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On March 5, Electronic Arts (EA) launched SIMCity with all the trimmings and fanfare of a game release. By March 8, the company was in crisis mode as reviews plummeted from “a perfect masterpiece” to “a complete disaster.” It wasn’t that the game itself was bad, EA’s servers just couldn’t support everyone playing online and there was no offline mode. In the past two weeks EA has been scrambling to fix the game, their reputation and their relationship with fans.
As soon as they realized how poorly the game was functioning, EA started posting updates almost daily on their blog about the problem. Their primary spokesperson, Lucy Bradshaw, used a conversational tone to connect and reason with angry fans:
So what went wrong? The short answer is: a lot more people logged on than we expected. More people played and played in ways we never saw in the beta. OK, we agree, that was dumb, but we are committed to fixing it. In the last 48 hours we increased server capacity by 120 percent.
In any crisis, the blog is your best friend. It allows you to tell your side of the story in whatever tone or format you think is best. It creates proactive content for social channels and a reactionary response to communicate with angry fans who are no doubt storming your Facebook and Twitter pages. Most importantly, blog posts are the new press releases. Media across all channels will quote your post and online articles will link back to it. A strong blog post is the media release, the press conference and the interview all rolled into one.
Bradshaw’s posts start by acknowledging the problem, move into solutions that the company is applying and then – after most of the anger has subsided and problems have been solved – explains the logic and reasoning behind EA’s decisions.
Could we have built a subset offline mode? Yes. But we rejected that idea because it didn’t fit with our vision.
Fans are more likely to care about your company’s vision after the problems have been solved and the product is fixed. They definitely don’t care about it during the crisis.
These blog articles, and subsequent social media statuses and tweets, give fans a platform to complain and voice their frustrations. The biggest mistake any company can make is to delete or close comments. On March 18, EA announced that anyone who purchased SIMCity would receive a free PC download from a list of eight games. The list is paltry, as not many fans are excited about Bejeweled 3 or Plants v. Zombies, so they’re letting EA know with 123 comments and counting. When companies are in a crisis they tend to make poor decisions to rapidly solve problems. Censoring fan reactions on social media and blog posts will only cause more ire.
The pinnacle of every crisis comes with the firing of at least one top executive. In EA’s case, CEO John Riccitiello is stepping down. Both Riccitiello and Larry Probst, Executive Chairman who will temporarily take over his position, made statements Monday about the change in command. For Probst, this is an opportunity to assure shareholders and employees that the company is stable. For Riccitiello, this is his farewell speech.
In a few weeks, I will be leaving EA physically. But I will never leave emotionally… After March, I will be cheering wildly for EA from the sidelines.
Riccitiello cites financial shortcomings this year as his excuse for leaving, but the unspoken reason is the horrible launch of SIMCity. It’s his post and he can go out on his terms and say his piece before riding off into the sunset. Farewell blog articles have brought a piece of dignity back to sacking upper-management that releases and press conferences never had.
A well-crafted blog post won’t solve your crisis, but it’s a strong tool to help build back your reputation with fans, critics and media. EA used their blog well during this crisis, and seven posts later, are coming out on the other side.