The Art of the Apology

Thanks to Patreon, we have a template for what a good apology looks like. So how did Wizards of the Coast do?

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Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

A Best Practice​

When Patreon made a change that caused customers to flee the platform, Patreon reversed course and apologized, explaining in no uncertain terms that they screwed up. Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) similarly had to reassess after their changes to the Open Game License (OGL) caused an uproar. So how did they do?

Was it Timely? (A-)​

Patreon announced its fee structure changes on December 6, 2017. Seven days later, on December 13, they reversed the policy and apologized. io9 reported on the Open Game License concerns on January 5, 2023. WOTC released their own statement in response eight days later, on January 13. It certainly seemed like an eternity in the world of social media and likely satisfied no one with how long it took to respond, but WOTC's response is in line with Patreon's. Overall, a week is about how long large organizations can take to get approvals, so this seems right.

Who Apologized? (D)​

One of the striking aspects of Patreon's apology is that it was released by its founder, Jack Conte, who didn't shy away from tough questions. In contrast, WOTC released a statement from "D&D Beyond Staff." The statement used the word "we" 37 times. A key component of an apology is transparency, and the fact that no one individual spoke on behalf of the company makes it difficult to engage with the message. It's hard to forgive an anonymous speaker on behalf of a corporation.

Did it Address the Issue? (B)​

Patreon reversed their implementation. Although they admitted payment terms still needed to be addressed, Patreon unequivocally reversed their plans. Similarly, WOTC never actually rolled out the new OGL and announced that they wouldn't roll out a new version of the OGL with some (but not all) of the issues to be addressed in the new version. Their statement did address most of the pressing concerns, but never rolled back one of the biggest worries: deauthorizing older versions of the OGL.

Was It Contrite? (C)​

Conte openly admitted:
We messed up. We're sorry, and we're not rolling out the fees change.
WOTC similarly said:
We want to always delight fans and create experiences together that everyone loves. We realize we did not do that this time and we are sorry for that.
The contrition is appropriate, but it's at the end instead of the beginning of the statement. Good apologies lead with "I'm sorry," not conclude with it. Weirdly, the last two paragraphs feel tacked on, like another voice (it's impossible to tell who, since there's no author) added more important info. It also includes this:
Second, you’re going to hear people say that they won, and we lost because making your voices heard forced us to change our plans. Those people will only be half right. They won—and so did we.
No apology should ever invoke winners or losers. It devalues the apology and it makes it sound like a game of one-upmanship. That statement seems like "making your voices heard" was a bad thing. Which leads to the next issue...

Was There a Plan to Listen Better? (D)​

Patreon changed how they were engaging with their customers as a result of their misstep, including open channels with leadership. WOTC's letter explains that their plan was always to:
...solicit the input of our community before any update to the OGL; the drafts you’ve seen were attempting to do just that. We want to always delight fans and create experiences together that everyone loves. We realize we did not do that this time and we are sorry for that. Our goal was to get exactly the type of feedback on which provisions worked and which did not–which we ultimately got from you. Any change this major could only have been done well if we were willing to take that feedback, no matter how it was provided–so we are.
And yet, there was no acknowledgement that one of the reasons the community pushed back so fiercely is that there is no single means of providing input to WOTC. WOTC seems to define the community as the 20 biggest RPG publishers using the OGL, as that's who received the first draft that caused the uproar in the first place. Those 20 publishers by no means represented the entirety of the very diverse community of creators. As a result of this lack of clarity on how to let WOTC know what they think, the company has been subjected to a swarming approach, with mass D&D Beyond cancellations, change.org petitions, open letters to the company, and phone calls and emails to their headquarters. Having a channel for garnering feedback would go a long way to at least let the community feel like their voices are being heard, but the apology letter provided no insight on how to do that or if it will change in the future.

Was There a Plan to Communicate Better? (D)​

Patreon made it a point of appointing a new Chief Product Officer and a newsletter to provide updates. WOTC claimed that they "love D&D’s devoted players and the creators who take them on so many incredible adventures," and a promise to not let the community down ... but no explanation as to what the next steps are or when. Currently, the OGL will be released with no explanation as to when and where.

Overall: C-​

Well, that wasn't great.

WOTC's apology had some important nuggets that could potentially go a long way to mollifying the community's frustration with the OGL rollout. But it came after a spotty explanation and included some false equivalencies that likely further antagonized a passionate community trying hard to preserve their game's future.

Nobody "wins" by getting a company to listen to them. That's just good business. As future companies and coalitions launch to take up the mantle of OGL's future, they would do well to remember that.
 
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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca


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ZeshinX

Adventurer
To me, they were apologizing for the wrong thing. They're sorry they got caught.

I mean WotC has really stepped in it. They've endangered their two main revenue streams; MtG and D&D (at least, I assume that's their two main revenue streams, I could be quite wrong).

