Bad PR 110: Yooka-Laylee, JonTron, and Repeated History

The phrase history always repeats itself is nowhere more true than on the Internet.  Only difference is that the person who wrote that originally believed it repeats itself after 10’s of years, if not hundreds.  They don’t realize that on the Internet, it can repeat itself in just a few.  Sometimes one.  Sometimes not even.  It’s amazing.  Well, as always, this comes in the world of video games, where we get another wonderful instance of politics and video games colliding into a massive garbage fire.  One that looks to do irreparable harm to this video game’s reputation at exactly the worst time.  I am, of course, talking about the spiritual successor to Banjo Kazooie, entitled Yooka-Laylee and the company behind it.

For those who don’t know, the YouTuber JonTron just did a stream with someone where he talked about political views on immigration and other issues.  After an off-color comment by JonTron, the Internet lost its fucking mind.  As always, the utterly-broken sites like Kotaku and Polygon were quick to point out how JonTron has been utterly destroyed.  Except, you know, for his still rising sub count on YouTube.  There’s that.  And since the cowards at NeoGaf can’t help but want to fuck with people’s livelihoods and passion projects, they decided to hit up the company behind the Kickstarter success story who had just featured JonTron as a voice actor.  This was something that was a huge collaboration and got a lot of good press all around.  The company was told, and then released a statement that they were cutting JonTron from the game in a patch.  JonTron, while disappointed, released a statement saying that he understood and still wished them the best.  Stupid, doesn’t look great for the company, but that’s it, right?

Wrong!  A lot of backers of the game decided to take to Steam and the game’s main page forums and demand they get their money back.  Okay.  Maybe just sit tight and let this blow over?  Be quiet and wait it out?  Not a bad strategy.  Except, that’s not the strategy that the team behind the publishing of Yooka-Laylee (Team 17) did.  Instead, they decided to shit-talk the people who were mad at the company.  They decided to lock down forums and then get people banned.  They went on a huge tirade attacking the same people who backed the game and were unhappy.  What a brilliant move.  A brilliant, horribly stupid move.

A YouTuber who I very much happen to like made a very level-headed video about this, but it seems he was either unaware or just didn’t want to get into the ugly side of the politics of this whole affair.  He argued that the backlash from the SJW-controlled game’s media is worse than the backlash from those who may be disappointed in this whole event.  Part of his argument is that this is a game that mostly appeals to children, and when you have a corrupt gaming press spinning this game company as supporters of an “alt-right neo Nazi” (No joke, it’s everywhere online), they will run from it.  I would argue that while he makes a point worth considering, there is some history that he doesn’t seem to take into account.  See, we’ve seen this story before, haven’t we?

Let’s talk about Dina from Mighty No. 9.  Yeah, the Way Back Machine of the Internet.  Here is a video that goes into more detail about the whole affair, but I’ll give the Cliff Note’s version.  During the development of Mighty No. 9, the company behind promoting the game hired a woman named Dina, who decided that when people were going to complain about the political input that she was having and wanted their money back, she would shit-talk them and block them.  It began a tragic tale of the downfall of Dina and how ugly things got for the company Deep Silver.  Granted, the game itself fucked with the rest of it, but still.  Dina decided that instead of doing her job and just promoting the game, she was going to get political.  She had to make sure that everyone knew that if you don’t support the political stuff in the game, you are a terrible person.  It left a terrible legacy on the game that still is the first thing that comes up when you look for it on Google.

If the company behind Yooka-Laylee doesn’t clamp down on Team 17, who is promoting this game, the same thing will happen here too.  Only difference is that it is happening at the worst possible moment – right as the game is about to launch.  If the biggest news coming out about this game is the garbage fire that this shitty PR company is doing, then this is the wrong foot forward.  Dragnix argued that parents were going to be the ones who mainly look into this game, and that may be true.  But here’s the other thing – when you are a new company that is just starting out, having your brand loyalty fucked up by politicization gone wrong is not what you need.  Playtonic needs to kick Team 17 to the curb, along with their blue-hair advocates who have this weird idea that hair dyed a color not found in nature is diversity.

The PR lesson is this – if you are a company that is looking to outsource the promotion of your product to another company, then you REALLY need to watch your ass in what that company is saying about your product and the people that you want to buy your product.  After all, it isn’t Team 17 that people are mad at, it’s Playtonic.  None of the news is talking about this shit PR company who promotes this game.  And if there is a run on brand loyalty before their first product is even out, what is going to draw people back?  Dragnix argues that if a game is good enough, people will come.  I respectfully disagree.  That only matters if you are a company with brand recognition for great success.  I can find out that Naughty Dog takes what Anita Sarkeesian says seriously and still buy their games because I know that they have a brand that demands quality.  Playtonic doesn’t have that loyalty.  And now that their first major project is coming out, this couldn’t have happened at a worst time.  But hey, they are “inclusive.”  Let’s hope that works out for them.

