Do hoaxes and fear tactics have a place in social media?

We follow game communities and social media closely – it’s our area of greatest passion and expertise. So when GOG.com (aka Good Old Games) hinted that they were closing their virtual doors, we – along with many others we follow who have bought classic PC games from them – lamented the apparent loss.

GOG reaction

But it all started with this tweet, which at first glance seemed to be a random venting of frustration by a faceless social media plebe:

GOG tweet 1

But this tweet seemed much more calculated after the events of the next few days.

Two days later, the online storefront was gone – apparently shut down and replaced with a short message:

We have recently had to give serious thought to whether we could really keep GOG.com the way it is. We’ve debated on it for quite some time and, unfortunately, we’ve decided that GOG.com simply cannot remain in its current form. We’re very grateful for all support we’ve received from all of you in the past two years. Working on GOG.com was a great adventure for all of us and an unforgettable journey to the past, through the long and wonderful history of PC gaming. This doesn’t mean the idea behind GOG.com is gone forever. We’re closing down the service and putting this era behind us as new challenges await.

GOG.com kept tweeting:

GOG tweet 2

The news about the site remaining available for people to redownload their games was a tip off. Why would a company keep the site live for people to redownload past purchases if they had no new revenue coming in to pay the server bills?

That same day, rumors spread that the site shutdown was a hoax. And people were angry!

On September 20, the site message was updated:

First of all, we apologize everyone for the whole situation and closing GOG.com. We do understand the timing for taking down the site caused confusion and many users didn’t manage to download all their games. Unfortunately we had to close the service due to business and technical reasons. At the same time we guarantee that every user who bought any game on GOG.com will be able to download all their games with bonus materials, DRM-free and as many times as they need starting this Thursday. The official statement from GOG.com’s management concerning the ongoing events is planned on Wednesday.

The news was finally broken on Sept. 22 that the shutdown was a build up to the site launching out of beta. Anger still washed over the social media streams:

GOG reaction 2

GOGcom apologized, but some feared too little, too late:

GOG reaction 3

But the next day, it was business as usual – actually, more business than usual:

GOG traffic

GOG.com seems to have generated the buzz it wanted and even earned back some customers’ trust with the addition of two popular classic games and a large sale on “favorites.” Time will tell if the stunt hurts them or served its intended purpose.

But as a social media manager who aims to understand customer needs and perspectives and strives for transparency in communications, I have to wonder if hoaxes and stunts that anger customers are ever a good risk.

Here’s how I might have handled it:

    GOG.com is going down for maintenance. We’ll be shut for 5 days as we prepare to launch the new site with exciting new features!If you make a GOG purchase today, download it right away. If you don’t complete the DL you’ll have to wait til the site comes back on 9/23.

    Don’t worry, your GOG.com purchases are safe! You’ll still be able to redownload everything you’ve ever bought! Big announcements coming!

    Here are some new features you’ll enjoy when GOG.com comes back on 9/23: More news, community features, quick browse catalog and reminders! 

    Feel free to speculate on the game news. We can’t confirm yet, but watch our Twitter on 9/22! We think you RPG fans will be pleased.

    While the site is down, how about we give away a few copies of the mystery RPG. RT the following message for a chance to win!

    GOG.com is back up. You may see hiccups as we continue to add servers and manage 5 days of pent-up demand. Tell us what you think!

5 Comments  »

  1. A T says:

    Even a joke could have been better. They could have made something obviously fake, like an evil corporation mastermind (Marcin in a business suit laughing maniacally) coming in to ruin everything for everyone, making the GOG employees look like heroes, but never pretending for a moment it was anything but a cartoony battle, so people who had only heard about it periforally might have thought something serious was going on, but any investigation into the claim would have revealed this as an obvious stunt, thus reducing the impact. They would not have lost loyal people, which would mitigate any strategic losses in overall increase in profile they got from this much more controversial and counterproductive.

  2. A T says:

    peripherally, rather :)

  3. Antoine says:

    The way you would have handled it sucks. It’s boring, formal and force-feeding people information. What really happened was spontaneous, mysterious, exciting and unpredictable – like most good things in life.

  4. Matt says:

    Hey Antoine,

    That’s what businesses do. Some of us don’t mind a little professionalism with our game distributors.

    The bottom line is, they took the path of selling our their current customers to cause drama and attempt to cast a wider net to get new customers.

    I’d say it succeeded.

    It doesn’t mean I won’t spend my money there – they are, after all, supplying me with something I want.

    It does mean I’m not going to pimp them out anymore, or word-of-mouth advertise for them. It appears they have all the business they want now.

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