[The relationship between a game creator/publisher and the public is absolutely key - so what is the current landscape like, and what are the cardinal rules you should follow to raise and enhance your game's profile? Gala Networks Europe' Wera has a few suggestions.]
When talking about the games industry and the people who work in it, most people think about the famous game designers, the CEOs of major companies, the artists, or the hundreds of programmers working overtime to deliver the best entertainment experience to the players. Very few will mention the people in charge of public relations.
Often seen as annoying but necessary to the success of a game, these people are not to be forgotten, for they are in charge of delivering the developer's message to the public, and making sure it is understood. This article is meant to explain the place of public relations within the games industry, and hint at the various ways to improve interactions with other departments within a developer or publisher.
A Little Bit of History
A long time ago, important companies didn't give much credit to what we now call their "Corporate Image". During these times where corporations didn't bother to be "human", even with their employees, it was believed that the only rule to be followed is the one of profit at all costs -- even if this cost was measured in human lives. Journalists were merely enemies kept away from all information, and communication with the public relied mainly on advertising.
On April 1914, the Standard Oil Corporation owned by the Rockefeller family shot dead more than 20 miners during a strike in Ludlow, Colorado. The Rockefeller family thought, at that time, that violence was a good way to end strikes. What is now remembered as the Ludlow Massacre, however, just created more rage in the hearts of the miners who armed themselves and attacked dozens of other mines owned by Standard Oil. Unable to find a solution to the conflict, Rockefeller hired a man named Ivy Lee -- who is now known as one of the founders of public relations.
Lee completely changed the communications of Standard Oil, and requested methods and structures of the company to be changed as well. But good changes are nothing if they are not publicly known, and so he organised an intensive communication campaign to introduce its company to the broad public and remove the secrecy around it.
The strikes stopped as a result of better treatment of the workers by Standard Oil, and the company, better known and liked by the public, saw an unexpected rise of its revenues. The law of profit was still there, but Ivy Lee had proved that a good image could increase revenues and generate stability in the long term.
From then, the discipline has evolved, but the base rules remain the same: a good image supported and spread by a good and truthful communication delivers results in the long run.
In the games industry, few developers kill programmers who go on strike, but game companies still need people specialised in communication with the public, which is the duty of public relations executives.
The Role of Public Relations
The role of public relations within a games developer or publisher is to be an interface for communication between the organization and the public. If you have a story, the public relations department will be in charge of making sure it is delivered to the right audience, in the right way. To do that, four elements have to be considered: the idea, the message, the channel, and the delivery.
The idea. Not all information is worth shouting about. To be worth communicating, an idea needs to have value for the media and for the consumer. This value is determined by many different factors which have to be evaluated by the communication department. If a company communicates too much on low-value information, the public and media will start disregarding this information, and thus even a very important announcement may go unnoticed.
The message. Pitching your game as an "Unreal Engine-based AAA FPS" might talk to a few tech-savvy blogs or magazines, but if you want it to reach the broad public, it might require different wording. There are as many different ways to express an idea as there are people to receive the message. One single announcement might have to be written in 10 different ways to reach different media and audiences, not to mention the different languages in which it has to be translated.
The channel. If you have a news with a short lifespan (for example, an event taking place from the 1st to the 15th of the month), it is less likely for print media to talk about it. Magazines often go to press about three weeks before the date they are published, where websites can publish within a minute any news you would have liked to keep for the day after.
Choosing the right channel, at the right time, to release the right information, is a full-time job for communication staff. As well, it is important to support the channel they use: an editor will be more likely to release an information he receives if it is sent by a person he knows well, with some valuable screenshots and artwork, knowing that he will later recieve a copy of the game to test, and can ask for more information is needed. It is highly important to consider the fact that unimportant information sent too often could jeopardize communication channels and thus endanger the effectivity of upcoming communications.
The delivery. So you have a good idea, expressed in the right way, and a relevant channel. Now how are you supposed to send it? Will it have a better impact by mail, sent with a fancy press kit and a DVD full of assets, or just an e-mail? That's one of the issue which has to be assessed by a PR department before sending an announcement.
