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HERE ARE THE FEARS WE’LL BE COVERING IN THIS EPISODE:
- Fear of the unknown – What if you don’t know what PR actually means?
- Fear of spending money – Is doing PR too expensive?
- Fear of getting lost – Is my game even newsworthy? I don’t know what my USPs are!
- Fear of rejection – What if people don’t like my game?
IF YOU WOULD PREFER TO READ – HERE IS THE FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW:
INTRO: Welcome to the Game’s PR podcast, your regular dose of video game PR goodness. Sit down, relax as our team of experts and special guests share tips and tricks to help you level up your PR game with media and influencers.
Jack: Happy spooky season, everyone. It is October. I believe that I do have dark powers because I seem to have cursed Russell Wilson. Unfortunately, he was part of my intro in the last episode. Since we’ve recorded that, the Bronco’s and him have had a pretty terrible season. I’m not going to name any names this time around.
Tom: What you’re saying is if we talk about any football or sports teams we don’t like, there is a good chance we’ll curse them through the means of the podcast.
Jack: Possibility. Don’t want to test that out.
Alex: Are you implying that we have the curse but for a games PR podcast?
Jack: Part of me wishes I had that power.
Alex: Would you choose it for evil? [laughs]
Jack: Oh, definitely.
Tom: There’d be episodes every day.
Tom: Five minutes. Let’s curse someone. What we are talking about, Jack, today is Spooky season.
Alex: Talking of spooky stuff?
Tom: Yes. Spooky season.
Jack: I feel like it’s a bit, we’re a bit fearful today.
Alex: Well, I’m Alex by the way. Sorry. You’re going to hear voices and if it’s your first podcast. [laughs]
Jack: Yes. We should do two intros. Power’s got to my head not just about having the magic powers, but also because people are like, “Hey, I listen to the podcast, found it interesting.” Now, we’re basically celebrities, it’s all gone to my head.
Alex: All your English voices sound alike. Please find some way to differentiate yourselves by maybe saying your names.
Tom: Or maybe doing funny accents. Joined by Tom, Alex, and Jack. Do you want to introduce yourselves real quick?
Alex: I was Alex
Tom: Hello. I am Tom. It’s good to be here again for this Halloween-themed podcast. Vaguely Halloween-themed.
Alex: My only fear at the moment talking of is that we’re recording this actually in the month of October. I think this will be the first time we get a podcast out in the same month we record it if we manage this. We’re really upping our game. [laughs]
Jack: Don’t reveal the secrets or–
Tom: It’s going to be a scary couple of days. Yes, this has actually been filmed in February, allegedly.
Jack: Good by Jack reference Halloween in January, I believe was the shop they made.
Tom: Didn’t even know that was a reference, but you know what? That’s how good I am. [chuckles] Pumping out references that don’t even make sense in my head. Jack, what are we talking about today? Because I think this should be quite a good Episode.
Jack: The whole existence of this podcast is of course talking about Games PR. For some people, not everyone gets their PR right, and if you’ve never done it, it can make the prospect of doing PR pretty daunting. As it’s the spooky season, as we’ve said, we’re going to get over some common fears and scary situations when it comes to PR and video games and make sure your PR strategy is not going to lead you to doom. I think we’ll kick off with a bit of the fear of the unknown. This is something we’ve encountered quite recently talking to people is what if they don’t know what PR actually means? What’s PR there for?
Fear of the unknown – What if you don’t know what PR actually means?
Alex: I was really hoping you’d do this in a spooky voice, but yes.
Tom: I was expecting like, “Oh, fear of the unknown.”
Alex: What is PR really for?
Tom: What if you don’t know what PR actually means? Oh, spooky sound effects.
Jack: We’re a serious podcast guys. Come on. No, joking around.
Alex: Oh, sorry.
Tom: We are informative. We are not comedy.
Alex: Absolutely. You’re absolutely right because we get asked this a lot and PR is part of a bigger marketing mix, that’s the truth of it. There are obviously elements, a great many facets to PR, but a lot of the meat and potatoes, especially what we do is media relations. I’m not going to call it a hard slog because I really enjoy it, but it’s a lot of time put into messaging a lot of people, thinking about why those people didn’t reply the first time, [chuckles] and messaging that again.
