Back in October, I did an analysis of the announcement of the Nintendo Switch. It was a rather short one, with very few details shared at the time, with the promise of a more in depth presentation following an event in January. That event was last week, and now is a great time to look at how it went for the Nintendo teams.

The Console

There is no question that, of the three console manufacturers, currently Nintendo is lagging behind Sony and Microsoft and that is very apparent when looking at the media coverage of each console.

In the video games media landscape report that we shared last year, Nintendo received less than a third of the articles that PlayStation had. In that respect, the Switch announcement seems to have been fairly well covered. We are lacking data to compare it with other console announcements, though.

Here is another graph to illustrate how significant the event was for Nintendo’s coverage:

While it is not surprising that the main event showcasing a new console is the single biggest media event for Nintendo in the past 3 years, the scale it reached is significant. It is the single biggest announcement in terms of volume of coverage across all 3 main consoles for that period of time. For Nintendo, a company that is struggling to compete with the media attention its two contenders receive, it looks like a massive achievement.

And with the new cycle of consoles being upgrades from the current gen, rather than brand new iterations, this might stay true for a while for all we know.

 

Games

* Minecraft numbers are only for articles explicitly naming the Switch and Minecraft.

Looking at the games announced at last week’s event, there seems to be 4 categories:

  • Zelda is alone in the lead, with twice as many articles as any other games. Nothing surprising here: it was the crown jewel of the line-up, the game that was playable on-site, and it’s the one key launch title for the console. It is interesting to note though that it is garnering even more coverage than at last E3, where it was one of the leading game in terms of coverage (2,300 articles over a week compared to 2,600 articles since Friday)
  • Nintendo’s first party titles – they benefited from the full support of the firm’s communication effort. It’s also interesting to note that existing licences are performing better than the new brands. This is very normal of course, but interesting to actually see it in numbers.
  • 3rd party titles from key Japanese licences – I put in this bucket Bomberman, Fire Emblem and Xenoblade, that all received 400+ articles from the event.
  • Other 3rd party titles – this is of course more varied and spread out, but I think it’s worth noting Snipperclips and Octopath both securing more than 200 articles – no small feat for projects with their profiles.

That’s it for me (for now).

At ICO Partners we do PR for a wide range of games (from SMITE to Armello) and recently we started working on our first episodic game: The indie title The Lion’s Song.

To celebrate this week’s launch of Episode 2, we want to share some episodic-specific PR lessons we learned from supporting developer Mipumi Games in launching Episode 1 of the game.

the-lions-song-youtube-previewThe announcement trailer of The Lion’s Song.

1) Announce the whole “series” before talking about single episodes

We decided to announce the whole “series” first with a general trailer, describing the game concept and teasing what the individual episodes would entail. The challenge when promoting a game, and particularly when trying to make a strong first impression, is always to find as many strong talking points and PR angles as you can.

Focusing on just one episode for that first announcement would have severely limited the amount of talking points we had to work with, and wouldn’t have allowed us to sell the overarching vision for what the team are trying to achieve with the season as a whole. This additional outlook on the other episodes could also give further incentive for players to buy a Season Pass.

the-lions-song-1-media-coverage

A downside of announcing the season first is that it means you need to nail down details and commit early. Additionally, having a trailer showing footage of all episodes at such an early stage proved to be a challenge because…well, the studio only had footage of Episode 1 at this point. To make this work Mipumi Games had to create individual sections for the later episodes from scratch just for the video, which of course could have a knock-on effect on the development plan and schedule.

the-lions-song-banner

Looking at the coverage breakdown though (graph above), we would highly recommend this approach for promoting smaller episodic games. For us having a general reveal trailer of The Lion’s Song resulted in 74 online articles and got even more articles than the launch of Episode 1, with announcement coverage from high profile sites such as Killscreen, Pocketgamer, France’s (and looking at Alexa also Europe’s) biggest gaming site Jeuxvideo.com and the major German gaming site PCGames.de

2) Be careful with your wording if your first episode is free

Mipumi Games decided to launch Episode 1 – Silence for free: they saw this as an opportunity to expose the game to the largest number of players possible from the beginning, and that would hopefully convince players to stick around for the upcoming episodes.

the_lions_song_screenshot_02

From a PR point of view however, we were concerned that having a free first episode could result in media thinking The Lion’s Song was a small, almost fan made-like game, which could result in them deciding against covering it. After all, it’s a pixel art title from a relatively unknown studio, and all of our messages and promotional assets would say it’s free.

To avoid this from happening we put a lot of work into finding the best phrasing in the communication around the free episode correctly. Whenever we said Episode 1 is free for instance, we would immediately mention that the whole Season Pass costs €9,99. By doing this, we let people know that this is a premium quality game, but a game that we wanted to bring people into and try for themselves by removing that initial barrier to entry.

3) Press seems to focus and your first episode

At ICO, we have developed a tool we call the Media Monitor that basically tracks thousands of websites and shows us how individual games perform in the press (for more info on how it works look here). For The Lion’s Song, we took advantage of the tool and looked into data from other episodic games like Life is Strange, Hitman, King’s Quest or Tales from the Borderlands to see how their coverage evolved over time.

