It was 10 years ago that I started writing about video games. By pure accident I discovered a talent that would eventually get me into the video games industry. The game was called Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, and after beating it on release day, I really wanted to share my experiences with the world. That resulted in a game news website giving me a job.
As journalists we would set the trend to what’s hot in the community. In hindsight, it’s a terrifying amount of power. You get 5 different gaming headphones and decide which is best - and that one would sell in the region. Which game do I review this week? What news do I post about? Which console wins this generation? Why? All these questions kept me awake at nights, and super motivated to break into the “other side” — actual product development. I say “product” because at the time I was also super interested in the hardware part of things.
Flash forward 10 years. PewDiePie has 26 million subscribers. Whatever he makes a video about, that gets instantly picked up by hundreds of other Youtubers. Reddit’s homepage automagically gets you coverage on major game press sites. Even if you make a picture of a cat cosplaying “The Definition Of Insanity” and it makes it to the front page - bam, coverage on Kotaku, Escapist, etc.
It’s a weird world we live in now. Online communities as we know them have become mainstream. 10 years ago viral things would spread via early social networks and for the most part via IRC chatrooms. Now everyone can discover and share content online, which I believe is the core of this journalism revolution, where users dictate what’s hot - and not the other way around.
An added factor is how easily you can become a journalist right now, or claim to be one. Platforms like wordpress are super easy to install, most home PCs/laptops are powerful enough to edit videos, so you can get onto Youtube. Youtube and Google’s AdExchange provide you means of monetization. It’s all automated, all available. 10 years ago I had no idea where to start. I had no clue how to create a website, where to host it, how to pay for hosting even. I had to wait for hours for videos to render.
As a journalist, now I would rather look at what the super engaged community of reddit is talking about, and post about it in an easy to digest way to my own following. Should I go through a stack of 50 press releases (per hour), or checkout what’s trending on twitter? A weird world we live in.
Alongside journalism, I also did marketing. In that world, you tend to send out very corporate press releases, trying to hit as many “Unique Selling Points” (USPs… *shrugs*) as possible. You try to get buzzwords in, so your b2b (business to business… read: press) partners get excited.
This worked couple of years ago in gaming. Large publishers and platforms still have a similar approach with press events. Renting out a hotel and having journalists checkout a line up of games. On a large scale it can still work. But…. Goat Simulator. That game is my favorite example of what I’m talking about. A joke that went too far and turned into an actual game. Something that started off as a Youtube video, which the whole Internet picked up on. Which website hasn’t covered it? At PAX East, the whole Unreal Booth was plastered with goats. You got to love how it went completely out of control and how everyone played along.
So the question is - does press coverage make your game noticed, and everything else follows? Or is it now the other way around?
I believe the tides have shifted. Now you have to market your games towards end-users, and have the press “in mind”. Because as a journalist, I would love to post what my users would love to read about - and comment, share, discuss. The easiest way to ensure that happens is to post about things that are getting traction within the community.
We used to have a “Consumer” and a “Press” list in our mailing service. For 3 months now that’s no longer the case, and I’m seeing much better results. We used to separate press-centric announcements and consumer-centric announcements. Now it’s all the same, with little notes towards press that they can get keys.
With the way Steam is moving towards an open platform, and consoles are gearing towards influxes of indie games, it will become increasingly more valuable to have an audience loyal to your brand, and interested in what you’re doing. If that same audience helps share whatever you are creating — the press will pick it up.
Of course it never hurts to have direct contacts, and reach out directly to specific journalists. I’m not saying to not work with press, what I’m saying is to treat your fans equally and with respect — they will decide if your company succeeds or not, and will make press coverage so much easier.