When it comes to managing events, it seems that game studio miHoYo has been as unlucky as one of their popular characters, Bennett. Sure, they might not be getting trapped in dungeons or falling off cliffs like the young lad but they both share a thing in common — everywhere they seem to go, disaster seems to follow.
miHoYo as a brand, despite their noble intentions, continues to attract bad press. May it be their most recent partnership with Twitch attracting negative criticism, logistical mishaps during their HoYo Fest events in Southeast Asia, or countless social media threads of how people are feeling ‘burnt out’ and tired of playing their games, miHoYo never seems to hear the end of it.
To understand why, S&S gathered and parsed public social media data related to the issue, and identified the different, competing sentiments of miHoYo’s consumer base. Particularly, we looked at the social media backlash miHoYo received leading up to Genshin Impact’s first anniversary celebration last September. With raving reviews of Genshin’s groundbreaking gameplay, it quickly became miHoYo’s highest earning game.
The controversy begins with an agitated player base, dissatisfied with miHoYo’s offerings for Genshin’s anniversary rewards. As more and more negative posts surged through different social media forums like HoYoLab and Reddit, miHoYo decided to remove these threads while actively blocking players who attempted to post any further criticism of Genshin’s anniversary. With most direct channels for feedback being ‘under lockdown’, in a turn of events, enraged players started to ‘reviewbomb’ Genshin’s Android PlayStore and iOS App Store score, leaving 1-star reviews as retaliation for miHoYo’s ‘censorship’.
As a social media intelligence firm, we thought it would be interesting to look at players’ sentiment around the issue. Ultimately, we found out that miHoYo's failure to listen to its customer base negatively affected player’s perceptions of them as a brand. The anniversary rewards were but one of many other frustrations the player base had towards miHoYo and their inaction to address them, plus their succeeding ‘censorship’, galvanized people’s existing perceptions of distrust and skepticism towards the game studio.
To find out how we got from A to B, let’s dive right into the mystical world of Teyvat.
As a gacha game, Genshin Impact broke ground in mobile gaming. For many players, especially western audiences, Genshin was their first ever gacha game. Gacha games implement a gacha (toy vending machine) system where players spend in-game currency for a ‘chance’ to ‘pull’ a virtual item (usually being strong characters, weapons, or resources that help you progress further in the game). These in-game currencies are usually something players accumulate throughout their gameplay but players can also convert their real-life money into these virtual currencies. However, this is also what makes gacha so controversial. With players exchanging their real money for the small ‘probability’ of winning an item, gacha is essentially gambling.
Genshin Impact is no exception. You need 160 Primogems, Genshin’s in-game currency, to ‘wish’ or ‘pull’ for a character once. Most players have their eyes set on ‘pulling’ for limited promotional 5-star characters, which are only available for a limited time. However, the probability of getting any 5-star character is at a measly 0.6% (and this may not even turn out to be the promotional 5-star players want).
Although Genshin does have a ‘pity’ system where you’re guaranteed to obtain a character after a certain number of ‘pulls’, gathering enough resources to get this guarantee can be daunting. You’ll need 90 ‘pulls’ to guarantee a 5-star, and if you fail to get the limited character, you’ll need an additional 90 ‘pulls’ if you want a 100% chance of obtaining them. That’s 180 ‘pulls’ or a total of 28,800 Primogems to absolutely ensure you get the character you want!
With time ticking and Primogems becoming harder to come by in later stages of the game, players feel more and more pressured to start converting their real cash into Primogems to increase their odds. If you’re buying Primogems directly from cash, the shop offers a PHP4990 conversion to 6480 Primogems. And remember — you’ll need 28,8800 of them.
We’ll let you do the math on this one.
All this to say, despite being a free-to-play RPG, Genshin has one of the largest and most commercially successful mobile launches ever in mobile gaming, amassing $245 million in revenue within a month of its global launch. As of March 2021, only six months after release, Genshin generated $1 billion dollars in player expenditure, dethroning Pokemon Go as the fastest mobile gaming app to ever accomplish this feat.
So there must be a reason why people are spending so much on Genshin, right?
At its core, Genshin is an exciting, open world, role-playing game (RPG) experience like no other. As players traverse through the continent of Teyvat, players find themselves enamored in immersive gameplay, surrounded by stunning 3D painted environments, engaging in fast-paced combat with various enemies. Many devoted players and game review sites alike continue to rave over the game’s simple yet interactive combat system, well-designed characters, impactful music and soundtrack, riveting storylines, beautifully animated cutscenes, wide cast of voice actors, and so much more. Yes, Genshin may be a gacha game but it’s so much more than that.
