ZexyZek is a popular Youtube personality who creates videos where he creatively "trolls" people who play Minecraft.
The terms and conditions that control how content created using Minecraft could be used and monetized have a section that specifies "no trolling," and ZexyZek was told that this included his videos. The result was an emotional video about how the series had to come to an end.
The result shows just how good Mojang can be when it comes to communicating with its fanbase, but unfortunately the lessons learned from this debacle may not have been the right ones.
The power of hate-spam
"Unfortunately, his video led to a lot of his fans being very upset with us. I understand this. But it also made for a very hostile situation to try to figure out," Mojang’s Markus "Notch" Perrsson wrote in a blog post.
"My first reaction when being screamed at to do something is a sort of immature impulse to just ignore it. My inbox is getting flooded with really nasty emails, and I know this is happening to other people at Mojang as well, and it’s kinda making us feel defensive and bitter since we didn’t intentionally do anything wrong," he continued. "So I said nothing and did nothing until I calmed down."
The blog post goes on to give ZexyZek a full blessing to continue with the videos, and promises that the word "trolling" will be clarified in the legal text. Notch goes on to repeat, multiple times, how important user-created content has been to the game, and how important content creators have become to the community as well. A problem was found, the developer apologized, explained specific steps that would be taken to make sure it doesn’t happen again, and that was that.
The rest of the bullet points on the post included a sincere plea to try to use means other than abuse to get your point across, and maybe give the developer the benefit of the doubt should anything along these lines happen again. "I’m sorry this happened. Nobody meant anything bad, and it still went sour," Persson wrote.
This is the sort of sincere apology that seems impossible for companies like EA. Admitting mistakes is a hard thing for anyone, but developers and publishers pump their message through so many layers of PR that the end results tend to become formless non-statements about how something happened and it was bad, and aren't we glad it's over?
Persson's blog post does everything a good apology needs to do: It addresses the problem head on, there is an explanation of what happened and why, the immediate issue was fixed, and steps were taken to make sure it doesn't happen again. Mojang has become — despite their indie pedigree — a large and powerful force in gaming. Statements like this are an effective reminder of the attitudes that allowed that to happen, and it shows a level care for the audience that can be rare in gaming among successful developers and publishers.
The result was this video.
It's great that this situation led to better terms for those who make videos using Minecraft, and clearly this gentleman is moved by the passion shown by his fans. The problem is that he all but admits that the deluge of hateful comments sent to the developers was an effective strategy.
It's a tricky situation when your benefit from the negative behavior of your fans. Enjoying the positive results of those negative actions while limiting their harm can be a subtle distinction, especially for someone who is obviously young, enthusiastic and beginning to see the power of his platform and fanbase. That is an intoxicating emotion, especially when you "win" over a much larger company.
Respecting the power of your audience while making sure they're not used as a battering ram to get what you want requires a light touch and an ongoing dialog. It's OK to thank people for their support while at the same time condemning the methods in which that support was shown, but there is little attempt to do so in ZexyZek's video.
Independent content creators are only getting more popular and, in some cases, more powerful. Learning to use that power is going to be a long, sometimes painful, journey. Mojang's new video guidelines are a positive step forward that may have taught a young man the wrong lessons about engagement with the people who make the games we play.
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