It’s getting them to cover your game and raise the profile of it so more people see it and hope that leads back to you because a lot of the time people don’t share those links. It’s about reaching views, not necessarily those direct conversions, and very aware that a lot of people we talk to now are looking for like, we want to get people to our wishlist and it’s hard to convey that it’s a correlation. It’s not something that’s incredibly trackable. There are ways to track it in terms of where the inbounds are coming from, but that’s something we can’t necessarily see to report on.
Tom: I think of it as an ingredient in a meal, it’s not the whole meal but if you’re making a loaf of bread, PR could be the yeast. It’s not the whole, it’s not going to make you the loaf on its own, but it’s an important part of making that a loaf and that’s how I feel like it fits in generally as of every other part of a strategy.
Alex: Oh I can take this analogy further out. The meal is like the game that’s being made. The marketing is like the menu and we are the person actually saying, “Yes, I heard that’s good.”
Tom: We are the person who’s been there before and says, “Oh yes-
Alex: I’ve heard that’s good.
Tom: -get that, it’s really good.” “Is it? Will I like it?” “Yes. You’ll love it, order it now. Order it. Go on.”
Jack: I used that food analogy the other week when talking about press releases. Maybe we’re just all hungry all the time.
Alex: Yes, I think so. I’m on a diet, it’s definitely affecting my brain.
Tom: Everyone can relate to food if you have– that’s how we can relate.
Jack: As Alex said there. It’s part of a mix but I think PR really is about generating the hype and raising the profile of the game. Especially when it’s a new IP and no one’s heard of it before. It’s about building and maintaining a reputation, getting people interested in it, getting it into the hands of influencer media, and really it’s about legitimizing it where marketing alone cannot, and that’s where the key ingredient here to our food analogy is that PR should never really be directly tied into sales. They are different things, PR and marketing get banded around, but they are quite unique in the approach. It’s not a one size fits all approach.
Alex: Yes, PR is part of marketing, and like you say, we’re the bit that is increasing reputation and making the marketing that’s going on for people say like, oh, from the marketing as a very simple breakdown from the marketing. People are like, “Oh, there’s that game,” and then they might look it up, and then the PR stuff shows that there’s interest out there beyond just the advert they’ve seen. Sometimes they’ll find it because they’re reading a site, but inbounds are more often these days generated by inbound traffic, and interest is more usually generated from SEO and searches now.
It’s awareness helping that reach. There is a correlation to say PR can’t be directly tied to sales is, I know what we’re saying there, but at the same time there is a correlation but it’s not necessarily because as you’ll probably see, if we were to show you a load of work, we’ve done a lot of the articles we place don’t have the link directly shared because a lot of sites don’t– they’d let you go and do that yourself.
Jack: There’s guidelines.
Alex: Yes, editorial guidelines sometimes mean, “Oh yes, we don’t post links.” Certainly, I know that’s some of the video feeds that we place on regularly. Just that they won’t post that. It’s up to the consumer, the reader to find the game for themselves off the back of their own interest, not just a simple click-through. It’s very hard to track those inbounds and what have you from there. It’s a correlation. You can tie us to it, but it’s not hard and fast. [laughs]
Tom: I think that makes a lot of sense when I know me and Jack recently were talking about some campaigns from the past that have done really well and then it’s just not translated in terms of getting coverage in high-value media targets and it’s just not translated into sales to the game itself. Sometimes that happens and it doesn’t necessarily make sense to us, but that can just be the case sometimes.
Alex: Do you want me to tell you a horror story at this point? Oh, spooky
Jack: Do it. We’re sitting around the campfire, tell us.
Alex: I think I’ve told it before, a very early project at Big Games Machine. I went out, I got something covered in PC Gamer, The Mirror, and about 80 other magazines. The guy came back to me, said, “Really like the work you did, got a lot of good places,” but his sales were very low. I’m not going to give specific numbers, but the sales were incredibly low and it was just like, okay, you’re not going to make another game for some time then, or at least not a new IP. That ties to, again, it comes down to it’s part of the mix.
It was definitely seen by lots of people, it just wasn’t the right game at the right time for that audience. That sometimes is where PR’s doing one thing, but that’s where the correlation can break between views and sales. That was a bit of a flat horror story because I didn’t want to give too much information away, but–
Tom: You didn’t even do a spooky voice.
Alex: It’s what you don’t see that’s scary. [chuckles]
Jack: No, you are right. When you say magazines there you do mean digital, correct? Just before someone goes, well, actually if it was only in print, they wouldn’t have–
Alex: Yes, I did mean digital. Did I say magazine? God I’m old.
