Big Pic­ture Mode

In­dus­try is­sues given the widescreen treat­ment

EDGE - - SECTIONS - NATHAN BROWN Nathan Brown is not in­ter­ested in look­ing at your pixel-art world-builder from a team of for­mer MMO devel­op­ers

Nathan Brown pon­ders the lot of the hum­ble videogame PR rep

The path from videogame sar­cas­tic-airquotes-jour­nal­ism to videogame sar­cas­tic-airquotes-PR is a well-trod­den one. It is, in my ex­pe­ri­ence at least, the most com­mon next step on the ca­reer path for writ­ers, and for good rea­son: the money’s bet­ter, you’ve got the con­tacts and the re­la­tion­ships, and you know how that part of the in­dus­try works in­side out. I al­ways ap­pre­ci­ate – OK, some­times ap­pre­ci­ate – when a writer who jumped the fence ap­proaches us, be­cause they un­der­stand how we work, the sort of timescales we op­er­ate within, and what we need to get the job done.

The fo­cus is so over­whelm­ingly on on­line and video th­ese days that plenty of PRs think two wa­ter­marked screen­shots, a logo and an em­bargo set four days af­ter an event is some­how go­ing to re­sult in four pages of a mag­a­zine. Work­ing with some­one who un­der­stands how we op­er­ate – be­cause they’ve worked along­side us, or they’ve been around long enough to re­mem­ber how things went when print was the de­fault – can be re­fresh­ing. (Mostly, any­way: ev­ery so of­ten you get some­one who thinks that just be­cause you got drunk to­gether at E3 once, you’re go­ing to be in­ter­ested in writ­ing about their An­droid fart­ing game.) The best of the best know what we’re in­ter­ested in and tai­lor their ap­proach ac­cord­ingly.

Clearly work­ing in PR has its ben­e­fits, but I don’t think I’d be cut out for it. The big­gest sin­gle thing stop­ping me, apart from wor­ry­ing about how I’d get to sleep at night know­ing I’d sold my soul (joke, PR friends!), is that, un­less you’re lucky enough to work in-house at a sin­gle de­vel­op­ment stu­dio, you’re just a small cog in a very big ma­chine. Worse than that, you’re a small cog whose job is to en­sure the ma­chine as a whole doesn’t look silly; but the ma­chine is so large that you have no way of know­ing what the rest of the cogs are up to. For all you know, some­one some­where is putting on their clown cos­tume and prep­ping the stealth re­lease of a deeply racist fart­ing game.

We’ve seen a few re­minders of that re­cently – in quick suc­ces­sion, and from some of the big­gest play­ers in the game. On March 5, I re­ceived an email from Mi­crosoft about the Fable Leg­ends beta – sent not to press, but to reg­is­tered play­ers – de­tail­ing a cou­ple of fea­tures that had re­cently been im­ple­mented into Lion­head’s weird F2P ex­per­i­ment. The sub­ject line read ‘ Fable

Leg­ends – a new rea­son to play ev­ery day’. Two rea­sons later, on March 7, Mi­crosoft an­nounced it had can­celled the game and was propos­ing to close Lion­head’s doors. There’s no way that who­ever sent the first email knew what was com­ing: it was a de­ci­sion made at the very high­est level of Mi­crosoft. But when I saw the news, I im­me­di­ately thought back to that email, and cringed on be­half of the poor flack who, just days ear­lier, had clicked send, bliss­fully ig­no­rant of the axe hover­ing above them and their game.

Sony, mean­while, has played the PR game mas­ter­fully so far this gen­er­a­tion. It seemed like it had done it again when a kind-hearted and un­doubt­edly well-mean­ing tweet from the PlaySta­tion Jobs ac­count a few days af­ter the Lion­head an­nounce­ment in­vited all af­fected staff to a re­cruit­ment fair the fol­low­ing week. One small prob­lem: un­be­knownst to who­ever hit send on that, a dozen or so pay­grades up the chain the bean­coun­ters were plan­ning a clo­sure of their own. Less than a fort­night later, Sony an­nounced its plans to drop the shut­ters on Evo­lu­tion Stu­dios. Arm­chair pun­dits called con­spir­acy, de­cry­ing the com­pany for mak­ing eyes at Mi­crosoft’s Lion­head staff while plot­ting a mass breakup of its own, as if the two were some­how con­nected.

I re­cently com­pleted a start-to-fin­ish re-watch of The West Wing. I do it ev­ery few years and felt the need to do it again, its cosy lefty em­brace a wel­come sanc­tu­ary from a world lurching to­wards a right-wing catas­tro­phe. Pres­i­dent Bart­let’s team ob­sess over how ev­ery lit­tle de­tail of a pol­icy, an­nounce­ment or re­ac­tion to the day’s po­lit­i­cal hot potato might go over with the press and the vot­ers. Noth­ing goes out to the me­dia un­til it’s been dis­cussed from all an­gles by the smartest peo­ple in the room, to en­sure that the White House isn’t left look­ing stupid. Would the game in­dus­try look a bit bet­ter if things ran a lit­tle more like that? Per­haps, but to the ca­sual ob­server it’d cer­tainly be a lit­tle less en­ter­tain­ing. And it would block off a lu­cra­tive ca­reer path to some of my peers. I get enough dirty looks in the of­fice as it is.

For all you know, some­one is putting on a clown cos­tume and prep­ping the re­lease of a deeply racist fart­ing game

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