Originally, we wanted this article to be 2000 words on why 2022 was hard evidence as to why we need more video games where you play as a cat.
Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait for the inevitable sequel to Stray for our next feline fix, as there were simply too many fascinating lessons to take from video game PR over the last twelve months we needed to discuss.
Release dates proved to be as unstable as ever, with many significant titles delayed, or indefinitely postponed in the case of Nintendo’s Advance Wars remake due to the sensitivities surrounding the War in Ukraine.
The games media were pushed to their limits as shrinking budgets led to layoffs, with the remaining journalists swamped with pitches, with 21% of game journalists receiving over 30 pitches every day, according to our game journalist survey (which you should definitely read, here).
And despite their topicality, new technologies like blockchain failed to demonstrate how they added value to video games beyond financial prospects – 75% of game journalists said they’re unlikely to cover blockchain games when we recently surveyed them.
Join us below as we dive deeper into the PR challenges faced across the industry during 2022 and what to expect next year.
GAME DELAYS HAVE BECOME INCREASINGLY UNSTABLE
While game delays aren’t exactly an uncommon occurrence these days, we’ve lost count of the number of games that had release dates pushed back in 2022.
Numerous high-profile releases, including The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, Starfield and Hogwarts Legacy, were meant to launch this year but got pushed back into 2023. And many of the big titles that did make it out this year such as God of War: Ragnarok, Gran Turismo 7 and Gotham Knights, were initially meant to launch in 2021.
At least we finally got a release date for Dead Island 2, which will release in 2023 after it was first revealed in… 2014!
Many of these delays were caused, at least in part, by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the mass transition to working from home creating development challenges, especially coordinating development across multiple studios located all over the world.
Development teams working on a game relatively far along in its creation likely had an easier time coping with the changes. However, those teams working on a title still only in its early stages had the bigger challenge of figuring out how to construct an entire game remotely.
What we’re now experiencing is the long-term impact of those challenges, and we suspect these delays will be a theme that will continue throughout the next year, especially with the current economic climate and global chip shortage.
This situation has made it much more difficult to find a good window to release a game, as there’s no way of foreseeing who you might end up competing with as the release dates for other games unexpectedly shift.
As a result, the release of some games has been overshadowed by bigger titles releasing in the same week. For instance, Marvel’s Midnight Suns and Need for Speed: Unbound and The Callisto Protocol all released on the last week of November, with only The Callisto Protocol managing to breach the UK’s Top 10 games chart.
And in some cases, publishers have found themselves struggling to allocate the time that’s necessary to properly promote game launches. Square Enix was drowning in RPG releases for 2022, especially toward the end of the year. This meant that some of their anticipated titles, such as Harvestella, flew under the radar.
Too many RPGs is never a bad thing. If you can find the time to play them, of course.
THE GAMES MEDIA ISN’T SOLD ON NFT’s, BLOCKCHAIN OR THE METAVERSE
One of the most interesting things we saw in 2022 was the media’s divided opinions of blockchain, NFTs and the metaverse.
Many venture-funded capital start-ups found considerable success in their attempts to hype-up blockchain in the crypto media, which responded well to the technology as the beginnings of an all-new investment space.
Contrary to this, the games media have been tough to crack. In our survey of over 160 game journalists, when we asked how likely they were to cover blockchain games within the next 6 to 12 months, 75% of respondents said it was ‘unlikely.’
In many ways, this isn’t surprising, as gamers themselves have been less than responsive to blockchain technology and NFTs in their favourite games. Worms developer Team17 and GSC Gameworld even had to publicly step back on their plans to introduce blockchain technology following a major backlash earlier this year, so it makes sense the games media would want to keep their distance.
In our survey, many journalists also raised the question of how blockchain, NFTs and the metaverse actually make games more fun, the answer to which isn’t exactly clear – especially when there are people in the Philippines who are playing blockchain games exclusively to make money.
GamesIndustry.biz have even gone so far as to update their editorial guidelines, stating that they stand by the decision they made two years ago to not cover blockchain pitches.
Brendan Sinclair, Managing Editor, wrote: “We have seen staggering amounts of money invested in the blockchain gaming space, but we have yet to see that investment pay off with even an inkling of a game that offers something new or worthwhile that can only be done with blockchain technology.”
