Posted By Robert G. about 8 months, 2 weeks ago
During the SimCity debacle of the last few weeks, there was one story that seemed to be swept under the rug by the gaming press at large. The story pertains to the use of social media, which publishers have been utilizing more frequently to advertise their products. This increased usage of sites like Facebook and Twitter is no doubt part of the plan to connect with more of their audience, but where is the line between leveraging a service and abusing it? Take, for example, the picture above. Although it is actually a fan appreciation page posting their admiration for the game, the screen-capped image shows how social media can be misused, in this case by Electronic Arts.
This is far from the only recent incident, however.
If you’ll recall, EA recently held their Full Spectrum event to talk with industry insiders about promoting sexual orientation tolerance and diversity in video games and the workplace. There is no doubt in my mind that EA means well in this message, and is actively pushing for a change of attitude in the industry. In fact, their previous actions regarding sexual orientation, both internally and externally, have shown a commitment to such change, even if it serves as a positive public relations stance at the same time.
But the sad truth is that social media has pushed the Full Spectrum conference, and their goals, into the realm of a callous publicity stunt. I am of course talking about the social media campaign of transplanting bots to promote the message of change, as seen in the image below, which was collected by an eagle-eyed viewer before the messages were deleted.
All of these messages, including the broken links, were done by an advertising group designed to promote the conference for EA. The mistake shown above is that someone did not diversify their message or stagger the release of these empty words of praise for the cause, instead releasing them all at the same time on the forum these messages were collected in. It would be easy to hand wave this as breaking the rules for the right cause, but even in the case of promoting the Full Spectrum event and diversity in gaming, EA simultaneously cheapens their message by implanting fear and doubt into the consumer base.
Of course, I suspect that is the last thing EA wanted to do, but such is the case for abusing social media this way. Many game companies already farm out such actions to expert firms to do the busy work for them. One such group is known as Ayzenberg, an advertising agency that is pushing social media interaction. The Ayzenberg Group has an impressive client list, one containing EA, Activision, Bethesda, Ubisoft, Konami, and other game publishers, as well as a broad spectrum of non-gaming corporations.
With such an impressive client list, the Ayzenberg Group is no doubt an example of being a leader in the social media push. The Ayzenberg website features Electronic Arts as one of their case studies, stating the following:
To be clear, I am not accusing the Ayzenberg Group of abusing social media. There is no evidence that they are the firm behind the bots for EA, and it would be libelous to make such an accusation. However, it does beg the simple question of why publishers employ firms to disingenuously engage fans, when such practices inevitably lead to fake accounts and astroturfing. Perhaps more importantly, it raises the question of how widespread the practice really is.
Last year, Facebook estimated that roughly 8.7% of over 955 million monthly active users are dummy accounts. That is a staggering 83 million Facebook users that don’t exist. What’s worse, around 14 million of those 83 million accounts are used for spamming on Facebook. Interestingly enough, despite Facebook attempting to crack down on such accounts since 2012, the practice still continues, even perpetuated, by established, corporate accounts such as EA.
Facebook is not the only social media outlet attempting to combat false accounts. Google+ has been vocally opposed to multiple accounts per user, and was under fire for limited accounts to the users real name. This has not stopped the social media push though. In October of 2012, an SEO firm that was attempting to fake information on Google+ local was caught falsifying reviews by well respected SEO veterans, simply by creating fake accounts for over 60 people. The accounts were shut down immediately, however, with Google purging the fake reviews from their system.
Both The Ayzenberg Group and Google+ were contacted for a comment, but did not reply back to our inquiries.
Regardless, this throws even more suspicion on the shaky bond of trust between publishers and consumers. Social media can be a valuable tool, but when wielded without discipline it becomes self-destructive–even when the message is good–so why trust anything said on Facebook or Twitter now? There is also the question of just how widespread this all is, since it is likely that EA is just the company that got caught, because they have been scrutinized heavily due to the SimCity backlash. I do hope that those companies participating in the social media space start to do so more honestly, for their sakes.