The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and the games industry is no exception. Like it or loathe it, public relations practitioners work tirelessly to ensure successful title launches and planned coverage for the various media outlets. As former CGW’s editor-in-chief Jeff Green once put it, ”PR is a thankless job.”
This summer brought no shortage of PR nightmares to the industry, here's the top five.
5. Duke Nukem Forever
On June 14, 2011 Duke Nukem returned from a fifteen year development cycle with the help of Gearbox Software. Met with terrible reviews (an average of low 50’s on Metacritic) the game failed critically, but sold fairly well (376,300 in the first month according to the NPD).
“If you’re not willing to play a sloppy, cobbled together first-person shooter just because it has some kind of weird historical meaning, though, just forget this ever happened and move on.” -Jeff Gerstmann, giantbomb.com
In response, the PR company that represented DNF, “The Redner Group” issued the following tweet:
How was it handled? Adequately. In response to the tweet, DNF’s publisher 2K Games officially removed the PR firm from representing any of its future products. Jim Redner apologized, attempting to justify his actions through a guest blog post via Wired (you can read it here).
“Publishers are under no obligation to send out copies of their game for review. They reserve the right to pick and choose who they want to send their game too, just like writers have the right to publish a review in any manner they choose. It’s call selection. It’s a choice.” -Jim Redner
What Redner fails to realize is that industry coverage should never be limited by an unfavorable review. Doing so not only makes the role of PR look awful, but the developers and publishers as well. By following Redner’s philosophy, readers trust writers less, and writers dislike the role of PR even more. If successful, PR should work as an invisible entity in the industry. If a failure, it operates like The Redner Group.
4. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3
On February 15, 2011 Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds was released in North America. In July, Capcom announced that the franchise would get an expansion, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, less than nine months after the original’s debut.
In an interview with Destructoid, producer Ryota Niitsuma explained the reasons behind the title’s release:
“After the release of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 there were plans to release DLC. But, as you know, less than a month after the game was released we had the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. That had an impact on everything, and it threw off our whole development schedule. We decided that instead of doing the DLC we could put it all together in one package, add some additional stuff to make it robust and deliver it as a disc.” –Ryota Niitsuma
How was it handled? Decently. Despite fan backlash, Capcom leaked the full roster and gameplay videos fairly early, noting the price reduction repeatedly. While a large number of players are ready to move on to the next installment, many have boycotted Capcom products, citing the short gap between the releases.
3. Nintendo 3DS Price Cut
Released in North America on March 27, the Nintendo 3DS attempted to capture the handheld market by featuring glasses-free 3D. Selling for $250, the launch titles were few and of lesser quality than its predecessors. In August, Nintendo dropped the price of the 3DS to $170. Speculation is that sales figures didn’t match up with Nintendo’s goals.
How was it handled? Pretty well. To dampen internet rage, Nintendo announced the ambassador program for any consumers who purchased a 3DS. The program offers early adopters ten free NES Virtual Console games (available in September), and ten Game Boy Advance Virtual Console games. While many were upset at the decision, a number of the Nintendo faithful were appreciative of the compensation.
2. Mega Man Legends 3
On September 29, 2010 Mega Man Legends 3 was announced at the Nintendo Conference as a 3DS title led by Keiji Inafune. In a video posted by Capcom Unity, Inafune said, “I’ve been wanting to do another Mega Man Legends like you wouldn’t believe, but as a company, without strong sales of the previous games in the series, it’s a difficult proposal to make.” This proposal took a turn when Inafune left Capcom in November.
Still, the project continued. In April, Capcom announced plans to involve fans directly through contests, voting, and a 3DS eshop demo titled Mega Man Legends 3: Prototype Version. The development team hoped to use community feedback to improve mechanics and feature supporters in the game’s final credits.
On July 18th, 2011, the game was officially cancelled. On the Capcom Unity blog, Dev Room Community Liaison Greg Moore delivered the news, “Unfortunately it was not felt that the Mega Man Legends 3 Project met the required criteria, and it is with regret that we must announce that the Mega Man Legends 3 Project has been cancelled, meaning that Capcom will not be releasing the Prototype or the full game. Additionally, updates of the Mega Man Legends Developer Room will cease as of today, though the North American Developer Room and its forums will remain open indefinitely.” To add insult to injury, Capcom-Europe tweeted the following:
How it was handled? Awfully. Responding to Twitter feedback, Capcom Europe continued to dig a hole filled with misspellings, sarcasm, and damage control. You can read how Capcom Europe handled the situation here. The way Greg Moore phrased his responses suggest that Capcom didn’t want blame placed on the company’s executives, nor on the department that ultimately canned the title. Unfortunately, the response was handled carelessly, something that good PR could have easily prevented.
1. PlayStation Network
On April 19th, 2011 the PlayStation Network went offline due to an illegal intrusion, compromising the names, addresses, and billing information of over 70 million registered users. What followed was a series of investigations, congressional questioning, and network downtime.
How was it handled? Almost flawlessly. During it’s E3 2011 press conference, Sony Computer Entertainment of America's President Jack Tretton formally apologized:
“You are the lifeblood of the company. Without you, there is no PlayStation. And I want to apolgiize, both personally and on behalf of the company, for any anxiety we caused you.”
In addition, top Sony executives bowed humbly in apology for the security breach. To get people back online, Sony unveiled a “welcome back” program, giving users a free month of Playstation Plus and two free games.