2018 has not been a great year for the gaming community, which means that 2018 has not been a great year for community managers.
The biggest crises happened towards the end of 2018. Within a few months of each other, Blizzard, Bethesda and Starbreeze lost a lot of goodwill with the community.
So what exactly happened and what effect did it have?
TL;DR: In August 2018, Blizzard revealed that they were making a new Diablo game for mobile. Not only did they announce this at BlizzCon, where the majority of gamers were PC and console gamers, they also said that they had moved “all their best developers” onto the project. Ouch.
The delivery of this announcement was badly timed and a little cringy but what was the significance of this within the community?
a) The problem here is that Blizzard appeared out of touch with its community base, failing to understand the wants and expectations of the crowd. BlizzCon is an event for their most hardcore game fans and ticket prices reflected that. Blizzard wrongly assumed that their announcement would excite the community. Even they acknowledged that they were surprised with the amount of negativity surrounding the announcement. But is that really a surprise considering the environment that they were in?
b) Lack of communication. It had been 6 years since they announced the last Diablo game, but failed to give further information, letting the hype get carried away of another sequel. They even put out cryptic messages on YouTube, spurring fans into a frenzy. Creating expectations and failing to live up to them is, well, disappointing to say the least. Now, you can argue that Diablo fans appear entitled, but that is a hard sell here when Blizzard PR has failed to give a clear and consistent message.
c) How Blizzard handled their crisis management. In their original video on YouTube where they posted the full Diablo announcement they received a humongous amount of dislikes. Their answer to this? Delete the original video and resubmit a newer video in the hopes of receiving less dislikes and no one noticing.
Ultimately, I do not think this particular crisis will have any lasting effect on Blizzard or the Diablo franchise. The controversy will die down when Blizzard delivers a great game, if it hasn’t already, a few months later. The delivery of the announcement was badly miscalculated but will hardly dent Blizzard’s reputation.
TL;DR: Starbreeze, developers behind PayDay and the Walking Dead game, appeared to have financial troubles in 2018 due to overestimating the number of sales they would achieve on launch.
In response, senior executives were selling a number of their shares just before the company announced negative news (company-wide mandate to cut costs and insolvency). As a result, Starbreeze’s stock prices dropped around 80 per cent.
In December 2018, the Starbreeze office and private residences of several key members were raided for “financial crimes’. In the latest news, the former CEO of Starbreeze, Klint, was cleared of all suspected insider trading. The Swedish authorities are now investigating the bank who sold Klint’s shares.
This affects the community because…
a) Will gamers be confident in continuing to purchase and play products that may or may not be supported in the future, when these particular games are sold as GaaS? Gamers will probably still buy their games if they like them enough, but I would guess that there will be some who reconsider investing in a game if they know active development has stopped.
b) How do you even deal with the PR from an event like this? You can’t deny it, can’t comment due to it being an ongoing police investigation, and you can’t stay quiet because that is a killer. What the hell can you do? I don’t actually know and I hope I never find myself in this situation.
For such an unusual event like this, it hasn’t been as widespread in the news as I would have expected. I can put that down to the games industry being in a bubble – like every other industry. I guess this is somewhat of a relief for Starbreeze as the damages could be a lot, lot worse. This definitely won’t be the biggest worry on Starbreeze’s mind if they do go bankrupt in 2019.
Luckily for them the whole Bethesda debacle overshadowed this event…
Fallout 76, labelled as a “historically bad launch” by Forbes, came out to mixed reviews from players. The main causes for community managers’ stress were:
a) Bugs at launch and mismatched player expectations.
TL;DR: There was a mountain of small and large bugs which affected player experience at launch. Community driven fix lists ran into the hundreds. To their credit, Bethesda worked hard to correct these bugs and deployed regular patches. If this was all that had happened it would have been okay. However, combined with…
b) The canvas duffel bag incident.
TL;DR: Players who pre-ordered a special edition of Fallout received real-life items. One of these items part of the collector’s edition set which included a duffel bag. Listed and pictured in their store as canvas material, players were quickly saddened to see that the canvas bag was, in fact, a cheap nylon bag, and not the item seen or promised in the description.
Bethesda quickly released statements saying they had a problem with the supplier fulfilment the orders, and offered 500 atoms as a refund. This enraged the playerbase even more as 500 atoms was the equivalent to $5 (of a $200 purchase), and upon checking out the store you could only purchase a very, very limited number of “useless” cosmetics.
The outrage lasted until Bethesda promised that all nylon duffel bags would be replaced with the original canvas bags as soon as the supplier was able to produce the new shipment.
c) The data breach.
TL;DR: As part of the process for players to receive refunds on their collector’s sets, they had to enter their details in a support/payment platform. Not uncommon. However, a bug in the system let any player see any other players’ support ticket, along with personal details like credit card numbers.
d) The high price of cosmetics.
TL;DR: Atoms is the Fallout currency. There’s not much to say here apart from that cosmetics and items, in the community’s opinion, don’t provide enough value or uniqueness to justify the cost.
It is obvious in Bethesda’s case why the community was affected. I believe that this catastrophic launch will always be remembered and will mar Bethesda’s reputation for a long time to come. However, their sales and continued playerbase will still continue to grow and stabilize, without this causing too much of a dent in their profits. I expect that the community will be more sceptical to Bethesda’s future launches, but remain fans of their games.