[The relationship between a game creator/publisher and the public is absolutely key - so what is the current landscape like, and what are the cardinal rules you should follow to raise and enhance your game's profile? Gala Networks Europe' Wera has a few suggestions.]
When talking about the games industry
and the people who work in it, most people think about the famous game
designers, the CEOs of major companies, the artists, or the hundreds of
programmers working overtime to deliver the best entertainment experience to
the players. Very few will mention the people in charge of public relations.
Often seen as annoying but necessary to the success of a game, these people are
not to be forgotten, for they are in charge of delivering the developer's
message to the public, and making sure it is understood. This article is meant
to explain the place of public relations within the games industry, and hint at
the various ways to improve interactions with other departments within a
developer or publisher.
A Little Bit of History
A long time ago,
important companies didn't give much credit to what we now call their
"Corporate Image". During these times where corporations didn't
bother to be "human", even with their employees, it was believed that
the only rule to be followed is the one of profit at all costs -- even if this
cost was measured in human lives. Journalists were merely enemies kept away
from all information, and communication with the public relied mainly on
On April 1914, the Standard Oil
Corporation owned by the Rockefeller family shot dead more than 20 miners
during a strike in Ludlow, Colorado. The Rockefeller family thought, at that
time, that violence was a good way to end strikes. What is now remembered as
the Ludlow Massacre, however, just created more rage in the hearts of the
miners who armed themselves and attacked dozens of other mines owned by
Standard Oil. Unable to find a solution to the conflict, Rockefeller hired a
man named Ivy Lee -- who is now known as one of the founders of public relations.
completely changed the communications of Standard Oil, and requested methods
and structures of the company to be changed as well. But good changes are
nothing if they are not publicly known, and so he organised an intensive
communication campaign to introduce its company to the broad public and remove
the secrecy around it.
The strikes stopped as a result of better treatment of
the workers by Standard Oil, and the company, better known and liked by the
public, saw an unexpected rise of its revenues. The law of profit was still
there, but Ivy Lee had proved that a good image could increase revenues and
generate stability in the long term.
From then, the
discipline has evolved, but the base rules remain the same: a good image
supported and spread by a good and truthful communication delivers results in
the long run.
In the games industry, few developers kill programmers who go on
strike, but game companies still need people specialised in communication with
the public, which is the duty of public relations executives.
The Role of Public Relations
The role of public relations within a
games developer or publisher is to be an interface for communication between
the organization and the public. If you have a story, the public relations
department will be in charge of making sure it is delivered to the right
audience, in the right way. To do that, four elements have to be considered:
the idea, the message, the channel, and the delivery.
Not all information is worth shouting about. To be worth communicating, an idea
needs to have value for the media and for the consumer. This value is
determined by many different factors which have to be evaluated by the
communication department. If a company communicates too much on low-value
information, the public and media will start disregarding this information, and
thus even a very important announcement may go unnoticed.
Pitching your game as an "Unreal Engine-based AAA FPS" might talk to
a few tech-savvy blogs or magazines, but if you want it to reach the broad
public, it might require different wording. There are as many different ways to
express an idea as there are people to receive the message. One single
announcement might have to be written in 10 different ways to reach different
media and audiences, not to mention the different languages in which it has to
If you have a news with a short lifespan (for example, an event taking place
from the 1st to the 15th of the month), it is less likely for print media to
talk about it. Magazines often go to press about three weeks before the date
they are published, where websites can publish within a minute any news you
would have liked to keep for the day after.
the right channel, at the right time, to release the right information, is a
full-time job for communication staff. As well, it is important to support the
channel they use: an editor will be more likely to release an information he
receives if it is sent by a person he knows well, with some valuable
screenshots and artwork, knowing that he will later recieve a copy of the game
to test, and can ask for more information is needed. It is highly important to
consider the fact that unimportant information sent too often could jeopardize
communication channels and thus endanger the effectivity of upcoming
So you have a good idea, expressed in the right way, and a relevant channel.
Now how are you supposed to send it? Will it have a better impact by mail, sent
with a fancy press kit and a DVD full of assets, or just an e-mail? That's one
of the issue which has to be assessed by a PR department before sending an
Of course, the work of public relations
is most of the time way more complicated than just these few elements. It
involves negotiation for exclusives and magazine covers, organization of
interviews and trade shows, and many more things, but the basic idea is this:
public relations people are intermediaries dedicated to the adaptation and the
delivery of a message to the relevant audience, in order to create awareness
and, therefore, drive the sales of a game when it becomes available.
Although marketing and PR might be the
positions with the worst reputation in the games industry, they remain highly
necessary and are at the service of the developer and the publisher. Just
remember that, no matter how good your game might be, your efforts would be
useless without people able to let the public know about it.