I’ve written before about how “turtling” in response to a public relations crisis or just giving wishy washy answers solves nothing; it just makes people even angrier. By contrast, honesty and straightforwardness are the best policies, and the Valve Corporation recently stepped up to show us how it’s done. The best part is that it usually causes none of the headaches and grief than the methodology I linked to a moment ago.
Valve operates Steam, an extremely popular video game digital distribution client. Valve has also been known for interfacing frequently with the community and having a great record in transparency and listening to user feedback in a positive way. So when rumors started surfacing that the company was using its Valve Anti-Cheat System (VAC) to monitor the browsing activity of the company’s user base, CEO Gabe Newell quickly stepped forward to clarify things.
Newell took to Reddit, where the rumors emerged (and which incidentally acts as a great way to address rumors or respond to questions in an open, transparent way). He got off on the right foot by being transparent about why Valve doesn’t usually talk about cheats:
We don’t usually talk about VAC (our counter-hacking hacks), because it creates more opportunities for cheaters to attack the system (through writing code or social engineering).
This time is going to be an exception.
It took two sentences to explain simply and logically why Valve normally doesn’t discuss things like this. Things continued well as Newell offered some fascinating insights onto how cheating works on Steam.
There are a number of kernel-level paid cheats that relate to this Reddit thread. Cheat developers have a problem in getting cheaters to actually pay them for all the obvious reasons, so they start creating DRM and anti-cheat code for their cheats. These cheats phone home to a DRM server that confirms that a cheater has actually paid to use the cheat.
You can read the entire response if you’re so inclined, but Newell sums up the best points at the end:
1) Do we send your browsing history to Valve? No.
2) Do we care what porn sites you visit? Oh, dear god, no. My brain just melted.
3) Is Valve using its market success to go evil? I don’t think so, but you have to make the call if we are trustworthy. We try really hard to earn and keep your trust.
To summarize: Newell issued an honest, straightforward statement that set the record straight and prevented unfounded rumors from taking control of a debate around Steam. Newell even addressed the idea of Valve using its enormous success in the digital distribution space was turning it “evil”, and reiterated Valve’s commitment to earn consumer trust.
Consider this living proof that the default standard for public relations isn’t damage control or ignoring rumors as they gain traction and hoping they’ll go away. By interacting with your customers you can not only turn a potential public relations nightmare around, but make people appreciate you even more.