One of the best things about the field of public relations is being able to support an industry or cause that you are passionate about. For me, that passion is the games industry. Video games have always been a huge part of my life. From owning every PlayStation console, to following rumors about the next Call of Duty title, to launching a blog dedicated to gaming and technology news, my love of games runs deep. That being said, to practice a career in games PR there are certain things to keep in mind: What trends rule the industry? What skills are needed? What advice should a student pursuing a career in promoting video games know?
Firstly, How Big is the Games Industry?
Video games are a relatively young form of entertainment, and the market is on the rise. Over the past 10 years, the world of games has transformed from a niche pastime to a cultural staple around the world. Video games now have their own awards show, professional leagues, streaming networks, and much more. The world of games reached new heights last year when rapper Drake teamed up with gaming influencer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins to stream Fortnite on Twitch, setting a record for the streaming website in the process with over 600,000 concurrent viewers. Ninja also scored the first appearance of a gamer on the front cover of ESPN The Magazine last year, setting off an incredible year for him and the visibility of games, largely thanks to the success of Fortnite.
According to Statista, the games industry is set to surpass $138 billion in revenue by 2021. The games content industry, comprised of streamers on Twitch and “YouTubers” who create videos covering games on YouTube, is supposed to surpass $5.9 billion in 2019, according to projections.
Okay, So it’s a Large and Growing Industry. What Should I Know About Games PR, Though?
To further inquire about games PR, I decided to reach out to some professionals in the field to learn just what practicing communications in this fast-paced business is all about.
I was able to interview Chris Kramer, who is the Vice President of fortyseven communications. Based in Los Angeles, fortyseven is an agency that likes to remain “lowkey,” as they say, and has worked with some of the biggest names in the business. From Electronic Arts and Google to The Game Awards- the gaming world’s Oscars-like awards show, fortyseven has left its mark on a large part of the games industry- all while remaining almost invisible in the process.
I was also able to interview Pat Doyle, who works for Sandbox Strategies, a New York-based PR and Influencer Relations agency. Sandbox has also worked with big and small publishers in the games world, with some notable names being 2K Sports (NBA 2K series) and Rovio (Angry Birds).
Between Chris and Pat, I was able to learn a ton of information about what it’s like to work in Games PR. While promoting games for a living sounds like a dream for me, it is not always all fun and games (pun intended? Absolutely.) Here are some of the biggest insights I learned from them:
- Be a Communications Pro First, Gamer Second
It is easier to teach a seasoned PR pro to work in the games industry than to teach an inexperienced gamer how to work in PR. While it is great to be a passionate fan, Chris told me that to be successful you must possess excellent PR skills.
- Know the Industry
Do your research on how the companies involved in making games come to life. More than just the publishers, get to know the agencies involved in the world of games. Chris told me that a critical part of the job is staying current and updated as to what’s going on within the industry. He informed me that fortyseven communications has a daily internal email sent out to employees featuring the top gaming news stories of the day.
- A Lot of Games PR is Done at Events
Headlined by E3 in June, and accompanied by the various PAX conventions, Gamescom, the DICE Summit, The Game Awards and many others throughout the year, events are a special part of a game PR practitioner’s job. They are where a lot of developers reveal new games to be released, where hardware manufacturers such as Microsoft and Sony reveal new game consoles and where a TON of games media converge to report on the latest news in the industry. Chris told me that fortyseven sends 25 of their 40 staff members to the E3 conference and it is the busiest time of the year for them as an agency.
- Influencers Rule the Games World
“What is an influencer?” you may ask. In the games world, influencers are people who record or stream gameplay to a large audience of active followers. They create communities around the games they play, generate tons of earned media for a lot of games companies and gaming brands and also do some work with paid media. The most subscribed YouTube channel, PewDiePie, started as a gaming-focused channel, making Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg an early influencer. Some other notable influencers include Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, (mentioned earlier), Michael “shroud” Grzesiek, Evan Fong, (popularly known as VanossGaming) and Ali “TSM_Myth” Kabbani.
