Little Big Planet – A Modern PR Crisis

Sony Playstation has had its fair share of downs in the past couple of years. The anticipated Playstation 3 was laughed at for being extremely expensive when it was first released. The company has lost many of its exclusive game titles, including Final Fantasy XIII, the most recent installation of one of the best role-playing video game series of all time. In fact, when most consumers choose between a Sony Playstation 3 and a Microsoft XBox 360, the only thing still keeping the Playstation 3 afloat is the exclusive Blu-Ray capabilities the system possesses.

Since losing a number of its exclusive game titles, Sony has been working on developing new exclusive games. One small game that was thrown into the mix was called Little Big Planet. What started as a “little” game quickly become a big hit at trade shows and video game conventions around the globe. Soon enough, LBG (the gamer reference for Little Big Planet) was one of the most anticipated games for in 2008.

A few days before its Oct. 21 release, LBG was delivered to retailers around the globe. It was also still being tested by core groups of gamers. Just two days before the release date, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe was informed by testers that one of the songs featured in the background of the game contained offensive lyrics. The offensive lyrics (sung by Toumani Diabate) ended up being direct lines from the Qu’ran, a holy Muslim text. Due to the fact that the reading (and therefore listening) of the Qu’ran is sacrilegious, SCEE hastily recalled the game, first locally, and finally globally.

So now the question: Was recalling the game the right move on Sony’s part? Did Sony’s public relations practitioners make a good move or a PR faux pas?

Many consumers believe that the background music would not have been noticed by many. The lyrics were recognized by one out of hundreds of game testers. Thousands of people who pre-ordered the game were angry at the delay. Unfortunately, many forget how fast word can travel in our society.  Word of mouth makes it hard for PR practitioners to keep anything under wraps for long.

Others might wonder why the song was caught at the last minute. Was Sony trying to make themselves look good by delaying the game on a religious basis? Many think not, seeing that Sony lost millions of dollars by having the games shipped back, revised, and then reshipped.

Working at a video game store, I have first-hand experience on how angry some people were at the delaying of this game. Most people found it “laughable” that Sony delayed the game for just one song(look at the comments for this article). However, with all the controversy and anger over the game, every person who pre-ordered the game bought a copy when it was rereleased on Oct. 25, and the extra copies sold in less than a day.

Do I think Sony made the right choice? Unfortunately, by the time word got out about the offensive content, many distributors had already started selling the game. So, the recalling of the game really did not stop the offensive content from getting out there. When it comes down to it, I think Sony made the only choice they felt they could. If they had time, they could have released a downloadable patch (like they did for a previous game shown here) that would virtually erase the offensive content, a move that would have quieted angry consumers and saved the company money. UPDATE: Sony has announced a patch that will be automatically downloaded to PS3’s to remove the offensive content from those who got their hands on copies of LBG before they were recalled.

There is no way to tell if Sony made the right choice. A hundred different avenues could have been explored, but Sony did not have the time to try to find the best possible choice – they just had to choose and go with it.

If you have any input, please feel free to leave a comment. I would love to hear about what you would have done in a crisis like this.

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8 responses to “Little Big Planet – A Modern PR Crisis

  1. Yeah, I think Sony did overreact a bit. I think that the best move they could have made would have been to keep the original release date, but release a patch that removes the offending lyrics (like they’re already doing) and make an announcement about the problem. I bet they would have taken some heat if they hadn’t said anything at all, so it’s good that they responded. But I bet you’re right, more people are upset that the game was delayed for such a minor issue.

  2. I think all press is good press in the long run. Personally, it created more anticipation for the game. Yes, a patch would have been a simple, cost save avenue, but getting the game more exposure in the press with a dash of controversy will help Sony in the long run.

    Just a thought.

  3. I agree with a lot you say Tristan. The fact that they pulled the game and then released a patch as well still baffles me. Thank you for commenting!

  4. Droz, I think you make a really good point. Even if the press was bad press, I agree that it probably created a lot of hype about the game. As I stated, we sold out all our copies in one day, and are still selling up to this point. So, I think you make a very valid point. Thanks for reading, hope to see you again!

  5. Thank you Jon, I really appreciate the support. If you have any words of wisdom or areas of improvement, please let me know!

  6. @Droz

    Just wanted to follow up quick. Indeed controversy can always attract more press, but when the news broke Little Big Planet was already one of the most talked about games for the PS3, or any current gaming system! I don’t think the extra press helped them that much. Not to mention that the controversy would still have existed had they released a patch. The only difference would have been the response. Just my two cents.

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