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MI6: Navigating The Game Media's 'Wild West'

PR notables from Bethesda and EA talked creating and nurturing user communities, plus the challenges of the shift to the "wild west" of blog journalism, in a panel at the ongoing MI6 marketing conference.

Chris Remo, Blogger

April 8, 2009

5 Min Read

During a panel held at the MI6 game marketing conference in San Francisco, game industry PR notables discussed talked public relations via user communities and user expression -- and how the shift away from print media toward the "wild west" of game blogs is affecting their field. The panel was moderated by Jonathan Simpson-Bint, president of Future US, and featured EA Games PR senior director Tammy Schachter, Bethesda marketing and PR VP Pete Hines, Bohle Company president Sue Bohle, and IGN Entertainment Game Sales VP Kym Nelson. If PR empowers users, said Nelson, “They can turn around and create sort of an evangelist community for you. ...Even though we think that's new media, it's actually an age-old principle that can be very successful.” Bohle agreed. "If they don't create excitement about the game before the game launches, the game will not be successful," she said -- and this is particularly true for hardcore games. Hines expanded on the move towards community-based PR, but offered a word of caution in the age of news sites and blogs that can report on even minor stories nearly instantaneously. "I see a lot of companies now taking advantage of the community aspect,", he said. "But one of the things we've seen over the years...there is still a lack of understanding from my perspective” about how to communicate with the game community. "Never tell the customer that they're wrong. Don't ever get in an argument with everybody. Assume that anything you post will...show up on a Kotaku, on IGN, on GameSpot. I see a lot folks...trying to be interactive and work with the community and foster the idea that it's just us having a chat, but we're never just having a chat. It always has the possibility to go wider. ...You can't take it back." Nelson said that game PR is becoming less about controlling the message and becoming more about a role of overseeing communities rather than dominating the message. "Rather than look as it as a way to control the users, its our responsibility as experts to parent the community, and give them the tools to proliferate their messages, and be a guiding force," she said. She described how at IGN, the company recruits specific individuals, calls them community managers, and they take the role of doing that parenting around IGN's own gamer communities around specific games. "That idea of parenting rather than controlling...just shifts what our role is," she added. Simpson-Bint asked if any of the panelists had any stories of particularly challenging or successful PR campaigns. "We had both the privilege and the curse of picking up this established franchise,” Hines answered, recalling the intense early outcry among much of the Fallout fan community that Bethesda should not have been touching the series. "We weren't even going to attempt to control anything. As a father of a young boy, I can barely even control my five-year-old. ...We're going to interact with the folks who are willing to listen to what we want to do, and for the folks who just weren't going to listen, we weren't going to try." However, Bohle argued that the games industry is behind the film industry when it comes to creatively branching out beyond those tight, insular communities – for example, the ad campaign for The Dark Knight that positioned the character Harvey Dent as a real-life political candidate. Marketing out in unusual places and ways can bring in new people who may not already be invested in the property. "The guy who's doing it the best is Shaq," said Hines. "He has a ludicrous number of Twitter subscribers." He pointed to an article describing a fan who was able to have lunch with Shaquille O'Neal because he happened to be in the same restaurant as the basketball star when he sent out a Twitter message. That kind of thing isn't just meaningless messaging, said Hines – it builds O'Neal's reputation and notability. Schachter reflected on how much the game media is changing, particularly with "print shrinking" -- to which Simpson-Bint looked pained and interjected, "Steady, steady." The EA exec continued with the train of thought, adding that the decreasing influence of print is dangerous, because print outlets still tend to do considerably more extensive fact-checking and in-depth reporting. While some online sites do this, it is much more rare, she pointed out. "It's unfortunate that we're seeing a shrinking of print, because it's eating at the integrity of our journalism,” she said. "Where are our journalists going to come from?" Hines then told a story where a blog declared he had stated the next Elder Scrolls game would be an MMO, when he never said anything of the sort. Upon confronting the writer for the blog about the misquote, the writer simply responded that blogs have the leeway to write speculative or extrapolated stories, even though the story was not characterized that way. "The bigger issue isn't individual outlets, but the overall trend," Schachter said. "For outlets that don't have the legacy of print, it's a little more Wild West." Bohle said her firm actually frequently tells its clients not to respond to inaccurate stories or probing questions, particularly because the story can potentially always be framed in a way that will cause the community to lash out against the company. "You don't ever have to respond to somebody's questions," Hines noted. "They can ask a question in a way that there's absolutely no way you can answer" without coming off poorly, he said. "If somebody asks, 'A lot of people say you sucked and your game sucked,' there's no way to answer that without sounding defensive. ...Just wait them out and move on."

About the Author(s)

Chris Remo


Chris Remo is Gamasutra's Editor at Large. He was a founding editor of gaming culture site Idle Thumbs, and prior to joining the Gamasutra team he served as Editor in Chief of hardcore-oriented consumer gaming site Shacknews.

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