Those who know me, on a personal level or professional level, are fully aware that I am a (very) blunt person, but also very open-minded and a gamer. Those persons also know that I accept other persons’ opinions, tastes in games (yeah, even those people that “true gamerz” consider as “filthy casuals”). With that being said, I refuse to be branded as a liar, or dishonest person.
Last note before starting: I am a firm believer that you should not lie because it will come back and bite you in the rear.
After reading this article and all its tweets/subtweets/answers, I realized that there are 5 recurring points:
- All PRs and Companies are lying to you
- I have seen a game listed on X platform, it must be 100% true
- Companies hate leaks because they want to lie to the fans
- Everything is ready months prior to events
- Plans never change
To avoid snowballing those pre-conceived ideas, I decided to give some insights, from the other side of the curtain.
Myth #1: “All PRs and companies are lying to you”:
To answer this, we can do some simple logical thinking. Lying and hiding is “an” ok strategy (at very, very best) in the short term, but most of the gaming companies are here for the long term, most companies are here to rack in profits over the long haul, most companies are here to grow their brand, most companies are here to grow their community. To do all of this, you have one solution: be true, be innovative, be creative, do good games, do good things that pander to your audience.
We are living in an era of social networks ruling over every other thing, why would any sane person lie for the sake of a small/short win? Now you will tell me “Yeah but X lied in the past!” I will answer that it is true, but most publishers have corrected their act because they understood how harmful any slip up could be. It literally costs millions in stock markets, and in terms of brand equity/perception.
Still regarding this myth… Yes, we do say (a lot, actually) “I can’t communicate about this, for now, stay tuned for more soon” or “I can’t communicate about this for now, but in the meantime we have X” or “No comment” or “We don’t comment on rumors and speculations”. We actually mean it! Publishers are very aware of their gamers’ expectations, they are also aware that every single sentence, hint, video, screenshot, IR report is scrutinized and broken down. Do you think that Nintendo wasn’t aware of players’ need for a new Metroid? That Microsoft wasn’t aware of its fan base need for OG Xbox BC? That SIE isn’t aware of the cross platform need? They absolutely are.
However, things take time in a company; you do not want to disappoint your audience (Fairly sure Nintendo can tell you something about this with Metroid Federation Force, and Ubisoft with Watch Dogs). Since every single move is costing millions, and developments are very complicated nowadays, things are announced when everything is 100% sure and locked down. Even when you think everything is locked down, it can change. Several reasons:
- Investor or Top Managers want an earlier/later date to meet financial objectives or balance the revenues across fiscal years
- KPIs are/aren’t looking good (D1/Pre-order, Avg Active players, etc)
- Development being more complicated than expected
- Build not working properly
- No assets to showcase the game
- Fans/press sentiment
- Licensor can control/change the dates
- Marketing/Development deals
- Internal politics
- Disagreements between departments, between entities, between territories
- Competitors’ actions
- Real life problems (Terrorist attacks etc.)
Myth #2: “I have seen the game listed on Switch on the Press Site, it must be true”
When it comes down to handling assets, you have several ways of doing things:
- In-house FTP
- In-house newsroom
- Agency handling assets through a press site/newsroom
Those tools are usually built in a way to make the UX enjoyable and efficient. (ie press/influencers won’t spend 10minutes to find your logo). I will speak about my experience when the site is handled by an agency:
- When you want to create a new folder prior to an announcement:
- Prepare a solid, effective, factsheet with all relevant information
- Release Date
- Name your assets properly (avoid the “Trailer E3 2017 pleaserevise v6_BR_Approvalv9”)
- Upload the assets with a password on a secured FTP
- You are the only one who has the password
- 2 hours before the embargo (approximately, depending on the amount of assets/games/workload etc), you give the password to the agency so they start processing all the content
- Embargo lifts, press site is updated, the press release is sent
- Enjoy the fans awesome reactions
- Prepare a solid, effective, factsheet with all relevant information
Every single step of this is crucial. If we take the Ultra Moon/Sun for Switch: either there was a problem in the factsheet, or the agency/PR ticked the wrong box when creating the folder. This led to many discussions in social networks, built up a lot of expectations… and disappointment.
For US/UM, even if they end up releasing it for Switch, I’ll still consider the above as true and still stand by my point.
Myth #3: We hate leaks because we want to lie to players
As a Communications person, but also as a gamer, leaks annoy me. Not because I have to handle the mess. The worst part of the leak is that it creates a cascade of problems:
- Developers, artists, programmers have spent hours, days, weeks, months, years working on this game, on this announcement. They have not seen their family and crunched for weeks. Why would you take the honor from their hands? This has a massive impact on their morale.