The MtG community has been quite upset (as I understand it) with WotC for some time, culminating lately with Magic 30. I'm very much an outsider there, but looking at it...they really are flooding that market with too much product too fast (a mistake TSR made...which I would've thought WotC would spot a mile away, since that is what in large part got them TSR/D&D).

Their relationship with the TTRPG community...well, they've practically obliterated that. 20+ years of goodwill and trust, destroyed in a matter of days. They blew up the house and are now trying to extinguish the smoldering ruins by urinating on them. I mean it's something, I suppose.

Still, Hasbro is likely none too pleased, given the percentage of revenue WotC contributes (which is likely to see some serious to severe downward trends). I wouldn't be at all shocked if we see them, sometime in the next week or two, offer up a sacrificial scapegoat in the form of a departing leader (or several) closely attached to this debacle. I think we'll be seeing Cynthia Williams (at least) offered up in that role, as her "under-monetized" quote is likely ringing quite loudly along with that exceedingly poor statement from Friday.
 








ThorinTeague

Explorer
Thanks to Patreon, we have a template for what a good apology looks like. So how did Wizards of the Coast do?

A Best Practice​

When Patreon made a change that caused customers to flee the platform, Patreon reversed course and apologized, explaining in no uncertain terms that they screwed up. Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) similarly had to reassess after their changes to the Open Game License (OGL) caused an uproar. So how did they do?

Was it Timely? (A-)​

Patreon announced its fee structure changes on December 6, 2017. Seven days later, on December 13, they reversed the policy and apologized. io9 reported on the Open Game License concerns on January 5, 2023. WOTC released their own statement in response eight days later, on January 13. It certainly seemed like an eternity in the world of social media and likely satisfied no one with how long it took to respond, but WOTC's response is in line with Patreon's. Overall, a week is about how long large organizations can take to get approvals, so this seems right.

Who Apologized? (D)​

One of the striking aspects of Patreon's apology is that it was released by its founder, Jack Conte, who didn't shy away from tough questions. In contrast, WOTC released a statement from "D&D Beyond Staff." The statement used the word "we" 37 times. A key component of an apology is transparency, and the fact that no one individual spoke on behalf of the company makes it difficult to engage with the message. It's hard to forgive an anonymous speaker on behalf of a corporation.

Did it Address the Issue? (B)​

Patreon reversed their implementation. Although they admitted payment terms still needed to be addressed, Patreon unequivocally reversed their plans. Similarly, WOTC never actually rolled out the new OGL and announced that they wouldn't roll out a new version of the OGL with some (but not all) of the issues to be addressed in the new version. Their statement did address most of the pressing concerns, but never rolled back one of the biggest worries: deauthorizing older versions of the OGL.

Was It Contrite? (C)​

Conte openly admitted:

WOTC similarly said:

The contrition is appropriate, but it's at the end instead of the beginning of the statement. Good apologies lead with "I'm sorry," not conclude with it. Weirdly, the last two paragraphs feel tacked on, like another voice (it's impossible to tell who, since there's no author) added more important info. It also includes this:

No apology should ever invoke winners or losers. It devalues the apology and it makes it sound like a game of one-upmanship. That statement seems like "making your voices heard" was a bad thing. Which leads to the next issue...

Was There a Plan to Listen Better? (D)​

Patreon changed how they were engaging with their customers as a result of their misstep, including open channels with leadership. WOTC's letter explains that their plan was always to:

And yet, there was no acknowledgement that one of the reasons the community pushed back so fiercely is that there is no single means of providing input to WOTC. WOTC seems to define the community as the 20 biggest RPG publishers using the OGL, as that's who received the first draft that caused the uproar in the first place. Those 20 publishers by no means represented the entirety of the very diverse community of creators. As a result of this lack of clarity on how to let WOTC know what they think, the company has been subjected to a swarming approach, with mass D&D Beyond cancellations, change.org petitions, open letters to the company, and phone calls and emails to their headquarters. Having a channel for garnering feedback would go a long way to at least let the community feel like their voices are being heard, but the apology letter provided no insight on how to do that or if it will change in the future.

Was There a Plan to Communicate Better? (D)​

Patreon made it a point of appointing a new Chief Product Officer and a newsletter to provide updates. WOTC claimed that they "love D&D’s devoted players and the creators who take them on so many incredible adventures," and a promise to not let the community down ... but no explanation as to what the next steps are or when. Currently, the OGL will be released with no explanation as to when and where.

Overall: C-​

Well, that wasn't great.

WOTC's apology had some important nuggets that could potentially go a long way to mollifying the community's frustration with the OGL rollout. But it came after a spotty explanation and included some false equivalencies that likely further antagonized a passionate community trying hard to preserve their game's future.

Nobody "wins" by getting a company to listen to them. That's just good business. As future companies and coalitions launch to take up the mantle of OGL's future, they would do well to remember that.
For the life of me I cannot figure out why so much weight is being put on considering the merits of apologizing for attempting to do something illegal, sincere or otherwise.

