The Diablo Debacle — or Why PR People Should Work as Waiters
I am of the firm opinion that anyone seeking to do PR work should spend at least 6 months to a year working as a server in a fine dining restaurant. From experience, I can tell you that you will deal with a lot of entitled, temperamental, ungrateful, and honest assholes that will throw a tantrum over things that you honestly have no control over. You will be thrown out as a human punching bag, and that will make any grown adult want to cry. But you will get over that really fast, and dealing with these kind of people will become second nature as you quickly take control of the crowd and diffuse situations with your mere charm. You will also deal with a lot of very nice people, and strike up some really beautiful conversations, and they will make dealing with the assholes worth it. It’s the perfect proving grounds to weed out the people who are not suited for that environment.
Like this guy.
In case you missed it, Blizzard is kind of in the middle of being roasted on an open flame at the moment, and I want to talk about it. Even though I’m not the biggest Blizzard fan on the planet, my feather are rather ruffled, because I see that Diablo fans are seriously pissed off, and Blizzard and its representatives had every opportunity to avoid this fiasco, but didn’t. Plus, given some of their other gafts, I’m worried that Blizzard might be starting to have a real problem here. So, without further ado, I am going to play the part of the worried mother for this piece.
So, first off, how did we get here?
Let’s go back, six years back to be precise. It’s 2012, Diablo III is being released. Now, raise your hands if the phrase, “Error 37” rings any bells or triggers any involuntary rage? If you don’t remember, it is the error that a player would get when they attempted to log online to play Diablo III and couldn’t because Blizzard’s server were very much unprepared to handle the burden of hundreds of thousands of players on launch day. At the time, the gaming industry was a bit obsessed with trying to stop pirating, and started requiring single player games to be played online as a means of stopping pirating from happening. Aside from being annoying as hell for the consumer, it didn’t work. At all. Not only was this method circumvented pretty quickly, but those who tried it quickly found out that they were not prepared to deal with that many players needing to be online, and massive PR nightmares soon erupted. The disasters surrounding this method of DRM being included in games like Diablo III and SimCity 2013 pretty quickly discouraged developers and publishers from trying this again and Blizzard would issue an apology for the issues, but the damage was done. Diablo III also suffered from woes surrounding its infamous Auction House, among other major complaints. Not helping matters was Blizzard’s very indignant attitude towards the fiasco, with one Blizzard employee making a very poor choice of words towards players complaining about balancing issues on the forums, and another fiasco involving players getting their accounts hacked.
Admittedly, Blizzard did make great strides in winning back the crowd since then. The Reaper of Souls expansion did a lot in terms of fixing the problems that Diablo III had, including getting rid of the auction house, even though they never did get rid of the always online requirement for PC. But regardless, the relationship between Blizzard and Diablo fans has since been quite fractured.
Now flash forward to the present day: this weekend was BlizzCon 2018, Blizzard’s annual conference in which Blizzard dangles some shiny keys in front of its fans for a while until they break down and buy more Overwatch lootboxes. Just kidding, they actually announce games and stuff, and one of the key announcements that got fans in a bit of a frenzy was one Diablo themed announcement that happened before the show. You can read it yourself if you want to know the full details and wording, but for those of you who don’t like to read, Blizzard confirmed that they were working on projects for the Diablo franchise, and while not every project would be on display for BlizzCon, there was some Diablo themed news to be dropped at the event.
And indeed, news was dropped, and that news was a new Diablo game, called Diablo Immortal. And it was going to be —
— a mobile game.
In retrospect, it was not a genius move on Blizzard’s part to charge people up to $200 for tickets and have the top-billed reveal be anything other than Diablo IV, but at this point, the knee jerk reaction happened. Players were furious that the top billed news turned out to be a mobile game that looked oddly similar to Diablo III, and now there is a fire, backlash, and fans wondering if this was some sort of sick April Fools joke.
