Middle-earth: Shadow of War’s memorial DLC goes free

A Middle-earth: Shadow of War [official site] DLC character created to memorialise and fundraise for a deceased member of the development team will now be given free to all players, Warner Bros. have decided after it raised a stink. Styled after executive producer Michael Forgey, who passed away in 2016, the Forthog Orcslayer is a friendly NPC who was initially sold to benefit Forgey’s family. But a communication mistake suggested WB would only donate money from purchases in the US, keeping money from elsewhere for themselves (WB later clarified that wasn’t the case). After the memorial became a mess, WB will make the Forthog Orcslayer free and themselves donate money direct to the family.

The Forthog Orcslayer was sold for £3.99, with most of it going to Forgey’s family (and the rest to cover development costs, WB said). He’s a friendly orc NPC who could appear when players needed help, cutting down enemies for a bit with his guitar-shaped axe (Forgey played in bands, see).

But the DLC’s Steam page specified that WB would only donate money within the USA, minus six excluded certain states. Asked whether this meant purchases from elsewhere wouldn’t count towards donations to Forgey’s family, the game’s official Twitter responded “You are right about that, but you can also help by spreading the word.” While WB later tried to make clear that they wouldn’t profit from Forthog sales, the incorrect message had already spread and caused a stink.

Last night, Warner Bros. announced that they will make the Forthog Slayer free for all players, refund purchases, and make an unspecified donation “directly to the Forgey family.”

They also said that the weirdness behind the awful miscommunication was down to avoiding potentially breaking marketing laws:

“Although we decided to donate all profits to the family, we only planned to actively promote this donation in the U.S. (excluding certain states based on their charitable promotion laws). We hoped this approach would raise as much money as possible for the Forgey family in compliance with the law. Our decision not to promote the donation outside the U.S. (even though we intended to donate the money) caused many to question where funds from other territories were going. Answering that direct question itself could have triggered compliance obligations or put us in violation of cause marketing laws in some of the 241 territories in which the content was available.

“Additionally, a factually incorrect tweet from our team exacerbated the confusion by stating that international funds would not be going to the family. For absolute clarity; our intention was always to give all profits from the DLC, worldwide to the Forgey family.”

Forgey was diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer in May 2015. He and his family established a fundraising campaign on YouCaring, seeking $300,000 to “help cover the medical expenses and securing the future for Mike’s children.” He died in March 2016.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War will launch on October 10th.

37 Comments

  1. Chromatose says:

    Good.

  2. Yama1291 says:

    The cynic in me has the sneaking suspicion that this move was planned from the start. This controversy got them a ton of free exposure.

    Heck, i think it even worked on me. Might actually buy the game now.

    • RedViv says:

      Oh dear, let me help you out there.

      loot boxes orcs in loot boxes loot boxes loot boxes buy loot boxes for your 60 quid game loot boxes

    • Massenstein says:

      Every public action a company makes gives them publicity, but I really doubt that was any kind of priority in this case. I think I also have a very cynical outlook of people and companies especially, but they are sometimes capable of trying to do good things.

      It was a beautiful idea to allow player’s to support the family of someone who helped make the game a reality. It is too bad it became a mess like this, but hopefully they donated a good sum.

    • poliovaccine says:

      I’m sure they expected positive publicity for offering the character in the first place, but I pretty well doubt they calculated this fiasco where people thought they were using a team member’s death to generate extra income – that sort of thing more often leads to review bombing and forms of boycotting than it does any kind of “good publicity.” I realize the adage about all publicity being good, but that’s frankly just not true – some publicity ruins people.

      If anything, I’d say the likelier thing is that they initially only intended to donate US sales to the family, as they stated, and just didnt expect that to fall under such scrutiny… and then backpedaled when it did. That, to me, is just as much in line with the cynical expectations a megacorp like WB deserves, but it doesnt rely on them having a team of staff psychics. That would also fit with their move to, instead of declare all international sales would be donated to the family, simply start giving out the character for free and donate their own, fixed, undisclosed amount directly. I’m sure doing it that way is ultimately cheaper.

      But more broadly, I think people are too prepared to presume calculation and Machiavellian manipulation behind controversy and negative outcomes, while in reality I think usually the more likely thing is that the negative outcomes were unintended, and came as a result of ordinary human fallibility, not superhuman prediction and manipulation. It just seems like a needless gamble, to hatch a plan relying on peripheral positives to a negative outcome, when you could just plan for a positive outcome instead.

