In mid-October, the Games Media Awards event happened in the UK. During the event, certain journalists tweeted a game-related hashtag in order to win a PlayStation 3. Looked bad. This was brought up on Twitter, some journalists defended those actions as no big thing, things got worse. (It continued on from there, but that’s immaterial to this discussion)
This controversy stemmed from a lack of trust. Trust is a hard thing to cultivate, but it’s easy to lose. Even the perception of wrong-doing can lead to a loss in trust, meaning perception is everything. So, everything you do matters.
Everything matters. This includes not only all aspects of the work you’ve released out into the world, but other public information. Who contributed to the work and their personal beliefs and biases. Other content that could be compared to what you’re releasing. How you present yourself and your work prior to release. How open and transparent you are with your consumers.
Who you are matters almost as much as the work itself.
Way back in June, Tomb Raider executive producer Ron Rosenberg told Kotaku that players would want to protect the new Lara Croft, not be her. This followed a trailer almost a year earlier described by some as “torture porn”. There was a problem with the perception of Crystal Dynamics new take on Croft. Probably not helped by the general perception of game developers as 25-25 year old white males. Now, a bunch of guys could create an fully-realized Lara Croft, but the implicit trust was not there and comments from developers weren’t helping the matter.
In October, the lead writer for Tomb Raider was revealed as Mirror’s Edge and Heavenly Sword writer Rhianna Pratchett. Based on Pratchett’s past works and some of her interviews about the game, some potential players began to trust that Crystal Dynamics might not screw up Lara Croft’s reintroduction. Perception changed due to a newly-revealed element of the production. Neither the previous developer’s comments nor Pratchett’s reveal as the lead writer ensure an excellent game or story, but Pratchett’s inclusion adds trust.
Trust informs expectations. Trust can act as a shield against poor decisions or statements. Lack of trust means that even benign decisions can look like impending screw-ups. Past successes mean players and readers are most likely to head into an experience with positive feelings. It’s why we have cover blurbs or trailers that say “From the creator of…” Instant trust.
Some players lost trust in Bioware over Dragon Age II and Mass Effect 3’s original ending. Nintendo turned off some players who preferred “hardcore” games during the Wii era, while others continue to believe the company will do no wrong with the Wii U. Even the stock prices that publicly-traded companies stake their lives on are based completely on trust.
Trust is based on perception. Perception is based on every public aspect (or even the gaps you leave) of your work. So, everything matters.
Some argue that saying “everything matters” presents a possible chilling effect to publishers and developers. That creators could refrain from talking to the press because a small comment could be damaging to an upcoming title or release. That’s certainly a possibility. It’s a minefield that we navigate each and every day, so why would a commercial or artistic product be any different? In our personal and professional relationships, we show or hide our thoughts all the time. What we choose to say or not say defines who we are as a person.
What we say reflects upon ourselves. What we say reflects upon the companies that choose to employ us. What our employers do reflects upon us as employees. These are given rules in most relationships. It’s why these guys were fired. People would question a vegan who worked for a butcher. They would wonder why that personal choice is not reflected in a job or career. We understand that many frequently have to do things they disagree with to survive in certain situations, but there’s still a question of judgment.
If your commentary in an interview, demo, or forum will affect how people view your work, then it’s up to you to provide more clarification, to apologize, or to stand by your statement. Make your choice and let the dice fall where they may. People will take your comments at face value. They will make inferences where you’ve been quiet and left gaps in their knowledge. How consumers and readers handle what you give them is dependent on their trust in you.
Have a clear message. Be open and transparent. Be consistent. Be measured. If you don’t believe in what you’re saying, don’t say it. If you do, and come under fire, be prepared to defend it or recant.
So let’s act like it.
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