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Why publishers don’t care about boycotts

By on August 2, 2010
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I’m looking into threats to boycott Zynga following their closure of Street Racing today.

I was reminded of the hardcore PC gamers threat to boycott Modern Warfare 2 when Activision decided to remove support for dedicated PC servers. This image shows why publishers don’t care about impassioned boycotts. (Click for larger image.)

Boycotting players playing Modern Warfare 2

Thanks to Craig Ting for help in tracking down the image.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve:
  • To be fair, how steam groups work is that the people who are “in game” are shown at the top. It is entirely possible that the pages of thousands of members of the group after the first one were full of people who hadn't bought MW2.

  • Hello Paul,

    My point is that hardcore gamers beat up on Activision about how they'll never give them again for doing some small perceived wrong, and then do it anyway. It's just teaching Activision to ignore customers.

    Although in this world of metrics, I say you should totally ignore what your customers say. What they *do* on the other hand, is more important to know about than ever before.

  • David Hayward

    I'm with Paul, though the screenshot makes it deliciously plain to see.

    After once living with a hippy who boycotted something new every week, I've seen that not all boycotts are insincere or lack commitment. However, I've understood them to be pretty ineffectual unless a company does something odious enough to outrage people who aren't even customers.

    I've always also suspected that if boycotts are damaging at all, they're essentially invisible and never really show up on the balance sheet, especially over longer terms (i.e. Nestlé since the 70s). Companies sell to the markets they have, and a boycott that has enough cultural traction to spread among a vociferous group nonetheless has to become much, much larger to actually become a problem in terms of the market.

  • MEE

    Isn't that the same image that got Blizzard to back off of Real ID?

  • That is a superb screenshot. Well done, that man.

  • VexingVision

    Also, judging by Ubisoft's recent PC sales, sometimes boycotts do make an impact. Settlers VII is by all means an outstanding title and should have dominated PC sales – which it didn't. I'd like to think it's due to the extremely poor DRM solution and PC gamers' unwillingness to purchase the title.

  • PaulMode7

    I'm not sure I get your point here. I'd always assumed the following were transparently obvious:

    1.) The number of players nominally involved with a boycott is statistically insignificant to a publisher

    2.) The percentage of those players who actually do anything about it is negligible, reducing the impact even further

    Surely the point is not that the boycott will do anything, but that a certain tier of customer is trying to communicate to the publisher that their needs are not being met? Naturally, the publisher is then going to try and figure out whether or not that matters commercially.

    It seems odd to me that “game-as-service” is becoming increasingly popular, yet some companies are looking at ways to erode the service they are offering to PC gamers.