Q&A: Mike Hendrixen from Vertigo 6 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. Next up is Mike Hendrixen from Vertigo 6. Enjoy!

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

The popular opinion might be different but with games like Horizon Forbidden West, Elden Ring, God of War, Pokemon Legends: Arceus, Mario + Rabbids and new installments of FIFA, Call of Duty and lots of great indie games 2022 was a good year in our opinion! Some highly anticipated games slipped into 2023, but as the official calendar year may end on December 31st, most publishers have their financial year until March 31st. So we can still expect some highly anticipated titles ‘this year’ such as STAR WARS Jedi: Survivor and the long awaited Hogwarts Legacy.

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?

Well it was packed, but the biggest publishers did not attend the biggest game shows. And we wonder if they will ever go back to E3 and Gamescom. If we look at local events, the top publishers were absent in our region (Benelux and Nordics) too, or had very small booths. The shows were mainly dominated by hardware brands. As they don’t have content to show, whereas content is still king, we expect that you’ll see more exclusive and early content at game shows in hardware booths.

How else did the PR landscape change during 2022?

PR is constantly evolving, as it must adapt to changes in technology, the media landscape, and societal norms. One significant change that PR is currently going through is the maturing influencer landscape and the fall of traditional (game) media in the consumption of youngsters. Another change that PR experienced this year, is that the industry has started shifting back to launch events. Overall, PR is going through significant changes as it adapts to the digital age and the increasing importance of authenticity and transparency. These changes are likely to continue in 2023 as the field evolves to meet the changing needs and expectations of stakeholders.

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?

There are a number of reasons why consolidation has been happening in the games industry. One reason is the increasing cost and complexity of developing and publishing games, which has made it difficult for smaller companies to compete with larger ones. Consolidation can provide smaller companies with access to resources and expertise that they may not have been able to acquire on their own. Consolidation can also lead to the creation of larger, more diverse companies that are better able to adapt to changes in the industry. For example, companies that have a broad range of games in their portfolio may be better able to weather downturns in specific segments of the market.

Overall, consolidation is a trend that has been happening in the games industry for quite some time, and it is likely to continue next year as companies seek to gain a competitive edge in a rapidly evolving and highly competitive field. We’ll keep our eyes on future acquisition moves from non-traditionals like Disney, Amazon, Google, Netflix and Apple. We believe that the deal will go through. Microsoft will move to the third place after the acquisition, Sony will still remain number 1. Yes, MS will be getting more power, but we believe that this is actually good for the consumer. Microsoft is fully committed to cloud gaming/Game Pass, whereas Sony still aims for the traditional platform exclusives. Both strategies are great and leave something to choose for the consumer.

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?

One potential reason for the mismatch between gaming and NFTs is that NFTs are not necessarily a core component of most games. While some games may incorporate NFTs as a way to represent in-game items or rewards, they are not a necessary element of gameplay in the same way that graphics or controls are. As a result, NFTs may not be relevant or appealing to all gamers.

Additionally, the use of NFTs in gaming is still a relatively new and emerging concept, and it is not yet clear how widely they will be adopted or how they will be integrated into different types of games. It is possible that there may be some challenges or limitations in using NFTs in gaming, which could contribute to a mismatch between the two. Overall, while there may be some overlap between gaming and NFTs, they are ultimately distinct fields with different goals and purposes. Whether or not they will be effectively integrated and utilized in the future remains to be seen.

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

Next Gen Update. Next Gen Updates were more plentiful than new releases.

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?

The launch of Elden Ring proved that the P of product is the most important P in the marketing and PR mix. The campaign was mainly bread and butter PR, focusing on the quality of the product and with a long build-up to launch, growing anticipation of the fans and most importantly they lived up to these expectations. With review scores going through the roof and with a focus on core media and streamers Bandai Namco managed to grow the From Software community to a broader and more mainstream audience.

Next to Elden Ring, I think it’s amazing what EA did with FIFA. Adding the FIFA World Cup as a free addition to the base game, whereas the World Cup used to be a stand-alone edition, was an impressive and extremely consumer friendly move. EA was on a PR roll this year and the announcement of AFC Richmond & Ted Lasso in FIFA was brilliant and got traction in gaming, football and mainstream media!

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

Because of the high inflation numbers there will most likely be budget cuts in 2023, but we think these cuts should and will most likely be made in media buy and in ATL campaigns. Like Bill Gates once said: “If I was down to my last dollar, I would spend it on public relations”.

Investing in PR during inflation will help a company maintain its reputation, communicate effectively with consumers and community, build trust, and stay competitive. With the vanishing of the third party cookie we expect that owned media like publisher’s websites, newsletters, content marketing etc will become increasingly important.

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?

Don’t forget that the R in PR stands for Relations and no matter how good AI is and will become, relationships are being built between human beings and computers will never replace inter-human contact and relationships which are crucial in effective PR. AI content services may be able to produce high-quality content faster and more cheaply than human writers, which could potentially impact the demand for human-generated content.

We firmly believe that there will always be a demand for authentic and personal messaging. Content produced by AI is not created with personal experiences and has no human perspectives. We also have ethical concerns about the use of AI to create content, particularly when it comes to issues such as bias and disinformation. It will be important for PR professionals to consider these issues and ensure that the content they create and distribute is ethical and responsible.


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.

Check Also

Words of PR Wisdom – Stefano Petrullo’s insight into the secrets of PR

Having been in media and PR for more than 30 years, Stefano Petrullo knows a thing or two about how to help a game succeed. Richie Shoemaker pulls up a chair and takes notes