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Meet The (Gaming) Press

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Brian Crecente (Kotaku), Brandon Sheffield (Game Developer Magazine/Gamasutra), Sam Kennedy (1up.com), Frank Cifaldi (GameTap)

A panel with widely varying viewpoints on some topics, and common viewpoints on others, from previews, to reviews, to PR, to news. It covered a wide area, and really should have got into some of the topics in more detail. Frank Cifaldi was a good moderator of it, and added a few comments. Brian was representing the “blog news” kind of sites, Brandon the developer press, and Sam the more typical videogame news and reviews site.

This might be my longest set of notes, one thing these guys can do is talk well, making it easy to pick up notes and phrases :)

Make sure to takeaway the fact they bin a lot of emails (capitals, exclamation marks), will read more personal ones (generic press releases can work, but must be either one or the other to make a story). Giving them a story to write about helps (not just “I have this cool thing” – what is cool about it?). Aiming at the right people helps too – certain sites for different news and promotion.

Notes

Frank: What about the separate audiences and the specific people you are aiming at and how people contact you?

Brandon: Calling up before making a PR pitch is important to know what is published

Sam: Not just a vehicle for asset distribution, more then that.

Brandon: There is a time and a place for everything. A blanket email about assets is fine, but when it is pseudo-personalised email that tries to get on something specific needs more thing.

Brian: Would rather get something then not get something. There isn’t obligation to publish something however and there is a obligation to the readers. People also contact about things already published.

Frank: Most of the PR involved with discussions were not involved in their own product. What about this division?

Sam: When every PR person pitches you with the best product ever. Some will highlight features that are good and not pitch it as the best thing ever.

Brandon: There are good ways and bad ways to do it. If someone feels they are reading from a list, like “Your readers will love the great graphics”. Not to be a big egotist, it makes sense to target the audience. There are some people who believe that communication with journalists is PR, and because the press is enthusiast the person can easily catch onto it.

Brian: It is a game. You want to make the person who is receiving the information to care about it. If are personally engaged it is easier to make a story about it. It is harder to find a good angle if not involved.

Frank: What about PR putting forward their own news sites to speak about things?

Brian: We are the problem since PR needs to aim at consumers not the journalists.

Sam: Capcom blog and community really involve the press and talk about the coverage but also give content and access on their own blog.

Brandon: Yeah, the Capcom forums and site are good, they take out the journalism but also allow some journalism if you dig into the items. If you are also talking about viral marketing and things that is much more a community orientated thing. A little embarrassing to see a viral video. The emails with a url in it but nothing on there, just “screw that” and ARGs are not good.

Frank: I was talking more about the PR directly talking to people.

Brandon: With developers own blogs being scrutinied, David Jaffe can’t post anything without these guys (Brian) posting it. Are their own mouthpiece now. Difficult situation if someone says something odd.

Brian: I don’t think its necessarily a problem in general, David Jaffe is David Jaffe.

Question asker: How do you create a compelling story with just a press release? (Example being his Club shockwave relaunch with more community features – a subscription site with a few free games).

Sam: There could be certain way to hook people with the free games and if you like those so go play other ones. Need to put forward content you think the audience is interested in, so you might keep hold of items passed forward to do a larger article later.

Brandon: Really hard, there are a lot of editors that really like stuff which is not that, more hardcore gamers and they gravitate towards their likes. There are things that should be covered and are, but there is also the aiming of audience – if you are aiming more of a casual market they don’t really the blogs or the enthusiast publications and certainly not game developer. There is a difficulty disseminating the information period. How do they even find these games? Word of mouth?

(Why don’t they know where these people get their news?!)

Brian: Aiming towards the audience – point out one amazing game to hook the journalist or editor. Then say it is built on this amazing technology.

Brandon: Entirely agree, if you aim it towards an editor, you can aim at Gamasutra an article on how they made the system, but won’t go for news just that it has features x, y, z.

Question: With a growing iPhone marketing . How do you separate yourself from the pack with so many individual developers? Exclusivity is a factor too?

Sam: Exclusivity is a factor, certainly. With iPhones it is harder to find the better games. Constantly discussing how to report on iPhone games – there is an iPhone blog where some things are put up, not just big games.

Brian: iPhone games are a mess right now – trying to separate yourself from the pack area. Apple not helpful marketing the games. Shocked that the IGF winners were on the iPhone site right now. Going through all the new games by just checking the icon to find interesting ones but it is just very difficult.

Question: When are gaming journalists going to look at doing issue based journalism. Other industries look at the issues as well as do reviews. Gaming journalists are very hesitent to even go there? A. Would you go there? B. Why is it taking so long to have the journalists get to the tackling media issues?

Sam – The industry as a whole is resistant to go there. They are great stories, we want to do more of them. It is difficult to get support from publishers there.

Brian – Talking about the business reporting here, back when doing police reporting it was easier – FOI requests. Think there is some good coverage of the industry, game politics and our own sites. It is more general newspaper material but they find it boring – people find stories about mayor stuff boring and want scandal.

Question asker: When do you think the transition will occur?

Brandon: Want to say as editor at Gamasutra that is the purview of more business site. Game journalism is still targeted towards audiences so Gameindustry.biz and other sites reporting on that. Game players just don’t care about that. Do cover it but it isn’t the most popular stuff. Have to pitch it to the people who do cover that stuff. The internet is still very youthful so you don’t necessarily have to do this because

Sam: Jorunalism as a whole is dying so you don’t see getting better.

