By Graham Westrop, Program Manager in Hotwire London’s Corporate Strategy team

As video game business models evolve to support online features that keep the games in the hands of the consumers for longer, the need for clarity in messaging with regards to additional costs requires greater sensitivity and forethought to avoid crises.

Any games with an online service or post-launch content addition require continuous investment to support bug fixes, content drops and seasonal updates. As such, developers and publishers need to experiment with new ways of monetising the game beyond the initial purchase to support the additional costs.

Ambiguity is the path to the dark side

Recent crises involving Star Wars Battlefront II and Middle-Earth: Shadow of War showcased just how much consumers hate ambiguous messages. Both games introduced content that heavily incentivised players to unlock content by paying for it, which was not made explicit in the lead up to launch.

EA developer DICE infamously turned off all microtransactions hours before Battlefront II launched as it became clear that those who had access to the game prior to launch were going to flag the issue. They subsequently released a statement acknowledging criticism surrounding progression through gameplay. The company has spent most of 2018 dealing with the backlash, which has affected the sales of a great game.

Likewise, with Shadow of War, Warner Bros. had to deal with criticism for introducing microtransactions and subsequently spent 2018 getting developer Monolith to remove these features.

Both games got off to poor sales starts due to this news. The tipping point in both cases whereby the issue became a crisis in the media was in the immediate period before launch when those with early access started to play the games. The issue of just how much the games incentivised players to spend additional money was not made clear. That left a bad taste in the soon-to-be-vocal mouths of those who were about to share their opinions on the games with consumers about to make their purchases. 

A new hope

While the publishers and developers of both games must be commended for addressing community sentiment and applying the necessary fixes to their games, communication could obviously have been more proactive ahead of launch to provide transparency on how these features affected the games. EA has done well to get ahead of its messaging for this year’s Battlefield V release in which the company was quick to point out that DLC maps and add-ons will be free, yet microstransactions for cosmetic in-game items will be available. This news has been received well by games media.

Crisis and issues management is never an easy issue to tackle and there is often a plethora of variables, but it is important to tackle them head on, especially in an industry where a bad reputation can affect sales of future games. News travels fast, so businesses should take a proactive approach to crisis planning. Transparency and forethought into a PR crisis management plan can go a long way to solving an issue before it becomes a crisis. If you’d like to hear more about our crisis communications management, please get in touch – graham.westrop@hotwireglobal.com