Monday, April 16, 2012

On Public Relations

About a year ago, I made a PR blunder. I've probably made many in my life, but this one sticks in my mind especially because it helped inform my present strategy for dealing with the public.

Invited to do a guest post at Tales of the Rampant Coyote, I decided I would write about my job at BioWare. As an indie just starting out, I had little else to offer besides some insight into my former life at BioWare. I tried to pick a few topics that seemed interesting, such as where games came from, and why big developers don't experiment with smaller games more often.

Unfortunately, I also decided to speak up on the love/hate relationship fans had with BioWare. This was shortly after DA2 launched, so the topic was current for me. I had seen some pretty nasty things said about my teammates and friends. Some of it was quite frustrating, since it accused many of them of malice and/or idiocy, which I knew wasn't the case.

It's a touchy subject to begin with, with many facets and where emotions run high. Any misstep can be miscontrued as an attack or dismissal. So when I tromped through the topic indelicately, some ire was raised. In particular, comments regarding the article elsewhere on the net were pretty scathing (some going so far as to call out my criminal incompetence as an artist on DA:O).

Fortunately, the article's own comments were largely constructive, apart from a few snarky comments. And in responding to these comments, I started developing what is now my PR policy.

The Blue Bottle Games PR Policy:
  1. Keep my commentary constructive. Refrain from making snarky or sarcastic remarks.
  2. Ignore personal attacks and rhetoric.
  3. Respond to legitimate feedback, criticism, and inquiry as quickly and earnestly as possible.
Each of these serves an important purpose, so I'll talk briefly about them in turn.

Keep it Constructive

The first is probably the most important. As a business, everyone is a potential customer, and you treat your customers with respect. Acting like a jerk is bad for business. It doesn't matter who you're being a jerk to, or why. In the best case, people see you being a jerk and take their business elsewhere. In the worst cases, they take their business elsewhere, but not before jumping into the fray and/or spreading the word that you're a jerk.

Conversely, respect begets respect. Treat everyone with respect, and do your best to help. That person will be more loyal as a result, and may even spread the word. And better yet, when your customers see you being respectful, they're more inclined to follow your lead and be respectful to other customers.

Ignore Attacks

In some cases, people are going to be jerks to you no matter what. They're spoiling for a fight, or just believe so much that you are a jerk and/or an idiot, that they have nothing constructive to say.

Ignore them.

Seriously, there's no better way to deal with personal attacks than to just ignore them and move on. Acknowledging them works against you in three ways: it validates the attack, it encourages other jerks to attack you, and you use your considerable power of publicity to draw attention to negativity.

You're better off just sucking it up, biting your lip, and ignoring it. Those who want to fight want an audience, and they'll move to more fertile ground when you don't provide one. And those who want to believe you are a jerk aren't waiting to be convinced otherwise. Besides, you don't even have enough time and energy to address all of the constructive things that need doing when you run a business...

Respond to Legitimate Feedback ASAP

...such as interacting with interested customers. Running a business, and especially one which launches games to thousands of players, means there are going to be lots of questions, concerns, and other feedback. Plan on spending a significant portion of your time reading those comments, and in cases where they warrant it, reply to them.

You may not have to time to respond to everything, all the time, but you don't need to. Simply trying to engage makes it visible to your customers that you want to hear them, and want to help make your products better for them. Most will understand that you're busy, and can't hear everything.

This lesson was partially learned from observing Chewbot of Stoic Studios (also BioWare vets). A thread had appeared at RPGCodex talking about their new Banner Saga game. In it, there was a mixture of good feedback, dismissive comments, and legitimate questions. As a former BioWare dev, the 'Dex was a bit of a lion's den. He could have just lurked, mining the useful feedback and moved on.

Instead, he recognized them for what they are: customers who want a specific type of product, and have a hard time finding studios to make it. He created an account, introduced himself, and started addressing legitimate concerns and questions. The members of the forums were genuinely happy to have him visit and chat with them. He demonstrated the power of interacting with players, even in places where antagonism arises.

A week later, I got to try his approach for myself. And I was rewarded by valuable suggestions, words of encouragement, and even potential customers. It's definitely taught me that a developer's presence can really transform a discussion.

One month later, I'm proud to say that the NEO Scavenger community is a great one to be a part of. Both at Blue Bottle Games and elsewhere on the net, NEO Scavengers seem polite, helpful, and optimistic, and I'm thrilled. In the words of my high school chemistry teacher, "it's nice to be nice." Who could argue with that?

Of course, who would argue with a Greek guy in a suit with unlimited access to chemicals and a pistol-shaped butane lighter tucked into his belt? Maybe that had something to do with it too...


  1. Your stoopid and this articel is stoopid! What was I talking about? Anyway, those are some good points. It's sure frustrating sometimes how some people can fling insults over the internet without consequence, and the one being insulted can't even politely defend themselves without causing themselves more trouble.

    Heck, I found it hard enough when I was selling my motorcycle on Kijiji not to tell some people to take a leap, let alone if I had BUILT it myself. But hats off to you for keeping things positive!

  2. Hey Doug! Good to hear from you!

    Selling items on kijiji requires a completely different set of PR skills: those of a medieval bazaar hawker :) I wonder if eBay is better, since it's usually more take-it-or-leave-it?

    Also, if you're going to troll the internet, use fewer letters! Homophobic aspersions are much more economical, and "ur" will suffice for "your" :)

  3. My internal grammar Nazi already died a little from removing the apostrophe . . .

  4. That's an easy fix too! Any feeling of discomfort or confusion: homophobic swear words! See? Trolling is easy!

  5. Just randomly saw your blog as a related blog while I was checking my dashboard. What a great find! And thanks for your PR suggestions. The topics of how to handle comments and e-jerks weighed heavily on my mind. Great stuff all-around.

  6. Hey Jamaal! Thanks for the vote of confidence. I'm glad you found the info useful!