Trust Issues

Mike Fisher (ex Squenix USA CEO) has an interesting post on rebuilding trust.  He was in place during the FF14 debacle from years ago, which is one of the silver linings in the gaming industry.

Small history check.  FF14 launched as a steaming pile, Squenix pulled the plug and re-released it 3 years later with the same overall engine, but a completely different gameplay loop.  Went from abysmal failure that tarnished the company rep, to the shining beacon of themepark MMOs.  Words do not do justice to how this game turned around.

While the main points of the article are aimed straight at EA, Blizzard, and Bethesda, the core message is a simple one.  The people who buy your games do so because they trust the company.  They are willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, and their money, with the hope that you will continue to deliver as you have in the past.  Losing that trust is a terrible thing, in particular with the ultra fans… and the long term consequences are severe.

And that’s accurate in a whole lot of things in life.  People follow leaders that they trust.  They will follow them into hell and back, give their lives for their leaders.  They can be fanatic at times, and be willing to overlook some major transgressions.  But at some point, those ultra-fans are the only ones left, and they’ve done such an amazing job at pushing away everyone else… you end up with a fraction of the business.

These past few years have been rough for the gaming giants.  There’s a culture that comes with certain companies.  Riot is simply known for being the cesspool of competitive gamers, there’s little they can do (or want to do) to change that.  EA will go to extreme lengths to dominate a market and nickel/dime you to death.  Activision will take all the lessons learned from one game, then ignore them for the next.  Bethesda will milk a franchise until there’s not but a husk that remains, with players hoping for a return to previous glory.

There are plenty of examples that I’m sure every gamer has experienced.

The good news is that this is leaving a massive gap to be filled by the mid-tier and indie developers.  Dead Cells, Celeste, FrostPunk, Into the Breach…all games that won awards from the relative shadows of the big companies.   Into the Breach is a prime example of trust building, since it’s the same company that brought use Faster Than Light (FTL), the amazing rogue-like spaceship game.

And it’s not like a lost cause is present.  No Man’s Sky is a thousand times better today than at launch – everyone should have a try.  Warframe at launch was horrible, and it’s now one of the best squad-based shooters.  Neither of them said that the gamers were wrong in their expectations.  They admitted fault, provided a plan, and then delivered.  A real plan.

I am utterly fascinated by game developers thinking that PR is the solution to a game’s woes.  In nearly all cases, it’s just adding more fuel to the fire.  PR rarely has any understanding of gaming culture.  And those that do, rarely have the power/authority to implement any actual change.  Trust comes from leaders.  When they stop taking accountability, people just move on.  There’s more than enough games for that.

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