Chris told me that one of the biggest trends he sees affecting the games industry in the upcoming years is the increasing emergence of influencers. All eyes these days seem to be on YouTubers and Twitch streamers, so games PR practitioners will have to pay special attention to influencers as they go to promote their client’s game.
Pat echoed these ideas, adding that as a games PR practitioner, you must be able to manage mutually beneficial relationships with prominent games influencers. The game you are pitching to an influencer to play on livestream must match the type of game the influencer’s audience comes to expect from him or her. Know the influencer and know the audience. If it’s not genuine, it’s not gonna work. Sandbox Strategies has an entire department on staff dedicated to forging mutually beneficial relationships between clients and influencers, which I thought was really unique.
- Networking is a Key Skill
Pat said that an essential part of the job, and something that he would have told his younger self if he’d had the chance, is to value and practice the activity of networking. Going up to developers, publishers, games media and influencers and talking to them about games at conventions is a great way to establish key relationships. He said that it is a lot easier to reach out to an influencer in hopes of him or her promoting your game when you have already introduced yourself and started that relationship before. A special note that he added to this is to always have business cards on you!
- AAA Games PR is a lot Different Than Indie Games PR
AAA games are the world famous franchises that come from big and well-established developers. Many if not most AAA games are developed and published by separate companies (Activision and EA are two of the biggest publishers.) Some examples of AAA games are Call of Duty, NBA 2K, and Fortnite. All of these games are well-known, so there are expectations about how the PR campaign for the game will go. There are also budgets in the millions of dollars for AAA games.
Chris told me that the scale and approach to the games in general are much larger and different from indie games and this is reflected in the PR campaign.
Indie games are much smaller projects. They can come from a single developer working on a game or a small team of people. These smaller development teams don’t have a huge budget for their games so they almost always publish the games on their own. Since indie games are brand new and relatively unknown in most cases, the PR professionals can be a lot more creative in their approach to promoting the game.
Pat described indie games PR as a much looser and faster process when compared to AAA games PR. Campaigns for indie games don’t have to go through as many hands, and that allows for more flexibility and creativity.
- Leaks, Glitches, Ghosting and More: The Crises of Games PR
As is true of PR in any industry, things don’t always go according to plan. These can be some of the most frustrating times for games PR practitioners, but you must be able to roll with the punches to survive. Here are some of the top challenges gaming PR managers face from day to day:
- Someone got your client’s game early and is now streaming said game on Twitch. Pat says that with cases like these you just have to try your best to combat the issue.
The oversharing developer: Sometimes you have to tell your developer to save some surprises for launch. Having this conversation is not always easy.
Managing delays: Pat says this is an inevitable part of the job when working in games. When this happens, you have to try your best to roll with it and remain as transparent as possible.
Technical difficulties: Sometimes your game/demo will crash right when the show floor opens for E3. Pat tells me that games media are usually forgiving when this happens.
Getting Ghosted: From time to time a reporter from the games media may just not show up at an event you have been planning for weeks. You can’t do much to control things like this, and as a games PR practitioner, you have to remain professional and simply move on.
- Advice for Aspiring Games PR Practitioners:
Have excellent writing samples: As with PR in any industry, excellent written and oral communications skills are a must. Always be prepared with some of your best pieces of writing!
Be persistent and follow up with employers: A follow-up email can go a long way, Pat says. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people in the industry, and always follow up! (Please don’t spam inboxes though)
As said before, the games industry is a place full of excitement, innovation and passionate fanbases. Being a passionate fan myself, I really enjoyed taking a deep dive into the world of PR behind video games. As time goes on and the industry grows, there will always be a need for excellent communicators and brand managers. A key takeaway that I would like to reiterate as I close this piece is this: Video game fans are as passionate as ever and love their favorite brands and games. As a practitioner, you need to keep this in mind when it comes to your work. If the passion and vision behind the game aren’t there, fans will know. As Pat said during our interview: “If it’s not genuine, it’s not going to work.”