The More Things Change… Oh, And Marketing 101

It was just over five years ago I was writing about a free to play first person shooter, Battlefield Heroes, causing a furor because they changed up the game by making things more favorable for people who paid versus those who played for free.

The hue and cry was… something.  We’re all familiar with the term “pay to win” at this point.  No lesser source than the generally respected Ars Technica ended their article on the topic with a dire statement about how this change might end the game.

Here we are today and there is something of an outcry because SOE just did something marginally similar by decreasing the effectiveness of a few implants in PlanetSide 2 in order to be able to put some Station Cash only implants into the game without making them too over powered.

People hate when you nerf stuff, and when you nerf stuff in favor of a cash shop item, people will rightly suspect that the move was motivated by money.  Also, pay to win.  Smed, being Smed, stood up and admitted as much, that they want to make money off of the game.

Unfortunately, Smed made a classic “land war in Asia” level PR mistake when he used somebody else’s terminology in his response.  And so Massively got to use the term “Money Grab” in its headline.  You take your click bait where you can get it. (But hey, look at Conner over at MMO Fallout who when with Smed’s real statement for the headline!)

Massively doesn’t actually include the tweet in its article, otherwise it might be clear that it was a direct response to somebody’s accusation… basically, echoing somebody else’s words.

But the quote is fair game as anything Smed says about the game in public is there for everybody to see.  He should have known better that to feed the press a line like that because, as has been demonstrated in the past, that will become the headline and will effectively deliver the opposite message.  People see the denial and will immediately think “PlanetSide 2 Money Grab!”

Live and learn.

As for the dire news five years back about Battlefield Heroes, the last I checked it was still up and running which, considering it is an EA game and they will close down anything that isn’t making enough money, says something.  There is an appropriate Mark Twain quote out there that I think fits the situation.

Meanwhile, the Ars Technica article with the dire prediction for the game is still up and available on their web site.  Because that is what journalists do, they stand by their work as it appeared in the moment.  Or, if they really screw up, they issue a correction.  They don’t, you know, delete their shit and hope nobody notices.  That is what hacks do.

And the world continues to turn.

17 thoughts on “The More Things Change… Oh, And Marketing 101

  1. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @tms – He survived the NGE, his strength is beyond that of mortal men.

    Also, I was fully expecting to wrap this article up with how Battlefield Heroes died a quiet death, unloved and alone, only to be surprised that it is still up and running.

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  2. bhagpuss

    My theory is that despite the protestations to the contrary a lot of people secretly like Pay to Win. Players like it because, y’know, you win. And companies like it because, y’know, you pay.

    The main people who don’t like it are those who won’t or can’t pay and, well, they weren’t paying anyway so screw them. So long as you can keep enough plates spinning everyone’s happy. Or at least everyone’s paying, which is what matters.

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  3. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    Smed has a tough job. Given how fickle the game industry is, the fact that SOE is still going after all this time says something for his competence. Even if he steps in the shit on occasion. So do we all….

    As for free-to-play games go, people say they hate it, but they pay anyway. Plus, a lot of people who were introduced to gaming via mobile games are a lot more tolerant of other business models. Seems there will be room for multiple business models in the end, but I would like to see a bit more sanity in the free-to-play end of things.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. C. T. Murphy

    I love Smed and his honesty, but SOE needs to make a genuinely good game again and not another business model with graphics if he wants to keep speaking so bluntly!

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  5. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss – It is just the continuation of the age old argument about time versus money, where people who have more of one don’t want to see games that favor people that have more of the other. Somebody always loves whatever is standing in for “pay to win” this week, and somebody always hates it.

    @Brian – I wouldn’t necessarily generalize that people pay anyway. Somebody will pay, sure enough, but some people will walk away or play for free as an attempt at hard mode… or out of spite for an obnoxious business model, like my relationship with Candy Crush Saga. I may never defeat the game, but I’ll never give King a goddam nickel either. *shakes fist*

    And yes, Smed steps in it once in a while, but this is my particular pet peeve, letting some heckler shape the tone of the argument by echoing their loaded phrase. Suddenly Massively has a headline with Smed saying “Money Grab!” Suddenly that becomes the focus of the moment.

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  6. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    @Wilhelm

    Yeah, not everyone pays; that’s a known “feature” of the business model. But the cases you mentioned (playing hard more by not paying) are not usually the people who complain.

    The people who complain the loudest are the one who want advantages but don’t want to pay for them in cash. They are often fine with “paying” for such advantages in time spent in game, though.

    As for repeating a phrase like Smed did, well, repeating a phrase is one way to let someone know you’re really listening. All this means is that he was focusing more on answering someone rather than focusing on pure PR. Hard to damn him for that.

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  7. Roger Edwards (@ModeratePeril)

    As Brian said, there’s often a massive gulf between what gamers extol and what they actually do. A large part of gaming culture seems to be posturing.

    Some folk will walk away from “pay to win” but sufficient don’t and therefore keep the financial model afloat.

    As for Smedley he survives through the cult of personality.

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  8. Jidhari

    I am not particularly impressed with Smed. He seems to have done well initially with EQ but then SOE got comfortable and Blizzard hit them the knockout punch with WoW, After that, he seemed obsessed with business models and marketing concepts as opposed to making decent games. All of it wrong headed. Even worse, he loves to spout pie in the sky ideas with no clue as to how to make it a reality. From portfolios of flagging MMOs, going all in on F2P and chasing trends like zombies, he has done a wonderful job leading SOE on the road to nowhere. The brand itself is being cheapened as they are now resorting to startup funding strategies to bring in cash (see H1Z1 and Landmark).
    Everyone else has come along and shoved SOE to the side like an aging hooker past her prime: Square, Arenanet, Zenimax, Blizzard and even EA with hotbar SWTOR. As far as I am concerned, they are now competing with Funcom and Turbine for “whose next on the chopping block”. Sadly, I expect things to only get worse with EQNext . What a shame.

