Reputation Management: Duke Nukem Forever

Chatting to Neville Hobson the other day about gaming (of all subjects), we touched upon a mutual love of the first person shooter (FPS).

To put this into context, Neville and I have talked about a multitude of things in our time, including but not exclusive to; a love of technology, social media, all things mobile and – on occasion – a shared love of really good whisky. Not this day however, this day we touched upon gaming. Particularly: Duke Nukem Forever (DNF).

It was when Neville and I were attending a conference together that he happened to tweet this Duke Nukem Forever review (from Ars Technica). To save reading time the overall opinion of the (fantastically written) piece is that DNF is terrible.

The first 30 minutes of the game consist of moments where people idolize you—oh, and you can turn the lights on and off. You walk through a museum where relics from the first game are stored, which gives you a hint at how this title was put together. While Gearbox obviously remembered all the neat little details that made Duke such a classic, they didn’t remember to put those details in a good game. The game is hollow.

The thing is, Ars Technica aren’t alone either; to put it bluntly, the game has been universally panned.

Not good.

Another thing to make clear at this point is that I am not a Duke Nukem player. However, I am aware of the series in general and, even if you have only a modicum of knowledge around the DN series, you know that this game has been at least 15yrs in the making and one point was consigned to the deadpool of games that were rumoured to exist but never actually get made – aka ‘vaporware‘.

So at long last – after 15yrs of waiting – the game arrives and it is ‘an overwhelming disappointment’.

“They’ve ruined it” said Neville. “It’s terrible. It’s like the developers [on purpose or not] have never left the 90s”

When such a monumental mistake is made with this kind of global brand property, the question has to be asked: what kind of effect has this had on the long term validity of the franchise?

Will there be another Duke Nukem game? Perhaps not. In the same way that in the film industry, trilogy opener The Golden Compass didn’t exactly set the box office alight (and subsequently never got finished), will Duke Nukem suffer also?

More and more we’re seeing money being thrown at invested in gaming and – when systems are so far advanced and development costs are so high – a decent ROI is required to keep things moving. The question I posed to Neville, a fellow social media industry pundit and veteran, was:

How long will it be until the kind of reputation management processes we preach about make their way into this industry?

Devs on Twitter defending their work? Programmers blogging up in arms about the stress they’re placed under to deliver? What of the fans?

Another, arguably more popular, FPS franchise Modern Warfare came under fire recently for their plans around Call of Duty Elite that will require players to stump up an extra monthly fee for access to certain features. Pleased with this trend, the fans are not.

My point is: Reputation Management isn’t just about big FMCG brands, car manufacturers and retail. Other industries need to be involved too as, when the proverbial hits the fan, the processes need to be in place to handle it.

And, while Duke Nukem won’t exactly be taken off shelves and redesigned from the bottom up, perhaps the publishers will think twice in future before ruining such a beloved franchise ever again.

As the old adage goes:

It takes years to build a good reputation, and only seconds to destroy it.

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UPDATE:
Shortly after publishing, Neville pointed me to this further post from Ars Technica pointing out almost exactly what you SHOULD NOT DO in this kind of situation. Wow.
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6 thoughts on “Reputation Management: Duke Nukem Forever”

  1. Great post James. I totally agree with you that there’s a level of myopia that floats around attacking brands at or nearing the top of their game. Gecko would have called it greed, but in a much broader sense you could call it ego.

    It gets the best of us 😉 Thanks for the reminder to stay grounded if not for our own sake, for that of the brand!

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  2. I am a fan of games that have a certain plot-line and are finished in a series rather than in a solitary game itself. And some of these are epitomes of reputation management, including ‘Mafia’ & ‘Medal of Honor’. Sadly, Duke Nukem is not.

    As for the part that social media sites play, I wish the publishers pumped in as much money to defend and respond to criticism as they do in pre-release marketing strategies.

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  3. With DNF it was also about the sheer length of time taking to bring it to reality. The longer it takes the higher the requirement for it to be a great product, in order to bring back the fans that lost hope, as well as raising the visibility of the product’s launch, which again heightens expectations… it’s a pretty good snowball effect. I’m still up in the air about the getting DNF, although thinking about the collectors edition with the bust of Duke is quite appealing.

    You can see the same happening to Nokia at the moment… lack of recent hardware releases with the new platforms (either MeeGo or WP7). The longer it takes, the more people get impatient and defect to other platforms/products (regrettably including myself), and the greater the hurdle becomes to get them back.

    Contrast DNF to the Grand Theft Auto franchise, who had a massive gap between the old top-down style games and the new RPG style, but managed to ride the wave extremely well when they released GTA3 and have carried on the pace ever since… To me it felt like they actually cared for the end result (whereas it’s never felt that way for DNF), and they continue to improve their new products for the new technology and gameplay expectations.

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  4. Or in this case it took a few years to build a good reputation and 15 years to destroy it… Ultimately the problem here has absolutely nothing to do with reputation management and everything to do with a crap product, the game just doesn’t deliver.

    You can MANAGE your reputation all you want but if you put out crap you will be associated with crap, simple.

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    whatleydude Reply:

    Spot on there Messenator.

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