Of course, the work of public relations is most of the time way more complicated than just these few elements. It involves negotiation for exclusives and magazine covers, organization of interviews and trade shows, and many more things, but the basic idea is this: public relations people are intermediaries dedicated to the adaptation and the delivery of a message to the relevant audience, in order to create awareness and, therefore, drive the sales of a game when it becomes available.
Although marketing and PR might be the positions with the worst reputation in the games industry, they remain highly necessary and are at the service of the developer and the publisher. Just remember that, no matter how good your game might be, your efforts would be useless without people able to let the public know about it.
Public Relations in the 21st Century
Even if public relations as a dedicated profession is said to have been born in the 20th century, people have been doing it for centuries and thousands of years, with different tools and methods. The appearance of the internet in the 20th century has certainly been one of the most important discoveries of our age, and lead us to a society where information is the most important commodity. The internet has changed everything, and more than anything it has changed the way people communicate. As PR people dedicate their life to communication, they are the first who need to evolve. Let's take a quick look at this evolution:
The Medium in Question: From print press to online 24/7 websites and podcasts
Paper has been the medium of choice for the games industry for decades now, and names like PC Gamer or Edge still carry a great deal of prestige with gamers. From magazines to websites, podcasts, blogs, TV shows, and many more, each medium operates in its own way, and before preparing your communication plan, two major questions come should be asked: which media should you focus your efforts on, and how should you work with them?
The obvious answer to the first question is: all of them. Unfortunately, only the largest publishers have the resources and the manpower to reach all media, and most companies have to choose where to focus their efforts. The choice here depends on many different factors. Don't trust the people who will tell you that magazines are the most important medium in our industry, but don't trust those who claim that internet killed all other media either.
The truth is that the choice of media for your communication should mainly depend on your business and audience. If you are selling an online game for a niche market, you should definitely communicate mainly online with very targeted websites. Not only will this strategy create visibility with a well-targeted audience, but having more and more features on various websites will help your site climb up the ladder on search engines, thus driving more and more traffic to your website, and pushing your sales.
On the contrary, if you're selling a broad-public Wii family game, don't expect too much feedback from gaming websites -- aim at TV shows, radios, general papers, etc. All types of media have an important value in their market share, and the evaluation of this value is the key to a successful communication.
Each type of media will operate in a different way, and even within the same category of media, two different publications will have different ways of working. As an example, some print press companies, in order to reduce their costs, have their magazines printed in foreign countries very far away and then shipped back to them, whereas some others, often smaller and more independent, choose to print their publication close to them, and therefore pay more for it but have fresher news to give to the readers.
If you wish to work with the print press, be prepared to plan your communications several months in advance, and know when each particular magazine comes out. If you have negotiated an exclusive cover for the announcement of a new project with a magazine, you'll only be able to communicate it online a couple of weeks following the date where the magazine goes on the shelves. Each PR person has to juggle constantly with deadlines and publishing dates in order to coordinate its own communication well through various media partners.
Although all media partners are different, I think the following rule could be applied to all of them: exclusivity means nothing. A long time ago, when the internet didn't exist, this word had a meaning: the media negotiated an exclusive interview or announcement with a source, in exchange for which they gave more coverage to your product than would normally occur.
Nowadays, if you have an exclusive in a magazine, just wait a couple of minutes before the content of the article is summarized in a blog post and the pages are scanned and posted. "Exclusive" videos are shared on YouTube within seconds, and articles are copied even faster. The only result of exclusives given to a media partner may be the strenghtening of your relations with this partner, at the cost of a reduced audience being able to get information about your game. Sometimes, it can be worth it, but always ask yourself the question: why would you make it harder for people to get information about your game?
Web 2.0: PR in a world where everybody can be "journalists"
The internet has changed everything -- notably, it has opened the doors of "journalism" to the broad public. A century ago, people had to study to be able to write something that would reach the public, whereas now, anybody who can type on a keyboard, is passionate about something, and can write comprehensibly, can be the editor of a blog or a website.
Professional publications feel this change as well: the French bi-monthly publication Canard PC released a special issue about jobs in the games industry in Summer 2006, and among nine editors of the magazine introduced in this issue, only one had a background in communication studies. "Journalism" has changed, has been transformed, and it's probably better this way.