Jack: You did? Old school. I like–
Alex: I’m very old.
Jack: You want to bring magazines back from the dead?
Tom: The champion of digital media is shedding his digital coat for a demand for physical magazines,
Fear of spending money – Is doing PR too expensive?
Jack: Speaking with parting with things. Then let’s talk about the next fear, which is the fear of spending money. A lot of people think PR is simply too expensive for them to do, or they might have just no idea whether the budget they do have, what to spend it on and how far their money is going to go. The short of that is of course doing games PR is never free, but that’s when you have to weigh up, okay, this is my budget, what do I want to put into, what do I want to get out of doing this?
Tom: Yes. I know we’ve discussed it in the past when we did our episode about how you can do things on a small budget, there’s a fiscal cost of things, but there’s also, well, how much time do I have to put in myself? Or how much time do you have to take out of other people’s time that you work with to be able to go and do these things? Especially when, if you’re a developer or you’re a group of developers, your expertise is making the games itself. It’s not doing the PR or doing the marketing. There’s that hidden cost in terms of well, you can do things yourself, but how much do you value your time? How much an hour. Do you think that taking time away from making a game to promote it?
Alex: It’s building that list on top of that. A large part of building those relationships with people we’re reaching out to and that’s a process in itself for us. Now, I’m not going to say we talk to people all the time that have gone out, done some of their own PR and like they met somebody at an event and now that person’s covered it. That’s fantastic. Now that events are back. It’s a great way to generate those incredible first leads at that early point in the game when everyone feels special for having found it. When you’re coming to an agency further down the line, that’s a harder thing for us to generate towards like later on a project.
We can reach a lot of people that we have existing relationships with. Well, we have that existing relationship, we have those existing contacts, we have that database built up already, which saves you a lot of time. Like you say, Tom, it’s about how much do you value your time for. If you were going to price out your agency time by that amount, how much your company time by the hour, how many hours are you prepared to put in, and at what point is that actually more expensive than a PR agency? I think people would be surprised how quickly it eats up their time.
Jack: It’s easing up the time and you know, as Tom referenced there, if your expertise is on making the game, I think the PR strategy is going to be strongest with the best possible game that’s ready. I don’t think it’s ever worth affecting development because you want to try and PR your game when it’s simply not ready. Use that money to make development as best as you can first and foremost.
Alex: Yes. Going back to the earlier point on top of that, I’m going to say it’s not cheap. I mean we’re not expensive. That’s not the point I’m trying to make but if you’re trying to do something on a budget, there are sometimes better places to spend your money. I feel like I do this all the time and talk us out of work, but like if you’ve got very limited funds, then perhaps it’s going to be better to use targeted marketing or targeted advertising to reach directly the audience you want with those links to click through to build that interest there. I think we’re going to come to this in a bit later but we will give feedback on people’s games and if we think it’s not going to get positive coverage, maybe just spend it on buying some articles, which is also an option as part of the marketing mix. Place sponsored articles where you have more editorial control about what’s said but it will come up like the menu rather than the person whispering in your ear. “I hear that’s good.”
Jack: As Tom said, we have done an episode on working on a budget so definitely check that out if you haven’t done already which I forgot to do at the start. We’re always active on Twitter @BigGamesMachine. If you want to say hello, if you had any questions or had an idea for a future episode, do-
Alex: Please, we’re running out. We’re very scared about what’s going to happen in like another–
Jack: That’s not true. We have an excellent-
Alex: I know you’ve got a calendar lined up. I just–
Tom: Don’t forget the curtain with a wizard behind the curtain. Oh, spooky.
Jack: Speaking of expensive furniture, having an expensive media kit isn’t an essential either. If you’re thinking of, “I’ve got this PR strategy in my head. I want to send out some really cool materials that I know the media will love.” It’s going to be expensive, don’t have to do it. I think that’s something we mentioned again in the shoestring budget. I think it’s worth mentioning it again here. Alex mentioned guidelines earlier about media and that extends to media kits as well. They can’t always accept gifts, especially nowadays, there’s a lot stricter rules than it used to be. You’ve both worked in the game, the other side, games media. I dont know if you have any experiences worth sharing now or ideas of things you were offered or you saw, but they would actually might look cool but actually, you have no use for and would just end up piling up.
