PR Gone Wild: Hydrophobia

September 29, 2010 -

I imagine that, after spending four to five years of your life creating a game, to see it (from that perspective) being shat upon by critics is a hard pill to swallow. It is even more difficult when you believe that your creation is good. It is at these moments that the urge to go on defense is natural, but how far is going too far?

That is the subject of an article by Ben Kuchera over at Ars Technica. The game in question is an Xbox Live Arcade title called Hydrophobia and the zealous defenders are UK-based Dark Energy Digital. At first, it seemed like the game was going to sail through the review circuit relatively unscathed. Official Xbox Magazine and IGN gave it decent scores, which the company's PR department happily plastered all over the game's official web site. Some other smaller sites gave it some decent scores as well. All seemed right with the world.

Then Edge Magazine came along. Edge isn't not known for wearing the velvet gloves when it reviews a game, and it's Hydrophobia review was pretty brutal. An excerpt from said review:

"Protagonist Kate Wilson is a forgettable nonentity as she whines and wails her way through every linear section. The maps themselves are multi-tiered chores that require little initiative to navigate, the storytellers all too eager to intervene with a directional soundbite or, worse, a piece of the story that involves hackneyed terrorists and a perpetually raving, arrogant Scottish mentor."

Reading the review made Dark Energy Digital's PR very angry, apparently. While we do not know what kind of interactions the company had with Edge Magazine, we do know that Dark Energy Digital was not satisfied with the results, so they talked to VG247. Some quotes from the Ars article:

Deborah Jones is the creative director of Dark Energy Digital, the developer of Hydrophobia. "Clearly, they haven’t played the game,” she told VG247. "We’re extremely frustrated by the review. We’ve got reviews that are absolutely outstanding that say they love the product... If they don’t do the review properly, they shouldn’t do a review at all."

"We believe that the game hasn’t even been played," joint creative director Peter Jones repeated.

Edge later responded, saying that the (unnamed) reviewer played the game to its finish and played the bonus content.There are a number of other questionable things that Jones and friends did to other journalists, but we will leave the telling of those tales to the Ars Technica article.

The point is that you can go too far in defending your game. Most journalists expect some pushback when they write a negative review. There is certainly nothing wrong with PR giving journalists a piece of their mind either, but leveling accusations like "you didn't play the game" or "you didn't play the game right" are very serious and more damaging to the company's reputation than to a publication. The moral of the story is that you cannot control the message - especially when that message is on the Internet.

 

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[Full disclosure: I have not played Hydrophobia and cast no aspersions on the game.]

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Comments

Re: PR Gone Wild: Hydrophobia

Correct PR Response:

"That's just, like, your opinion, man."

Re: PR Gone Wild: Hydrophobia

What  find more amazing is the reaction they had to Jim Sterling's tweet; it's one that will really bite them in the ass if they care about destructoid readers. Honestly destructoid is not a news site; they're much more about personal opinion than journalistic integrity. Destructoid will not only not really care about their opinion on his reviewing skills, but they'll more than likely end up posting a story that just makes fun of the entire affair and makes the developers look like complete dicks.

Re: PR Gone Wild: Hydrophobia

This is why we have game demos, which I presume at least the XBLA version has (it's a requirement). 

It certainly is unbecoming of game developers/publishers to fly off the handle over reviews- especially in cases like this, Vic Irelend accusing reviewers of not finishing WD games, the INSANE rants of Dennis Dyack, or most extremely the Jeff Gerstman fiasco.  However, that is not to say game "journalists" or critics are as innocent as the fallen snow, and plenty are overtly or subtely dishonest in their appraisals of certain games. 

Again, the fact that game demos exist should be going much further to ensure the consumer can judge for themselves the merits of a game with little or no monetary investment (other than time).

Re: PR Gone Wild: Hydrophobia

Well, games can live or die on their reviews -- one bad write-up can send the metacritic score plummeting.  (It happened to Killer7: Maxim wrote an irreverent infobox-style review and gave it zero out of five, and the metafolks still felt it was valid enough to warrant inclusion.)  So I think there's a place in media relations for "damage control," as the Ars article puts it.

But dang, when you leave six messages on a writer's answering machine, that's not PR.  That's obsessive mania.

It does make me wonder what would've happened if the game in question had come from a larger studio, like oh I don't know Kane & Lynch from Eidos Interactive.

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Fangamer

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Fangamer

Re: PR Gone Wild: Hydrophobia

Well, if we're talking Eidos Interactive, they would have demanded that at least half the reviewing staff be fired or the magazine would lose all advertising revenue from them.

It's why I'm not overly crazy of big budget AAA games. It tends to be the most money spent telling the public that the (usually mediocre) game is the best thing ever, so a bad review can mean millions lost, which could be avoided by putting more money into actually making it a better game.

Re: PR Gone Wild: Hydrophobia

This was the kind of thing that make me not want to grab Hydrophobia. If the developers are gonna go ape shit over one low score then they won't get any of my money 

http://www.magicinkgaming.com/

Re: PR Gone Wild: Hydrophobia

Working in the industry, I can totally understand this.

Making games is hard.  Especially the final push at the end (crunch).  When you've put years of your life into something and come up with something you're proud of, it's incredibly demoralizing when someone says something bad about it.  It's almost as if someone told you (and broadcast it to the world) that your child is ugly.

That being said, I have not read the article and agree that there are logical boundaries that one should keep when defending their game.  However, this is not a logical reaction - it's an emotional one.

If I ever get reviewed badly (I've had reviews across the spectrum) I like to remind myself of this quote from Ratatouille before I fly off the handle:

"In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so."

 

------- Morality has always been in decline. As you get older, you notice it. When you were younger, you enjoyed it.

Re: PR Gone Wild: Hydrophobia

Some babies are ugly ;)

 

 
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