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» Generals: PR Problems?

Public relations are very important to any games company, because feedback from community members, often the people who play the games most, is very important. It isn't unusual to see patches released a week or so after the initial release of a game, after an avid fan of the game spotted a bug during a long night's play. Without this kind of response to a release, it would be very hard for a developer to know what to work on in the next sequel, or patch, and therefore dish out what is wanted. For example, WarCraft 3 had a patch released one day after its first day of sales, when fans discovered a bug to do with hero units and Knights. That was quick - hopefully Generals patch support will be just as good.

Westwood, who are handling the Public Relations aspect of Generals (despite EA Pacific being the game creators), is no different to any other games company, with its own branch of PR, or Public Relations. However, the importance seems to have been lost when handed to the staff, because support and Q&A sessions seem to have been lacking in the build up to the newest Command & Conquer game, Generals. With a revolutionary new graphics engine, mounting media hype and an ever growing fan base, you'd think it would be all hands on deck to stem the torrent of questions. Sadly, it isn't.

Undocumented - a poor excuse.
One way that they've tried to create some interest is by registering at the forums of fan-sites, with the theory being that as each member poses a question Delphi or whoever is signed there can answer it. It is a good idea, in principle, as forums are the largest resource of game discussion on a site or in a community, and it's usually quicker than answering hundreds of e-mails, often reiterating the same questions. But, it's been a rather blocky path so far, due to a lack of devoted time to the particular forum, so the questions continue to pile up with no-one in a good enough position to give a positive answer. For an example, I'll take the Westwood Nation boards. They were lucky enough, after a few months into the production of Generals, to have Mark Skaggs, Generals Executive Producer and Chris Rubyor, Online Community Manager (otherwise known as ‘Delphi'), sign up. They were greeted with a kind of raucous applause, then a hailstorm of questions. Each has made around nine posts, then been inactive ever since.

So, one may ask the question, what's the point in that? Since then, a further fifty questions have been put in that thread, none answered, and many more across the community suffer from the same situation. Even other major fan sites, with hundreds of forum members, well known by all interested in Command & Conquer games, have been totally left out, without a registered alias to get excited about. Westwood/EA - this isn't good enough. We have to know things about games to keep the excitement levels running high, and if the pool of new screenshots and information dries up, then so will the community. If you want to use forums as a primary means of supporting this community, then more effort has to be put in. At the moment, few are happy with the responses.

They also have a slightly more basic way of answering the questions poised by fans, by good old fashioned e-mail. By using the standard addresses anyone can submit a query to Chris or Mark, and they can be sure that a few seconds later that question will find its way into the inbox of one of them. As I write this, I know that someone is waiting for a response, and it will be late in coming.

Even these e-mails are rarely responded to, recently someone asked what was going on, and actually got a reply; saying how they were all away doing different things, so an automated response took the place of a proper answer. This isn't good enough, again. We are now at the stage where you, the Public Relations staff, employed to do these sorts of things, aren't doing it. Questions on forums and e-mails don't get answered, and I doubt many of the public know your phone number to give you a quick bell whenever a debate over a missing tank arises. So, direct questions don't work. What else do we have to turn to?

In the past month, the Official Site was completed and set up to be viewed by all. After a beautiful Flash intro, catchy thudding music and a pleasing looking black layout, what was there? Not much, really. An information section that has been surpassed by most sites in the community and hasn't been updated once (nor since the original preview by the looks of it) with a rather.....poor way of worming out of it: a tag with "undocumented" stamped on it. Does this console you? I'm guessing it's supposed to radiate a feeling of militaristic background, but when you look beyond the graphics you see it for what it really is: a site with no info or new screenshots whatsoever. Essentially, it's a waste of space, the only purpose being to attract people to the name. Imagine it as a supermodel; simply draped over a superior product in order to catch attention. Sorry, but I've grown out of buying a product because of a pretty woman sat on top of it.

The only updates to the site have been links to "News" and "Forums" with neither currently working. There are forums up, but you can't register or view anything there at all without putting the exact URL in yourself, which doesn't work for most parts of the forums anyway. I find it odd that we can't register, even, the 27 members we have so far are just variations on the name "Delphi" so that wannabee impersonators find that anything that looks remotely like Delphi is already taken. It's a trademark of the Official Forums that these precautionary measures have to be taken, as some people in our community would enjoy name stealing.

I can't see the Official Forums being a good source of information either. Judging by the Ra2 boards, we'll see hundreds of repeated threads asking the same thing from people who don't have the first clue about Generals, and the awful spam will mean the Admins have no time to answer questions, when they have little time as it is. They may improve, don't get me wrong, I can't see into the future, but I wouldn't bet on it.

The Previews came in a flurry.
And the infamous E3 Expo, ah, that was the goldmine, if you will. Westwood had to show off there - so as not to get overshadowed by its competitors; so new screenshots and info poured forth. e3 is a huge event, with all the main Journalists attending, and there were endless previews in the aftermath of it. Some were very good, with new tid bits of info in them, while others were boring, just round ups of past news that were not of interest to anybody. e3 was the best source for the community, but it could have been better, as with anything. We expect too much at times though, an overflow of info can dampen interest by losing the anticipation, and getting the balance between the two is hard to accomplish.

Perhaps the most prestigious of events offered by Westwood was the "Webmasters Dinner" held a few days before e3 began. Webmasters across the globe were invited to attend, where a meal and movie awaited them. It was looked upon in awe, those invited were looked upon with new-found respect, but one problem was painfully obvious from the start; the age limit. Despite an age rating of 15, the average age of the C&C player is around 14, with many much younger than that. Westwood upped the dinner age to 18, thus excluding most of the community. Webmasters of large sites suddenly found their efforts were in vain because of their date of birth, and when you think that many more live in Europe and couldn't afford the transport fees, very few actually attended. It was a truly great idea, but the nature of the game was what let us down this time, not the PR.

The final attempts are the movies of the gameplay in action. It would be great, definitely the best to look at, but sadly, the entire thing was lined with controversy. Only GameSpot Complete members could view the decent quality versions, those willing to pay for access. The rest of us measly peasants had 13 shoddy quality diddy movies that we had to download individually, so not only was the picture quality awful, but the action was broken down into tiny chunks, so you could never get a proper "feel" for the mission. When CnC Universe got the higher quality versions, they were immediately asked to take them down. What sort of community action is that? We should all be able to see the movies in their rightful state, and not be discriminated by money matters. Recently Statik Vision put two large movies up for download, a combination of the previous 13, all smoothly integrated with each other. I was fortunate enough to have them in time (before the bandwith hit the roof) and the twenty minutes downloading was well worth it. Excellent quality, no fees, no hassle, just simple viewing pleasure. Westwood, why aren't more things like that organized for us?

To recapitualate, my opinions in regard to the Public Relations behind Generals are that more time and effort is needed. Get more staff for this job if you can't handle it, but don't leave us in the dark for days on end after questions that we need answering.

» Ash

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