Alex: Firstly, I should point out that like sometimes you see these amazing media kits shared all over Twitter. Yes, those are the rare few where people already have a vested interest in IPs or, studios like the CyberPunk always springs out to me, them sending like fridges round, it was like, okay. Some poor person working from an apartment that suddenly has a new fridge. I’m like, “okay, I’m sure it’s exciting to-
Tom: Or a bouncy castle.
Alex: Or a bouncy castle. I remember two, one was for Batman. Arkham Knight I think was the last one. That just came with this nice little flyer and everything in this big box and that was really useful because I used the box as a monitor stand for a long time. It was just the right height. That was the most useful one I ever received. Then for Layers of Fear, I got a lenticular picture of the painting in it that when you moved around it turns, so creepy.
Jack: Themed as well relevant to Halloween.
Alex: Exactly. Exactly. I’m going to say that was cool but ultimately much like everything else, it just got left behind when I moved because-
Tom: Yes, I think that’s-
Alex: -it was a nice novelty that made me think about the game but I don’t know how it really benefited them. That’s the last point, then it was coming to an office. I didn’t have to hand out a personal address and now with so many media working from home. That’s a different fact when you go out it’d be like, “Could I have your address so we can send you something?” They’re like, “Meh, meh. Maybe not.”
Jack: I think before I interrupt Tom again, that makes events like you said earlier even more important because the best way of getting stuck into the hands of media now is at events. Before the big incident at GDC we were handing out media kits for a client for their World War II themed game that got really good reception from media who were there.
Alex: I would 100% say if you’re going to events, then think about investing in a media kit that you can hand around. It’s not just for media. If you start to see something that seems really involved and really interested in your game, you can be like, “Oh, here, take this.” That generates that and then they follow you. They tell people online. That’s how you get that snowball. That’s why from the ground events are worth attending still.
Tom: One of the things which came up, I got a media kit for Untitled Goose Game, which was quite cool because it was a very small box. I think there was a manual for the game, which was in the style of a 1970s department star brochure, thematic. It made sense. It was cool. I think there was a copy of the game and then a pair of duck socks. That was very small and it wasn’t flashy or anything like that. With what you were saying before, Alex, the game’s in there too. Really I’m interested in the game and that’s something that can be done digitally. I think something that came up in our survey that we did this year, our game journalist survey. Plug, go and check that out because some of the insights from there are are incredible.
One of the things which came up was there’s a degree of journalists saying, “I’m being environmentally conscious here, do I really want all that postage and the air miles taken to send something to me if it’s just a hoodie or a t-shirt or something that I won’t really be interested in?” That’s an angle that we see more and more and that people sometimes do reject things on those terms and that’s their choice and that’s something that especially nowadays is more and more common. I think what that really says is, if this is something you want to do, either do it as we’ve said at an event where it’s very easy to be face to face with people and give those things over or really target who you’re thinking about sending things to.
You don’t want to be just sending things out in a Hail Mary approach and hoping that someone’s interested in it. Don’t make loads of something because you might only get two people interested in it. There’s a balance of maybe go small if this is something you want to do and don’t spend thousands on stuff that is going to either sit in a warehouse somewhere or at the back of your studio or house for months and never go anywhere.
Alex: Whatever you’re making, make sure it’s nonbreakable. If you’re going to be sending it through the post.
Fear of getting lost – Is my game even newsworthy? I don’t know what my USPs are!
Jack: Yes, sending through the post so it doesn’t break or get lost which brings us to the next point. Fear of getting lost. Is that game newsworthy? Do you know what USPs are? Journalists in our survey showed the sheer amount of games they get pitched every week. There are tons. I was looking this week at strategy games released on Steam. I think we’re over 150 this month alone tagged as being strategy on steam. There’s a lot and there’s obviously a big fear in there of getting lost in the shuffle. The easiest way to get over that fear is really focus on your USPs. Stand out. Show why they should look at you rather than something else.
Alex: This is something I’m currently working out with a client because they mentioned that before they came to us they were trying these USPs they thought they’re were very strong genres within the market in the moment. You hear that a lot. People build games around things that are known to be popular which can be great for organic searching on a site. It’s not so great for pitching into media because they’re seeing, I’m going to pick different things to what it is. They’re seeing, platformer and adventure game all the time. Combining platform adventure game isn’t necessarily a fit, although it did work very well for Minute Of Islands. Obviously your game is what it is so you can’t pivot out of you– you can’t turn it into a new genre but you can think of other ways of placing it.
