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?

excuse-me-2696394_960_720.jpg

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.
 
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad

Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

Steel_Wind

Legend
We can always quibble about scores and letter grades, but I thought the premise of the article was fair and the likening of Patreon to WotC was not something that was radically out of context. Indeed, given how many patreons are associated with RPGs, it's fair to draw the user apology experience in the OGL debacle and apply the patreon experience to it in terms of reasonable customer expectations.

I found the piece to be fair and largely persuasive.
 

log in or register to remove this ad


aco175

Legend
I'm
1673893037463.png
that we were caught and are now in
1673893099000.png
by you the fans.


In the game of
1673893163806.png
we were trying to
1673893203440.png
and have a
1673893263716.png
,

but you play a good game of
1673893398971.png
and uncovered our
1673893438271.png
.



We listened and created a better
1673893546008.png
that is free of
1673893593578.png
and



hopefully will not go
1673893751670.png
keep our
1673893812367.png
of world dominance intact.


Please note, that the use of pictures referencing games we also produce is no way an


attempt to make you want to buy those games.
 

TheSword

Legend
Gaslighting, lying about it being a "draft" instead of a legal document with attached contracts, no mention of still deauthorizing the 1.0a, and claiming they still won (when nobody won at all, the most important issue is still unresolved), make it a complete "F" for failure.
Do you not think equating your toy provider changing their mind on a policy to psychological abuse is extreme? Did WOCs announcement really make you question your sanity?
 





Yeah Talien, good effort. The premise of the article is great. The likening to Patreon's approach to apology. And the breaking down the various facets of apology is a useful and actionable tool. It's sad that we underpaid amateurs have to educate these 6-figure big shots on basic human communication and ethics.

As with other posters, I agree that you were soft on 'em overall.
I agree with others that the unaddressed malicious and dishonest facets seriously overshadow other facets.
 


ruemere

Adventurer
The original initiative to re-invent OGL had to pass through many hands and get an approval from higher-ups. It was not a random, impulsive or incidental blunder - it was a premeditated action on a part of a major business entity.

Taking responsibility for such action requires rebuilding damaged reputation, recovering trust of other entities, and most of all, an apology that indicates that there is a plan to make things better, and send the plan to businesses they were threatening to destroy.

To follow up on these two items, I recommend that the other publishers switch to another, safer license. As the general outrage bought everyone some time, everyone should leave OGL, as WotC action proved that current OGL may, nay, will be challenged.

As for WotC, if they want anyone to return to their license, they need to think hard on providing sufficient incentive - unless one is OK with facing d20 STL fiasco all over again at some point in the future.
 
Last edited:



Xethreau

Josh Gentry - Author, Minister in Training
Treantmonk made an edited down version of this apology, where he simply removed massive sections to it to demonstrate how awful the extraneous material made the apology. It is far better, and highlights how much of the original apology is purely written out of spite and arrogance.

View attachment 272732
This is something they teach us in chaplaincy training: to use "neutral language." That is, you just say what is true and you do not try to spin it one way or another. You don't cause harm with your words, yet you don't try to people-please either. You stick to the facts.
 


Extreme hyberbole much? I think you are mistaking me for someone else.

Where in my comment does it state anything regarding abuse?

You accused the company of “gaslighting,” which is a psychological tactic of abusers to make their victims question their own memory and perception of reality in order to manipulate them and perpetuate the abuse.
 

Xethreau

Josh Gentry - Author, Minister in Training
Do you not think equating your toy provider changing their mind on a policy to psychological abuse is extreme? Did WOCs announcement really make you question your sanity?
To be told a lie with the expectation that the lie will be accepted as reality--over and against your own observations--is a form of gaslighting. WotC is blatantly gaslighting the public. To tell a lie publicly so that the people who believe it will retaliate against the truth-teller for you is certainly a closely related form of abusive emotional manipulation, but who can say whether it is gaslighting.
 



TheSword

Legend
To be told a lie with the expectation that the lie will be accepted as reality--over and against your own observations--is a form of gaslighting. WotC is blatantly gaslighting the public. To tell a lie publicly so that the people who believe it will retaliate against the truth-teller for you is certainly a closely related form of abusive emotional manipulation, but who can say whether it is gaslighting.
This is all depending on whether this is actually an apology - and not a company explaining why the took the actions they did and what they have done in response to feedback.

You can assume malicious intent (rather than just a company trying to manage public expectations). We’ve heard part of the view of one side, that has a vested interest in creating as much fracas as possible. We have seen WotC’s side.

It’s seems like more the same: trying to portray one side as wicked and malicious, rather than a business trying to consolidate its IP. Business decisions don’t always make everyone happy. As I said WotC seem to be willing to compromise. 3pp don’t seem to be able to, on principle as it would require to acknowledge that what they have is a bargain not a right (which they won’t do without a fight).
 

Visit Our Sponsor

Latest threads

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top