It’s somewhat surprising how efficient game companies can be at turning their fan bases against them. I’d say it was a new trend but american car companies certainly specialized in this behavior in the 90s. KIA & Hyundai never would have had a chance in a real market… they just threw in a no questions asked 7-10 year warranty and took the entire floor of the market. There are other comparisons…grocery stores, banks, restaurants. Pretty much any common service where customer service is a big part.
The irony here is that each of these companies was built on a dedicated fan base. EA in the 90s/00s released seminal games that completely changed the way we view sports. I still have great memories of SSX. Blizzard is the main reason we have e-sports due to investment in Korea, let alone modding in Warcraft 3 which gave us MOBAs. YouTube brought a human element to the internet. There were mistakes along the road, but the companies clearly had good intentions. They had clear communications and accepted responsibility. They empowered their players, and that was returned with praise.
The Slow Fall
Power corrupts. The speed of the internet causes that corruption to move much faster than in previous markets. Where it may have taken months or years for a mistake to bleed its way through other industries, it can take only a few hours for a crap storm to hit today. But why? It isn’t like all of a sudden everyone decides to be evil. In my experience it’s due to two main reasons.
First is the sheer size of a team and the natural disconnects from the clients. All of a sudden you’re so big you need a marketing guru. Or a QA testers. Or a new team leader. Your original team of a dozen can no longer handle the full load and the team needs to grow. When it grows, people lose connection to both the product, and the ability to interact with the clients. The identity of a company slowly starts to dilute. Instead of having ownership of a large part, you are just a cog in the machine, not seeing how that plays into the overall picture. You get comms people saying “pride and accomplishment”. That lack of investment in the company, in the brand identity, makes it easier to accept poor decisions as part of the “machine”. It used to mean something to work for Blizzard… it doesn’t have anymore.
Second, decisions are no longer made with single authority and vision. They are abstracted, summarized, and packaged for an executive’s decision. Not to mean that only 1 person should ever make a call, but more so that when decisions are made, they have the right context applied. Bethesda is a great example. It’s pretty clear some financials were run on the canvas bags and a call was made to go ultra cheap. The person who made that decision shouldn’t have had that level of power. When the people making the decisions are so detached, they are doing so for different motivations.
As much as Bethesda has been doing a great job of digging up, I think the medal here goes to Blizzard. In one of J Allen Brack’s first decisions, Heroes of the Storm is going into maintenance mode, and all esports brackets are being cancelled. Combine this with Diablo Immortal’s tone deaf Blizzcon announcement, and WoW/BfA’s continued inability to communicate to players, and you have a great recipe for resentment. YouTube’s all-time worst ranked video is their own 2018 Rewind. That’s impressive!
Clearly the CFO from Activision is the one making the calls now at Blizzard, and everyone else is towing the line to ensure maximum profitability. Ship more content that can generate $$$ and stop work on maintenance. I mean, it’s no surprise that the very next article on the Blizzard site is an announcement of a new WoW mount.
These companies aren’t going anywhere soon. But they are opening the door to competition that simply didn’t have a chance years ago. Would Fornite had have half the players if EA/Dice didn’t treat their players as ATMs? There are plenty of lessons learned from just a few years ago with Ford & GM. The guaranteed income of previous years on reputation alone is going away, and instead will move to a pure transaction-based model. Rather than a relationship with a company, it will just be numbers.
Fine, if they can manage the balance. Let the resentment build enough, and it will simply boil over and infect the rest of the client base. It’s certainly popcorn worthy.