Once upon a time all serious games PR was done in close proximity to a bar. Everyone knew everyone and it was all very matey. Review slots were agreed many months in advance, with a big shiny preview piece as part of the deal. And review code came by post in a jiffy bag.
However true that once may have been, that’s not the case today. Yes, there’s still the big conferences and expos, and yes press events often have a drink or two available, but with the explosion of games, outlets and influencers, PRs can be dealing with hundreds, even thousands, of press globally, many of whom never leave their homes, let alone make it to a tatty Irish bar in Cologne.
Managing all the contacts, review keys, assets and press releases has become a huge task. So a veteran PR has created Press Engine to help. It’s a service which aims to smooth the process for everyone involved in the great discoverability game, be they PRs, developers and publishers; or press, streamers and influencers.
Press Engine is a two-man team. Many will know Gareth Williams already, he spent ten years in games PR, before co-founding Little Big PR, and is now head of publishing at Wired Productions, a role he combines with running Press Engine. Alongside Williams is co-founder Phil Collins, who has a broad development background and recently left Microsoft to work on Press Engine full time. Of course, it’s Williams who does the talking.
“We designed Press Engine for multiple uses,” Williams begins. “It’s for the press, but it is also for developers, publishers and agencies. And it automates an awful lot of time intensive tasks, allowing you to do things in just a few clicks, and be presented with information which you can act on.”
Williams believes that Press Engine will be of particular value to smaller developers, who can’t take on PR expertise: “Press engine democratises the ability to talk to press and maximises discoverability for small games specifically.” At the core of that is Press Engine’s built-in database of global game press.
“It’s an audited list that was built over six months,” Williams explains. “It was made using contacts that I had, but we also looked at every territory and we found people that wrote about video games across both specialist and mainstream press.”
So just how big is this list? “I could turn around and say: ‘30,000 press on the list, this is an amazing number to have’. But actually, most of them wouldn’t be writing about games all the time, the number you actually should have is between 4,000 and 6,000 people. And those are people that write about it continuously.”
“We audit every day. So if something disappears, or a person disappears from an outlet, we know about it before anybody else because we get the information back.” That information comes, quite simply, from bounced emails, which lets the team know they have to find a replacement contact at that outlet.
You might think that GDPR would prevent such a list, but for such usage it’s permissible, and Press Engine is capable of more deft handling of such issues than a typical mailing list.
“GDPR is really important for this, so if press cover games they can expect to receive emails about games. But they can choose to not receive emails about specific games. Traditionally, what happens is if you have a mailing list, they will unsubscribe from the mailing list rather than particular products so you can’t actually talk to them about your other games
It also allows press to easily resubscribe to emails about a certain game, should the tide change for it, Williams brings up Fortnite as an example, which many had given up on in its early PvE incarnation before its spectacular pivot into Battle Royale.
“But the biggest aim of the platform is to enable press to have a lot more control over what they receive. Because if you look at inboxes, at the moment, on a busy day you’ll get 400 emails. all with press releases in…” And while MCV/DEVELOP doesn’t quite hit those heights, it’s not far off come E3 time.
Some marketing tools, and in-house systems, can do some of what Press Engine does, but it’s unique to our knowledge in its combination of features and the way it can be accessed by both PRs and the press. It lets the content creators log-in and take control of exactly what they receive from publishers, as well as providing them with assets and review keys, all in one place.
Williams is keen to note that the service isn’t going to put anyone out of work. “It doesn’t replace PR agencies because PR agencies are about relationships and what they can achieve. What it does mean for agencies is to not worry about reporting, to not worry about how they find an audience for that title, when you can do it in a minute on Press Engine.
“For publishers it’s a way to analyse the results of their communications, to look at how they are doing on certain websites, to look at how effectively they are communicating with press,” in the same way they use data to analyse their engagement with consumers.
Williams shows us a simple campaign for a press release. Much like MailChimp, it shows sends and interactions, opens by outlet, and has a nice map displaying geographical hotspots. “But then it does something interesting,” Williams says, “it proves that PR works because it shows the change in search volume [on the game in question] immediately after the press release.”