For example, you could come in and be like, “Oh, classic arcade adventure, classic arcade platformer,”. Very few of those and try and pivot and that’s something that is part of our pitching process. We see something isn’t working, then we’ll try and redirect. That’s another reason why it’s so handy to have so long when we are pitching out, not to get into timelines. We recommend three weeks when pitching it out for review. That time means, you pitch out the first time nobody seems to come back. Sometimes that’s because they haven’t opened the email because like we said, they’re very busy. Equally it could be because they don’t really care that there’s another shooter out there.
That alone isn’t going to get it over the line. You need to either think of another game that it relates to, something that’s relevant, be it for SEO for them to make their thing or really latch onto what they’re interested in. I think we could speak to back in February, March, when attaching Elden Ring like, “it’s like Elden Ring,” but was a really good way to get through the door because everybody was looking for Elden Ring and that’s knock-on effect. Everybody was stumbling across articles with that in mind. Not saying you should always latch onto the latest greatest game. That’s just an example of one way of getting around that.
Tom: I think it’s important when you’re looking to do PR if you’re doing it for your own game, there has to be, for me, an honest self-reflection and you need to look at your game as a product, and decide what really makes it unique. The word unique gets chucked around all the time. This is unique in our game, or blah blah, blah. There’s nothing wrong with being inspired and taking things–
Jack: Unique art style.
Tom: Yes. There’s nothing wrong with being inspired and taking things from other games. We use that in pitching as Alex said, we use it because it’s good for SEO, but also we look at games and think what truly makes these features a little bit different. Because as Jack was saying, there’s strategy games on Steam every single day. I love strategy games, but every single day there’s new strategy games. To me, if I’m going through them, I need to see something that actually is different. If your game does have that, then you’d be wrong not to make a big deal out of that, but it’s about having the honesty within you to be like, is this actually unique or not? Because if it isn’t, if you say, oh, we’ve got a top-down rogue-like with this in it, but there’s lots of games that do that already. What makes yours unique? As Jack’s saying, it’s got a unique art style, that doesn’t mean anything. What is the art style?
Jack: You have to pair it with something?
Tom: What is it inspired by? Is there a type of art that it’s inspired by or we’ve been working on something recently that’s music themed and one of the things which is really cool about that is that it lifts music and takes inspiration from music, from world music, from loads of different areas and quite small areas of music, which is interesting and different. That’s something that we’ve used a lot in our PR. It’s things like that. There’s no easy way to break down your game and decide what does make it unique. You have to have that honest conversation and don’t just recycle the points that every other game when your genre uses because you’ll get nowhere with it.
Jack: Yes. It’s really about overcoming the apathy that some media may feel about a genre. It’s unfair for the developer if they feel they’re in a genre that’s just widely being buried by the games media. That makes it tough to get over in certain genres. Rogue likes, there are some really good, unique, interesting rogue likes but the vast majority will follow the same formula and that’s where media go, I’ve seen about 50 this week, I don’t want to cover any of them because they haven’t seen anything new. It is tricky and it can feel restrictive depending on what genre you’re in, but that’s where you have to use it as a bonus and go, I’m up against it in terms of genre, here’s how I can stand out about everything else because they all look the same except me. You can use it to your advantage.
It goes for influences as well. We’re talking about media here. They also are looking at a ton of games and media and influencers work in similar ways where we have what we call pillar content and there’s the domino effect of if somebody big covers a certain game, it then encourages others to also cover that. If you can be the one game that stands out from everything else, you have a much better chance of being that one game that gets covered.
Alex: Yes and those bigger things are obviously what generates stuff. We don’t see a lot, but if we get something in IGN suddenly, like that filters out from there and people are basically picking up on the fact IGN covered it, not the story itself. The flip side of that is that I don’t think IGN or gamespot or any of the bigger sites in themselves– they’re really good because obviously, they have massive reach, but again, I don’t think many people are just searching, scrolling through IGN looking for, “Oh, what game do I like?”
Jack: Excellent point. I think this is where sites that don’t get talked about a lot because maybe they have lower audiences, but the genre-specific sites and the experts within that genre, they are much more likely to identify your game standing out in that genre if they have a preexisting knowledge of it. There’s quite a few MMO-specific sites and if your MMO has something that others don’t, you’re more likely to see pick up within that for that engaged audience than you were just a general IGN push.
