The news headlines today are all about Chris Pranger, who was fired from Nintendo for speaking a little too frankly on a recent podcast. Chris worked in localisation within Nintendo’s notoriously secretive Treehouse division. Recently, he was a guest on the Part-Time Gamers podcast, where he spoke candidly about Nintendo, with details on aspects of his work and the company. Sadly, this all proved too much like blabbing, for Nintendo, and Chris confirmed that he has been fired, via social media.
During the podcast, Chris told various anecdotes about games he’d worked on, such as Animal Crossing New Leaf. He touched on how expensive it is to record voice acting for new markets and how this can stop some Japanese games being released in the US. And he ruffled a few online feathers by portraying gamers with a whiny voice, which some found insulting.
Apart from the whiny gamers bit, nothing Chris said seemed to be particularly controversial or secret, other than a little insight into the business side of localisation. He did talk a lot and he was very open, especially for a Nintendo employee and even more especially for a Treehouse staffer.
The podcast didn’t get that much attention, initially, but slowly various gaming sites and communities picked up the story. It being so rare for Nintendo staff to speak, especially anyone other than the top executives made it news. Soon, Chris was the topic of conversation among Nintendo fans, much to his chagrin.
In a long Facebook post, Chris explains how he knew things were taking a bad turn, as the coverage just snowballed. Just over a week later, Nintendo fired him. His Facebook message reads:
“Hello friends and family. As many of you have probably seen, I am no longer at Nintendo. I was terminated this week due to a podcast appearance I made last Monday. It was a stupid judgment call on my part and ultimately it cost me far more than I could have imagined.
I spent the last week in a miserable place once the podcast began getting coverage. I was instantly scared when a co-worker poked me and said, ‘Hey, you’re on GoNintendo.’ Suddenly article after article began appearing in game sites of all languages. Comments sections painted me as an idiot and the like. My Twitter started giving me hourly reminders from people meaning well and otherwise. It seemed unthinkable that I’d be let go for a single moment of poor judgment and my own misunderstandings, but here we are.
I’m so sorry to everyone. I’ve failed you. You believed in me and supported me and trusted me and I’ve failed you. I’ve failed me.”
The sad thing is, Nintendo couldn’t really do anything else. Chris had probably breached the terms of his contract, by speaking to the media without approval. Added to this, he was working in one of the most tight-lipped teams, within Nintendo. The company had to take the official line, otherwise the message is – a blab here or there is okay and then the line becomes blurred. When is it not okay? Nobody would know.
As someone who writes a lot for PR and marketing teams and agencies, I don’t really understand how this podcast happened. An interview like this should have been approved by the PR team. Chris should have had clear no-go topics and media training tips. The show felt like a free-range interview that he thought would fly under the radar. Unfortunately, for Chris, it didn’t.
The trouble is, the games industry likes to be casual. It enjoys its jeans and t-shirts status. Everyone knows each other. We hang out at conferences and press events and a podcast is like an extension of that. It’s just a chat with a microphone, right? Wrong.
Chris may have been naive or stupid or both. Plus it’s flattering to be asked on a show. And when people are hanging off your every word and laughing at your anecdotes, it’s easy to get swept up in the moment.
The fact is, games are big business. If Chris had said something more incendiary, that could mean a fall in share price for Nintendo. He’ll probably never do it again, but Nintendo couldn’t take that chance and the shareholders certainly wouldn’t want to.
It’s such a sad story. Chris is obviously passionate about games, he loved his job and most of all he loved Nintendo and set his sights on working for that company. He landed his dream job and three years down the line, he blew it.
There’s a lot to be said for professionalism and humility, but Chris knows that now. My heart goes out to Chris. Any of us could have made that mistake, when we were young and stupid. Maybe the fact that we didn’t, is more luck than judgement.