On May 23, Wargaming.net released a statement regarding recent a community incident. Dubbed ‘Fochgate’ after the man at the center of the situation, SirFoch, the incident and resulting drama has become something of a community relations nightmare for the World of Tanks developer. Among other things, the statement makes clear that ”Our official position is that Wargaming will not take copyright action against opinions based on our publicly released content.” The statement was signed by Thaine Lyman, Product Director World of Tanks; Markus Schill, General Manager Europe; Jay Cohen, General Manager North America; and Anton Pankov, World of Tanks Publishing Director.
The full statement can be read here.
Judged against other game companies, Wargaming handled Fochgate well, overall.. Though they made several mistakes, the end result is very good and it only took them a few days to get there.
‘Fochgate’ started on May 18th when SirFoch released this video. Please note that the language is vulgar and it was reuploaded on a different channel.
SirFoch was a part of World of Tanks’ (WOT) Community Contributors program. As a result, he was given special access to WOT goodies. He was also known to be vulgar and outspoken as part of his persona. However, the folks at Wargaming thought this video crossed the line and removed him from the Community Contributors program. They also told SirFoch to take down the video, or Wargaming would file a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) claim on the video.
If successful, that claim would result in a copyright strike on his channel.YouTube closes a channel and deletes all the videos there if a person receives three DMCA copyright strikes. As a result, if someone is making their livelihood via YouTube, a DMCA claim is very serious indeed.
Ph3lan, WOT EU Community Manager, even seemed to suggest this on his official statement on the WOT forums: “At first we asked SirFoch to take down the video, due to the above mentioned reasons. He refused to do so. At this point we told him that we will go through YouTube if necessary to remove the video.“
Public exposure increased, as TheMightyJingles, another member of the Community Contributors program weighed in. A fellow YouTuber as well, with over half a million subscribers, he said, “It is NOT okay to threaten someone’s livelihood with a false copyright strike when you don’t like what they’re saying or how they’re saying it. I’ve been informed that Wargaming are preparing a response and I’m waiting to see what they have to say.”
After that, Fochgate exploded. Games critic Jim Sterling made a video. Sterling has extensive experience with copyright strikes and other fair use issues. One of his videos was showcased by YouTube for their Fair Use Protection program, a program where YouTube pledged up to one million dollars to defend Jim from copyright lawsuits that the company felt were without merit. The issue has been a focus of his since he was sued in Federal court for copyright infringement—a suit he won. Whenever a company uses a DMCA claim or other methods to silence criticism, he uses his reach to draw attention.
Wargaming had previously issued a blanket statement that anyone that plays their games is free to use the video in a monetized YouTube video. In light of this, the consensus of all those watching was that the threat of a DMCA claim was not actually based around copyright, but was a heavy-handed attempt at silencing criticism. This happens often enough, but usually this sort of thing is only done by small garage studio games companies, not large multinational companies with actual public relations staff.
Wargaming’s First Official Response
After Jim Sterling’s video, Kotaku picked up on Fochgate. They got an official statement from Wargaming, which actually made things worse:
“We are more than willing to give members of our community second chances, but there is a level of toxicity and/or offensive language that is unacceptable. We regret having to go to such extreme measures in SirFoch’s case, but we also don’t consider those measures to be censorship because we weren’t trying to silence SirFoch’s opinion, we were simply seeking to curb the extremely profane language of a member of our contributor program. SirFoch’s latest claim that we’re somehow prohibiting him from making future videos involving our games is completely false – he’s more than welcome to make more Wargaming-related videos. If those videos continue to include hate speech and homophobic slurs, we’ll take the necessary and appropriate action.”
This didn’t help Wargaming. A review of SirFoch’s video reveals plenty of profanity and bile, but nothing homophobic or hate speech. Mixed messaging was also unhelpful. While Wargaming EU was trying to calm things down saying that they were not going to be using copyright strikes ever, Wargaming NA was saying they were going to do what is necessary. It’s never good when two parts of the same company come out with different talking points on the same issue.
With such different messages being sent, TheMightyJingles decided to step down from the Community Contributors program, explaining in a video that he can’t really trust the assurances he received from the EU community team if the US community team is going to do something completely opposite. Other members of the Community Contributors program followed suit.
Just a day later, Wargaming released their final, joint statement.
Righting the Ship
While it took Wargaming several days to get to this point, they have managed to get to the right place. A smaller company might have become defensive, doubling down on their threats. Wargaming’s public relations department, however, knows the difference between coverage and performance.
While no one actually wants bad press, the only way to ensure that bad press isn’t received is by good performance. Bad press cannot actually be silenced with censorship; all it does it make things worse. If Wargaming had not threatened SirFoch with the DMCA strike, it’s incredibly likely that this whole thing would have been forgotten in a day. While it is too soon to know how much this will repair the damage done with their community, this is the best course forward for Wargaming.