Alex: Even going slightly broader than that, obviously this is a big one, but somewhere like Rock, Paper, Shotgun that has a real tone of voice. People come there for the personalities not the broad capsule of nerd and geek culture that IGN is, you’re more likely to get people looking and taking it seriously, that’s the wrong word. I don’t mean taking it seriously, but I mean like contemplating what’s said rather than looking for something.
Tom: Yes. I do it. If you ask me what sites or media outlets I get my game news from, I couldn’t give you an answer because I like certain people and that’s because I know that they’re interested in the games that I like. I think from a PR perspective, that means that if you are making an RPG go on these big websites and have a look at who’s talking about RPGs. When you go to the page for a genre, because most websites have some of that genre or systems or things like that, have a look at who’s talking about RPGs, see who’s writing those articles and if you can pitch to them because you’ve got a much better chance of maybe just having a response. You might not even get a full article or something, but you might have a better chance of engagement speaking to that person who might just be a writer than go into a senior editor because there’s a senior role, but if you go to someone who has that interest, you’ve got a better chance of engagement.
Alex: Then you get that wonderful answer. “It looks good. I’ll have to talk to my editor,” and then it all falls apart from there.
Tom: That’s a reply though. A reply is something,
Alex: It is a reply, but it is a reply at least you know one person is interested in your game. No, absolutely. Then that’s very true. Obviously, this is the targeting.
Tom: There’s also, and we speak about all the time, there’s never a good time to launch a game because you could pluck any random week in the calendar across the whole year, maybe bar in August and December and there’ll be a big game coming out that week. I don’t know if you can hear the storm in the background. I apologize. That was a bit spooky storm in the background.
Jack: You brought on a storm talking about timelines because I said at the start, let’s not talk about timelines.
Tom: It’s not a timeline. The point I was trying to make is, it’s hard to avoid big releases, but what you can do, and again, it’s to do with genres, is you can look at if there’s games similar to your genre coming out in the same window because if there is, you really are going to struggle especially if there’s a big triple-A release in that same genre and then two days later you’re releasing your game and it’s like this huge one has just come out and then your little one is coming out. Even the people who might be interested in it are probably all absorbed in this game. That’s something to consider as well.
Alex: I love when we’re trying not to give specifics and everything just becomes this game, this title, this IP.
Tom: I always say strategy games, normally
Jack: It shows that it’s a universal application.
Alex: The vagaries. We’re really tiptoeing our way. Just generally at the moment obviously. It’s October, November, talk about the scariest time of year if you were going to get lost. So many things are out and like you say, Tom, you’ve really got to pick your moments or we might suggest just not any of these moments. It’s a bit further on, sometimes it’s part of the marketing plan. Sometimes, especially if you’re a live service game, the release date doesn’t matter so much is putting your little mark in the sand that it’s out now and then you’re going to develop and improve and you’ve got a plan. It’s fear of getting lost. That’s definitely from now through until Black Friday, I think for us.
Fear of rejection – What if people don’t like my game?
Jack: Yes. That thanksgiving period is a definite one to avoid. Let’s talk about fear of rejection then, because that’s part of it. If you were to pitch out of these times and get a reply back saying out of office, that’s one form of rejection technically, but we’re talking here, what if people don’t like your game, you’re scared of getting a bad review, what do you do about it? How do you avoid that? Easy answer to that one is you can’t control what you think you say when it comes to reviews.
Tom: I thought you could.
Alex: No. I think that the truth, there’s two bits to this. One is the PR can control. We can influence opinion, but we can’t control it. The game has got its problems or somebody just basically doesn’t like it.
Tom: The game has to stand up for itself at some point.
Alex: Exactly. You hear the flip side of this, which is once you’re dealing with massive games, you can go out and find the people that, for example, I’m a big Resident Evil fan. I’m sure that there are people that know who the Resident Evil fans are and they go to the edge and be like, “We’d like X to review this if you want the copy of the game early.” I imagine. I don’t imagine, I’ve seen it happen, but not with other titles.
Tom: There’s nothing inherently wrong with that though. I think that’s a good approach.
Alex: Absolutely. Of course, giving a strategy game, someone that’s never played a strategy game, where’s the comparison going to come from? Sure. They can say if they like or dislike it, but you don’t have that background in the genre to say whether it is better or worse than another one. Absolutely it makes sense. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. I just think it’s the difference between if you’ve got a new IP and you’re a small studio, you’re probably not going to have the ability to pick who it is. You are going to have to rely on how good your game is. We only take on, Jack’s probably going to go at this. We generally only take on games after we’ve tried them and agree that we think it’s–
Jack: It’s not always possible to try it beforehand.
