Bethesda and Blizzard are both on the receiving end of consumer wrath.
Following the Blizzard PR disaster at Blizzcon with the announcement of the maligned Diablo:Immortal and Bethesda’s release of a buggy, graphically outdated game in Fallout 76.
First, at Blizzcon, the technical difficulties the Hearthstone team had during the opening showcase allegedly caused the order of the title announcements to get all jumbled up. Apparently, after the Hearthstone stage had mic issues, the Diablo III guys were called up on stage to continue the show. However, they weren’t ready! The Overwatch team, who were the ones that were supposed to actually close the show, picked up the torch and helped carry the show forward. They were also debatebly the team best received. This however proved to be disastrous for Blizzard as the reception of Diablo:Immortal by the Blizzcon crowd was a total failure. This caused a massive backlash on the internet and led to the Diablo:Immortal release trailer to be one of the most thumbed-down videos of all time on YouTube.
The lack of communication by the Blizzard team regarding the showcase order error was the first big misstep. One of the questions being asked during the initial reaction after the showcase was “Why did Blizzard think this was a good way to end the Blizzcon opening show?“, as traditionally Blizzard had always ended the opening showcase with a huge announcement. It obviously wasn’t the intent of Blizzard to end the show on a disaster note, but the technical difficulties were evident for both the live and the streaming fans and some communication would have helped answer a question whose only logical answer for consumers at the time seemed to be that Activision-Blizzard was completely out of touch with its fans.
Unfortunately, Blizzard hosted a Diablo:Immortal panel immediately after the showcase disaster. The panelists were visibly nervous, and unfortunately they weren’t properly prepared by their PR team to effectively manage what was already the beginnings of a PR disaster. The questions were appropriately screened, but ultimately their response to a fan asking whether the game was coming to PC was “What? Don’t you guys have phones?” sealed their fate on social media as a company out of touch with their fan base.
Bethesda released a buggy AAA title at full price with Fallout 76. The game has a metascore of 54 and a user score of 2.8 on Metacritic. Streamers and reviewers have also been harsh on the game, citing outdated graphics and boring, repetitive gameplay as some of the more glaring issues which only compound on the bugs released with the game. A quick search online will net the reader some funny bugs and glitches that really shouldn’t be launched with a AAA title.
However, the buck did not stop there for Bethesda. Recently, the Power Armor Edition of Fallout 76 was showcased on Reddit with having a cheap nylon bag in substitute of the canvas bag that was advertised. Unfortunately, Bethesda’s response to the customer’s complaint once again showed a lack of tact:
“The Bethesda Store’s Support member is a temporary contract employee and not directly employed by Bethesda or Bethesda Game Studios. We apologize to the customer who took the time to reach out. The support response was incorrect and not in accordance with our conduct policy. Unfortunately, due to unavailability of materials, we had to switch to a nylon carrying case in the Fallout 76: Power Armor Edition. We hope this doesn’t prevent anyone from enjoying what we feel is one of our best collector’s editions.”
The comment instantly became one of the most downvoted on Reddit alongside the EA loot box fiasco and caused a noticeable rift between Bethesda and its fanbase. Their PR disaster could have been easily avoided, but their response seemed inappropriate for the situation they had already created by releasing a negatively received game.
The lesson to be learned is to not neglect proper crisis PR management. This includes identifying when a PR crisis is being formed and taking the necessary steps to mitigate the damage. It also includes communicating with employees that the company is in the midst of a PR crisis and what constitutes an appropriate response in tumultuous consumer waters.