Big Picture Mode
Industry issues given the widescreen treatment
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