Mess up, shut up, move on: the effective technique of PR silence in the video game industry
John Walker of Rock, Paper, Shotgun recently dissected the SimCity controversy, or more specifically, how there seems to be a lack of one as of late. "Silence is a powerful weapon in the industry," Walker wrote. "The mad truth is, when it comes to gaming controversies, if you ignore it it will go away. This article is a fairly futile attempt to not let it, and to make sure our readers know that EA and Maxis never spoke to us, never responded to any of our questions, and never sent so much as a statement."
Walker's article in turn inspired Jim Sterling of Destructoid to pen his own thoughts on the matter of publishers playing possum, and he illustrates the point well; this isn't just SimCity we're talking about here, it's EA "winning" Worst Company, it's Aliens: Colonial Marines, it's the whole messed-up system. Once a company does something bad, the best way to fight back, in their eyes, is to shut up about it, and soon the press can repeat one or two facts that somehow slipped through the cracks. Soon the story is dropped.
People wonder why gamers are mad that Gearbox has the rights to Homeworld now, and the answer is that they released terrible games in the past two beloved franchises they worked in. Duke Nukem Forever was terrible. Aliens: Colonial Marines was borderline fraudulent at launch - the game was unfinished and barely operable. All they had to do was shut up about it for a bit, the story went away, and gamers are ready to give them another chance.
There's really no way to fight back when PR and publishers close ranks. It effectively kills the conversation. It's still important that we recognize the strategy, keep up the pressure, and continue to ask about these mistakes and hold them accountable. Screwing the customer and then being quiet about it so the press doesn't talk about it is the tactic of cowardly companies that hold us in contempt.