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PR firm Reverb apologizes for kitten-based guilt trip

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Realistically, there’s no good reason for you to know of Reverb Communications. The company is one of many PR firms that promotes video games almost exclusively to the gaming press. You’ve likely seen the eventual results of these promotional pushes, but unless you get paid to write about pixelated characters for a living, we doubt you’d ever come in contact with Reverb in your daily life. That said, we’re about to give you a solid reason to remember the name, though we’re sure Reverb would rather you didn’t.

Yesterday morning the firm issued a press release entitled, “Vote Edge Of Space Through Greenlight And Save Some Kitties.” That seems innocuous enough as charity drives have become a rather common occurence in the gaming industry over the past few years, but on reading the contents of the release things take a decidedly morbid turn. Have a look at the second paragraph, reproduced verbatim so as not to lose any necessary context:

If Edge of Space is approved by October 15, 2012 through Greenlight, Reverb Publishing will donate $5000 to the Humane Society, which will go towards providing necessary care and safety to homeless cats. However, if the game doesn’t get approval, that money will disappear, like a puff of smoke in the uncaring wind, leaving poor kitties to survive in the harsh elements, be placed in harm’s way and possibly scheduled for euthanasia. The challenge is out there, and for a simple “yes” vote on Steam’s Greenlight consumers can actively take a role in saving the lives of kitties.  So, do your part, save some cats, and see a great space sandbox adventure get onto Steam’s platform. It’s a win-win!

While we were with the company in its efforts to promote Edge Of Space, a game currently hoping to earn enough votes on the Steam Greenlight service to actually be produced, our jaws dropped when we got to the second sentence. In only slightly vague terms, the company suggests that not voting for Edge Of Space might lead to the death of adorable animals. As an aside, this seems like a perfect time to point out that the German word “Fremdschämen” loosely translates to “embarrassment for the actions of others.”

As you might expect, the backlash to this press release was immediate. Outraged gaming journalists immediately flooded Twitter with tweets decrying the stunt as disgusting, and the company as heartless and manipulative. Gamers themselves picked up on this and contributed their own vitriol. Noticing how poorly their scheme had gone over with everyone exposed to it, Reverb immediately set about crafting an apology, and shortly thereafter the following missive was added to the Edge Of Space Greenlight page

Kitten -- small
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Hey everyone! There has been a misunderstanding on the marketing side of Edge of Space. We do not support guilt voting in any way and our sincere apologies go out to anyone who felt that way. This was meant in fun, if anything, Reverb’s intent was to add a bonus; if we can make it to the top 10 by the 15th, we will help out a worthy cause. Understand that there is some dark humor in the game and they wanted to play off of that. We love CATS!!! That’s why we have them in our game to begin with! We have sugar bears too!!! So we like exotics.

That’s helpful, but Reverb apparently felt it could do a bit better in reassuring fans. Eurogamer asked Reverb about the debacle, and while describing this PR effort as “non-traditional” and saying that it “was taken the wrong way by some people,” the company also pointed out that it had planned to donate $5,000 to the Humane Society, regardless of how well Edge Of Space performs in Greenlight voting. “Even before the promotion was approved Reverb had decided to make a donation of $5,000 to the Humane Society today, this was just a fun way of drumming up some attention for the game,” the company claims. “The release was meant to grab attention and call readers to action, but we regret if we made anyone uncomfortable or angry with its content. Millions of stray cats enter shelters each year, with the yearly cost of humane shelters resting in the billions. Our wording may have been muddled, but our intentions are good.”

That comforting sentiment is somewhat in contrast to an almost combative comment left on the Edge Of Space Greenlight page by Doug Kennedy, Reverb’s vice president of business development. Again, this is verbatim:

I challenge anyone else on this board to make a donation to the Humane Society, I committed $5000, and we requested a vote of YES for the game. If anyone did their homework you would know we have made a variety of donations to animal organizations. if you don’t want to vote for the game I fully respect that, if times are tough and money us tight a “yes” vote would be greatly appreciated, provided the company continues to do well, we will continue to fund and support a number of animal organizations, either way its a win – win for the kitties. (Lastly, does anyone really think that that we were not going to make the $5000 donation, come on folks, seriously? I’ve been in the industry for 20 years, I remember when it was fun, lighten up a bit and appreciate the fact that a great organization like the Humane Society is getting a ton of attention and a nice contribution).

Having just witnessed this entire situation unfold in real-time, we’re a bit too exhausted to take sides on this issue. We invite you all to leave your opinions in the comments, while we’ll simply content ourselves with the fact that the Humane Society now has an extra $5,000 with which to feed and shelter its adorable, fuzzy charges.

Earnest Cavalli
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Earnest Cavalli has been writing about games, tech and digital culture since 2005 for outlets including Wired, Joystiq…
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