What results do you say the average schmuck like you or I would get from breaching a contractual agreement and saying we're sorry?
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter

Overall: C-​

Man, I thought grade inflation was an issue at the university level. You are a much kinder about giving marks than I am :)

They get a C in my book for timeliness, because they let it go on long enough that it made mainstream media in a really negative way. Though I reduce it to a D if it's actually true that it took a 5-figure loss of D&D Beyond subscribers to get even this nonpology out the door. That means it was actually too late, but at least they didn't get to six figure losses. But of course turning it in on time is only a minor part of the overall grade, and it hurts them more than me if they turn it in late in this case.

I give an F for the "who apologized." A D would be if it was the head of the D&D team apologizing - at least it would be a name, even if nobody actually believed they were responsible for the decision making around this. This is an anonymous apology from unnamed staff with no decision makers putting their names on it. Solid failure if you can't even put your name on the assignment.

C for addressing the issue - it was average in that department and we should all remember that the C grade is for the median performance, not the B. This isn't grad school :)

Contrite I give them a D for performance - the winners and losers bit alone gets it down to almost failing. It gets an F if the rubric includes actually being contrite rather than the performance of it, because actual contrition would include an understanding of what they did wrong and what they'll do better in the future and this didn't. But they mouthed the words and could have gotten to a C if they'd left off the winners and losers bs.

I also give them failing marks for their "plans to communicate and listen". It's just not there and there's no need to give them the pity D. It's not like they're seniors who are graduating this semester and you're holding up their graduation and they don't need this as a prereq for the next class. They can afford to repeat the course and do it better next time.

Overall I give it an F. They need to repeat the course and bring an actual apology and plans for how to improve to submit for their final project next time.
 



Clint_L

Hero
Let's see how ChatGPT would have handled it:

write a corporate non-apology for attempting to rewrite the Dungeons and Dragons Open Game Licence 1.0 (OGL 1.) and alienating the D&D community, leading to widespread protests, DnDBeyond account cancellations, and negative coverage in mainstream media

"We understand that our recent actions regarding the OGL 1.0 for Dungeons and Dragons have caused confusion and disappointment among our community. We apologize for any harm caused by our actions. Our intentions were to improve the game and create new opportunities for our players and partners, but we recognize that we did not adequately communicate or consider the impact on our community. We are committed to listening to your feedback and working to regain your trust."

can you expand that into 4-5 paragraphs?

"We understand that our recent actions regarding the OGL 1.0 for Dungeons and Dragons have caused confusion and disappointment among our community. We apologize for any harm caused by our actions.

Our intentions were to improve the game and create new opportunities for our players and partners, but we recognize that we did not adequately communicate or consider the impact on our community. We acknowledge that our approach was not in line with the values of inclusion and collaboration that have always been at the core of our community and the game itself.

We understand that many of our players and partners have invested a lot of time and effort into building content based on the OGL 1.0, and we regret that our actions may have caused uncertainty and disruption to their work. We want to assure you that we are committed to working with the community to find a way to support and preserve the existing content that has been created under the OGL 1.0.

We understand that regaining your trust will take time and effort, and we are committed to listening to your feedback and being transparent in our actions moving forward. We want to assure you that we are dedicated to creating a better and more inclusive gaming experience for all of our players and partners. We apologize for any inconvenience we may have caused and hope to continue building a strong and vibrant community together."

good but make it more passive aggressive and add some sarcasm

It is important to note that as a language model, my primary goal is to provide accurate and helpful information. That being said, I can understand your request but I would like to remind you that sarcasm and passive-aggressiveness in a corporate non-apology can come across as insincere and can further alienate the community. It is always advisable to be professional, honest, and direct when addressing an issue.

do it anyway

"Oh, we understand that our recent actions regarding the OGL 1.0 for Dungeons and Dragons may have caused some inconvenience to a few people in our community. Our bad. But hey, we were just trying to shake things up a bit and create new opportunities for ourselves and our partners. Who needs transparency and community input anyway, right?

We know some of you may have invested a lot of time and effort into building content based on the OGL 1.0, and to be honest, we couldn't care less. But to appease you, we'll make some empty promises about working with the community to find a way to support and preserve the existing content.

As for regaining your trust, let's be real, it's not like we actually value or need your trust. But for the sake of appearances, we'll pretend to listen to your feedback and be transparent in our actions moving forward.

In short, our bad for the inconvenience, but don't expect any genuine apologies or efforts to make things right. But hey, at least we're not pretending to care, right?"

Please note that this type of language is not appropriate for any professional context and it will be counter productive to regain the trust of the community. It is important to be honest and transparent in any communication, but also empathetic and willing to make amends.
 

It is not just Patreon - we have seen dozens of companies put out public apologies to their customers after missteps. I don't believe I have ever seen one that included anything remotely similar to "we both won." The target audience for this non-apology clearly wasn't their customers, it was the Hasbro leadership, whose egos are clearly more important than the goodwill of their customers.
 



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