- Leaking a game without the accurate context or info creates distorted expectations: look at what happened with the Rabbids x Mario. People buried the game before it was revealed. People who trusted you might lose their jobs. For this specific case, we are speaking about Ubisoft who are in a tough spot with Vivendi and their Sword of Damocles. Everything can affect shares, and make or break their future (and the future of thousands of employees). I might be slightly exaggerating, but those are the stakes we are talking about
- Leaking early Game Design Docs is not a good idea. Games change during development, get new features, shave off others,
- Leaks affect deals between studios/publishers/1st parties. If a leak happens, it can break a contract, and see funds going away, payments delayed (and a game potentially dying)
The above does not apply only to AA/AAA developers & publishers; it is the same for indie developers. Even worse, those people are in a “life or death” situation sometimes.
After discussing this with a friend, he has shown me that there’s one upside to the leak: you can adjust your communication based on the reactions to it. But I’m still skeptical since a company should be prepared to different scenarios in any case.
TL; DR: Leaking a game creates distorted expectations. In the era of social networks, everything goes fast, might get twisted etc. This obviously leads to shorter communication cycles, new ways of communicating directly with fans etc.
Myth #4: Everything is ready months prior to events
No, sometimes trailers/builds aren’t ready until 3 AM on the event/reveal day.
This does not show a lack of professionalism or anything of this sort. It shows that everybody is busy, working hard, to make the fans happy, and make them love the game and buy it. (See how I did not say “force”? That is important).
We have to keep in mind that creating assets takes a lot of time, money and factors into account:
- What do we have available?
- What was revealed so far? What are we revealing? Where are we in terms of communication campaign?
- What are the competitors doing? How are they doing it?
- What is our positioning again?
- What was the feedback on earlier trailers/games?
- What are the consumers’ expectations?
Also, a game can be taken out of an event, the day before.
Myth #5: Plans never change, everything is settled in stone.
Plans change, on a weekly basis, for many reasons as mentioned above. Trailers are moved, content is shaved off, and releases are delayed: that is how it is.
One day a company might announce that X will not have a DLC, and 3 months later will announce that after all, there is going to be a paid DLC. A company might say that the game will be out on Y date, then announce 2 delays. Why?
Things change. FY goals to achieve, KPIs being good/bad, potential business, trying something new, listening to feedback, extending game cycle, etc. Or simply: someone might have talked too much, too fast, without aligning with all the teams, and with the company global strategy.
Is it a lie? Not at all. That’s how a company works.
To give a bit more details on this, let’s speak about content being taken off: a street date has to be respected in order to meet FY goals, but the developers take more time than expected. Some companies cannot afford to delay a game. This leads to a tough choice for the dev team:
- What feature goes down?
- How do we proceed?
- How do we explain this to fans?
- What was the fans feedback on all features revealed so far?
- Should the dev team keep on working and offer this as a DLC? Paid DLC?
- If we think about DLC, how are the game sales numbers looking?
Companies try to work as a team to bring something to the table. These teams take decisions based on some known (and some lesser known) facts. Those lesser known facts are either confirmed or not, later in the process: and this creates a difference between the original plan and the current events of things.
PR does have a bad image because of some unfortunate events happening in the past – or straight messing. PR does have a negative image because they are the ones bringing the bad news (that someone else decided, by the way). Our job is evolving, quickly. We have a lot more on the table than “send a press release” or “have a drink with a journalist”, we have to understand and implement the impact of social networks and influencers in our plans. Due to the business model of most online outlets, due to the passion of people in the media industry, we have to double down on the efforts to control the messaging and manage expectations, because clickbait is probably the next Olympic games to be announced. IMPORTANT: Not all journalists or Youtubers are the same. But the tendency is to click bait.
If a game looks bad, all stakeholders say it during meetings. Stakeholders provide feedback to development teams. We do tell them “hey, this might not come across properly”. We are a bunch of passionate persons working hard to make other gamers happy. We do not meet with other employees on a weekly basis to decide how we are going to lie – sorry, that doesn’t exist (Or they didn’t invite me?).
I’m not saying we are perfect, far from it. But fueling the “us vs them” narrative won’t do any good. It’s time to come along as an industry.
As I often say, “at the end of the day, it’s just gaming, we aren’t doing open heart surgeries”.
With my respects,