Pierre "Myrdhin", Volunteer Editor at JeuxOnline.info.
Of course, this change sometimes causes trouble, the so-called "journalism ethic" has been forgotten for a long time; grammatical mistakes begin to appear in the pages of the best magazines; media covers games without verifying their sources. But the real change, in the end, is that editors are no longer elites with years of studies and codes to respect -- so much different from the people who read them that they stop being a link with the public.
People working in the media nowadays are passionate people, and their feelings about your game are much closer to what the public could feel than they used to be in the past. This change also allows gaming companies to communicate directly with their public through channels that are not biased by the power of a big media holding, and thus do it more naturally, and more freely.
This is an opinion that may not be accepted by PR people far more experienced than myself, but the fact is that the internet has transformed PR to allow companies to reach their public directly, and this is an amazing opportunity. Why disregard amateur websites on the sole basis that they simply are amateur, even if they can reach hundreds of thousands of people?
This new state of play has probably contributed to the growing importance of community management, a new kind of public relations usually used to work closely with blogs and fansites. As we will see later in this article, good cooperation between community managers and public relations people is now very important for the achievement of a communication operation.
Public Relations in a Global Market
The games market is a global market, and once again, the progress of the internet and digital distribution now allow companies with lower resources to reach an international audience that they could not before. But to reach a true global public, one needs to learn about the local public.
Communication doesn't work the same way in France and Germany, and is further more different in South Korea or Japan, and the same methods shouldn't be applied to each of these countries. So how to maintain the consistency of a global communication plan while adapting to the cultural particularities of your target audience? Here are a few advices to do so without losing your mind:
Translation isn't localization. Getting something really localized requires changes to more than just text. As an example, the MMORPG Rappelz has recently been the first ever MMORPG launched in a fully localised Arabic version, which required changes in the text of course -- but also in the clothing of the characters, in some areas of the game, etc.
Images can shock people more than text, and to achieve a real localization, all the elements of a game and its communication have to be studied in the light of each culture.
Get local talent. Whether your choose to hire people with perfect understanding of different territories, or just outsource to local agencies, you can't really reach various local markets without dedicated people to handle your communication.
Think global from the very beginning. Don't wait until you're halfway through your communication plan to wonder about cultural differences. Ask yourself the question from the first stages of your planning if you don't want your operations to be cancelled at the last minute or have a negative impact.
Don't do things by halves. Over the past years, I've seen important games companies releasing press releases translated from English to French with grammatical mistakes in each sentence, and other language mistakes, even in their ads. Not only is it less successful, but it gives a bad image to the company itself. If you can spend several hundreds of thousands of euros in a marketing campaign, you can surely spare a budget to get local people to localize your communication and proofread it.
Despite all the education and information we have nowadays, ethnocentrism is still a plague affecting many people in our industry -- leading to poor treatment for territories that could otherwise bring much benefit. A game that doesn't perform well in the U.S. or UK could be a real success in Eastern Europe or in Asia, and vice versa. Local expertise in a global plan could well be the key to a true global success.
Why Public Image Matters
In a world where most companies think with only numbers in mind, one might think that every possible means to achieve better sales are used. That would be forgetting the impact of the public image on the company in the long term. The image of a company, sometimes called "Public Image" or "Corporate Image" is a very important factor on long-term success. Why does image matter? Here are some answers:
A good public image gets you closer to your community. Even though less than 1% of your actual customers will know all the history of your company and everything you did right, these people are the base on which you can build your empire. They are the leaders who will spread your words, and they shouldn't be forgotten.
A good public image helps secure more attention from the media. Of course, a big scandal can create very important (and negative) publicity on the short term, but if you have a good image and a long-term relationship with your community, it can help secure more attention and coverage from the media.
Like everyone else, editors are people, and they like to cover people who believe in the same things that they do. If you have a good story and a good reputation, you have more chances to secure coverage than a competitor with a good story and a bad reputation. Even if it sounds very simple, it is very true -- and has an impact on the success of a release.
