Richard Eddy, Codemasters: At its best and most professional there’s an understanding and respect between both sides. We both strive to deliver the best story, the best assets and the best feature, for media outlets and games publishers. Unlike many other industries there’s a collective passion for gaming.
Robert Saunders, Nintendo: I’d say ‘symbiotic’, we need each other to do our jobs properly and well. There’s also a real community feel at times.
Simon Smith-Wright, Electronic Arts: Our team certainly has a great relationship with the specialist press. There’s a general understanding that we’re all part of the same fast-moving industry. Of course we’ll always have our differences of opinion, that’s never going to change, but whilst there’s a strong relationship and a mutual understanding of the bigger picture, we’ll always remain friends in business.
Nick Grange, Activision: The specialist press is still very much the backbone of the industry’s media. They’re the ‘centre of influence’ for games coverage and play a very important role. Because of this, the industry works hard to maintain a good working relationship.
Is there much mutual trust and respect? Or do you get the feeling they slag you off as soon as you put your credit cards away?
Andy Irving, Microsoft: I think it’s in everyone’s interests to have a healthy working relationship, so yeah, I think there’s a mutual respect. We obviously want to give the press as many coverage opportunities as possible and their readers want to see the freshest exclusive content. It works both ways.
Eddy: You strive for the former, but I’m sure the latter occurs on both sides when things don’t go to plan. Relationships inevitably get strained at times, but you hope that through being realistic, consistent and building up a solid reputation, over time you can engineer that trust and respect.
Saunders: I don’t think journalists will ever trust or respect PR people. People like to think they know how PR ‘works’ and bandy about words like “spin” and say things like, “I don’t let PRs persuade me”, when nine out of ten times we are there simply to provide the tools to help journalists do their job. I’ve never lied to a journalist in my career and without wishing to sound too patronising, I have a lot of respect for what they do and how the majority of them do it.
Which areas can be improved?
Smith-Wright: We’d always like to take the journalist through the entire journey of the game, from first look to review, so they fully understand what we are trying to do.
That doesn’t mean we’ll get a great score, but it means they might see it from our perspective. The biggest frustration is when you work hard to make this happen only for a freelancer to get the game at the last minute and on a tight deadline, which means they don’t reflect the full picture.
Eddy: A review of the reviewing process would be welcome. There’s a great deal of time pressure online and in print, but great games are more complex, have more content and more possibilities than ever before, often with extra emphasis on multiplayer, whilst offering a unique experience each time they are played.
There’s a bigger movement now towards ongoing coverage to address this. A review should not signal the end of a title’s public interest.
Saunders: From the media’s side: recognising that PR people are often unable to control how and when code and assets can appear and that shouting at us doesn’t change anything. From our side: be honest and up front early; recognise that a deadline is a deadline.
What do you think the specialist press does best?
Saunders: For me it comes down to unbeatable knowledge and enthusiasm, both of which come across in their products.
How different is it working with the mainstream media?
Grange: The biggest difference is time and space. You normally only get one shot to secure positive coverage so you have to work extra hard to ensure that you showcase a game in the best possible way.
Smith-Wright: Space is obviously a premium and if you want to break out of gaming pages then you need to totally understand the media, their readers and what excites them. Competition prizes are not the way forward. You need to think harder than that.
Eddy: Very different. With the mainstream press it’s about one hit and making that hit as big and creative as possible.
Irving: I actually think it’s becoming increasingly similar.
If you quizzed the readership of most of the consumer men’s magazines, the majority would list gaming amongst their top interests and I think that’s being reflected as the lads’ mags continue to devote more and more space to games.
In your experience, what’s the toughest challenge facing games industry PRs today?
Smith-Wright: For some it is to ensure that journalists really play games like consumers and understand who the target audience is for the game. Some magazines and writers certainly do it better than others.
Perhaps sometimes deadline pressure leads to jadedness, or writers ignoring who the game is actually for. We’ve all seen examples where games end up getting a kicking from the specialist press and yet consumers vote with their wallets in droves.
What are the best ways to try and garner positive coverage and positive reviews from the journalists you deal with (and don’t just say, ‘Make good games…’)?
Eddy: Firstly, make good games. Oh, right. After that it’s about giving the press good angles and great access to the games, the developers and the producers and supporting the coverage with great assets.
Irving: I think having an honest relationship with the press helps. I’m not sure the old technique of currying favour by lavishing them with freebies and booze still holds true. Sure, it helps build relationships, but if a game is a 4/10, then a journalist is going to say so. Don’t try and pull the wool over their eyes.
Talking about an average game as if it’s the best thing ever isn’t going to help anyone’s credibility. Be honest, be clear about the USPs and, more importantly, about the audience it’s aimed at.
What about our old friends, the national newspapers – especially tabloids: still an uphill battle?
Saunders: There’s still a lot to do in terms of understanding, but every day it’s getting easier.
Eddy: The changing demographic of games players has made almost every national newspaper sit up and take notice. Of course we’ll always have those that sneer at our industry, but even that’s on the decrease. There was even a positive story about games in the Mail on Sunday last week, from a writer who ‘graduated’ from the specialist press.
Smith-Wright: There’s an increasing understanding of the significance of this industry. It’s being taken seriously because we are part and parcel of the next-gen media revolution; we’re shaping it, and that’s interesting to national editors because their readers are part of it.
How has PR changed in your time in the business?
Irving: It’s certainly more professional. There’s still a required amount of schmoozing to be done, but there’s also a lot more organisation, thought and strategy involved.
Smith-Wright (aged 40): Online changed everything. The demand for assets and news online has had a huge effect on what we do. Plus we can now use far more impactful assets, like video.
It appears that times really have changed. What the hell happened to all the launch parties?
Saunders: The days of the long lunch are long gone and so, largely, are the huge launch parties. It’s getting harder and harder to justify the expense when it’s clear that you often get little or nothing out of them.
Grange: It’s all down to budget and return on investment. It’s great to celebrate the launch of a game and thank all who played a part, but unless you incorporate a celebrity angle or a clever PR tactic your coverage is bound to be very limited.
Smith-Wright: We still throw those parties pretty regularly. We just don’t invite you, Dave.