With Genshin Impact’s runaway success and popularity, it was really no surprise then that many were ecstatically waiting for what's in store for the game’s first ever anniversary last September 28, 2021. Traditionally, game studios would shower massive in-game rewards to thank their existing players for their continued support and to market the game to newer audiences. But more than that, for avid players, anniversaries mark an entire year of having invested time and resources into a game they’ve sincerely enjoyed playing.
Everyone was on-board on the anniversary hype train and there was no stopping it!
Unfortunately, the excitement was short-lived.
Days before the anniversary, miHoYo posted the in-game rewards on their official forum.
To the disappointment of many, the anniversary rewards were...underwhelming.
While many players were grateful for the rewards, the overall consensus was that the rewards were way lower than what people had expected. A hefty amount of Primogems, maybe some resin to grind out resources, heck, even free 5-star characters were but few examples of what players expected. Instead, all players received 10 Wishes and a measly amount of resources (which players could have easily grinded out within one or two day’s worth of gameplay). Not really what players had in mind for ‘the’ anniversary rewards.
Matters took a turn for the worse when miHoYo announced its anniversary community events, asking players to send in artwork, cosplay, and gameplay for the ‘chance’ to win in-game rewards. However, with equally unattractive rewards, it really wasn’t worthwhile to do so.
For example, sending an entry to the “Recording Your Anniversary Memories” or “Cosplay Submission Contest” events net you the ‘chance’ of winning 100 Primogems. With 100 Primogems not even being enough for a single ‘wish’, these rewards were rather stingy in comparison to the time, money, and effort players needed to put in, just for the ‘chance’ to win a somewhat non-impactful reward.
With the announcement of anniversary rewards and events, a wave of negative social media posts from players bombarded Genshin’s social media platforms. In response to the backlash, Genshin’s individual social media pages started blocking, reporting, and banning members. In HoYoLab, miHoYo’s community forum, complaint threads were entirely removed. In their official Discord, the platform was set on ‘Slowmode’ to set a timer on communications as well as players getting banned on grounds of ‘toxicity’. Anniversary threads in Chinese forums NGA and Tieba were also being removed, in addition to the words “anniversary” and “rewards” being banned from posts and comments.
As more and more channels for feedback were ‘censored’, people wondered whether miHoYo had any intention to listen to their players at all. As a last resort, several community members called for other players to leave one-star ratings in Google PlayStore and iOS App Store to retaliate for these series of ‘censorship’. Within hours, Genshin Impact was ‘reviewbombed’, with its rating plummeting from 4.6 stars to 1.9 stars (some even reporting to as low as 1.3).
We traced how players were ‘reacting’ to Genshin’s anniversary posts on Facebook. Based on more than 150,000 reactions across 23 posts spanning from August 30 to October 11, we managed to identify 47 users who actively engaged in Genshin’s Facebook page.
Out of these 47 users, 14 users changed their pattern of engagement. Prior to the anniversary posts, these users would positively react to Genshin's posts, either with a Like, Care, or Love react. However, from September 20 to 28, these 14 users negatively reacted to these posts at least once, either with a Haha or Sad react. This meant that even miHoYo and Genshin’s top fans were not impervious to bad press, changing their perceptions of the brand in an instant. If this was what’s happening to people with an established loyalty towards miHoYo and Genshin, how about the general playerbase, whose opinion towards the brand were more “movable”?
We found that there was indeed a shift in online behavior within the overall playerbase, with more users negatively reacting to published posts relating to the anniversary. Prior to the anniversary, Haha reacts didn’t even surpass 1% of the total pool of reacts. However, we found two time periods where the ratio of ‘Haha’, ‘Sad’, and ‘Angry’ reacts increased, as highlighted below. The first wave of ‘reacts’ was recorded between September 20 to 26, meanwhile, the second wave of ‘reacts’ occurred on September 28.
Upon closer inspection, the content of posts within these two periods were that of the announcement of anniversary rewards (September 20-26) and the anniversary itself (September 28). Thus, we could conclude that these negative online behaviors are indeed correlated with Genshin’s anniversary festivities.
