Look around on the internet or in real life, and you’ll find that there’s no greater disconnect between consumers and producers than in the gaming industry. Indeed, you’d be forgiven for thinking that gamers hate where their video games come from, as there is no shortage of online criticism—particularly from me—as well as unconstructive hate—not from me. After all, this was the community that voted Electronic Arts the ‘Worst Company In America’ twice, in 2012 and 2013, both times edging out the Bank Of America. So why is it that some gamers hold such a disdain for the biggest companies in the gaming industry?
Well, before we begin, I think it’s incredibly important to make the distinction between video game developers and video game publishers. To put it simply, the former actually makes the product, while the latter uses its money and manpower to delegate resources, provide a marketing push, and ultimately sell the game. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship that exists across several industries. However, as they are the public face and also the ones who seem to screw up the most, the publisher is who generally receives the most criticism, which is what we’ll be discussing today.
What spurred me to write about this topic, to begin with, was a situation concerning WB Games, corporate miscommunication, greed, and charity. Recently, Monolith Productions (the developers behind Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor), had one of their team members pass away, and to memorialise him, the developers at Monolith had him made into an NPC in their upcoming game, Middle-earth: Shadow of War. The NPC’s inclusion would be done through paid DLC; however, for every purchase of the content, $3.50 would be donated to the family of the passed developer.
While this seemed like a perfectly genuine attempt to pay tribute to a fallen colleague and give charity to the affected family, the efforts of Monolith were marred by their publisher’s fine print, which stated that the donation wouldn’t apply to purchases outside the United States. This, as you may have expected, caused quite the uproar, as it essentially seemed like WB was attempting to profit off of a dead man. However, in response to the outrage, the company had this to say: ‘Neither Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment nor Monolith Productions will profit from any sales of the Forthog Orc-Slayer DLC regardless of the territory in which that DLC is sold.’ If that statement is true, then it turns the entire ‘controversy’ into a futile argument. Indeed, it’s more likely WB was never intending to make a profit from the DLC, but that they were prevented by law and bureaucracy from carrying out the donations on a global scale. Of course, there are other ways they can achieve their charitable goals, but WB’s inability to communicate the situation immediately and effectively is indicative of a wider problem with the gaming industry’s biggest publishers.
The term, ‘corporate greed,’ is something that gets thrown around a lot in the gaming space. And truly, there are multiple shady and shameless business practices that companies like Activision, EA, WB, and Ubisoft have indulged in, from carving up game content to maximising profits with microtransactions. But, for a moment, allow me to play devil’s advocate and say there’s nothing wrong with corporations doing their best to make money. There is nothing wrong with ‘greed,’ but it should be in a company’s best interest to not seem ‘greedy.’ That’s what these publishers appear to fail most at. From disliked business practices to cringe-inducing E3 conferences, a lot of these companies have more of a PR problem than anything else.
When you largely have an audience of tech-savvy, internet-using, young people, it can be hard for any company to have their dirty laundry go unnoticed. The problem is further compounded by the fact that most of these companies have their PR and business departments made up of people who don’t come from the games industry and don’t understand its audience.
The issue at hand is one that can’t be ‘solved,’ necessarily. From the companies’ standpoint, the best option would be to become more transparent and less opaque in their public dealings. But let’s be honest here, rarely does any of the outrage or criticism in the games industry have an actual outcome. In the world of business and transactions, the written and spoken word have far less impact than the almighty dollar. Soiling a company’s name is one thing, but refusing to give them money is another.