On Wednesday, Sony finally backed down and allowed players on all consoles to play Fortnite together, regardless of which system they were using. The news was met with universal approval, and sighs of relief were breathed across the netosphere. However, what fascinates me is the line that most news outlets are opening with: specifically the words “backing down” and “giving in.” These aren’t warm and cuddly words; they don’t have connotations of a fuzzy uncle who has nothing to offer but sunshine and rainbows. Is “backing down” and finally playing ball really the best way for a prominent video games company to present itself?
Caveat: this isn’t meant to a holier-than-thou post about pointing the finger of blame. Don’t go after Sony with pitchforks or judge them from on high. We’re all flawed. Thank you thank you.
Okay, brief background. Fortnite is an insanely popular game whose Battle Royale mode enables players from all over the globe to partake in a shared and colourful fighting arena in a cartoonish battle to the death. Sony previously angered many people by not allowing PS4 players to fight against gamers on other systems such as the Nintendo Switch and the Xbox One, despite the fact that those consoles were more than happy to operate an open policy of crossplaying goodness. At the time, Sony cited the reasons for these decisions as being about protecting the quality of the gaming experience (as it believed the PlayStation was the “best console to game on”) and, uhh, preventing child abuse. Yes.
Anyway, on Wednesday Sony back-tracked / backed down / gave in on all of this, saying that it had “navigated through the issue to find a solution,” adding that it would be looking at cross-playing opportunities for other multi-platform titles in the future.
Now, the problem with PR statements of this ilk is that no one believes them. No one believes that Sony’s beef with crossplay was rooted in quality control or in protecting children, given that the kids of the Xbox One were enjoying a top notch experience with little concern for their safety. Moreover, no one believes that Sony’s biggest sticking point has been the ability to “navigate the issue to find a solution,” particularly as many developers have indicated that it’s something that could be enabled very easily – and indeed some companies have already achieved it internally.
What many do believe, however, is that Sony has been taking a business stance and behaving in competitive manner, trying to encourage gamers to choose the PS4 as their console of choice as opposed to its rivals. There’s nothing patently immoral about this, but it’s a bit sucky as it doesn’t favour the consumer. It’s basically a way of saying, “Tough luck. We’re more interested in your money.” And whilst at a fundamental level this is true of every business – even the ones digging wells in Africa – companies like Sony need to continually reassure customers that they are looking out for their best interests, and that they care about them.
And I must admit, after I read Sony’s latest statement I didn’t come away feeling wonderful about them as an organisation. To me, their words felt disingenuous and media-spun. What would have satisfied me more would have been something along the lines of: “We’re sorry we’ve played hard ball on the crossplay issue. We’re a business, and at times we act competitively because we want to continue to grow and provide more great things in the future. However on this occasion it’s clear that we’ve been upsetting gamers, which is not what we want to do, so we’ve decided to let consumers on all consoles play together for the very first time. Please forgive us, and we hope you have a blast.”
Perhaps these words wouldn’t have been enough for some people, but I would have found them so refreshing. Moreover, it would make me far more loyal to Sony as a brand because I’d feel they were upholding the values that I feel most strongly about. Admittedly, such companies are few and far between in the world of 2018 (and indeed the only brands that I will vociferously defend to anyone are giffgaff and Lush #NotAnAd.)
And heck, even if you’re not in the wrong, I think you should apologise anyway. Just keep the peace. I do this, frequently. Call me a mug. The most important thing is to communicate constantly, openly, honestly and gently – it’s the key to successful marriages, friendships, relationships and, yes, PR. The alternative is to be defensive or to issue a hollow press release which does nothing other than provide the illusion of sustaining an organisation’s integrity. And in this instance, I don’t think Sony has come across as company with integrity. It still has an air of an unfeeling corporation lacking in empathy. Yes, I’m a whiskerless freelancer lecturing Sony on public relations – which probably shouldn’t be encouraged – but I think we can all agree that this Fortnite debacle hasn’t been the company’s finest hour.
Just say sorry, Sony. We’ll love you for it.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!