There are also numerous ethical issues in play, such as the environmental impact. As crypto-assets are digital assets, they require a significant amount of electricity to power, resulting in greenhouse gas emissions, as well as additional pollution, noise, and other local impacts on communities living near the mining facilities.
Combined, these have created an odd situation where you have businesses coming into the space which are well-funded and need to generate coverage, but the games media doesn’t want to play along. Only when someone can demonstrate how this technology benefits games for the players does this appear likely to change.
THE GAMES MEDIA IS SHRINKING BUT THE NUMBER OF GAMES BEING RELEASED IS INCREASING
Worse yet, those who are writing about games are often being overworked and overwhelmed with news, with many receiving more than 50 pitches a week on top of the work they’re already doing on other content, such as features and guides.
In short, the number of games journalists is shrinking whilst the number of games out there is increasing. Landing coverage these days is a two-fold challenge; you need to convince a journalist that your game is worth their time and keep your fingers crossed that they actually have the capacity to cover it.
As we move into 2023, we suspect more and more PRs will begin to look at alternative methods of landing coverage that go beyond the typical launch day press release.
For instance, in the last two or three years, many video game websites have made a big push for guided content, which is an immensely time-consuming task for even the most experienced writers.
Some have even hired specific roles to create walkthroughs or turned to freelancers who focus on this content. The push has come from the increased attention afforded to SEO in our digital age, with games websites racing to get content out there are fast as possible so they’re at the top of the rankings.
By supporting gaming publications with their coverage, such as by providing more detailed and in-depth player guides in review kits or supplying tips and secrets post-release, PRs and game studios can help reduce journalists’ workloads whilst still getting their titles out there.
Most importantly, PRs should try and provide journalists with a lead time of two weeks (at minimum) to cover the biggest releases.
And don’t forget to mention completion times if you’re supplying review codes. It doesn’t go unnoticed.
ORGANIC PR OPPORTUNITIES ARE FEW AND FAR BETWEEN
Given the previous point, it shouldn’t be a surprise to hear that with fewer people writing, there has been a big lean toward sponsored content, with most B2B gaming and technology outlets now equipped with a dedicated section.
What you’re seeing is the separation of news-based editorial, with these small teams focusing on the most topical and newsworthy content to clock the audience’s attention and ultimately drive readership, whilst everything else is pushed through based on factors like capacity, publication, and cost.
Bill Gates, CEO of Microsoft, once famously said, “If I was down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on public relations.” His idea of investing in PR in exchange for trusted editorial, rather than going the advertising route, once rang true – but in a world devoid of organic content opportunities, businesses are instead using their dollar on digital content creation.
Some journalists have moved away from the larger websites entirely to create their own outlets, such as through Substack, which lets independent writers and podcasters publish directly to their audience and get paid through subscriptions.
As more and more journalists move towards these platforms, PRs and game studios will have to figure out how to reach out to those journalists fragmented across the industry to impact the broader landscape.
This will be more challenging for those on the agency side, as the success of PR has always traditionally been measured by how many people see an article. Careful discussions will need to be had with clients to educate them on the value of targeting niche publications with a small readership made up entirely of the individuals they’re looking to reach.
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE LIKELY HAS A LONG JOURNEY AHEAD IN GAMING
Whilst we’ve still got a long way to go before we have to start worrying about a real-life GLaDOS, we expect that the next big technology that will be at the forefront of discussions about technology will be artificial intelligence. However, we expect it to be another difficult sell for the gaming media.
Whilst generative AI has a lot of potential value for the video games industry, such as in its ability to code all-new characters on the fly, there’s still a long way to go before it’s being utilised in the games available for download by most consumers.
This is largely the same challenge we saw with blockchain, and the same could be said about VR. Virtual reality quickly fell off the scene at its peak due to tremendous adoption costs making it unaffordable for all but the most dedicated gamers. This subsequently led to a lack of major titles, excluding some anomalies like the critically-acclaimed Half-Life: Alyx.
Four or five years later, with Sony soon to release its PlayStation VR2 headset, it seems as though VR may finally be on the cusp of commercial success – although an RRP of £529 (!!!!!!) for the PSVR2 and a price increase to £299 for the Quest 2 means that this hardware is still largely inaccessible for many people.
So, where do PRs stand who are working with artificial intelligence? The main challenge will be providing context and communicating the balance between the excitement surrounding the technology and the time it may take to come to fruition.
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