WB’s Shadow of War: A PR Horror Story

There are a lot of fascinating things to be discovered about the internet, and one thing you learn very early on is this:

The internet will turn on you at the snap of a finger.

Warner Brothers, however, don’t seem to have quite figured this out, as they seem to be constantly “snapping their fingers”. When they left off from their last Middle Earth title, Shadow of Mordor, critics and fans alike (including myself) were extremely happy with how the game turned out. Monolith did a great job of putting together a competent and enjoyable experience, complete with gorgeous graphics and, more importantly, a feature full menu to tweak said graphics.

The game, important to this article, contains Orcs, known as “Uruks” in the game, a follower of sorts that can be controlled and manipulated, helping you on your journey through Middle Earth. They are a core mechanic of the game, and something that is vital to how the game plays for the end user, and how you progress through to find better and stronger orcs.

In the new title of the same series, “Middle Earth: Shadow of War”, Warner Brothers (having seen the success of the previous game) seized the wonderful opportunity to monetize the game to it’s absolute fullest, sledging the game with a multitude of micro-transactions, DLC and other ridiculous partnerships. (Looking at you, Totino’s Pizza) This has turned what used to be a revered series into one that now cannot be talked about without touching the scary, scary field of micro-transactions, a prospect so disgusting to most consumers, and appealing to every publisher, that the two meet head to head in a bitter feud. The only difference with this battle, however, is that we’re being enticed into spending real, solid cash.

The first of a plethora of mistakes with Shadow of War was kicked of when it was announced that micro-transactions would be added into the game. This issue was not one that was taken lightly by the community around the game, or any game for that matter, with people spilling onto Reddit, Twitter, Facebook and any other social media platform they could get their hands on to complain about the issue. Simply put; The bear had been poked.

In their showcase of the new micro-transactions, Monolith unveiled their grand plan to generate money from Shadow of War: loot boxes. Not just any loot boxes, mind you, (which are bad enough in the first place) loot boxes containing Orcs. If you understand how integral the Orcs are to the game, you may begin to understand why people were and still are disgruntled with the concept. You can’t take away an integral part of the gameplay, and shove it behind a spinning fortune wheel. Even worse, one that costs real money to spin.

And this is where you start to see where Warner Brothers really takes the piss with how their games are constructed, as giant money-making hives which fester and grow despite their negative press. What makes the situation even more amusing is the character they’re using as the front runner for their micro-transactions:

This guy. Yes, this guy.

It’s almost as if they’re showing themselves, making you take a look at the greedy little Warner Brothers goblin before you open your loot boxes, as he rubs his greasy hands and counts his change.

If at no improvement to the gameplay, it makes the situation more humorous, if nothing else.

And then there’s the debacle about Michael Forgey. To understand the full extent of the situation, you need to know the context. Michael Forgey was a producer at Monolith games, the company behind both Shadow of Mordor and Shadow of War. During the development of the game, what would unfortunately prove to be his last project, he passed away, leaving the team at a loss. So, they decided to pay tribute to him by leaving him as a character in the game, which on the surface sounds like a great idea.

Around the studio, and in his band, he was known as “Forthog”, so they implemented a character into the game named identically, Forthog, who can at random points spawn in and save you from an enemy you were about to die from. He then disappears back into Middle Earth, leaving you the nice present of a sincere lack of death. This, on it’s own, would be nowhere near scandalous. However, (of course) Warner Brothers stepped in and apparently (Do not take my word for this, I don’t know whose shoulders this was on) forced the studio to make the content launch day DLC.

Honestly, I think it’s a shame that the guy’s very last project would be one that would monetize his own death. Monetizing the death of a producer. This is where we’ve come. It just seems purely despicable.

There is one upside to this however: Warner Brothers were going to give $3.50 of every purchase to the family of Michael Forgey. Sounds better than it did before, right? It’s still slightly scummy that Warner is taking some of the money in the first place, but it’s still a nice gesture toward the family.

Or so you think. But it’s Warner Brothers.

As was later discovered, that $3.50 would only be given to the family if the purchases came from within certain areas of the United States, excluding a wide selection of states. This was mostly uncovered by TotalBiscuit, who created a video which displayed the fine print on the DLC’s trailer, stating very eloquently:

Donations will be made on purchases from any 1 of the 50 U.S. or D.C. (but, excluding purchases made from AL, HI, IL, MA, MS and SC). Void where prohibited by law. Your purchase is not tax deductible.

Media initially swallowed this up, painting the game in a positive light, and for the first time in months, giving it a PR boost. This was not to last for long, however, as when the video gained traction, publications started to dial down on the incessant praise of Warner and Monolith, and quickly turned against them. Finger snap.

(They also forgot to mention the sneaky method that Warner used to dodge tax here: They made some of the purchase “charity” , meaning that their profits are non tax deductible. Clever, even if it was by mistake, which I highly doubt.)

[edit] It has just emerged, literally thirty minutes after the time of me writing this, that the Michael Forgey DLC is going free. Finally, they have given in to the bad PR, and retracted the “paid” factor of the DLC, giving a dead man a proper memorial. However, my statement still mostly stands, as it is yet unknown where money from pre-orders for the DLC will be going.

And here we are in the present day, with one of Monolith’s heads interviewing with Eurogamer, stating that he will “not be purchasing micro-transactions” in the game when it releases, as he says he will effectively receive them at the “normal” pace of the game. This, to me, is absurd, seeing the mentality around the developer and their handling of the community, and as Jim Sterling put it (quite well, in fact) in his video:

If it’s more PR-appropriate to say that you will not be using a key feature of your own game, then you know something’s fucked up.