Public image has a impact on customer loyalty. I'm not saying that the power of your brand's image will force a customer to buy all your games even if they are not appealing to him, just because he likes what you do, but if you focus some efforts on your image, it will be one more argument in favor of buying your games more than your competitors'.
Good corporate image influences recruitment. HR issues are very common in the games industry, because of the lack of experienced talent, and a lot of demand for jobs. Of course, we've heard (or lived) all these creepy stories about managers forcing their staff to work overnight, hurting family lives with no remorse. In the contrary, when in April 2009 Realtime Worlds announced that it was offering paid overtime to their developers, it didn't only offer more income to potential new recruits, it also created the image of a developer who cares more about the well- being of its employees. This was a good move in many ways, for a developer looking to recruit massively.
Of course, corporate image impacts other parts of a developer or publisher's daily work, but it remains hard to prove and measure, so I will stick to the four factors listed above for the needs of this feature. Many good books can explain more about this topic, as well as how to actually build a brand image.
Building an Image With the Public
Each PR person has a different approach to image building and there are new strategies coming out every day, but some rules have to be followed. These are the ones I would like to point out. Of course, having an incredibly good game is a great starting point to build a good image, but we will be focusing on communication factors for the purposes of this article.
Step 1: Define your objectives.
Even if you run a company with unlimited resources and are the lucky owner of a time machine, you can't make everybody like you. Besides, having a "good" image is always a matter of perspective, so defining your audience and your goals is a necessary start before doing anything else in this domain.
Step 2: Know your public.
Now you have defined your objectives and audience, you will need to know them. Who are they? What do they like? Which ideas do they follow? What do they do for fun, and what causes do they support? Collect all the information you can about them and the topics on which you are likely to open a discussion with them. When studying PR plans on a global stage, remember that your audience might have cultural differences with yourself, so don't forget to study local history and get insights from contacts in foreign countries.
Step 3: Choose your weapons.
Image-building is not about selling games; it's about gaining entry to people's hearts, not to their wallets. The hearts and minds of human beings are very complex things, and there are many ways to enter. Depending on your objectives and audience you target, your company might want to get involved in a charity for children or the protection of an endangered species -- but it might as well be a more relevant choice to raise your voice against DRM, support the open source community, support your older releases, show your establishment in foreign countries and your dedication to the local populations, etc.
There are many ways to get involved, and none is bad. The most difficult task is to find which one is yours. When choosing what you want to do, keep in mind what you know about your audience, and what you are as a company. When your engagement and your public's interests are the same, you know that you have found a ground where you can create a discussion and work together.
Once you went through these three steps, you're ready to go and jump in the real world. Here is some advice that you should keep in mind at all times while doing it:
Public relations is not about selling games. Brand building doesn't stop when the game is out; it goes on for years and years -- as long as your company is in operation. If you start a charity operation only to get better visibility, think twice about doing it, because something will go wrong eventually. You have to remain faithful to your engagements on the long term. The first thing that people will think will be, "They're trying to get some more visibility, but they're not really committed." Only in the long run will your commitment be recognized. It will require a lot of effort and investment, but in the end, it will be worth it -- one way or another.
Don't even think about hiding something. For example, say your CEO's wife is leading a charity for young children and he would like to invest in it to improve the company's image -- but he would prefer that nobody know that his wife is running it. If they have an interest in it, people will find out, soon or later. If you have been hiding information, people will look for the catch -- even if there is none. If you don't feel secure enough to be transparent, then the public has no reason to think you are trustworthy, no matter how much good you do.
The first rule of communication is "you cannot not communicate." Even creating a blackout of all external communications sends a message to the public. So you should communicate, and furthermore if you have good news, tell the world. Also, don't forget that communication is a two-way process, and gathering the feedback from your users is the best way to improve.
Image Building Within the Games Industry
The video games industry is a very small world. Big media announcements talking about billions of dollars create a contorted perception of its size, but the truth is that people come to know each other very fast and rumors spread faster than the flu -- and they might have more direct impact on your business. At the end of the day, industry people are just another audience you have to include in your PR equation, so the previous paragraphs remain relevant -- but additional concerns have to be taken into consideration.
