[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 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 advertising.
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.
Lee 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 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.
The idea. 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.
The message. 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 be translated.
The channel. 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.
Choosing 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 communications.
The delivery. 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 announcement.
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.