Roll With It

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Originally Published on Techdirt.

Many times, when a company has an early release of their work leaked in the wild, it responds in much the same way that Fox responded when an unfinished version of the movie Wolverine was leaked. It complained about the leak. It got the FBI involved. It fired one of its own reporters who reviewed the leaked copy. Eventually all this lead to the arrest and sentencing of the man who leaked the film. Throughout the whole ordeal, we tried to explain how Fox could have turned this leak to its advantage by using the leak as a promotional opportunity.

When you compare that string of events to this latest report of an early release of Double Fine’s newest mobile game, Middle Manager of Justice, you can see that Double Fine has a better grasp of reality than Fox and many other companies.

“So I was on the train heading to work this week, and I get a call from our tech director saying, ‘Hey, um, so it looks the game is live in every territory.’ And I just went, ‘What!?’” Looking back on it, Chi laughs, but for a time he was worried about how this early launch could affect his game’s reputation.

“It wasn’t what I wanted the world to see quite yet,” he said. “At Double Fine, we pride ourselves on putting a solid product out there, so having something out there that was buggy and not quite ready yet was really frustrating.”

At this point, Chi had a number of options. He could have followed Fox’s example and complained about the early release and told all those people who downloaded the game to stop playing it because it was unfinished. He could have threatened those players if they released any video or screen shots of the game. Or he could have done what we tried to tell Fox it could do, use it as a promotional opportunity. And that is exactly what Chi did.

“I guess it kind of just turned into a beta test,” Chi said. “I mean, if people find bugs that we haven’t found internally, I’d love to know about them so I can fix them,” Chi said.

Even just a few days later, Chi says he’s received a ton of valuable feedback that’s helped Double Fine eliminate bugs, and make the game’s free-to-play elements less restrictive for non-paying players.

“If anything, I welcome these suggestions from people, because we’re still learning and we plan to work on this well after it goes live to make the game deeper, and luckily this means we’ll get an early start on that process,” he said.

While the game was not meant to be in the hands of players, Chi did what he did as a way to preserve the integrity of the company as well as strengthen its relationship with its fans. He used the early release as a way to help fans become more invested in the company by becoming early testers. He didn’t have to do this. He could have had Apple remove the game from those players’ accounts. Yet, he didn’t because having a healthy relationship with consumers is more important than a mix up in the release schedule. Hopefully, more companies will take notice of how Double Fine handled this affair and will respond in kind.