Until next time, a quote,

“Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” – Jeff Bezos

Peace out,

Maverick

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2 thoughts on “Bad PR 110: Yooka-Laylee, JonTron, and Repeated History

  1. Hey everyone, Dragnix here, and thanks Lucien for watching the vid and including me in your breakdown. You have some reasonable points to make, but I do want to clarify something that I might have not made as clear in the video. It’s not just that parents would be a focus group: it’s the fact that they are a focus group that could easily be lost, while I do question the other side. The dual part of the argument is that those on the other side of the table, the gamer side of it, are more likely to “cave” in terms of the appeal of a good game in question. I mean, there are people who hate bad politics, but sometimes, that inner nature of “OH SHINY GAME LOOKS GOOD” can get to you. Hell, it’s happened to me in the past, and maybe I’m self projecting on that.

    Also, before I begin: you’re right on the politics portion. I’m someone who focuses on the game side of things, and I rarely want to get into the politics portion because it’s not my strong suit, and it’s not something that interests me. I’m interested in development, good games, and taking a step back and looking at the big picture. And part of the reason I wanted to talk about it was my concern about those lined up in the cross fire: the devs. They were getting people going after them, and considering what I’ve seen from the corporate world….that may not be of their own doing. Hell, they may be biting their tongues, stuck between a rock and a hard place (hence the video title)

    I think the first thing I need to tackle is the good game argument, because I think it’s one that I still disagree with you on. I will get to some of your counter points later in the paragraphs, but I’m not nieve to think that negative press like this doesn’t affect games like this. Hell, I’ve talked about it before at what happened to Titan Souls. I know that this will affect the game and sell less copies, even if the game itself plays well and looks good.

    However, there is a slight difference in this case in my opinion. You indicate that they don’t have the brand recognition to be able to overcome this slight: that they aren’t the Naughty Dogs of the world, and can’t afford it. But here’s the thing: their pedigree is what brought the 2million Euro in the first place to back the project. This isn’t some indie project that has a bunch of guys that no one has heard of. They have a lot of the original team on board: people like Steve Mayles (character artist) and Chris Sutherland (programmer). Pedigrees and connections in the industry go a long wa. And when it comes to bringing the goods on kickstarter, Yooka Laylee actually looked to be one of the surest bets: because unlike games like Bloodstained and Mighty No 9, they had a swarm of the talent in question. Not just one guy like Inafune: but multiple, and all people that were still producing big in the industry. However, this brings up the comparison to Mighty no 9, which is warranted, because they faced a similar backlash. However, I want to counter that.

    See, part of the issue with the comparison I’ve seen people make to Mighty No 9 is the events that have lead up to this point: but in particular with the game itself. The playable state of both games between the Laylee Sandbox and the Mighty no 9 kickstarter demo has shown that Laylee’s sandbox has blown it out of the water when it comes to “fun factor”. Mighty No 9 was starting far behind as people were questioning the art style changes, and the lack of features (along with the many delays). Sure, her problem occurred right before the delays, but let’s be fair: its game wasn’t looking good.

    Meanwhile, Laylee is looking strong. It looks like it’s capturing the old style of Banjo Kazooie games; and its looking the part in which the game came out. You can say that can still change with the full release: but given what we’ve seen out of the project and the PLAYABLE part of the project, it’s easy to see them delivering on their project. And given the talent, yeah, that doesn’t seem to be a problem either. Yes, the removal of Jontron doesn’t look great, but let’s also be clear: how often does a game go gold 3 months before launch that isn’t polished the hell out of it? Not many. So I would argue that Laylee isn’t like Mighty No 9, and isn’t working from a handicap from the get go.

    HOWEVER.

    You do have a major point regarding brand loyalty, and one that I really should have considered more. While I do still believe that a good game will overlook other flaws based on what I see from the industry: even if Laylee sells well, Playtonic faces a huge uphill battle. This is the kind of thing that will stick in people’s memories, and if they were to go to kickstarter again: people would remember. Or if they requested any sort of support: people are going to remember this, and they’ve lost that trust. That’s big, and that puts the team in the hole. That can’t be ignored.

    This whole situation is compounded by Team17…..who hasn’t had exactly a good track record at times on the PR side of things when I think about it. The escapists went fine, but things like Allison Road’s mysterious cancellation…..they were involved with the game. There’s been rumbling with people working with them about negative experiences, and it starts to make you wonder. It really sucks to see that they aren’t getting as much negative publicity in this, considering that one of the big factors was the blue haired guy being a PR guy of theirs….and he being pointed out as a “playtonic games” team member. Which sucks because well, he’s not.