Now, to use another metaphor, the goal of someone dealing with backlash, or damage control as it is known in the PR world, is similar to the goals of someone fighting a forest fire, contain and let die. Blizzard even got the extra benefit of being able to take preventative measures thanks to an accurate prediction of backlash to Diablo Immortal being mobile occurring, but they completely missed their chance to head this off at the pass. To be fair, that blog post from before was probably meant to be the preventative measure, but, as Nathan Grayson, author of the above Kotaku article, also points out, the statements of —
“ These are very exciting times — we currently have multiple teams working on different Diablo projects and we can’t wait to tell you all about them . . . when the time is right.”
“While we won’t be ready to announce all of our projects, we do intend to share some Diablo-related news with you at the show.”
— don’t accomplish that. Keep in mind, the Diablo fan base has been news starved for a while now, and if I were news starved about a franchise that I really appreciate, those statements would basically tell me: “NEW DIABLO GAMES?! NEWS TO BE SHARED AT BLIZZCON?! ALL ABOARD THE HYPE TRAIN, CHOO CHOO!!!”.
Having failed to prevent a fire, now you move onto containing the fire. Here’s where the waiter senses should start tingling. In the fire fighting world, containing a fire means cutting off its supply of oxygen and fuel, and in both the PR and the waitstaff world, cutting off the anger fuel means sincerely apologizing, empathizing with the crowd or persons affected, sincerely apologizing, fixing the problem, sincerely apologizing, possibly throwing out freebies, and sincerely apologizing. They are fire, you are water. So, what did Blizzard and its representatives do to throw water on this fire?
Answer: They threw gasoline on the fire.
It must be said that shooting down the idea of a PC port of a mobile game that fans might actually appreciate is a very silly gesture, considering that it is well within the power of a company like Blizzard to do so. Granted, this isn’t the first time a Blizzard rep has said something that blew up back in their face. I now briefly direct your attention to J. Allen Brack, former executive producer and Vice President for World of Warcraft now President of Blizzard itself, as he condescendingly tells a fan that they don’t want vanilla World of Warcraft servers.
And now vanilla World of Warcraft servers are going to be a thing. I’m sure that crow Mr. Brack is eating is nutritious and delicious.
But back on point — if I made this kind of remark towards customers at my restaurant job, I would be fired. No ifs, ands, or buts. At this point, I would be a liability, because out on the floor I am essentially the face of the company, and I just threw a big rotten tomato on it.
“But what if the customer is being rude or unreasonabl — “
It. Does. Not. Matter.
It does not matter how unreasonable, rude, or just straight up malicious the customer is being. You simply do not engage. That is the golden rule of public relations, you do not instigate fights or arguments.
“But it’s not right that the customer gets to be a total ass and the business can’t defend themselv — “
It’s not a matter of just or unjust. The reason you don’t fight back is simply a pragmatic one. Fighting back escalates the immediate situation from bad to worse, and it damages reputations in both the short term and long run. When you represent yourself as the face of a company, a person, a place, a group, or whatever, and you are the target of anything less than physical violence, you can only hurt yourself by fighting back. Whereas, if you do everything in your power to de-escalate the situation, you can make the power of optics work for you. In this case, had Blizzard just stopped and immediately started doing damage control, or, perhaps, tossed a Diablo IV teaser in there for good measure, the outrage could have simmered down and eventually have been written off by fans and the outside world as PC purists getting mad at something not being on PC.
But, since we have failed to contain the fire and have in fact allowed events to have happened that have allowed it to spread, have we started to at least throw water on it?
Within the time of the incident, and today, the 7th of November, there have been many articles and statements written about the incident, with none of them containing anything sounding remotely like apologies. We’ve had the above mentioned Kotaku article, where Allen Adham of Blizzard tells us backlash for Diablo Immortal was beyond Blizzard’s expectations, we’ve had Blizzard shooting down a rumor that it was going to announce Diablo IV at BlizzCon 2018 but cancelled at the last minute, nothing in the form of an official apology for that one comment that I am tired of rewatching and groaning at.