Brian: It is changing. Citizen journalism perhaps. You can’t make people read the interesting news – the ESA story about the amount it cost to move E3 (check hands – 20% people read it) was on front page for an hour.

Sam: Working in the industry there is a lack of access to a lot of the people involved. For instance violence in games, Rockstar doesn’t talk. Need to humanise the games but it very closed.

Brandon: Journalism is very much dying. Vareity did a story on Iceland where it was an insane story on the way the economy collapsed. Great, but there is no money to travel and there are blocks on the information we want.

Brian: People say they don’t read newspapers because they read it for articles like that but those cannot be in the paper every day. So eventually through stories of screenshots you get the stories eventually.

Sam: All of us on the panel do try and do stories that don’t always deliver traffic and are important.

Brandon: Both the publications I work for are free – Game Developer is developer orientated, and Gamasutra is not traffic orientated, that limits where we go with that.

Frank: Discoverability issue. Don’t get to talk to developers until GDC. People are paid to keep them under lock, or they are too busy to talk. There are issues out there we do need to cover but don’t know about unless you talk to people on it.

Brian: Did an article on iPhones and talked to Neil via. Twitter, and a phone call. The PR person came back after saying he was too busy! Funny.

Question: What is the right amount of contact between PR and press? Best practices for PR? (once a week etc.)

Brandon: Stopped answering the phone. Get into a 15 minute conversation about something that isn’t relevant to me. Emails are good, if you target them, that is way better. Send a reminder is cool, and probably get back to you immediately since it appears he wants it to be posted. Sometimes it went to my spam filter.

Frank: Is there also a chance you don’t respond if it appears to be a form thing?

Brandon: It depends, if I am on the edge – at 40% interest level, it sounding like it went out to a million people and they will do the same thing.

Question: Do you read all email you get?

Brandon: “Scan” it.

Sam: Yes, read or scan it. Targeting is very good though.
Brain: Read all my email. Wish there was a position to get onto people on the phone. Twitter feed checking for PR feeds, both good and bad, then RSS feeds then emal…voicemail comes last.

Sam: If there is an email that comes all in caps get deleted right away. Headline in caps! Get them every day. Large attachments also is a big problem.

Brain: Get 100s of emails so less the clutter.

Sam: A followup is no problem.

Frank: Checking back will appear to not be a robot.

Brandon: Paradoxily including images helps – linking images on sites. Adding in the TM and R is stupid. No typos please. I am Kotaku’s freelance copy editor because of a responsibility there!

Question: Double edged sword of twitter. Brian, you bypassed the PR person it can be a real problem in the future for exclusivity if the PR person can’t keep hold of it.

Brain: Don’t care about exclusives – feels like cheating if it is exclusive.

Brandon: Feel like that too. Double edged sword wise, the only thing you can do is work with developers to make sure they care about when things are announced. If they are just excited about getting the game out there they will talk about it. Did a interview at DICE about Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 – but he said don’t publish it until checked out with PR, will respect that, since it otherwise is detrimental to the relationship.

Frank: Add to that, if it is of great concern, talk to the team a little more and tell them why it is important. Be more communicative.

Brian: MW2 is a great example of twitter, where they were asking for input into the game weeks before GDC? Is this the future to read thousands of twitter feeds for 50 word press releases?

Question (Elly Gibson): Region exclusives for internet things for some reason with some PR articles?

Brian: Don’t get that since we hear it too. It is bizarre – go to GamePress for European press releases even.

Brandon: Exclusives are a bit out of style. Scanners and the internet both exist. It can be exclusive for a couple of minutes and is then out everywhere it wants to be. The regional difference – in Japan things are way more controlled which is maybe a testament to here. Journalism there is much more a PR mouthpiece for better or worse.

Sam: In some ways it starts hurting the press and partners the publishers have. It ends up hurting the press since everyone will find it anyway. Dealing with some Japanese places which put restrictions on videos and so forth on what 1Up can do – want to have a great relationship, but everyone is putting it up on Youtube anyway.

Brandon: On embargoes just are there for the sake of it “Until midnight tonight” – don’t get it. Some are extremely arbitrary.

Question: Current ranking systems – 5 star, 1 through 10?

Sam: Would use the full scale at EGM – 5 for average. But gamers wouldn’t do that – 5 would become the minimum. A lot of publications do this. 1Up moved away from that to a letter grade system where everyone went through the school system understands it. Metacritic don’t understand it though.

Brian: On Metacritic is it frustrating?

Sam: Yes, we are having conversations with them and hopefully they will change it, but it is bad. If you go to metacritic and see what an average game gets a 70% range. A C which is average is rated as 50%. Putting words in my mouth.

Brandon: Adding minor points – no industry standard for reviewing games so the number system is tough for comparing game reviews. Game reviewing is subjective and there are certain ways to deal with that, to be more an Ebert personality where you know the reviewer – so you get a sidebar to see what a reviewer really likes and see where they are coming from. It is super tough.

Frank: Wish we had more time to discuss this.

Brian: We consciously through out scores in our review system. People don’t read a review and boil down the number to go see a movie – scores are a big determent to games because people are not reading reviews. Tried to create a system to see what people loved and hated these elements, so people can read more.

Sam: We also try and continue the discussion around a review. A review doesn’t have to end in the body of a review text.

Frank: Out of time.

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1
Out of time, but plenty more people were asking questions

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