Press Engine can then search for coverage from outlets and create a report, matching the press release to the particular outlet and the URL of the coverage. Now that’s reporting done simply.
Of course, there’s an awful lot more to games-related content these days than web articles (sorry SEO types).
“We can track Facebook,” Williams says proudly. “So we know when people post on Facebook and it will show you specifically when people do coverage about your product on Facebook. Which nobody tracks at the moment but for some reason we managed to do it and I was amazed, to be completely honest.”
“It’s all public data that we’re using and API plugins, to give you all the information you want in one place. Very soon we’re going plug-in Twitch and YouTube to display, per title, the number of streamers that you’re getting every day. We’re looking at implementing Steam partner API, so we can look at sales and what impact streamers and press have on those. So it’s all about giving people access to data that you don’t normally have or is fragmented in loads of different places.
And Steam integration brings us nicely around to another tiresome PR task, review key management. “We’ve integrated Steam API, we pull every game that goes on to steam 24 hours later… It populates all that data so the client doesn’t need to do it. And then it stores that in the system and it belongs to the person who owns that account, whether that is traditionally going to be the developer or the publisher, depending on who is managing it.”
The owner of that account can then decide whether to turn on key requests, so you can start building up a list of interested content creators months in advance. Then it’s as simple as feeding a load of keys into the system and then approving or denying the requests, with the site providing some guidance in terms of audience size for each request.
“The service will soon add various other metrics through more information from Steam, the Twitter API, so we can tell how many followers they’ve got. Average views for each video, how often they do videos, all of that kind of stuff. So it’s about presenting data in order to make better decisions.”
And if you want to attract more reviewers: “There is a shortcode created that people can just share via Facebook, Twitter, or stick in an email. If you want a review key, click here and away you go. And because everybody’s already in the system, it knows which formats they’ve got because that information is already there.”
And it handles region differences too: “The system knows that there are multiple types of Nintendo region codes, for instance. And every member of the press that is in the system has a region specific setting, so it will only give them the keys for those regions. So there’s less fussing around with ‘I’ve got the wrong key.’”
Even at this early stage, it all sounds great, a tool designed by people who know what’s needed. And pricing starts from free, for review key management at least:
“Every developer, and agency in the world can have a free account. And with that free account they can manage every single review request that they get,” says Williams.
Collins adds: “That’s it in a nutshell. It’s managing those review keys, review key requests, putting the game in front of press that are logging in, building up that review key list and being able to select the best outlets and publications, influencers and streamers, for those review keys to go to.” However, that doesn’t include access to the press database, so you’ll need to promote the game yourself, Press Engine is just there to manage keys.
“There are three tiers after that,” Williams notes. “The first is designed for freelance PRs and for a relatively small monthly fee they can access the database, send press releases and manage review campaigns. However, they don’t get reporting tools and analytics at this level.
“The next step is aimed at developers, and provides reporting and the ability to send targeted press releases and will be available both on a per-title basis for a monthly fee, which works out cheaper if you have multiple titles.
“With press engine, they will generate content without having to have a PR manager. It will never replace relationships. But what it does give you is the ability to maximise discoverability very quickly.”
Finally, there’s a top tier for publishers and larger agencies, where you get search analysis and other upcoming features, so you can really drill down into the success of campaigns.
Such upcoming features include being able to manage press events through the system. “The press can pick slots, and it can all be done automatically so people don’t have to spend time on the phone selling-in press events. We could manage the entire appointment schedule for all of E3 through the system that we’re building.”
Press Engine already looks useful, and if enough press and PRs decide to take it up it could become a truly excellent tool for the broader industry – a go-to standard for disseminating keys and assets, sending press releases and organising events.
Of course, its creators must be careful about who they give access to, too many abusive users, spamming the press with too many games could quickly lead some to simply mark all Press Engine emails as spam, despite the tools that it provides to tackle such a situation.
With careful management though it looks like it could become a powerful, time saving tool for everyone involved in the effort to improve discoverability for games as a whole. And that’s certainly something we can wholeheartedly support.