Q&A: Dean Barrett from Bastion on PR challenges in the year ahead

Well that was an interesting year. According to most commentators, not the best in terms of marquee games, but, as ever, plenty of evidence in the games we did get that the industry is as creative and forward-looking as ever. If nothing else, 2023 will be every bit as fascinating when we come to look back on it.

It wasn’t just about the games of course. Events were back in a big way (apart from E3 of course), NFTs went away just as spectacularly, and we had the year-long soap opera of Microsoft and Sony’s custody battle over Activision Blizzard. How those played out from a comms perspective and what will shape the PR challenges in the year ahead is the subject of this month’s panel. Last up we have Dean Barrett from Bastion. Enjoy!

It’s fair to say that 2022 wasn’t the greatest year for quality releases or launches… or was it?

Maybe not a classic year, but 2022 certainly produced some cracking games that delivered on promise, and a few that achieved great cut through. I’m always impressed by any game that can bring new players into the community and I thought Stray was a brilliant example of that. And the global fascination of the Wordle story neatly highlighted how we’re all games players at heart.

E3 aside, it was a full house for live events last year. How do you see expos, conferences and other game events panning out this year?

Last year saw the most successful Develop:Brighton ever, and GDC this year is looking very similar to pre COVID years with the big platforms returning to the show floor. As an industry we adapted brilliantly during the lock down periods, but we’re a community that thrives on meeting in person; doing business, exchanging ideas and finding new opportunities. All the pandemic has done has highlighted how important those opportunities are and why we need to make the most of them.

How else did the PR landscape change during 2022?

The onward march of influencer engagement and deployment, the harnessing of community power and the desire to break down the silos within comms all gathered pace through ’22.

Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard dominated thinking in 2022. What’s your take? How well did Microsoft and Sony make their respective casse? Will the deal go through, and what will it mean for the industry in the years ahead?

I’m not sure it did ‘dominate thinking’ within most companies, for most there were bigger challenges in 2022 to ponder than the travails of a few mega corporations. Two questions come to mind though: is it a deal that’s good for players – the people who fund our industry. And is it a deal that’s good for the people who work in these companies – the people who are the industry. Time will tell.

There were some spectacular U-turns earlier in the year as gaming companies climbed aboard the NFT hype train, before jumping off again before the next stop. What went wrong for them?

For an industry that is dominated by mainly young very bright people it’s sometimes surprising how conservative (with a small c) it can be. Crass pointless profiteering should never be part of what we do, but seeking new and innovative ways of funding the development of new games is unavoidable. Ultimately the market will decide what works. We need less burning torches in ’23 and a few more open minds.

The Oxford word of the year for 2022 was Goblin Mode. What was yours and why?

Communification would be a good start. An ugly word, but ‘community’ seemed to be raised in nearly all client strategy meetings in 2022 – the pursuit of community led storytelling is a really interesting initiative and another example of brands and developers trying to break down the silos between social, PR, marketing and community content.

Without blowing your own trumpet too loudly, what was your highlight of the last year (2022) in terms of the PR campaigns that were waged?

Last year was incredibly busy at Bastion, early in the year saw the launch of OlliOlli World which was a great success, but we also had teams working on, amongst others, Amazon, Riot, Wizards, Epic, Square Enix and Vela titles and events that we’re incredibly proud of. Slightly leftfield was our work on launching Moxxi’s Bar Edition for Ballantine’s whisky which was a collaboration with Borderlands which was great fun and creatively very rewarding. And our launch of Pinpoint, our Influencer company, was a major highlight for us and really well received.

What are the PR challenges for the year ahead and how will you be preparing to overcome them?

The competition will be stiffer in ’23 and we can’t ignore the macro-economic climate that is impacting every household, so everyone is going to have to work harder to achieve traction and momentum. There’s no easy solution for that, you just need a brilliant team that’s focused on producing great work week in week out.

AI is threatening to change the way content is created and received (ChatGPT does a pretty good press release). What are the issues for PR as AI content services become increasingly competent and compelling?

Like all technology in PR it shouldn’t be seen as a threat, just a way of achieving more. The ability to hyper localise stories or dive deeper into community passions through AI are all potential big wins for PR teams. On the flip side, AI tools for media organisations is gathering apace, the JAMES (Journey Automated Messaging for Higher Engagement) software at The Times is enabling them to create newsletters focused on readers passions which is impressive.

About Richie Shoemaker

Prior to taking the editorial helm of MCV/DEVELOP Richie spent 20 years shovelling word-coal into the engines of numerous gaming magazines and websites, many of which are now lost beneath the churning waves of progress. If not already obvious, he is partial to the odd nautical metaphor.

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