      Besides, it isnt like this game in particular was lacking for exposure. If they wanted publicity, I think all they had to do was reach out and take it. I mean, it’s Warner Bros.

      • frenchy2k1 says:

        As the company said, the problem is with the law.
        I do not doubt they planned to give all revenue to the family (this seemed the whole point of the DLC), but the law is strict about such gifts and how you can communicate about it.
        They tried to skim the law by doing the donation, but not advertising it, but in the end, it just backfired.

        I’m also quite cynic, but I know companies can also do good. Global corporations are under a lot of international, legal scrutiny though, so lots of well meaning actions are legally shackled and backfire.

        • poliovaccine says:

          Yeah, I do agree with that here, I was just trying to extrapolate, like, if you wanted to be wholly cynical about it, here’s a more realistic scenario than WB planning to make themselves look like brain cancer profiteers for the clicks haha. But I think it detracts from my overall point, which is that, yeah, sometimes people are too prepared to believe in some crazy mastermind behind every controversy, and I think ordinary human fallibility is usually the more likely culprit, instead of, like, pure evil.

        • sosolidshoe says:

          Yeah, sorry but that doesn’t fly. As was pointed out at the time by those exposing WB’s cynical arseholery, if they had actually intended to give all proceeds from all sales to the family from the beginning while avoiding having to deal with regulatory issues, they could simply have decoupled the two things by pledging publically to make a donation of X dollars(the price of the DLC) to the family for every copy of the sold(that would make the sale of the DLC and the donations themselves two separate acts, and so would not bind the DLC with additional marketing/charity regs).

          Instead they explicitly went the route of making the sale of the DLC a charitable act administered by them with all the regulatory restrictions that imposed – they fully intended to keep every single penny from the non-charity regions and nations for themselves. And if anyone can still doubt that after even a cursory examination of WB’s recent behaviour as a company, I’d say that’s just sheer gullibility.

  3. Phantom_Renegade says:

    If they’d done this, or given all proceeds to the family, from the start it’d have been great PR. Now it’s just another in a long line of fuck-ups around Shadow of War.

    • Nevard says:

      They claim they were planning to give all proceeds to the family from the start, not that you have to believe them.

  4. dangermouse76 says:

    Christopher Tolkien Le Monde 2013:

    “Tolkien has become a monster, devoured by his own popularity and absorbed into the absurdity of our time,” Christopher Tolkien observes sadly. “The chasm between the beauty and seriousness of the work, and what it has become, has overwhelmed me. The commercialization has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing. There is only one solution for me: to turn my head away.”

    Refers to the films mainly, but speaks to the larger dissemination of his works in general. The originals will always exist of course and the films draw people to the work.

    And it has opened it up to a wider audience, lots of positives, but for me I have been unable to engage with much of the Middle Earth inspired work outside the books.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Hmm. You could say that the books (or “works” – *shudder*) were part of a similar process acting on Norse and Anglo-Saxon literature. I mean, if you were being a smart Alec. On the other hand, dragons and elves and swords with names are all mega cool. And the books still exist.

      • LennyLeonardo says:

        I should read all of a post before I reply, it seems. But then, I did skim over fucking Tom Bombadil.

        • pendergraft says:

          Sweet mother of God, that Bombadil chapter’s a total slog. It’s a testament to its superfluity that they didn’t even attempt to shoot the thing for the extended, total-slog edition of the movie.

      • dangermouse76 says:

        You could say all the things you said. I agree absolutely. I’m certainly not arguing the wider ( shudder ) “works” are inherently bad or awful. Just I dont enjoy them.

        Edit: Poor Tom, I always imagine him as Tom Jones in my head.

        • LennyLeonardo says:

          Ah, that’s fair enough. A different sort of smart Alec might point out that the continual remoulding of JRR’s mythology, even the more trashy/ populist interpretations, are in keeping with the living, evolving folk stories that ultimately inspired them. You might say the whole notion of a ‘canon’ is the antithesis of the folk traditions he loved so much. If you were being insufferable, that is.

          • dangermouse76 says:

            Oh you.

