When Good PR Goes Bad – The Hydrophobia Fallout

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Dark Energy Digital, the company who developed Hydrophobia, recently published the XBLA title after years of hard work. When anyone publishes a labour of love, only to see it take some flak from the press, they are surely allowed to get a little miffed.

However, when “being miffed” transforms into “downright hateful”, it becomes somewhat problematic. Dark Energy Digital, specifically their PR person, seemed oblivious to this difference, and leveled some pretty serious comments against EDGE Magazine, and Destructoid.

EDGE Magazine, not the nicest of chaps but a good outlet none the less, gave the game 3/10, which seems harsh until you consider this extract (via GamePolitics):

“Protagonist Kate Wilson is a forgettable nonentity as she whines and wails her way through every linear section. The maps themselves are multi-tiered chores that require little initiative to navigate, the storytellers all too eager to intervene with a directional soundbite or, worse, a piece of the story that involves hackneyed terrorists and a perpetually raving, arrogant Scottish mentor.”

Another extract, so you truly grasp how much they didn’t like it (via Ars Technica)

The bugs that inhabit the waters of Hydrophobia are another concern. Ranging from fatal scenery clipping to an awkward inventory display that implies a lack of ammunition until a weapon is equipped, it indicates a title either unfinished, unpolished or simply unprepared for a world of digitally delivered games…

Both extracts contain legitimate reason to give a title a poor score right? Wrong, according to Dark Energy Digital PR maverick Deborah Jones, that is. She told VG247:

“Clearly, they haven’t played the game, we’re extremely frustrated by the review. We’ve got reviews that are absolutely outstanding that say they love the product… If they don’t do the review properly, they shouldn’t do a review at all.”

One would think that, after that piece of unprofessionalism, that Deborah Jones would have learnt, but one would be wrong.

Jim Sterling, of Destuctoid, posted on Twitter that he wasn’t have a very good time with Hydophobia. Deborah Jones saw this, put on her serious pants, and called Samit Sarkar, Destructoid’s sports writer, demanding to speak with Sterling. Bear in mind that Sterling and Sarkar don’t live in the same state, let alone work in the same building.

She then made similar claims against Sterling, saying he wasn’t playing it correctly and that “We’ve put three and a half years into this game, and you just don’t get those kind of scores if the game is bad.” Evidently, Sterling (as well as other outlets) think otherwise.

Ars Technica contacted Jones about this recent behaviour and she stated; “We absolutely believe in the freedom of the press to make a fair and independent assessment of a game’s merit. And we believe it is our role as a developer to independently provide materials to facilitate a fair and accurate review.”

That sounds like a load of garbage to me.

According to Sterling’s twitter, he missed 6 calls from Hydrophobia’s creative director yesterday.

Freedom of the press my arse. Developers are allowed to ask why their game got a low score, and perhaps use that knowledge to improve their future title. However, this is stepping firmly over the line of professionalism and straight into harassment territory. I don’t see how Dark Energy Digital will recover in the eyes of the press, honestly.

By the way, Deborah Jones, if we ever review Hydrophobia, 10/10. Just please don’t shout at us.

Last Updated: September 30, 2010

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