HR issues are the most obvious reason to polish your company's image within the industry. Besides salary and other benefits, the image of a company is something people look at before signing a contract. It is important to reduce the turnover of employees, as people are more likely to work with a positive mind if they adhere to the same ideas and projects as the company.
But besides pure HR concerns, it remains very important to maintain a good company and brand image within the industry. Obviously, the people working in the industry are some of the most passionate people about video games. They play, they develop, they talk about what they like and what they don't like. They are community leaders. Information and rumors spread very fast within the industry, and if your company's image is good among professionals, this will have an impact on your public image.
The impact of corporate communication on public image hasn't been really measured yet, but some tips might help manage image building in this situation:
As elsewhere, communication is the key. The games industry has a lot of communication channels, whether it would be professional websites like Gamasutra.com, GamesIndustry.biz, GamesDevelopers.ie, etc., public events, professional events, conferences, etc. All of these communication channels are good occasions to meet other fellow professionals and improve your company and brand image. Public talks are especially good as they are sometimes relayed in public specialised media, which have important impact on your public image as well.
Jamie McCormick, English Marketing Manager at Gala Networks Europe, during a lecture made for the games development community in Ireland
This could be included in the first tip, and most of you might already do it. Sharing information and methods is a good part of image-building within the games industry, but is often very difficult. Nobody wants to give secrets to competitors, and there is no perfect rule to know when it is good to share news and when it is not. The ideal would be to find a good balance between keeping secret an idea that would give you a competitive advantage, and closing the gates to external queries. Games developers form a community, and you don't want to be left out.
Don't fear the networks
Many companies fear their employees' need for networking, because they are afraid it might open a channel for competitors to hire them. Well, to be honest, it will -- but forbidding people to be part of the games development community has never been and will never be a good idea. It will in no way be useful to keep talent. The best tool you have to keep your staff in your company is to keep them happy! Happy employees with good networks quickly spread the word of a company that is doing well.
Image building is a science important enough to have full teams working on it within the biggest companies; the past few lines just give the very basis of what should be done. Image building, even if people don't always call it that, is probably the most important part of public relations, because whatever you do has an impact on your image and should be considered in that light.
Working Together: Coordination in communication
No matter how small a developer or publisher is, most of the time it's divided into several teams and departments working on the same projects. Coordinating the efforts of everyone at the development level isan obvious necessity; it should be the same within the communication departments. This last section focuses on the coordination between public relations, marketing and community relations, before going deeper in the impact of PR operations in the relations between developers and publishers.
The Golden Rules of coordination for better communication
These Three Golden Rules come under management more than communications, and can be applied to all types of projects involving teams.
One message for all
Each project has a core concept; all communication will be based on it. This is the Communication Axis, and it should be followed by PR, marketing, and community teams, all reinforcing this core message for maximum efficiency.
Sometimes, ideas released through media and marketing are so different that people think there are two different games. This is the mistake to avoid at all costs. The definition of the Communication Axis should be done in a discussion involving all relevant persons, from the producers of the game to the lead community manager, and all should agree on this core concept.
On each and every communication operation from then, the following question should be asked: "How does this operation support the Communication Axis?". If the answer is "it doesn't", then it means that the communication is going a different direction, and thus weakenes the strength of the core message.
Never go into communication without having a proper Communication Plan. This document is the roadmap of all communication teams and contains all the information needed to manage the communication operations, including a full schedule, the explanation of the communication axis and core concepts, contact information of all teams, and often a market study to help the teams know which audience they will engage.
Not only will this document help keeping your communication on track, but it will as well help newcomers in each team have a fast start, which is especially useful on very long term projects. Depending on your company policies, more or less information will be included, and not everybody need to have access to the full document -- but the more information they have, the more it helps each team to communicate in a joint voice.
Well, now you think: "Okay, he already wrote it. The first rule of communication is to communicate!" No matter how obvious it might be, the hardest thing in communications is to force people to talk to each other.
Let's say you have worked out a good Communication Axis and built a Communication Plan around it. All your preparation work can be wasted by a few unexpected events if you are not able to adapt your plan to new information, and communicate this change to the other parties involved.This can be done by phone, or meetings, but I tend to prefer e-mails as written communications leave tracks that can be copied, forwarded and read many times, and don't waste as much time as meetings do.
