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my thoughts on a bunch of tech-industry drama i don’t really know anything about, but feel like commenting on anyway

December 29, 2011

Here’s my take on this whole Penny Arcade vs. Ocean Marketing thing, as this op-ed is the first I’ve heard about any of it:

Some corporate bigwig (or at least someone who fancies himself one) named Paul sends a few condescending replies to a customer named Dave — who has a legitimate question/complaint regarding his order of 2 Avenger controllers — and when the customer gets frustrated, becomes even more unprofessional, verbally abusive/insulting, and threatening.

Mike (a.k.a, Gabe), an artist for Penny Arcade and co-founder of Child’s Play, steps in after being Cc’d by Dave and tells him that this guy won’t get a booth at the next Pax East because of his conduct (which I think understandable). The customer, on the other hand, feels bad that his ‘pissing match’ may ultimately prevent people who could really use this product from getting it, asking Mike to not cancel his booth (a very nice and mature thing to do, I might add).

Apparently, Mike has already done so, however, as Mr. Bigwig now starts to send Mike extremely condescending, abusive, and tasteless emails that increasingly become threatening as Mr. Bigwig begins to name drop and listing off his credentials, contacts, etc., telling Mike that he’d better side with the company rather than the customer “unless you’re his boyfriend.” (Classy.)

To his credit, once Mr. Bigwig figures out who Mike is, he tries to smooth things over, admitting that he fed “into [Dave’s] emails a little bit too much,” and stressing that it’s only one person (as if that somehow makes the shit he said to him OK). But Mike obviously doesn’t like this guy (who can blame him?), and asks to be removed from his mailing list despite the unapologetic apology.

And here’s where Mr. Bigwig truly shines, shitting on Mike’s website, and overtly threatening to put his 125 person marketing team “on a smear campaign of you and your site and your emails.” (Shit just got real.)

All things considered, I think Mike’s best option under the circumstance was to go public. For one, the legal authorities probably wouldn’t do a damn thing about Mr. Bigwig’s threats of launching an all-out smear campaigns, and I’m sure Mike was a little scared about it, as well as angry. I think preemptively going public with the emails was a smart defensive strategy on his part. He was simply utilizing a resource at his disposal.

From a purely strategic point of view, having the solidarity and support of his readers put him in a much stronger position, one where he felt safer. It’s the exact same principle behind unions and other kinds of organizations, i.e., alone, you’re at a disadvantage against your employer or whomever; but together, workers or whomever have the strength to address grievances, bargain, be protected from threats by someone more powerful, etc.

In this situation, I find nothing wrong or unethical about what Mike did — who was not only trying to stand up for the ‘little guy,’ but protect his own career and reputation — and I’d probably do the same thing if I were his position. That said, I do think that putting an end this would be the more skillful thing to do.

Mr. Bigwig has been publicly shamed and lost his position that got him into this mess; Dave, the archetypal ‘lowly, individual consumer’ has won a victory over the ‘condescending corporate bigwig’; and Mike doesn’t have to worry about being hit with a massive, corporate smear campaign—at least not by Mr. Bigwig, who’s now just a humbled and humiliated Paul at this point.

To encourage any further actions against Paul at this point is, in my mind, excessive; and lowers the probability that Paul will take this whole experience as a ‘lesson learned’ and grow from it. Instead, he’ll very likely continue to feel persecuted (because he is) and become even bitterer about the whole affair, which won’t help Mike, Dave, or anyone else for that matter.

That’s my unenlightened two cents, anyway.

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