            And to be clear I would never subscribe to the idea that things should not be reinterpreted and re-envisioned by succeeding generations.

            Founded on the shoulders if giants and all that jazz.

            Middle Earth, has clearly inspired great artistry and passion in many people.

    • Thankmar says:

      The Ring-Trilogy were among the most-read books in the world before the movies, so the need to draw people to the work was not really there.

      In terms of movie adaptations I think the Ring-Trilogy holds up because it was successful in translating the spirit of the books into images while making it clear that these images are the interpretation of a film-maker (and certain illustrators), allowing viewers/me to enjoy the movies while maintaining their/my own vision of the books. In the Hobbit movies the tortured and forced development is much more palpable.

      But to enjoy things like Shadow for the good games they sometimes are, I have to whisper to myself “its not canon” all the time. Poor Christopher, I can relate to his feelings.

      • dangermouse76 says:

        Well some people growing up now may encounter the movies before the book I would wager. But anyway it’s a small point.

        I do love the artwork of Alan lee and John Howe. In fact I found the making of the Lord of the Rings fascinating well beyond the actual movies. Inspiring stuff to see that level of collaboration and passion.

        • Thankmar says:

          I do indeed think more than its healthy about how I “manage” the exposure of books and their movie versions towards my kids. My oldest daughter of ten still thinks the introduction of the Hobbits is too long and boring. Maybe it needs some more years to appreciate mood and world building.

      • Chaoslord AJ says:

        The movies aren’t bad only rather a comic version of the content. But even my hardcore Tolkien friends can’t really distinguish between movie quotes and the book anymore and also Sauron’s not really looking like a big eyeball hovering above the tower.
        The Hobbit’s only popcorn cinema though.

        • Darloth says:

          Some people on the fantasy stack exchange did some research and could neither prove NOR DISPROVE the theory that the Eye is a physical object.

          It’s certainly never described what it looked like, but it’s referred to confusingly as both a concept and an object at different points, depending on who’s doing the narration – and some of them are potentially unreliable.

        • dangermouse76 says:

          In lighter moments I see Sauron as a petulant teenager smashing up everybody’s stuff and pulling girls hair.

          Then complaining bitterly that nobody likes him.

    • durrbluh says:

      I’m left wondering what differentiates the “monster” that is the movies/games/etc and the 12-volume “History of Middle-Earth” series Christopher derived from his father’s notes. At the end of the day, they’re all commercial endeavours seeking to profit from adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s work.

  5. Premium User Badge

    DuncUK says:

    I honestly think there’s a disconnect between what WB games are planning with Shadow of War and what everyone seems to fear they’ll actually do. I just don’t understand why they talk about DLC pre-release at all.

    The fear; they’ll take the “nickle-and-dime” approach favoured by freemium games, where the base game is intentionally crippled to try to force players to keep handing out more and more cash. It’s possible to play the game without paying for DLC, but it’ll be painful and the game will quickly become unpleasant or excessively grindy to play. Most freemium games operate this way with very few striking a good balance that doesn’t leave the game feelign cheap and nasty.

    The reality; it’s an idiot tax for rich people. There are those out there with the cash resources and/or lack of sense that they’ll splash out for every trinket, multi-coloured rifle, experience boost and pantomime hat that you can throw at them. I can only assume they treat gaming as sort of power trip and will gladly pay to win against AI opponents with the overall effect of playing the game less. I don’t blame developers for adding DLC to their games to target this market, you’d be mad not to. They may be less than 1% of your customers, but they’ll probably generate a disproprtionately larger amount of the revenue.

    Option 1 makes no sense for a premium priced game. If people are pissed off with the base game they’d shelled out £50 for, they won’t be buying your DLC and they won’t be buying the sequel either and you’ll be drowning in negative press. I’m also not aware of any SP game that’s really gone down this route. The problem is, the gaming public has become so irrationally afraid of DLC that it’s merest mention sets forums ablaze and PR departments into overdrive. I honestly don’t understand why developers talk about DLC pre-release, even people that pay for it won’t read about it with any excitement. There’s no upside to talking about DLC until your audience had bought the base game and has decided whether it represents value for money. If the base game is not well received then your DLC just makes you look worse.