Also, keep in mind that this shouldn't be a one-way communication and the point of view of everybody should be thought through thoroughly. It takes more time, of course, but produces greater results as well.
Before talking about exceptions and special cases, I would like to add a fourth rule, which should be known to all: Respect.
Too many times have I heard about marketing managers giving a rough time to their community colleagues because they think that marketing work is more important. Too many times have I heard anger in the voice of some PR guys who didn't like how their marketing colleagues said they could buy the world with the right budget.
Communication can't work if people don't respect each other's work and positions, and if one of the Golden Rules is broken from the beginning, you'd better forget about your plan. These kinds of issues come very often from a lack of knowledge and understanding of each other's work and duties. If you are encountering these problems, maybe arranging a couple of days where community people can join marketing in their work, or marketing with PR, might help people to know each other much better.
Public Relations and Community Management
The difference between Public Relations and Community Management is very small. Ultimately, community managers are doing public relations towards the fans, and that is exactly why these two teams should coordinate very closely. For the purpose of this article, we are going to define the roles of each, but of course it always depends on the company and the operation.
Public Relations is usually in charge of media relations, and getting people involved in the game's community. Community Managers will be handling these very same people once they have joined that fan community, and keep them entertained and up-to-date on the details of the project. In this case, magazines, websites, TV, radios, etc. will be on the table of the PR guys while the CM will handle the fansites, developer's blogs, official forums, etc. If everybody is aware of the core message, has read and understood the communication plan and is aware of his own duties, everything should be fine, until you stumble upon uncertain ground:
Fansites & Community Websites. Where's the border between a fansite, and a media site? When a community website specialized in, for example, MMOs drives millions of page views every month, shouldn't it be considered as equal to media even if it is only managed by volunteers? Some other media are established as companies and pay their editors, but don't have a professional approach to the industry -- who should they talk to?
The Dragonica Community Managers saying "Hello" in three different languages
There is no general rule for this situation, but here is the one I usually apply: if a community website is visited by users who do not know your game and discusses various games and interests, then it's "media", and it can help you acquire new users and thus is usually managed by the PR team. If all of the website's readers are already playing your game and know it, then it's a fansite and should be handled by the community managers.
Blogs. The question of whether blogs should be considered media or not is very similar to the same situation with fansites, and thus should be answered the same way -- mainly, studied case by case. Major and well established blogs like Joystiq and Massively are undoubtly important media, even though they gather fan communities.
I know some publishers have outsourced bloggers relations to an external agency. At Gala Networks Europe, the choice has been to have a dedicated person in charge of handling relations with blogs. Depending on your company's situation and policies this may vary, but never forget this very important part of online public relations just because some of them do not look nice. Content is king, nowadays, and blogs have more than they can handle.
Official Developer Blog, Official Forums. Once again, there is tricky ground here. Development blogs and official forums are part of the community and, most of the time, taken care of by community management. But obviously, if they are "official" blogs and forums, they carry official weight, and thus many media will take source stories from them.
On this, I wouldn't spread the responsibility; these tools require full-time attention, and only a dedicated community team can actually do it. This is something that has to be shared, then, by the two teams, with a lot of communication to make sure that the core message is respected, that no information is kept secret for later announcement will slip off in a buried thread of the forums, and so on and so forth.
The boundary between public relations and community management is so small that hundreds of other uncertain cases probably exist, and for all of them, keep the three Golden Rules in mind, and communicate with each other as much as possible.
Public Relations & Marketing
Many people think PR and marketing are the same thing, imagining a PR guy arranging an interview with the phone on one hand, and making an advertising buy with the other. Sometimes, marketing and PR are just merged into one team, which is most of the time unfortunately named the "Marketing Department" because then you don't have to bother explaining the difference to everybody.
Fortunately, though, duties are very much separated and most of the time; being in one team just makes it much easier to collaborate and coordinate. So, once again and for the purpose of this article, let's work with this base: marketing is usually in charge of advertising, sales, and all paid promotion, while public relations takes care of the media relations from an editorial point of view.
