From childhood, we are taught a simple lesson in morality: when you hurt someone, you apologize. Though it can be argued that some people are better at doing so than others, the principle of this remains true throughout our lives.
Sometimes, however, it seems that when someone — or rather, in this case, a certain video game company — attempts to make amends with others, they don’t simply miss the mark; they aim it in the completely opposite direction, causing their once-good intentions to swell into a raging dumpster fire of a PR nightmare.
The video game industry is no stranger to production or development companies publicly apologizing when such a situation arises. While most are able to do so gracefully and regain control of the situation, others can not only fail to do so, but can even end up making circumstances worse.
For this week’s list, I’ll go over several examples of times when video game companies attempted to apologize to fans, only to have realized they attempted to quench the situation with a bucket kerosine rather than one filled with water. These are my picks for the top 5 worst apologies from video game companies.
**As a brief disclaimer, this list will not include any mention or details of the recent apologies from Activision-Blizzard resulting from its ongoing class action lawsuit. If you wish to learn more about those events, take a gander at my previous article on the topic.
5. THQ Nordic’s “Ask Me Anything” on, of all places, 8chan
Why any major gaming company would host an “ask me anything” (AMA) open forum on a website like 8chan is far beyond my comprehension. For those unfamiliar with 8chan, the website is similar in nature to its infamous predecessor, 4chan, albeit far more controversial. Known for playing host to all kinds of immoral (and in some cases illegal) content, 8chan is the quintessential cesspool of the internet.
THQ Nordic’s AMA on the site went about exactly how you could expect it did; what started as a light-hearted open discussion rapidly devolved into one ripe with inappropriate questions and more lewd drawings than an anime convention. As the AMA’s thread drew increasing amounts of public attention, THQ Nordic’s marketing director formally apologized for hosting the AMA on 8chan, saying, “I personally agreed to this AMA without doing my proper due diligence to understand the history and the controversy of the site.” Unsurprisingly, the company’s fans — and even a large portion of the general public weren’t at all impressed. It begged the question of just how any company’s marketing director wasn’t able to conduct a simple Google search to do some preliminary research on the site or the type of people on it.
4. NetherRealm Studios’ Pride Month Challenge Gone Wrong
How this event got greenlighted in the first place is pretty much anyone’s guess at this point. Famous for its hit-yet-controversial action-fighting game series, Mortal Kombat, NetherRealm Studios opted to include a celebration of Pride Month to its Injustice 2 Mobile game title in June of 2021. The “celebration,” if you can call it that, required players to fight against famed Batman villain Poison Ivy, who has long been deemed canonically bisexual within DC’s own lore, in exchange for an amount of in-game currency.
Deciding that the move wasn’t tone-deaf enough as is, NetherRealm stated as publicly as they did proudly that Poison Ivy had been beaten more than 175,000 times since the “celebration’s” start. The backlash that resulted all but forced the company to apologize on Twitter, in which they said, “Real life violence against the LGBTQIA+ community and women within that community in particular is all too common and we should actively engage in efforts to end LGBTQIA+ violence, not normalize it.”
Though the studio’s apology did possess good sentiments and was made with the best of intentions, many people (especially members of the LGBTQIA+ community) simply couldn’t believe it had to be said in the first place as a result of a drastically misjudged in-game event.
3. Bethesda’s Miscommunication Goes Nuclear
Whenever the next iteration in an award-winning game franchise is launched, both the game’s producers and fans alike can often expect it to be an unforgettable event. In the case of Bethesda’s launch of Fallout 76, however, it was for all the wrong reasons.
Undoubtedly no fans of the studio’s beloved “Fallout” franchise will ever forget 76’s launch. As if the insane amount of bugs and technical issues in the game wasn’t terrible enough to endure in what should have been a fully-polished title, the game’s more expensive special edition that fans had pre-ordered en masse was missing a lot of content the developers had promised. Rather than rushing to apologize, Bethesda just…didn’t really seem to care at all, going into full radio silence amidst the cacophony of immediate negative feedback 76 received.
The studio’s silence on the matter only served to make things worse. Eventually, Bethesda was forced to acknowledge the issues with 76 in an online post, writing, “We’re sorry and understand this was not the right approach.”
To add further fuel to the fire, while Bethesda did offer a free copy of Fallout Classic Collection to everyone who logged into 76, the Collection wasn’t available on consoles, leaving roughly half of the game’s players (and the studio’s fan base) completely out of luck. On top of this, many PC players already own the games on their computer, rendering Bethesda’s apology all but totally useless.
2. TIE: Riot Games’ and Ubisoft’s Internal Culture Exposed
That’s right, folks! We have our first-ever tie for a slot on one of my lists. Here’s why:
In 2018, Riot Games, best known for its online multiplayer titles like League of Legends and Valorant, was served a spectrum of accusations claiming that the company had harbored both an internal “bro culture” and a sexist environment in its workplace.
These allegations included a lack of female employees across the company’s departments, rampant sexism in everyday conversation at Riot’s office, and even jokes made regarding sexual harassment targetting females. Eventually, Riot apologized in a public letter, unironically titled “Our First Steps Forward”, in which the studio wrote, “We’re sorry that Riot hasn’t always been — or wasn’t — the place we promised you. And we’re sorry it took so long for us to hear you.” To summarize this, Riot essentially said, “we’re sorry how we ignored you and your complaints and did absolutely nothing about our toxic workplace culture.”
As for Riot’s tied contender in this #2 slot, Ubisoft has earned a lot — and I mean, a LOT — of negative attention for its “cut-and-paste” approach to game development throughout the last few decades. The controversy in question here, although, transcended into 2020 when concerns were brought to light about the company’s inhumane treatment of many employees.
Again, are you noticing the trend here?
Ubisoft was slapped with an array of allegations, many of which cited a “problematic workplace culture” roiling with sexual misconduct and inappropriate behaviors. Currently, even at the time of this article being written, Ubisoft continues to face legal proceedings as a result of these accusations. Despite the company promising to adjust accordingly and welcome an internal investigation, an inside source at Ubisoft reportedly told Le Télégramme that “nothing has changed.”
What makes Ubisoft’s legal situation even worse is that fresh claims of harassment at the studio have more recently come to public light since the original accusations went public in the summer of 2020. In true non-apologetic fashion, Ubisoft continues to fight all of the accusations made against it, even going so far as to state that, “profound changes…have taken place at every level of the company.” Cue the eye roll emoji.
1. EA’s “Pride and Accomplishment” on Star Wars Battlefront II
Perhaps one of the more widespread modern issues facing the video game industry is that of in-game monetization as a way to upsell fans who have already purchased a game at full price.
In case you don’t remember the major scandal that brought this issue to light back in 2017, game development studio EA quickly rose to claim the industry’s title of “Public Enemy No. 1” for the mechanics of in-game monetization they had integrated into their Star Wars Battlefront II title.
“What kind of monetization mechanics,” you ask?
Well, for starters, though many of the game’s playable fan-favorite characters were released with the game’s launch, players found a bulk of them to be locked behind in-game paywalls, only able to become fully unlocked via in-game currency. The issue with this was, as players quickly found out, that it would take upwards of 40 hours of gameplay or more just to unlock a single one of these characters. Soon after, it came to light that many of the game’s unique items, playable maps, cosmetic items and more could only be obtained by paying real-world currency to obtain them, prompting an army of angry players to take to the internet and demand answers for the studio’s obvious underhanded attempts at the money grab.
In a response that remains infamous to this day as the single most downvoted comment in Reddit’s history, EA infamously responded, “The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes.” The statement was swiftly met with negative feedback and responses, going on to accumulate more than 500,000 downvotes and prompting EA to reactively backpedal on the game’s monetization mechanics.
As for EA’s official statement on the matter, those three simple words have since remained burned into the retinas and memories of gamers and Star Wars fans alike the world over.