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  9. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Brian – “All this means is that he was focusing more on answering someone rather than focusing on pure PR. Hard to damn him for that.”

    Except that he is the head of SOE, speaking in a very public forum in front of a large audience in easily copied and pasted text. He should know better to repeat a loaded phrase like that. He isn’t just some guy at SOE, he runs the show. It doesn’t matter if he has a blurb about his Twitter account being just his views, especially when he identifies himself as the President of SOE and has the PlanetSide 2 logo as his avatar.

    Now, this wasn’t an Adam Orth level gaffe. I doubt it will change anything. People who hate SOE or F2P will continue to do so. But I hope he learns something from it, as it shows a lack of awareness that a senior exec should have. This is why he gets the big bucks, right? And the next time he does it, it could be a bigger deal.

    That aside, I am, as always, interested where the comments have headed versus what I felt was the main point of my post. The main thrust for me was that Massively was really acting is a disappointing manner. First they ran with that quote for a sensational headline, under which was a post that, if it was not outright deceptive, certainly didn’t try very hard to establish the actual context of Smed using the term “money grab.” They were happy enough to just put those words in his mouth. Then they basically did a copy/paste of a Polygon article without bothering to do any of their own research, to the point that when Polygon issued a correction, Massively went and deleted their post. Together those were making me long for the days when Michael Zenke ran the show. But it is clearly what AOL wants out of the site, and the people there need to get paid.

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  10. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    @Wilhelm, Well, I guess the question is if it’s better to have someone speak like a person and engage with people, and thus occasionally make missteps, or to have someone speak like a PR drone because everything is filtered. I think most people appreciate being talked to like a person, especially in something that is supposed to be social like an MMO. I think the benefit of having someone like Smed be a person who occasionally says something that can be taken out of context is better if he comes across as genuine. I think nobody’s going to accuse Smed of being fake.

    As for new sites, the thing to keep in mind is that it’s almost always about getting the clicks. If good news gets the clicks, then we’ll get good news. But more often it seems like the clickbait gets the clicks. Which is sad, but predictable.

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  11. bhagpuss

    This is an interesting discussion. The term “Money Grab” didn’t press any of my buttons. I don’t know if that’s a cultural difference. I didn’t particularly register it as a pejorative or negative phrase although now I stop and analyze it I guess it is. If you hadn’t brought it up I’m certain I wouldn’t have stopped to think about it even though I read the article.

    The article SynCaine got excited about also went right over my head. Again I read it and I did notice the discrepancy between the 1m and 2.5m figures, but given that all MMO population info is intentionally obfuscated at all times I didn’t think much of it. Different way of counting the same number of beans most likely.

    Deleting the article, however, is like waving a big red flag and honking on a klaxon. Why would any news site do that? Just change the headline and add an explanatory footnote. Newspapers make mistakes ALL the time and have to print corrections, retractions or apologies. That’s just business as usual. Trying to suppress a mistake and pretend you never made it though? That’s a news story in itself!

    I also never think of Massively as any more “professional” than any other blog. Okay, I know that *technically* it is a professional site in the most fundamental meaning of the expression in that the people who write for it get paid, but it’s just a glorified collective blog, isn’t it? It certainly reads like one. Which doesn’t excuse the kind of behavior you and SynCaine are calling out here – we wouldn’t expect or accept that from blogs either.

    Although I read Massively all the time for news because they do a great job of collating and digesting all the various press releases and so on, it always has a kind of ramshackle “we’re making this up as we go along” kind of feel about it. Which I rather like.

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  12. Tanek

    Quick note on the Massively article. It was not deleted, the title was changed. I guess that was done when the update was made, since it now has the 2.5 number and “total” in the title was changed to “total(ed)”. That’s why the link does not work.

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  13. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @OldSkoolGrad – So they completely removed all references they previously used as though they NEVER posted the first version? That still sounds like shit journalism to me, hiding their mistake. By that policy, I would delete your comment and change my article to match the facts.

    Seriously, that isn’t correcting a mistake, that is taking a mulligan and pretending the first version never happened. Again, go look at what Polygon did. My comparison still stands.

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  14. OldSkoolGrad

    From what I can see it’s the same article with the same link. Just the guy’s link doesn’t go it and he goes off on a rant. Honestly looks to me like someone who often has a bone to pick (the guy you referenced) is just trying to find reason to do so, whether the reason is legit or not.

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  15. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @OldSkoolGrad – The internet archive looks like it updated as well, as the original referenced the Polygon article at the bottom and had a different headline than what is currently on both sites. Down the memory hole. (If nothing else, you can see the word “total” got changed to “totaled” in the headline at some point, without a correction noted.)

    And that still leaves out that they cribbed the whole thing from Polygon, the clickbait Smed headline I was complaining about, along with them omitting the context of the quote, putting the words “money grab” directly in Smed’s mouth.

    Admittedly, taking Massively to task on core journalistic tenets is a fools errand, and I wouldn’t normally bother. Becoming obsessed about it could turn it into a full time job. But on that particular Friday they seemed to be more off base than usual. And, as noted, execs who should know better, like Smed, feeding the headline trolls with words like “money grab” is a pet peeve of mine. So there were a variety of messages in this post, including that dramatic reactions to price changes don’t necessarily spell doom, as we saw with Battlefield Heroes five years back.

    And yes, SynCaine has a pointed disdain for Massively.

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