And Blizzard probably doesn’t feel like they have to apologize. They are giving fans a new game in the Diablo franchise, and more games are on the way, including most definitely Diablo IV, so why u not thankful bros? Also, to concede a little bit, some of the fans are kinda being dicks about this whole thing and posting messages on forums attacking Blizzard developers who aren’t responsible for cooking their steak well done when they requested it medium rare, and that is not by any means okay or a constructive use of anyone’s time. But here’s the thing, we can go on and on about whether or not this is an example of fans and players being too much of entitled little bastards all day, I can tell you from experience that this attitude is not unique to the video gaming scene.
I’ve been yelled at by people with less of a reason to be upset at me than what Diablo fans have. I’ve been yelled at and had to apologize for things that weren’t even my fault. I’ve dealt with all sort of needy persons and people who felt like they were entitled to having them and their fourteen other buddies take a seat in the restaurant at five minutes to closing time. I know, firsthand, that certain people can be awful, entitled, vulgar, mean, needy jerks and that it is a major pain in the ass to deal with these people, and I am in no way condoning some of the more reprehensible responses that usually pop up whenever these backlash incidents occur.
Given my experience, I wouldn’t blame Blizzard if by now they have started to see fans as toxic entitled peck-heads, because that was my mindset towards customers when I started out in the food service industry. But, that way of thinking is a trap. It puts a chip on your shoulder that you are impatient for people to come over and break, and it stops you from empathizing with people who maybe look like the toxic peck-heads on surface, but are really just people with legitimate grievances not venting in a healthy or constructive way, or maybe even people who are having a laundry list of unrelated grievances that boiled over at that one last slight. And I know that Blizzard nor really any game developer is going to like the idea that we need to be nicer to people with traces of toxic entitled peck-head personality, and I can see that a lot of what I’m saying can probably be interpreted by some as victim blaming. But that’s why you have us, the people who are trained to absorb, deflect, and defuse the toxicity before it starts spreading to the rest of your fanbase, and to you, the developers. Toxicity infects EVERYBODY, and even victims aren’t immune to picking up their own destructive behaviors as a result of interacting with toxicity. For me, it was, and still is to some extent, paranoia. For Blizzard, it appears to be indignation.
And I really don’t want Blizzard to succumb to the pratfalls of indignation, because Blizzard was and is still a very big part of shaping video game culture as we know it. I know people who work at Blizzard and want to work at Blizzard because Blizzard is their damn hero. I went to school with people that salivated at the mouth when Overwatch was released, and I know people who admire Blizzard’s collective talent at story-telling and world-building that would kill for a feature length Overwatch movie. I know people who’ve bonded with friends and loved ones playing World of Warcraft, and World of Warcraft is such a global phenomenon that Hollywood decided that it could make a movie out of it and bother to pay for relatively decent special effects. These are the people that go to BlizzCon and pay $200 for a ticket, because they want to see their hero and the franchises that inspire them in the flesh, as well be surrounded by other people who share the same passion. Blizzard means THE WORLD to a lot of people, and while I don’t agree entirely with the sentiment of former employee and Diablo II producer Mark Kern saying that Blizzard doesn’t know gamers anymore, I do worry that Blizzard adopting a more indignant attitude towards their fans will not only lead to worse PR fiascos in the future, but also lead them to forget what they mean to a lot of people, stop them from seeing the genuine good in their fans, and use the bad in their fans to falsely absolve them of their own mistakes. They haven’t gotten to that last step yet, and I pray to the gods that they never do, but it’s something visible on the horizon, and I don’t like it.
Blizzard’s PR missteps may not necessarily personally offend me, but it does affect a lot of people very close to me in ways that I can see and feel. And honestly, if someone whose only true creative outlet is snark and intellectual elitism can handle the food service industry, a company as big as Blizzard has no excuse to not have this PR thing down by now. Or, at the very least, they should be able to pick reps that won’t generate the next meme by which the fanbase will use to hang them by.
They should pick people who generate memes like this one: