When bugs attack: how video game publishers can survive game-breaking problems

When bugs attack: how video game publishers can survive game-breaking problems

June 18, 2013
When bugs attack: how video game publishers can survive game-breaking problems

With the enormous pressure and strict deadlines heaped upon today’s big-budget video games, release-day bugs are inevitable. Customers usually write harmless bugs off as forgivable (and even fun) anomalies, but occasionally more widespread and/or destructive bugs manage to slip through.

When first-person fantasy mega-hit The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was released—on its much-hyped release date of 11/11/11—customer reception was generally very positive. That is, until some players who had purchased the game for Sony’s PlayStation 3 console began reporting a particularly cruel bug that slowed the game to an unplayable crawl. Skyrim publisher Bethesda Softworks released a patch update (five months into the game’s release) that seemed to put a stop to the problem. However, the episode left the publisher with a reputation for shipping games too early and most likely had an adverse affect on sales for Skyrim’s PS3 release.

So, assuming that a solution needs to be more robust than “stop releasing game-breaking bugs,” what can video game publishers do to prevent release-day bugs from becoming customer service nightmares?

  • Own up to the problem. So your release didn’t go as smoothly as planned. Things happen! Your loyal customers, particularly those who are devoted enough to buy your games for full price in the first weeks of release, have an amazing capacity for forgiveness—and being transparent about the problem lets you tell the story yourself.
  • Provide updates on the situation. When a software product doesn’t work as advertised, customers expect that it will be fixed, and video games are no different. Experiencing a destructive bug can be a frustrating experience, but being aware that a publisher takes its players’ frustration seriously and wants to resolve the issue can make a huge difference in the way your brand is perceived.
  • Make it right. Newly released video games command premium price tags, so launch-day bugs are most likely to affect customers who have paid for the privilege of being early adopters. And while in some situations it may be fair for them to expect some sort of restitution, a make-good doesn’t need to cost publishers a pound of flesh. These days, most big-budget releases are updated with additional downloadable content—new chapters, powerful characters or items, or even a change of clothes—that customers can buy to expand the game. Offering customers an opportunity to register their complaints (and contact information) in exchange for a piece of free downloadable content shows them that you want to make up for the mistake, and also allows you to communicate further updates directly to the affected players.

While gamers tend to be more vocal through social media channels than customers in many other product categories, their needs are the same as any other: They want to buy with confidence and expect a clear and speedy path toward resolution when games fail to meet basic quality-control standards. Bugs are a fact of life for new releases, and gamers are well aware—it’s the way those bugs are addressed that can have a profound effect on the success of current and future titles.

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