For the game’s developers, it was a momentous occasion. Fans had been waiting 15 years in video game purgatory, they said, for the launch of the mythical Duke Nukem game.
For some game reviewers though, the release was more of a dud than the alien ass-kicking event it was portrayed to be, with a dated design and poor controls.
In response to the negativity, Jim Redner, founder of the PR firm representing 2K, the Redner Group, sent a tweet that was heard ’round the gaming world: “Too many went too far with their reviews…we r reviewing who gets games next time and who doesn’t based on today’s venom.”
The tweet spread like wildfire. The notion that Redner would apparently blacklist negative reviewers did not seem to be a major shock. Rather, it was the fact that he would explicitly say so.
Although Redner attempted to backpedal, issuing an apology for the tweet, 2K was not appeased. The firm severed its relations with its erstwhile promotions company — announcing it, quite fittingly, via Twitter.
“2K Games does not endorse or condone the comments made by @TheRednerGroup and confirm they no longer represent our products.”
Talk of the Town
The severing of this relationship has not stopped the discussion in PR circles. Redner’s comment — and the accompanying commentary about how PR works in gaming — apparently struck a nerve, especially among firms that take their craft seriously.
Requiring favorable reviews as a “payment” for exclusive or early access to a new game or service is not a practice the Public Relations Society of America condones, Arthur Yann, the association’s VP of public relations, told the E-Commerce Times.
“The fact the Federal Trade Commission now has clear guidelines via its blogger rules regarding the disclosure of a material connection between a blogger and the seller of a product or service should be reason enough for any PR firm engaging in this type of quid-pro-quo practice to immediately stop,” he said.
Even without the shadow of government oversight, “ethical public relations requires that PR professionals engage in fair, honest and transparent practices that not only respect all reputable media outlets, but also respects the public’s right to be fully informed in how a product was reviewed and how the media outlet’s review was influenced, if it was in any way,” Yann concluded.
It is also a practice that can backfire once a reviewer who was stiffed gets hold of the product, Elizabeth Lampert of Elizabeth Lampert PR told the E-Commerce Times.
It “almost entices that reviewer to take a much harsher line and report the negatives,” she suggested. “You don’t pick a fight with the reviewers you are relying on to help you move your product. That holds true in any industry.”
That said, the defensive impulse of a PR company is understandable, in Lampert’s view. “If someone were to write a negative review that could hurt sales during the week that sales were expected to soar, this would be detrimental.”
One possible compromise many game developers make, she noted, is to release the beta to key reporters in advance — but not so far in advance that other writers feel shut out.
“That’s asking for it,” said Lampert.
Many PR reps have taken issue with the general consensus that the behavior toward reviewers Redner alluded to is something that happens regularly but just isn’t talked about.
“I’ve worked with many game firms, and there is no way this is common,” Richard Laermer, CEO of RLMpr, told the E-Commerce Times.
“I’ve got to say this was the dumbest idea I’ve seen all year,” he remarked. “This firm has brought our industry down a notch, and I was not laughing when I read about it yesterday.”