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October 7, 2010 / Notmaker

“Stunt” is Not the Most Important Word in “Publicity Stunt”


For the folks who don’t know, Good Old Games is a digital download service for classic PC games, like Heroes of Might and Magic and Arcanum.  They have two major value-adds: 1) They are completely (and legally) DRM-free, and 2) Games you buy are perpetually available for re-download, so folks with a shortage of space can mix and match from their purchases as they see fit.  Pretty awesome, in other words.

Well, GOG’s recent marketing moves haven’t been quite as savvy as their business model.

On September 17th, the site went down, the homepage replaced by a short message, complaining about changing market conditions and promising an official announcement soon.  Customers – especially those who had bought games not currently residing on their computers – got a bit nervous.  GOG’s official twitter feed, depicted below, did not help.

Increasingly Ominous Announcements

Amidst the panic now ensuing amidst their customer base, rumors flew that they had been sued, that Steam was going to save them, and even that it was a marketing stunt to drum up publicity.

I’m sure you can guess by now which rumour was true.  And the fairly predictable reactions that followed it up.

An apology doesn't always cut it

It’s a fact of life that in an internet world where companies can sell their products via multiple layers of re-sellers and marketplace websites like Amazon, and the 1-to-1 relationship between customer and seller is now king, the idea that a company must live and die by its public brand has been significantly de-valued.  However, it has been, by no means, done away with, and when you’re a digital download service who sells, as a feature, the ability to “store” products their customers have bought them in their online store, you require a brand that conveys reliability and respect for your customer base.

Now, I’m sure that the hullabaloo has contributed to at least a surge of sales in the couple weeks since; then again, maybe whatever sales which occurred were due them celebrating their 2nd anniversary by announcing a week of coupons and the special release of Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale.  That’s the problem with shock publicity stunts; their effects can sometimes be very hard to measure.  They almost never occur in a vacuum clear of potential variables, and they’re impossible to repeat, and the after-effects are just as difficult to predict and control.

At the end of the day, GOG, here’s the upshot: Whatever long-term return you may or may not have acquired (and I hope you have, because I think your service is fantastic), you have imprinted in the mind of your customers, possibly in indelible ink, the idea that you may not be a stable firm and they had best be aware of alternate services through which they can get their product, and this is not the place any company should desire their brand to be, even temporarily.

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