Sunday, January 1, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: How not to do Gaming PR

In the weeks following Christmas, the gaming industry, like many others, falls into a slump. The big releases of the winter period have been thoroughly hyped, pre-ordered, purchased and played, and we wait, satisfied, for the new-born of spring to provide us with future gaming excellence.

For the press, this dearth of new games and significant news is usually overcome with End-Of-Year lists of best-ofs, worst-ofs, underrateds and also-rans. You might see a few retrospectives, or a well-constructed thought-piece concerning where the industry is at with regards to too many sequels, or big sellers, or failed releases and why they failed. In short, it’s a relaxing time where you can plod through old content from throughout the year, and re-arrange it into something people can enjoy. It is basically recycling, and we must always encourage a sustainable model of journalism. Well this week has been a little different.

The cynic in me wonders how much better the
Avenger will sell as a result of this campaign.
It all started on Tuesday December 27th 2011, when Mike ‘Gabe’ Krahulik from Penny Arcade posted an article concerning a guy by the name of Dave, who had received some lamentably poor customer service whilst chasing up the whereabouts of his Avengers that he had pre-ordered a short while ago but still not received. It was a standard case of hoping to get your gifts in time for Christmas. At least, it should have been. Reading through the exchange, people were astounded and often outraged that someone could be so antagonistic towards a person paying hard-earned cash for their product. That someone was Paul Christoforo of Ocean Marketing. (Or is it Marketting?)

Highlights from the pen of Paul included:
“im sure you don’t complain to activision or epic games so put on your big boy hat and wait it out like everyone else” [sic]
“Feel free to cancel we need the units were back ordered 11,000 units so your 2 will be gone fast. Maybe I’ll put them on eBay for 150.00 myself” [sic]
and even:
“Welcome to the Internet ? Son Im 38 I wwebsite as on the internet when you were a sperm in your daddys balls and before it was the internet, thanks for the welcome to message wurd up.  Grow up you look like a complete child bro.” [sic]
Shocked at the treatment he was receiving from a company who you might expect would owe their customers an apology regarding such shipping difficulties, Dave decided to forward the exchange to a number of notable gaming websites, including a certain Penny Arcade. Mike Krahulik was quick to jump in, perhaps with a more impish than calming approach, but from here things escalated fast. Mike stated that this behaviour had now excluded N-Control from any future appearances at the PAX (a semi-annual gaming convention hosted by Penny Arcade).

Now, as if the situation hadn’t already been ridiculous enough, Paul began boasting of his many powerful connections, limited not only to those within the games industry, but also even to certain Massachusetts political figures. How could Mike Krahulik expect to throw his weight around in the face of someone who was personal friends with the mayor of Boston?

One of many memes, using an image
from Paul's MySpace account.
At this point, Paul took some of his first teribly-judged steps on the path to a treacherous, twisted place known as Internet Retribution. Gamers are renowned for being vocal when mistreated (remember Gamestop and the Deus Ex: Human Revolution OnLive codes?), and with his threatening demeanour and bravado, Paul stepped up and put himself in the firing line. And boy, did they ever start firing. With many of his personal details easily searchable using Google and Facebook, hundreds, if not thousands, of people began berating him with phone calls, emails, and friend requests to his close family. He even quickly became the subject of an Internet meme. Paul’s bullying behaviour and aggressive attitude seemed to set something off in a lot of people. Was it perhaps that they were reminded of times that people had also tried to make them feel small? The way Paul conducted himself set his world on fire.

Within a short space of time, he was begging Mike to call off the hounds. This was naive, really, as if people could ever be expected to answer to the beck and call of one person. Mike took umbrage at the fact that Paul’s apology was not for the way in which he had behaved, but rather for the fact that his behaviour had been noticed. Of course, this only served to fan the flames at his feet. Soon he had changed his phone number and even his Twitter account, in an effort to avoid the tirade of anger flowing towards him. Despite his company’s claims of their strengths and talents in the Social Media Marketing arena, Paul seemed fatally unaware of how any of these services operate. After changing his Twitter name, a wily user decided to slip right into the old one, and antagonized others as best he could to keep the rage well-fueled. (This account has now been put to use as an avenue for celebrating indie games, and is much more positive).

Since these events transpired, N-Control have unsurprisingly withdrawn their business from Ocean Marketing and requested that control over their properties be returned to them. In further acts that seem to wear thin the concept of egregious behaviour, Paul has essentially tried to extort them for some kind of settlement fee and maintenance, as if their products and the online information associated with them were children in some kind of bizarre divorce case. At every stage in the proceedings, despite frequent apologies and words to the contrary, Paul has repeatedly served to highlight himself as a thoroughly unpleasant person to do business with. Most of this took place over a 72-hour period, and there hasn’t been much mention of it since. Despite that, I have the feeling that this is not the last we will hear from Paul Christoforo. I just hope that next time, he remembers how bitter his humble pie tasted.

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