Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

24 August, 2005

The modern face of public relations
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 10:00 PM

I found a link to an interesting article discussing the role of PR, how it works, how it affects print publications, and how blogs are mostly immune.

I thought it was interesting enough to share on here. Read on for some of my thoughts.

It’s interesting to see how cheap PR really compared to other expenses. The article mentions that the firm charged $16,000 per month. Given the costs associated with running a small business, that’s not a bad price for something that important. (More than Near Death Studios, Inc. can afford mind you, but assuming you could find an angel to fund your company….) One of the most difficult things to do is stand out from the crowd, so having any advantage helps.

The reason why getting a story in multiple places at once helps has to do with customer psychology. People want to belong, they want to fit in; therefore, people often put stock in something they see multiple times. Obviously this must be true because it’s showing up everywhere! Marketers know that one way to make something popular is to make it seem popular. If everyone is using something, then there’s less chance of harm if you use it, too. I’ve noticed this in some TV commercials. One diet aid commercial mentions that the product is used by many people in several countries. What difference does it make that it is used in several countries? Well, that means it’s popular. It also works to assure people that the product is safe; if it were unsafe, surely one of those countries would have banned the product, right? This means that when you see reports that “everyone” is playing game X, the reality is that the marketers want everyone to be playing game X. They’re convincing people that it’s the “cool” thing to do.

The “not quite dishonest” angle is interesting, too. While the article says that PR companies won’t lie, they make no bones about taking rough estimates and representing them as solid facts. As the article points out, someone made a stab-in-the-dark guess about a number of stores on the web and that figure was repeated faithfully. Even though this isn’t a solid fact, the company had no hesitation in later using this figure to boost their own position and report that they served a large segment of that estimate. Online RPG companies have long been accused of being not quite honest about subscription figures. Most companies are incredibly tight-lipped about churn and customer turnover. They make press releases about having large numbers of people playing the game, and everyone assumes that number is accurate even if no more press releases come along.

I also found it interesting to see how easily print publications could be coerced by PR. Not necessarily surprising, though. I’m sure the game “journalists” are just as guilty as mainstream journalists. We’ve heard stories in the past about companies writing reviews, or at least paying for good reviews through indirect means such as buying advertising. I’m sure that a few well-placed interviews with members of the dev team around the time of a game’s launch have been used to great effect in the past.

Finally, there’s one bit of information that’s a bit unsettling. In the first footnote it mentions that PR has a good side: it favors small companies. Unfortunately, the article also mentions that people are becoming more wary of PR due to the rise of blogs and other online writing. This means that advertising might become the only reliable way to get attention in the future, and that favors the larger companies with larger budgets. Sure, there are other marketing options such as word-of-mouth, but that’s not quite as reliable. It can also backfire in that negative word of mouth can spread just as easily as good word of mouth.

Marketing and PR are very interesting areas to study. This is one area that most game companies, my own included, have trouble with. Most developers in the games business believe in the old adage “if you build it, they will come.” But, this is incorrect; no one will play your game if they have not heard about it. In addition, it’s not only important to get coverage for your games, but for your company and your team as well. Especially when you are dealing with a large publisher, you need to make sure that people recognize the creative team behind it as well. This is one of the important lessons that the co-founders of Bioware have shared in a few talks I’ve attended, and it has obviously served that company well.

So, here’s a question for the readers: If people are becoming wary of print media and this makes PR less effective, how can a small company compete? How can a small company get attention, especially in a culture quickly becoming oversaturated with information? Can a small company hope to overcome the advertising budgets of the large companies and get the attention of the market?

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