This week marked the release of one of the biggest game of the year. The last chapter in the Witcher series reached the shelves after many years of development. And while the game is both a critical and commercial success, people started pointing out that the game didn't look like the presentation shown at E3 2013. The situation of course, got out of hand with people verbaly abusing the dev team and blaming them for false advertisement. The PC "master race" fanboys also stated, like always, that the game was "downgraded" because of its port on consoles.
CD Project Red, later commented on the situation, saying they were sorry and that the demo shown at E3 was a target render. They gave specific details and finally they said two things :
- that the game could'nt exist without the consoles implying that the market was too limited on PC for what the developpers were trying to achieve
- that they will try to figure out a way of helping those who felt scammed.
But too lite too late, the "harm" was done and CD Project Red is now facing with a lot of angry "customers".
If the studio made one and only mistake, it was to show trailer and screenshots that did not look "exactly" like what the game was actually looking like. By mass marketing a product that wasn't carbon copy of the one depicted in the ads, they got flamed by the Internet. And all the haters actually throwing rocks at them aren't actually those who purchased the game. Some of them are, but the vast majority is just made of people who gladly got on the hate-bus and are happy to have found someone to bully.
And it's not just some random developer we're talking about. This is CD Project freaking Red, the studio who stood up against DRM when everybody was doing it, the guys that give you a free extension/update for your game 1 to 2 years after its release that makes you want you to go through it again, talk about replay value. Those people are objectively honest and in my opinion the best game studio around. But now they have pissed the Internet. For having mislead their community, fanbase and everybody else, they shall burn in the flames of hell.
This situation isn't new, lots of studios have faced similar problems in the past. Some of them deserve it more than others (yes Ubisoft I'm looking at you), but the proportions that this takes are always too much. Video rants, people cursing at each others on forums, death threats to the dev teams etc. Yes, the Internet is 14, the Internet doesn't know anything about how to run a business and the Internet is an angry mob just waiting to poke the dead with a stick. Period.
So how do you get away with that ?
Well first, always keep in mind that the Internet is right. No matter what you did or said, the Internet judges your actions and you by extension. They will either love or hate you as there is little room for being mesured. Even if you make a valid point, even if you are are right, the Internet will never listen. It's already hard to persuade a customer face to face. Here he's not even in front of you and released from social inhibitions, so don't even bother trying. The one who barks the louder is the one who's right, and they got a whole angry people barking right now.
If the Internet comes to get you, there is little thing you can do. You better should avoid getting in this situation in the first place. But if you are, do what CD Project Red is doing right now. Be humble, apologize (even if you're not at fault) and try to show them your end of the problem. This will make some people in the mob actually think for themselves and drop the sticks. At least you will have limited collateral damages. Don't play dumb, don't try to object, just apologize and move on. It's really more about persuading than convincing. Finally wait for the shitstorm to end before heading out in the open. People will likely forget you "did" to them.
The good, the bad, and... you
It's funny how the Internet has a very boxed and manichean way of seeing the gaming industry: Indies are good, Publishers are evil and Valve can't to count to 3. And you, you must somehow fit in this world.
So before somebody puts a tag on your back, define yourself. Be straightforward at stating your policy, what you do and why. And then stick to it. And you have to be kinda honnest with that. You can't say things like: "We're a big multinational company that aims to make the best games in the world and revolutionize the industry and we also care about our fans." That simply doesn't add up and yet I still see companies defining them as is. If you are an Indie trying to break the ice on twitter, just say "I'm just one guy who tries to make video games for a living".
Anyhow you have to make people relate to your company. That way they will defend you if you get caught in bad press. The best examples of that is how Nintendo managed to start doing DLC and that everybody seems to be okay with it. They have the most iconic IPs and characters in the world and everybody is buying from them out of nostalgia. You know, the they-rocked-my-childhood-so-they-cant-be-bad thing. Not saying they are "bad", but since people already liked them, they got a free pass. Or we could talk for hours about the DRM we've all come to love: Steam. So yeah, a good image can help you get away with nearly anything. Again it's more about perception than actually doing things right. If not, CD Project Red wouldn't have got so much shit thrown in their face.
There will always be stupid people on the Internet and you will likely get bad press from them during your time in the industry, no matter the reason. But even if what's online is there forever for people to see, people are often forgeting if not forgiving. You'll get through, it's not that of a big deal.