See Part I if you need to get to speed on this PR nightmare for Bioware.
I feel a little sorry for Bioware.
For sure, it’s been a bad week of publicity as their Dragon Age 2 launch has been completely derailed by one bad news after another.
From vociferous fans launching thread after thread of complaints on the Bioware forums, to being trashed by user reviews on metacritic, to the debacle on the banning and locking out of paying customers over perceived slights, to the whole ridiculous is-it-or-is-it-not-SecuROM issue, Bioware had more than enough woes in the last week.
Add a new one as of yesterday: Potential astroturfing by Bioware employees on metacritic. Bioware staffers were caught giving perfect 10 reviews to jack up the average score, which is still rating a negative 4.2 as of now.
To me, this last issue is mostly a non-issue, as one employee or several employees astroturfing user reviews don’t seem to make enough of a large dent to make a difference. The damage has already been done.
I will also give the Bioware employee the benefit of a doubt that he is defending the game he spent two years making, rather than some nefarious call by EA/Bioware management to affect user review scores.
In either case, I think folks asking for his termination on the Bioware forums is a little too drastic a step. Sure, ethically it might be a little grey, but it’s not illegal.
Warning: Rant mode
But here’s where I am going to go into rant mode.
Bioware, your PR really screwed up big time this week. All of this pain, in a way, could be said to be self-inflicted.
It’s ridiculous that the news cycle is not talking mainly about the reviews of Dragon Age 2(!), but on tangent issues that make you either look like jerks or slimy evasive bastards.
From the clamp down of fans voicing dissent on your forums, to dismissing negative user reviews as “4chan trolls”, to the defensive tonality in interviews (not a good place to be), it just sends one big message: That you don’t give a shit what your longtime fans say.
Couple this with the SecuROM thing — a dealbreaker for some like me — and the astroturfing just makes you look even worse.
Why, oh why, do you think that your pissed off fans would take every opportunity to eviscerate you?
Because they feel that you do not care. Period.
Trying to control the message — the bans, the astroturfing — does not work in a world with the Internet, and in attempting to do so, you will piss more off.
Why do bloggers like me write reams of digital ink on this issue?
I could have railed at Ubisoft using pirated tracks in their Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood digital edition, or talked about THQ’s stock price being firebombed by metacritic scores for Homefront, but the answer is that I don’t really care about these games.
However, I do care quite a bit about Bioware games. And from the responses on the forums and net, I’m not alone. Don’t squander the goodwill that you’ve taken years to build up with your long time fan base.
Just take a step back. Be less combative. Apologize to the pissed off fans (“we’re sorry we made a game some of you don’t like, etc.”), and say you will listen to their grouses. Promise ME3 will be made with care. I know this is difficult if huge egos are involved, but it will smooth things over, and earn you back the respect of fans.
I’ll give you an analogy.
When you fail to give your significant other a gift on her birthday, the first thing you do is apologize, no matter what the circumstances were (e.g. you had a shitty day at the office, forgot till the last minute, and the flowers you ran five blocks to buy her got mauled by the dog).
After placating said girlfriend, you can then explain the heroic effort you took that turned out badly. Also tell her that you will try not to pull a stunt like this again. Telling lies is fraught with peril, because if you get found out, good luck to you.
The same applies here.