Humanity in Game Companies
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
For some time, I thought about writing business topics such as management aspects in the game industry instead of purely game related topics. I decided to start with this one after I read a tragic news recently.
A young Chinese Overwatch fan who died the day before the game’s release was honored in the latest update of the game. All of the Overwatch players who reach Lijiang Tower’s Control Center map noticed there was an astronaut suit with the name of Hongyu on, and the phrase “Heroes Never Die” in Chinese shown on red banner behind the suits.
Astronaut Suit with Name 宏宇(Hongyu) and Banner with Phrase 英雄不朽(Heroes Never Die) in Lijiang Tower Map, Overwatch (Source: Polygon.com)
Wu Hongyu, a 20-year-old university student, excited the day before Overwatch’s release and posted “Guys, are you ready for the launch tomorrow?” (1), letting his friends know that they could get the basic game cheaper if they couldn’t afford the deluxe Origins launch version.
Hongyu did not live to see the game released. According to Guangdong New Express Daily (2), on May 23, he chased on a thief with motorcycle and the two motorcycles ended up with a severe collision. Hongyu died, and the thief was then arrested as a result of his chase.
Mourning the brave young man, several friends of Hongyu tried to contact Blizzard games to pay tribute to their fallen friend. So that now players all over the world know his name.
Astronaut Suit with Name 宏宇(Hongyu) in Chinese (3) (Source: Play.163.com)
Of course, there are people saying that Blizzard just do that for their marketing. The truth is that Blizzard did not post any official announcement about this Easter egg to earn tears of the public. It is the players exploring the map who see this detail, find out the story of Hongyu, and spread his name to the world. According to Samit, a Blizzard representative confirmed the tribute to Polygon, saying, “We added that in remembrance of a brave member of our community.”(1)
It is commendable that this latest Overwatch Easter egg is not the only one instance in which Blizzard shows similar humanity. A plenty of shrines, quests, and NPCs in World of Warcraft were designed from WOW players who passed over the years (1).
And of course, Blizzard is not the only one showing humanity design in the game. Seasun Games, one of the most famous game developers in China (I am currently working there) had many similar stories for the fans of their games as well.
In Seasun Games’ flagship title, JX3, a famous player in the JX3 community who was well known with his beautiful voice acted as a voice actor of the fan videos of the game. What his community didn’t know was that he had been suffered from Leukaemia, that he eventually died from. The developer later designed an NPC in his name to memorialize this young man.
NPC 浪凌飞(LangLingFei) Playing Flute in Flower Field (Source: JX3)
As you can expect, there are many other touching stories in JX3 as well.
Part of the fabric of a successful game company culture is connecting with and giving back to the community. Paying tributes in games to fan for special situations like those mentioned above is a very intellectual way to engage the community. It shows the humanity of the company and it shows the company really values the players of their games. But you have to make sure you are not doing that for marketing purpose or any other self-interest purpose except for purely showing remembrance and honor for the player who deserved. People are wise enough to know the intention of your action and it will lead to adversely consequence and eventually PR disastrous if you are not doing it right.
Both companies mentioned above are successful companies in our industry in terms of reputation from their players. Showing humanity and care to their players is only one of the elements to their success. It also shown that at some points, decisions made in a game should not be purely driven by revenue generation. By doing the right thing at the right moment, your players will know that. And if you get lucky, people will share it, and it gets viral. Ironically, if you do it for viral, you would never get the intended attention you would love to have.
I will talk more about creating the right culture for a creative team down the road. Now, I just want to say it would be great if there are more heroes in our world. RIP, Hongyu.