In a move to reduce the momentum of a snowballing series of PR blunders, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment has reversed course on their decision to monetize the memorial “Forthog” DLC.
After being bodily dragged toward an epiphany that monetizing the tragic death of Midlle-earth: Shadow of War developer Michael Forgey might make for bad optics, WBIE has taken a hard right turn. The “Forthog Orc-Slayer DLC” created by the development team at Monolith to immortalize their fallen friend who died of cancer last year will now be available free of charge, and Warner Bros. will privately make a donation to the late developer’s family in place of the expected income.
WBIE protests even their own characterization, citing “a factually incorrect tweet from our team” regarding profit from sales of the DLC outside of the United States. More to the point, however, they claim that they now “recognize that tying our donation to sales of the DLC was not the best way to achieve our goal of offering financial support to the family and creating a lasting memorial to Michael Forgey” and have offered a “sincere apology” for creating any “confusion.”
The statement concludes with an assurance that the DLC will be demonetized, refunds issued to those who pre-ordered it, and directs readers to a site on YouCaring.com where anyone can donate directly to Forgey’s surviving family.
This is the latest in Shadow of War‘s slow-motion PR train wreck, only the most recent in a frankly disorienting series of terrible decisions regarding the follow-up to 2014’s orc slaughtering simulator, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. The game is already being widely criticized for an aggressive microtransaction scheme shoehorned into an otherwise promising title.
The reversal on the paid DLC comes alongside an interview with Shadow of War Design Director Bob Roberts that has done little to assuage concerns among fans over the game’s microtransactions. It was several paragraphs of non-explanation by a man who could not have seemed less enthusiastic to discuss the controversy if there had been a literal gun to his head, as the comments section below was quick to point out.
Roberts attempted to justify the decision with two deeply flawed — yet clearly practiced — arguments: first, that microtransactions are little more than a difficulty adjustment akin to the game’s “Easy” mode. That argument seemed contradicted by another assertion made: that the game was never balanced with microtransactions in mind, and furthermore, that they were “turned off” during playtesting. Roberts also positioned those microtransactions as awareness of players who have more money than time and might be “scared when a massive game comes along that they’re not getting to see the full experience.”
Of course, neither point addresses the rapidly growing herd of elephants in the room. Are the microtransactions part of the difficulty curve, or are they separate and unaccounted for by the developers? And if they are so concerned about their players’ time, why force them to pay more money to see the entirety of a game that they have already purchased? Why include a competitive endgame scenario alongside a system which allows you to pay to win? The answer, of course, is whales. Still, these questions have turned many of their most enthusiastic consumers away.
To be clear: it’s unlikely this controversy is Roberts’ or Monolith’s fault. This appears to be an instance in which the publisher has chosen a sacrificial lamb to pass on their decision. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that a wildly promising game has been undercut by a publisher’s aggressive DLC plan.
It grows increasingly unlikely that WBIE will reverse course, even to salvage whatever remains of the quickly dwindling positive energy surrounding their flagship 2017 release. It should not, however, come as any surprise. WBIE is no stranger to abusing the trust of their fans, as with 2015’s Arkham Knight misadventure.
Stirring the pot for free press is not a new tactic. But rather than the purposefully inflammatory nature of the “Augs Lives Matter” promotion of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, these decisions are making WBIE appear not only tone-deaf but incompetent. And incompetent, no matter how you slice it, is not a great look.
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