Jack: Which helps put you in the shoes of the developer when you’re pitching this game to someone you want to do PR for or someone you are just trying to get on board to help with your messaging. If you can explain what the game is and show it even if they can’t play it yet, then that really helps you work out your USPs as we talked earlier. It will help really craft, okay, this is the story of my game, this is what I want people to get from it even though they can’t play it yet, but I can put it in front of them.
It goes back to how we said we can’t control what people think. The whole process to avoid this really starts with being authentic. Don’t be overbearing, be transparent where possible. If it’s an early build, say it’s an early build, it’s really common for people to get early builds and say this is just a taste of what’s to come. Don’t hide these flaws.
Alex: Yes. The larger sites will know that. That’s one of the few times that I would say you want to go after the larger places and all places that have experience with covering games early. It’s a weird example, it’s not a weird example actually, the GTA leak that happen and all these people are like, “Oh, can’t believe it looks this.”
Jack: Yes. It was pre-alpha or something.
Alex: They’re years away. This is not representative in any way, shape, or form of the final product, [laughs] the look, any of that.
Tom: You’re not referring to the unnamed, I can’t even think how irrelevant. How was that guy who was like, I have a degree in game design and I can tell you now that the first part of a game that’s finished is the graphics and then just developers of every incredible game series across the world were like, “That’s not true.”
Alex: [laughs] That’s not even a little bit true.
Tom: That is valid though, you don’t want uninformed–
Alex: Backseat game developers.
Tom: That’s about informing people and being like, “Hey, you can try this now.” This is when it’s coming out though, so it’s nowhere near the state that we want it to be in, but you can give it a go and have a experience of the core gameplay. 99.9% of the time, journalists are fine with that. From my experience, if I got even a review code for a game that launched in three weeks and I was given it on the basis that, oh, okay, so we know this big issue is here. There’s a patch coming on this day, so it’ll be fixed for that time. You won’t necessarily get people to not mention it, but they can do that with the context of knowing that it will hopefully be resolved, and that’s about being transparent.
Alex: You’re absolutely right, and there’s two sides. There’s the coming up to review, it’s like, these are known problems that we’ve got a bug fixing for that can kind of– Really a lot of reviewers like to have final bill for day one, but Medal of Honor didn’t manage it in the past as it went to press and released without the day one patch and then got– That’s 10 years ago, but things like that happen.
Tom: Does any game ever now even come out without a day one patch? I can’t recall ever loading a game at midnight.
Alex: Well, no, but there’s a difference between what they did, that game had a bit more to patch in than most.
Tom: The whole game will be a patch.
Alex: [laughs] Yes. We often send round a list of known issues that are going to be fixed for launch to try and encourage that day-one review, but equally, those very early people call things like, it’s pre-alpha and we’re going to release in six months. I think that’s when people like a games journalist be like, “What, that’s very, very quick.” Be realistic with your timeline when you’re putting it out. Be like, look, this is pre-alpha, we’re not going to put a roadmap out there yet. Be realistic about, maybe you are, maybe you’ve got a very quick pipeline, but pre-alpha to launch in six months making me raise my eye eyebrows and I’m not a developer or a journalist anymore.
Tom: I think coming back to, if you are making a game that you’ve poured your heart and soul into, there’s no way about it, it sucks if someone comes back to you and says I don’t really like it or I don’t think it’s a great game. That is hard to take. Having been the person who’s gone to people and said that, it’s not something I enjoy doing. I think what’s important and what I always made sure to do on the journalist side is to do it in a constructive way. I can recall having really good conversations with either agencies or developers themselves about the issues I had with a game and them taking that on board and moving forward with a healthy relationship. I think it’s important not to lash out or don’t blacklist people or things like that.
99% of people who write about games write about them because they’re passionate about the industry and because it’s something they love to do and they’re not evil people who want to dunk on every small developer’s game. They’re doing it from a place of– for me, it was always from a place of kindness because I was like, it’s dishonest of me to act as if this is perfect when it’s not. I’m going to do it in a way that hopefully the people who made the game will take it on board and acknowledge it and not be nasty about it and be like, “Oh, well you can’t have this opinion because I know my game is perfect.”
