The only panel discussion held to spotlight PR professionals at the recent PR for Games Conference was titled “The State of Game PR”. The senior level PR representatives speaking were Reilly Brennan of Midway, David Hawk of Ubisoft entertainment, Andrea Schneider from Atari, Angela Emery for Buena Vista Games, and Dave Karraker, newly of Sony Computer Entertainment of America. The panel was moderated by Curt Feldman, news director of Cnet.
The Blogging Gorilla
Curt Feldman began by providing his observations on factors that have changed the tone of PR message. The main factors as he saw it were that “first, the stakes are so much higher today. Second is the importance of company’s public image, one black mark against a company can block the inflow of talent.” The last two he saw as confusion in regards to ratings, and confusion in regards to content.
The first question asked of the panelists had to do with the 400lb gorilla of the conference: blogs, or more specifically, how PR was integrating blogs and new media into their efforts. The panel remained silent for a time before Sony’s Dave Karraker referred to them as a “personal bugaboo,” also mentioning that editors for professional sites are also bloggers, allowing an outlet for bias they normally wouldn’t get.
Ubi’s David Hawk said that the biggest worry is “the lack of investigation into whether the facts are right or not... they’re willing to be fed information as long as it is interesting or whatever,” concluding that “we can’t be worrying about it 24/7.” Andrea Schneider added that “you need to look at the property you’re working. If it’s a casual game, I don’t know if the casual gamers really care what bloggers say.”
“I think bloggers find you,” according to Reilly Brennan of Midway, “I don’t think [we] can really go out there and find it.”
Feldman then asked if there was more or less contact with their respective marketing departments these days. For Atari, according to Andrea Schneider, “PR is a very important to the company, so we are part of the marketing team. We work with our marketing directors to set up a campaign.” David Hawk quipped, “I don’t know anyone in this room who doesn’t work with marketing.” Back in the days when he was with Sega, he said, “PR drove the marketing.”
Reilly Brennan added that “[it’s] more integrated than ever. I think PR drives the entire campaign. How much do we show first? How much do we hold back? People are getting immune to marketing, consumers are smart and know when they’re being advertised to.” Karraker noted that the situation differs between hardware and software, saying, “With hardware the marketing team...” he paused in reflection for a moment, “well, Japan is driving the schedule.” He gave a knowing smile.
Sixes And Sevens
The next topic given was how to deal with a game that receives average scores of 6 or 7. Reilly Brennan raised his hand immediately. “This one’s me. I don’t know if review scores even matter anymore, we’ve seen a few six and sevens really sell, [and] I’ve had nines and tens that didn’t. I think we’ve gone past that.”
He also discussed how for many review sites that give medium scores, the user reviews tend to be high nines. Karraker pointed out, however, that “[there’s a] flip side for the retailer, though. The retailer does look at the review scores to decide what goes in the store,” as well as the prominence of its placement.
Buena Vista’s Angela Emery conceded that “I’m not going to get a good review in OPM for That’s So Raven
”, a handheld game based on the show about a psychic teenage girl. Emery pointed out, however, that the reviews wouldn’t matter on this property since the main audience, young teenage girls, most likely do not read OPM, but they do play games on handhelds.
Bouncing off of this, Feldman asked if it was worth getting reviews into men’s magazines such as Maxim. Said Brennan, “I think it is. I think they’re starting to pay a little more a attention. The problem with those books is they’re very advertising driven,” describing the situation as “We buy advertising and they’ll give us space [for a game review].”
Once again following up on Brennan, Karraker mused that “a lot of PR folks don’t have a very good relationship with the sales team, but the sales team needs [men’s magazine reviews] more than anyone else. You take a review in Maxim to a retail store and they’ll think every 21 year old male in the country is playing that game.”
The MySpace Effect
A question from the audience asked about a general reluctance to embrace new media from PR professionals. Emery began by saying she saw a difference between blogs and sites like YouTube or MySpace, adding that they have made MySpace pages for characters from their games.
“It’s the blogs that we are wary of,” added Karraker, warning that “with YouTube you want to be as transparent as possible... and you want to be careful that a company doesn’t post something on there that slams the competition.” He cited a recent example of a video mocking the recent Al Gore documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” noting that what initially seemed like an independent parody turned out to be traced to a Washington PR firm.
If there was anything of a consensus as to where PR is heading, it was best summed up by Karraker: “If I have to trace blogs all day long... ugh... it hurts my head!”
[Gamasutra will be running an in-depth write-up from the PR For Games Conference every day this week - articles thus far include a discussion of the interaction between PR and business media and how bloggers are reaching a new audience]