    As to tossing them aside….that’s actually a good point to look at about the timing. The issues with Jontron have been around for about a couple of weeks now, and the game went gold on January 30th…..so it’s been done for a while. Here’s the problem though: that means shipping, distribution of materials and elements as well as advertising, as well as other actions that the publisher handles……are probably mostly done. Ditching them now would put Playtonic in a bad position: as they’d have to probably break a contract, and end up losing a lot of money while having to take on the remainder of work.

    Which then makes me wonder if internally in Team17, they told Playtonic to pull the plug on Jontron, and make the decision now. Team17 are in the driver’s seat at this point: they’ve got the power. They can easily tell Playtonic to make the change, and Playtonic’s sorta up a creek without a paddle. It would also explain the vast difference between the tones of the statements Playtonic’s professional statement and over-explanation (feeling like they need to explain it to fans), and Team 17’s sorta lackadaisical comments on it. I obviously can’t prove anything about this, but given the actions here and the completely change up at the last second….I feel like there’s evidence pointing that way.

    Which poses a dilemma: do you punish the game’s dev for choosing the wrong publisher if that’s the case? Again, this can be me self projecting: as in my corporate line of software engineering works several years ago, I was put into that position too many times. Where I was told to “toe” the company line, despite being firmly against what they were doing. It’s a shit position to be in, especially in a project that you’re passionate about. You want that product to succeed, and you hate the people doing things to it. But if its the product they loved and made, and yes, with a change that they may not have wanted, is it worth boycotting over? I’d argue no, and despit ethe publishers involvement, that I would still take the loving work they’ve put forward.

    But of course,, i can’t guarantee this is the case. Playtonic could have been the ones who made this decision in the end. And makes this whole situation a nasty mess. We will learn in time what the story could be: with things like if Playtonic ditches Team17 as a publisher going forward. That could be a huge clue of what might have happened behind closed doors. But right now, for me at least, there’s a lot of questions, and questions that don’t have easy answers. Because it’s just…..well a mess.

    God that’s a lot of writing on my part. Hope this keeps the conversation going!

    • Interesting arguments. I do enjoy this discourse. However, I do have a few disagreements. For starters, it wasn’t just the names behind this game or the two less successful projects on Kickstarter that you mentioned that got them the money. It was nostalgia. Look at Tim Schaffer. That guy has basically made a mockery of how he can make a shit-ton of money and then create garbage from Kickstarter and how fast did the Psychonauts 2 Kickstarter sell out? I learned my lesson a long time ago with that douche-canoe, but he sold out. Yooka-Laylee may very well be a fantastic game. I don’t know. But the nostalgia factor got it off the ground. I am hoping it becomes a Kickstarter success story. They need them. Badly. After some of the crap that has come out of that company’s crowd-funded games, they need a true success to make people think that they are worth investing in.

      And I would argue that the devs should be taken to task for choosing the wrong company to handle the publishing of their game. As you say, Team 17 has a sordid history. If you are a company looking for a publisher to sell and promote your game, you want to make sure that it is a company that doesn’t have a track record of tanking projects or at least having issues with developers behind closed doors. Your speculation about the nature of pulling JonTron is a good point, and I would love it if these devs weren’t in a position where talking about it would mean losing their jobs and possibly being sued. A pity that we’ll never get that full story. Doubt the team behind Allison Road will ever get their chance to talk either.

      Your focus about Mighty No. 9 was focused on the gameplay elements, but on the Internet that only goes so far. If Yooka-Laylee had had the backlash that Mighty No. 9 did after Dina went roughshod through it, this company would be bleeding money. And if Team 17 doesn’t learn to keep their mouths shut, that’s what will happen now. This has all the makings of a garbage fire like we saw before. That’s why I say Playtonic needs to ditch this company. Maybe not with this game, but afterwards. Find a new company to work with. Let Team 17 have their piece of this pie, but tell them to hit the bricks afterwards. Assuming they don’t hemorrhage consumer confidence and Team 17 learns to shut up, they will have enough money to do so. Hell, maybe they can get some of the dejected Bioware talent who jumped that ship like the sinking boat it is.

      I didn’t bring up the Manveer Heir debacle, but that’s another good reference. Look at what that did to Bioware and Mass Effect: Andromeda. Sure, the bad character animations were one thing, but a man with a “white tears” mug REALLY fucked them. Consumer confidence can make or break a company. After how Mass Effect 3 ended, most of the talent at that company jumped ship because they realized what was going to happen to them along the way.

      You come at this from the angle of gameplay and game elements. I was a PR major in college. I live on the Internet. Consumer confidence is a powerful force, and if Team 17 fucks it for Playtonic, it won’t matter how good this game is. Though, I know we disagree on that point. I enjoy a good lively debate.

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