It’s not nice to hear that, but don’t fear it happening. Just take it on board and take what you can from it and keep going. As well that’s one person’s opinion. I think if you look at everything that’s happened with Scorn recently, a bit of a spooky game, bit of a spooky one, a lot of the reviews for that have been across the board. I think part of that has happened because of a misunderstanding of what that game is. Also, some people just don’t like it, whereas some people love it. That’s always going to be the case. There’s very few games that aren’t divisive nowadays.
Jack: A very marmite game.
Tom: Yes. Don’t be afraid to take on the feedback that people give you. I feel like sometimes it’s getting someone not liking your game can be more useful than someone loving it because there’s lessons to be learned. It’s just make sure, for the future as well, your next project, just make sure not to call those people out and don’t be rude to them. Just take it on board and move forward and don’t be scared of that happening. Life lessons with me.
Jack: Well said. [laughs] Well, lessons there. Yes. I think class is about to be wrapped up. We’ve covered a lot today I think across the board, talking about all these fears and trying to dispel some things, and we may have done the opposite and made PR sound even more scary, but I hope there’s at least something we can take away from this that has made things seem a little less spooky. Like we’ve said there’s a couple of topics we’ve already covered on the podcasts, do go back and listen to those to help flesh that out. A little Halloween score on meaty reference there. Any other business guys? Anything?
Tom: I think the biggest lesson just to take away from me is, especially if you’re new to all of this, as an agency, we deal with lots of games, we deal with lots of developers who are in very different positions. We have people who are developing for the first time and it’s the first time they’ve ever done PR and they have loads of questions and things they’re unsure of, and we’re always there to answer them and help people out because it’s not something to be scared of. I think don’t be scared about going and doing something like this and asking those questions because that’s what we’re there for.
As a developer, you are there to develop the game and we’re there to do our best to work with you and to do PR for it and we are nice people. As I said before, 99% of the people in the gaming industry are in this industry because we love games and because we’re passionate about the people behind them and everyone who’s working on them and then producing games. Don’t be scared. That’s a good takeaway from this spooky Halloween podcast. Don’t be scared of PR.
Alex: There’s no PR executives under the bed. [laughs]
Alex: Thank you very much for putting that together, Jack.
Jack: No, thank you guys for being my companions around this campfire as we talk about spooky stories. Perhaps another time–
Tom: Have you got the marshmallows? I’ve got a couple to toast.
Jack: I ate them all. I had to test that they’re okay to eat, so they’re all good.
Tom: Just like how we’d like to test the game before we do PR for it.
Jack: No, that’s it. I hope everyone has a good Halloween, should that be something you’re into. If you’re listening to this month down the line, then you just have to think about your Halloween costume and get ready for it. If you listen to this in the middle of next summer, we appreciate you listening. Whenever you do, wherever you are, like we said earlier, we’re available @BigGamesMachine on Twitter should you have any feedback. If you got any questions or you got an idea for a topic or if you fancy, come along as a guest.
Alex: [laughs] Just throw that out to everybody.
Tom: Just everyone in the world.
Jack: Well, there’s a list of people interested.
Alex: Absolutely there are. Yes.
Jack: Can’t guarantee spaces for everyone, but it’d be good to hear from others.
Tom: We’re operating a one in one out system at the moment. Credentials at the door, please.
Jack: Had the social media team.
Tom: Yes, the social media team.
Jack: They’re asking when we’re going to start filming this, so who knows in the future.
Tom: We’re going on tour next year. Don’t be scared.
Alex: Certainly, when my diet’s over, I think that’s my– [laughs]
Jack: Well, Big Game Machine goes on tour. Yes, see you at GDC. Live from San Francisco.
Tom: We have lots of really good resources on the website as well, just a bit more self-promotion. There’s three or four years worth of stuff now, which a lot of it’s still relevant because I’ve read it recently so I know it’s still relevant. Yes, lots of good resources on there. All three that you can download as PDFs or just read on the website. All our previous podcast episodes, biggamesmachine.com, go and check out. There’s lots of good resources on there. You don’t even have to talk to us to receive that, not a penny has to be spent for all that wisdom.
Alex: I’d say where you can find all the other podcasts as well, but if you found this one you could probably find the others as well. I’m sure it’s on your favorite podcast app.
Tom: On all good streaming services. Yes.
Alex: Some of the bad ones.
Tom: I’ll hand it back to you now, Jack. I’ve finished with the self-promotion.
Jack: Good plugs everyone. Good wrap-up. Well, that’s it from us and we’ll catch you on the next one.
Alex: Absolutely. See you then. Thank you very much. Goodbye, all.