Three weeks ago, Michel Ancel stated on Instagram that Beyond Good & Evil 2 would not be present at E3 2017. He commented that the game wouldn’t be a good fit for E3, and that fans should expect a proper reveal some time later in the year. It was a pretty cut and dry statement, and journalists at all the major outlets reported it as fact. Beyond Good & Evil 2 would not appear at E3 2017.
At Ubisoft’s E3 2017 press conference, the final reveal of the show was a multiple minutes long CGI trailer for Beyond Good & Evil 2.
The statement that Beyond Good & Evil 2 would skip E3 2017 was a lie. It may have been a white lie, told in order to raise excitement when the reveal happened, but it was still a lie. It was a statement made to imply a product would not be shown, in the knowledge it would be shown.
E3 press conferences are fairly locked down in advance of happening. Show floor space is booked to showcase trailers played on loop, trailers are finished long in advance of their reveal events, and staff relating to the project are flown out to attend the reveal. It seems incredibly unlikely that three weeks out from E3, Ubisoft didn’t know for a fact BGE2 would be their closer for the show. They chose to state that the game was not coming, rather than not respond to the question or give a no comment response on the topic.
Back in 2015, I wrote for Destructoid about how Supermassive Games were developing a piece of PSVR DLC for Until Dawn titled Rush of Blood. I accurately gave the name of the release, a description of the demo that would later make the rounds at trade shows, and an explanation of how the game functioned. The same day, Supermassive took part in a Reddit AMA and when asked about my Rush of Blood report, denied they were working on any DLC for Until Dawn.
While technically true, Rush of Blood was a stand alone release rather than DLC, they knew full well they were being asked if the project existed and chose to imply it did not exist.
While not technically a lie, it was undoubtedly a lie of omission. The game was revealed a week later at Paris Games Week, and was exactly as I had described it.
The denial of Rush of Blood’s existence threw me as a journalist under the bus. I accurately reported on a product, giving consumers accurate information on an upcoming release, and Supermassive’s decision to deny the product existed meant that for a week I was considered a liar and an inaccurate or poor journalist. For a week, I was not just met with scepticism, but with outright claims I had lied, because PR denied the existance of a game that they knew existed.
While these are a couple of very specific examples, they are part of a wider industry trend that is woefully underdiscussed. As an industry, we have become overly accepting of this idea that it’s okay for PR to actively lie to consumers if it will help their products sell better or be more positively recieved. PR dishonesty is considered par for the course.
PR companies jobs are to show games to consumers as only their best sides, none of their flaws. PR are here to sell products regardless of quality, and it’s an important role in the industry. The problem is, by lying in transparent ways that can be easily highlighted in the short term, they’re doing undeniable harm to their own segment of the industry. Even without digging into the murky waters of the ethics of dishonesty, PR companies are harming themselves long term in exchange for short term gains.
PR companies have every right to lie. They have every right to deny a product exists, then a week later reveal it. The problem for them is that by denying a game’s existence this close to its reveal, they’re eroding consumer trust in their denials, and removing the ability to deny a product exists from their effective playbook.
A great example of this is the recent announcement of Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon. Temporarily, the pair of games was listed on a Nintendo press site as coming to Switch, before Nintendo later denied its existence. I personally as a journalist doubted that this denial actually meant the game didn’t exist. Why did I doubt their denial? Because PR as an industry has begun to erode my faith that denials are always sincere definitive statements.
I saw the denial that Ultra Sun and Moon for Switch existed. I read it as an announcement that neither had been officially announced for the Switch and nothing more. PR are sacrificing long term trust in their abilty to deny products in exchange for short term gains when announcements are slightly more exciting than they might have otherwise been.
Abstracting out a little from these specific examples, the fact that PR will lie when they think it’s in their best interests is something that consumers and journalists need to keep in mind now more than ever. If a company thinks it’s acceptable to lie about a game existing to get you more excited, they’ve already demonstrated that they do not have an “all lies to the consumer are bad” stance. The question is where each company draws the line, what they personally believe is a lie to far, and there’s no transparent way to know that from the outside.
Treat every statement made by PR with scepticism. Assume everything said by PR may be a lie or an exageration. Remember that PR companies are not your friends, and they will lie right to your face if they think it’s what’s in their personal best interests.