however, nothing out usual, sadly. Rather than trying to force a round peg through a square hole, perhaps it’d be best to cater to different audiences with different products.
Perhaps it is the current economic situation, devs and companies can make choices like this. There are less threats overall, and pretty much everything is selling. Perhaps certain levels of recession where products are required to be worth the money invested is needed, and consumers have to select their purchase choices with higher rigor than normally.