    • Minglefingler says:

      The reality is that we won’t know how the game has been balanced until it’s released,it’s possible that it has been entirely designed without microtransactions in mind but it’s also possible that the opposite is true. Companies are looking for more and more ways to monetise their games and will calculate the cost of negative publicity/ customer ire against the financial rewards they stand to gain. They won’t always get it right, look at the reaction to the inclusion of microtransactions in Payday 2.
      Neither are microtransactions an idiot tax for rich people, in Shadow of War they take the form of loot boxes which are essentially gambling, after all you’re paying money in the hope of a “prize” and the conditions are created where it’s psychologically appealing to spend more for a better roll. Companies that implement systems like this want to find “whales” who will keep spending and spending on these virtual goods. You don’t need to be rich to spend a ridiculous amount of money on these things but the chances are that you do need to be vulnerable. It’s exploitative and grubby as fuck.
      “There may be as many as 593,000 problem gamblers in Great Britain. The anticipation and thrill of gambling creates a natural high that can become addictive.
      The internet has made gambling more accessible, allowing more and more people to do it from home. This is thought to be one of the reasons for the increase in the number of women gamblers.
      Problem gamblers are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem, stress, anxiety and depression. ”
      That’s a quote from NHS Choices.

      • hungrycookpot says:

        You’re not going to stop people from gambling, never have, never will. Being allowed to make the choice to spend money where you want to spend it is a freedom that I will fight to maintain, and unless someone is being lied to about what it is they’re exchanging money for, I don’t think the blame is on the person selling. And lets be REALLY honest here, I don’t think the people who regularly complain about paid DLC are coming from a morality angle against the evils of gambling, it’s just a nice pile-on we can add to the fray.

        • Minglefingler says:

          You are free to spend you money however you like but when it comes to gambling, people who exhibit compulsive behaviour should be helped, not seen as a source of extra revenue. That’s when the blame is on the person selling, when you design a system that encourages vulnerable people to part with large amounts of cash and are happy to take their money without question.
          I didn’t comment about dlc practices in general in my last post, the fact that you mention people using concerns about gambling as a smokescreen whilst implying but not explicitly stating that I’m one of them leads me to believe that you want to make me appear disingenuous by tarnishing my motivation.

      • Premium User Badge

        DuncUK says:

        I do agree that the DLC boxes should provide guarenteed results. Adding in a gambling element is rather insidious as it can trigger the same reward mechanisms that real gambling can without being subject to any of the laws, since there’s no chance of a monetary reward. That aspect I do take issue with.

    • Chaoslord AJ says:

      Human Revolution had those one time practice kits too. A tax for dumb kids who choose a quick and empty reward experience above playing the actual game.
      Multiplayer games might be a problem because I won’t spend limited gaming time in an effort to compete against kiddies who bought their way to leadership.

  6. Moragami says:

    He seems pretty awesome, I hope I get to experience one of his rescues at some point, though, it’s not really something I’d want to occur over and over. Dying in ME:SoM was one of the best parts because it’s how you gained all your most hated enemies.

  7. Maade says:

    This is complete bullshit.. I’m so happy I didn’t buy the latest Batman, and it’s going to take a while and a hell of a lot of awesome “Game of the Year!” reviews for me to buy anything from WB anymore. I’m starting to get so sick and tired of hearing the same old bullshit from publishers trying to cover their own ass, when you can plainly see that they are just twisting the truth.

    If they were actually going to donate all the money from all around the world or something, don’t you think they would have said that instead of that awful small print?

    • MrUnimport says:

      As they said, they worried that advertising the donations internationally would open them up to all sorts of unpredictable conditions on how the donated money was to be handled. The presence of small print legalese isn’t, on its own, proof of bad faith; people who want to do good still desire to be protected from unforeseen consequences.

  8. pistachio says:

    I paid the price of a cup of coffee for the first one within a year. WB loves sales. Patience.

  9. philosoaper says:

    a full price game with pay2win microtransactions in the game, already caused quite the stink and put the game on my ban list.. if I ever do play it, it will be a pirated version with a trainer because the likelyhood of the game NOT being made “worse” for anyone not paying for the microtransactions.. is like 0.0000000000000000001%

  10. Jmnea says:

    Probably the most important thing from this article is that they supposedly still haven’t added options for romance with orcs and hug and kiss them. Considering setting up a boycott petition until they add it