If we follow this base and make sure that the Three Golden Rules are followed as well, everything should be perfect, but please let me highlight some common issues in this coordination:
Caution with your message. Be careful about graphical charts and advertising design. The core message shouldn't only be reflected in any spoken or written communication; it should as well be reflected in the slogans, in the choice of the colors and style, in the style and the footage that is shown on online advertising banners, etc.
Be especially careful when the design is outsourced to an external agency, as they should be provided with an extract of the communication plan to understand everything that's at stake in the design they're working on. Just imagine a magazine with, on the left, an article talking about the great PvP features of your new MMO, and on the right page, very nice advertising with an emphasis on PvE elements. Both messages would be broken.
Know your place. If you are on the PR side, don't try to suggest that a good review will attract some advertising. If you're on marketing side, don't try (direclty or indirectly) to put pressure on editorial. If you're on both sides -- like I've been for a long time now -- make sure everything is clear in your mind and in your partner's mind as well. Recent history has proved that ethics have to be kept straight at all times in our industry, and the publisher will only become the bad guy in this story. On the other hand, I've seen many more media offering bribes to marketing or PR guys than the contrary.
Stick to the schedule. If the marketing department is running a campaign for pre-registration with a launch date on it, and it hasn't yet been announced on the PR side, your credibility will take a hit. On the contrary, if a massive advertising campaign begins on the very day that media partners announce in their news that your game is out and publish its review, the impact of the advertising will be increased -- as will the impact of the PR work. Coordination remains the key here.
Learn from each other. In my experience, PR people very often have a better knowledge of the media landscape than marketing people do, because they go out and hunt for any piece of coverage they can get. Big websites and publications are not always the best bet for effective advertising, and sharing some very niche but highly effective contacts between the two departments might lead to a very successful operation.
A press conference given by Nival Online about Allods Online
Publishers, Developers and Public Relations
Nowadays, everybody can communicate and reach the public directly. When a publisher and a developer who are communicating on the same project can't coordinate with each other, it can lead to a little bit of a mess. So now just imagine the situation for an MMO which involves a developer and a dedicated publisher in every major territory in the world, all communicating at the same time on the same project without any coordination. This is probably the closest thing to chaos I've ever experienced.
Still, there are a lot of advantages in maintaining separate communications, as long as they're well coordinated. Community building and communication is served well by a dedicated team located within the developer's offices, who usually know the product better, can react faster, use important tools like video blogging showing the work-in-progress that give a human face to the game, gather public opinion and give direct feedback to the developers, etc.
Also, from a consumer point of view, knowing that the people who manage the community are very close to the developers themselves gives a much better image to the whole communication.
On the other side, there are a lot of advantages from efforts on the publisher's side. Publishers can usually put much more effort and resources into communication and marketing, as they have dedicated and experienced teams. These teams not only have experience and tools at their disposal, but they have as well a wide network of contact that they have built over the years and can use on new projects.
So, to sum it up, there are advantages on both sides, and thus the right decision would be to take both and coordinate them well. For this, the use of the Three Golden Rules remains de rigueur, except that it will be even more complicated, as both teams will have to coordinate among themselves before coordinating with the other side. Usually, the establishment of one contact person on each side of the development process and in charge of the coordination of the whole is a good choice -- if you can afford it.
On the crazy situation I mentioned on the paragraph above, the worst outcome could be that within the various publishers operating the same game, some of them might be competing with each other for users, and this is a battle that takes place on a communications ground. In this situation, the developer has to take the position of the arbitrator and be fair to all of its partners.
Coordination between the communication teams of the competing publishers might as well be a very acceptable solution as well. In order to avoid information leaks and other stabs in the back from all sides, together deciding a common ground is a good choice for the publishers and, further, better for the developer who's benefiting from the combined efforts of many publishers to promote his game.
Public relations is an ever-changing discipline whose goal is to differentiate your product from the others, thus pushing innovation and creativity every day -- or at least that's how it should be.
PR people sometimes have difficult relations with the other departments involved in the creation and commercialization of a game, but that neglects the truth: the only way for a company to succeed in the war of information is to make public relations an integral part of the development process from the very beginning. If there is only one piece of advice that you should remember from this article, it should definitely be this one.