However, numbers aren’t enough to get a full scope of the story. We need narratives.
To get a glimpse of player sentiment, we took 150 random comments from a tweet reporting how Genshin’s Google App Store score had dropped from 4.6 to 1.9 after players ‘reviewbombed’ the game.
The most popular sentiment was that despite their disappointment towards the rewards, the majority of the player base emphasized that ‘reviewbombing’ was clearly wrong. Many claimed that ‘reviewbombing’ was ‘immature’, ‘toxic’ and borderline ‘harassment’. To the majority, several members of the community took matters ‘too far’, reviewbombers specifically. Not only did these ‘reviebombers’ leave negative reviews on Genshin but they also started ‘reviewbombing’ completely random applications (such as Google Classroom, Clash of Clans, Pokemon Unite, Mobile Legends, etc.) much to the frustration of playerbases, within and without Genshin.
Per the discussion of whether the anniversary rewards were enough or not, many felt grateful for the rewards but they agreed that it could have definitely been better. Although some retorted that miHoYo was being ‘stingy’ and ‘greedy’. They often cited that despite the Genshin’s commercial success and their financial capability to dole out these rewards anyway, miHoYo chose not to.
Although disagreeing with the ‘how’ of reviewbombers, several understood ‘why’. Given how miHoYo had censored all its social media platforms for incoming criticisms, it was a rational, although chaotic, option. With all direct channels for public criticism being deliberately blocked, miHoYo took the stance of completely ignoring its player base during a time when they were supposed to be celebrating the game. By all means, they weren’t excusing the reviewbombers’ behavior but they understood where they were coming from.
Onlookers tended to reduce the outrage as a ‘knee jerk’ reaction towards bad anniversary rewards but to many of the active playerbase, the anniversary was more of the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’. The outrage was a culmination of an entire year of airing out suggestions and criticisms that remain unaddressed. Although it may be true that miHoYo has no direct moral obligation to listen to its players, that doesn’t mean that these frustrations of the playerbase magically go away on their own. May it be in-game resource systems, the clunkiness of characters’ kits, the rushed storylines, or the lack of end-game content, many players concluded that the anniversary rewards were simply another addition to that list of growing frustrations.
If you're consistently listening to your audience on social media, you'll be able to know when your audience has unaddressed needs. It’s best to address these pain points early on to avoid people from lashing out and piling on when an opportunity to do so presents itself. Although Genshin has been a game deeply cherished by its community, it had its flaws. Many players have remarked that despite their multiple attempts to reach out and provide feedback to game developers, they never truly felt like their needs were being fully addressed.
As pointed out in a Reddit post, for a majority of the players, the lack of rewards wasn’t the core issue — it was miHoYo’s silence. To avoid public outrage, make sure to always have a finger on the pulse. Make sure you're always listening to your audience so you're on the same page as they are. Remember: You won't be able to achieve your objectives if you have no supporters.
While it's tempting for brand social media managers to delete every negative comment on social media, that might often worsen a bad situation. Being censored was the tipping point for many within the playerbase. Ultimately, censoring the player base did nothing but agitate players further to take a negative slant towards miHoYo as a brand. The lesson here is that people will certainly ‘find a way’ to get their point across, no matter what. Instead of censoring criticism, read the criticism, take a step back, talk to your team, and diplomatically respond to your audience's concerns with apologies and solutions.
The longer you wait to address an issue, the more likely your eventual response will be met with skepticism and criticism. Although miHoYo did provide additional in-game rewards by the evening of September 29th, a lot of the damage had been done at that point. Players branded these new in-game rewards as ‘damage control’ (more so after players found out that prior to the backlash, these ‘rewards’ were originally intended to be sold in-game). Despite these new rewards being given out, many remained to harbor negative outlooks towards miHoYo. To them, these matters didn’t need to reach such a point before taking concrete action. Make sure you have a good crisis response team who is not just seeking to defend your brand, but is also able to show genuine support to your audience.
With ever-changing digital landscapes, it can be quite challenging to keep track of what your audience has to say about you and your brand. At Syn & Strat, we help brands and organizations gain a better understanding of what influences their audience to take action. May it be dealing with crises or developing campaigns, we help clients stay afloat with the latest events, trends, and narratives affecting their industry.
Interested? If your brand or organization is interested in taking a step further to understand your target audience, keep tabs on public conversations about you or issues close to you, or both,, get in touch with us!