Games PR is a tricky business and with evermore games vying for attention it's not set to get any easier. As the competition heats up and publishers have more to lose with each passing year, games PR reps are feeling the pressure.
I suppose we could argue that the industry has become a victim of its own success. As we creep closer and closer towards the mainstream, the less sway originality holds against a key license. Publishers are chasing the mighty buck and that means sequels, crappy licenses and cheap movie tie-ins.
Why pour money into the PR for Rez when you can sling out a few signed t-shirts for that key skateboarding title? The average development cash spent on today's games is anything from $5 million up to $20 million, and sometimes more. It's little wonder that publishers are leaving the risk-taking to the bright lights of Vegas.
With this changing face of the industry comes a new style of PR. Speaking to a PR manager recently, he said, "The key to a good PR is being able to evangelize." He said this emphatically, whilst firmly placing his fist into his other hand. Frankly, I was taken aback, nay, one could even say a little scared.
But I fear those halcyon days are over, as publishers vow to spread the word according to the gospel of gaming. Today, journalists must live in fear of game manual thumping PRs. Evangelize is a dirty word, but I'm afraid it's a word that's cropping up more and more amongst the games industry's PR people. Soon they'll be coming for us with tambourines (or Samba maracas) and gospel choirs.
Surely the key to PR-ing (is that a word, or am I just making stuff up?) a crappy game is to sweep it under the rug, whistle tunelessly and point up to the sky going, "Wow, what was that, did you see it? Huh, what game, I don't have a game!?" I always thought that's how it should work. Then we journos would swoop down to the rescue of unsuspecting gamers ready to part with their cash and standing heroically we would say, "Stop there citizen, this game is crappy!" and then crush it with one hand"or something.
Now, there are two kinds of crappy game and each has to be dealt with in its own special way. First of all there's the type of crappy game that was a crappy idea in the first place, developed by a crappy team, hailed for their crappiness and all their games are destined to be crappy, with crappy reviews, crappy sales figures and maybe even see the company's share price take a tumble.
For a game like this there's nothing much a PR can do. If the reputation of the game precedes itself then it's going to get coverage because how boring would it be if games journos had to write how great everything is. Let's face it: we're a bitter and twisted bunch who actually enjoys tearing a crappy game to shreds. That's when we get to show off our vast vocabulary – you'll be amazed at just how many hyperbolical ways a journalist has of describing how crappy a game actually is.
Then there's the second type of crappy game, which has been three years in the making. The concept is great, the first screens look awesome and the hype is building. Journos, gamers and retailers are twitching in anticipation, release dates keeping getting moved back and the atmosphere is tangible. Thus far, the PR's job is easy, everyone's gagging for it, and you've got the industry eating out of the palm of your hand. But, oh no, what's that"the game sucks? Oh boo. It's all gone horribly wrong, this game should have been good, but it's an utter turd! Maybe there was pressure to release it on time (the bugbear of movie tie-ins) or maybe"whatever, who cares, the game's rubbish!
There's nothing more disappointing than a crappy game that was meant to be great. A crappy game destined for crappiness is far more forgivable, if only for the fact that you didn't have some PR person telling you how great it is for the last three years.
See, that's the trouble with evangelizing, it can end up back firing on you. Say you're presenting a crappy game to a journo. Do you admit it's not the best game and rely on the great relationship you've built over the years to get you through or throw that great relationship out of the window and tell them it's great, taking care to show them the few good bits and let them have only a fleeting moment to play it for themselves?
All those who chose the latter: you are idiots! What were you thinking? Now that journalist is never going to take your word on anything ever again! Not only that, but you look like an idiot who doesn't know a good game from the back of a bus.
You evangelizing types, do you really think you'll get away with it? I mean, game journalists do play games. That is what they do"play games, write about games, play games, write about games and so on to infinity. And this part is key to understanding why evangelizing doesn't work – I'll say it really slowly: we"play"the"games. What? Do you think we won't notice that it's rubbish because we've got this really cool branded pen?