The Changing Games Media

Ben Parfitt
The Changing Games Media

The constant state of evolution within the gaming press is precisely what makes it such an exciting area of the market to be involved with.

Looking back at the last few years, the changes in the media landscape have been swift and extraordinary. The social network explosion of Facebook and Twitter. The proliferation of video content. The rise and rise of online, mirrored by the long, inexorable decline of the once-dominant print sector and the lamentable demise of some of the most treasured brands.

Dan Griliopoulos has witnessed both sides of the divide, as a journalist for most of the noughties, and more recently as account manager at Bastion.

He notes that the “disintegration” of print wasn’t simply a case of migrating advertising spend or people balking at the cover price, but changing attention spans.

“People are less predisposed to reading thousand-word reviews these days,” he argues. “They just want to know whether the game is good or bad.

“Ten years ago it made sense that magazines were expensive because of the cover discs, but now we get all our demos online; and we get all our information for free, online and, in particular, from our friends.”

It’s a view that also chimes with Ignition’s newly appointed product and strategy director, Justin Keeling: “The biggest changes have been driven by broader forces happening across media, like the rise of free and socially recommended content. A few years back you saw the big online sites really invest and build huge global audiences, and then splinter and target specific niches with more authentic content. The ad budgets soon followed suit.”

Indigo Pearl director James Beaven views that the way the balance of power is shifting between print and online media in the UK is unique.

“Mainland Europe has an advantage where language creates geographical ring fences around each country’s media,” he says. “So their evolution from print to online has been relatively controlled.”

Not so in the US, though, where dreaded three-month print lead times made online dominance “inevitable”.

“Looking at the UK over the last three years, though, magazine publishers have been understandably reticent to move their portfolio emphasis online,” says Beaven.

“It’s fair to assume this is partly down to advertising revenues, and partly because the competitive landscape for English language websites also includes the US.”

The effects of this ongoing war of attrition between print and online, and the spectacular emergence of social networking has not only brought positive new challenges for the media as a whole, but for the PR and marketing folk who create and co-ordinate the coverage and campaigns.

“Social networking has made direct marketing much easier,” admits Griliopoulos. “It’s easier to keep track of journalists, it’s easier to talk directly to the public, and it means you can identify your core fans easily – and then work with them to enthuse others about your products.”

In the publishing sphere, this seismic shift to social networking has had a “fundamental impact” on how users discover content, according to Keeling.

“There has been a shift from top-down, editorially promoted content to bottom-up, user-to-user rated and recommended,” he observes.

But the Ignition man predicts that the value of editorial selection will increase again as the sheer volume of user-created content increases.

“Look at how crowded the iTunes App Store has already become for games. There’s value in creating mechanisms for curating that,” he says.

The growing proliferation of high quality video content has also been responsible for a parallel sea-change in the way games media operates. In fact, during the last two years of Keeling’s tenure heading up IGN UK, he claims “more people [were] watching the video version of the review than reading the text,” – an incredible switch around, which is forcing publications to effectively become nimble, broadly skilled multi-media organisations.

“Add in YouTube and all the new devices people use to browse video on now and the future for gaming media is clearly ‘show, don’t tell’,”  he opines. “Quality still has a way to go, but outlets like GameTrailers have been ahead of the curve for some time.”

Faced with such dramatic changes in the gaming media landscape, the PR stalwarts have similarly had to respond and adapt. Lunch PR senior account director Kat Osman reflects that the impact of the evolutionary changes in gaming media has been felt keenly across the majority of our campaigns. “A lot of clients are starting campaigns earlier,” she reveals, “And not just for specialist press but lifestyle as well.

“Three or four years ago we’d start consumer press campaigns three months from release. These days, a lot of our clients are bringing agencies on anything from four to six months from release.

And despite the demise of many of the national press’ technology supplements in recent years, Osman feels that this has been broadly counterbalanced by the increase in lifestyle coverage.

That said, coverage in the mainstream could be better, she argues, with gaming still lagging well behind film and music.

“While I appreciate it will take time to be on par, it’s taking a tad longer in some mainstream outlets than it should,” Osman adds. 

“There are some amazing journalists out there who are always championing games in the lifestyle press, but some of the more senior editors still think of games as a child’s pastime.”

As ever, it’s another challenge for an industry used to going through hoops to get positive mass attention. Fortunately, the booming social media sphere offers a way around mass media’s ongoing reluctance to grant gaming an appropriate platform.

For Beaven, publishers must decide “where PR ends and community begins – particularly with digital download and online-based products.”

The bottom line? “Games publishers are going to need to increase their PR resources if they’re to properly service social media alongside traditional print and online.”

At a digital publisher like Ignition, meanwhile, the focus is a little different, and the changes in how you get the message across to consumers “depends on who you’re trying to reach and the message”, according to Keeling.

“Our marketing approach is completely disruptive. Digital, socially mapped platforms completely buck the price elasticity you see in a traditional boxed product, and also reach a much wider audience – one where this exclusive idea of the ‘gamer’ doesn’t exist.”

Indeed, Keeling queries the very notion of what we regard as the perceived target audience.

“What is a ‘gamer’?” he asks. “In today’s world, everyone with an interest in entertainment plays games and we can be a lot more sophisticated and more inclusive in our approaches.”

With digital titles very much on the rise, where should the focus be? It’s an issue most people in PR and marketing have to get their heads around, and it’s clear that there’s never an objectively ‘correct’ approach.

“If your game is on Steam or D2D, and Rock Paper Shotgun, or PC Gamer recommend it, the sales will rocket on the same day,” asserts Griliopoulos. “That said, IGN has around 35m hardcore readers as well, across all their properties, so it is as big as The Guardian and almost as hardcore as PC Gamer.”

Big or small, a simple golden rule for PR and marketing within the press is to make a bloody racket.

“The more noise you make, the more saturated the public’s ear and eyespace is with your (high-quality) product,” insists Griliopoulos.

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