Looking at the coverage per episode it became clear episode 1 gets most media traction, whereas all episodes after that seem to drop in term of media coverage. You can see King’s Quest, Minecraft: Story Mode and Tales from the Borderlands as an example below.

the-lions-song-2-launch-coverage

Based on the data we would recommend to put most of your PR efforts and resources, especially for assets, into the initial announcement instead of saving your PR fireworks for later to build up hype. Of course it makes sense to try to keep pushing to gather press attention, but the first  episode will be the easiest points of your campaign to get eyes on your game, so take advantage of this.

4) Try to boost the news value of your other episodes

the-lions-song-3-life-is-strnage

Life is Strange proved to be an interesting case study in another regard: we looked at how much coverage each episode got when it’s launch day was announced. As you can see, episode 4 clearly breaks the pattern mentioned above. What happened? They announced a newsworthy sales milestone of 1 million copies sold at the same time as announcing episode 4 to boost their announcement – a clever way of helping the “weaker episodes” gather more traction.

That’s something we are looking into for the upcoming episodes of the Lion’s Song.

5) Youtubers are your friends, especially for episodic games

If you have followed the discussion around That, Dragon Cancer, the developers were not too happy about people streaming and putting together walkthroughs of their narrative game as they felt it hurt sales. Even though The Lion’s Song is a narrative game as well, the whole dynamic changes with episodic games, especially when episode 1 is free.

the-lions-song-youtube-preview-2Youtuber NichBoys playing The Lion’s Song

So while Youtubers might have “spoilered” Episode 1 for some players, we think the benefit of having more exposure and potentially hooking viewers on the upcoming episodes or the Season Pass seemed like a bigger positive for us. In the end, you can never really prevent videos from being released, so why not encourage and assist YouTubers/streamers who are interested in your game and have a direct line into the audience you are trying to reach

6. Consider not announcing the release date of your episodes

Working on many titles in a more traditional release cycle, we are used to announcing release dates before launching a game to get players and press in the right mindset, letting them know the game is coming soon and hopefully getting them excited. Looking at other episodic games, their tactics vary widely: From announcing the release date a week before (Life is Strange) to simply announcing the moment the episode becomes available, like most mobile games.

tls_launchdate

Going through our Media Monitor, we couldn’t make out a clear pattern that generally seems to work best, but we still learned a valuable lesson: a release date announcement for smaller games generally splits your media impact between two news beats (release date and launch shortly after) and can therefore drastically weaken your media impact on launch day – a moment where you usually want most players to hear about your game because they can get their hands on it straight away.

the-lions-song-4-life-is-strange-launch-announcements

For high profile titles like Life is Strange (graph below) this might not matter too much, as media and a large, enthusiastic player base are generally aware of and excited for an episode’s upcoming launch anyway.

For a smaller game gaining traction for two news beats close to each other seems more difficult. As an example we looked at Dreamfall Chapters (which is a bigger project but didn’t reach the scale of The Life is Strange’s media impact) and their media coverage with announcing the release date beforehand.

the-lions-song-5-dreamfall

For our smaller episodic game, splitting the news value per episode into two seemed like it would overall damage the media impact we can have, particularly for launching the traditionally weaker performing episodes. That’s why we decided that after Episode 1, we will only announce the Lion’s Song episodes once they are available to have the best chance of cutting through the media noise that day.  

That’s it for now. Thanks a lot to developer Mipumi Games for letting us share these insights and data points. We hope you found it helpful. If you have questions, or other tips you can reach me under @Olima on Twitter and in the comments.

This month has not only been busy with new game releases, as expected for this time of the year, but also with new announcements. On the back of the analysis of the PlayStation VR release and its media coverage, I went and looked at the media coverage that the recent Nintendo Switch reveal has secured.

A tweet and a video

There are not many console announcements; their life cycle is long enough to make them a rare occurrence. Our media monitoring tool has been running since mid-2013, but getting really in shape from early 2014 onwards, so I don’t have much data to properly compare the Nintendo Switch announcement. I will mostly use this year’s PS4 Pro and Xbox Scorpio announcements, keeping in mind that these are not full-blown new hardware being released, but upgrades of existing consoles.

The way the Nintendo Switch was announced is also unusual. It was outside of any major media event and in the middle of the busiest month for video games media with the release of many AAA titles; a new format for this kind of announcement. Also, Nintendo has been very sparse when it comes to details about the console (no detailed specs, no price point, no confirmed release titles), and stated clearly that they wouldn’t provide any of this until nearly next year.

With all this in mind, how well was the announcement covered by media?

articles_compared

Purely looking at the number of articles, the Nintendo Switch secured fewer than the PlayStation 4 Pro did at its reveal back in September, but way more than the Xbox “Scorpio” did at E3. I would call this a small victory for Nintendo, if only because there is very little to talk about on the Switch at the moment. Of course, there are many speculative articles, but it doesn’t feed the media cycle the way the Sony press conference did, where there was a price point, technical specs, and titles to discuss.

But to call it a win, I have to say I had to double check the number of unique websites that wrote about the consoles first:

websites_compared

The Nintendo Switch managed to secure coverage across more media than the PS4 Pro or the Xbox “Scorpio”, even if not in a massive way. Nintendo is clearly behind the two other console manufacturers, and it shows in the monthly tracking we do on the coverage of each platform, so being able to get this amount of attention is good for them. It is the biggest beat related to the Nintendo brand since we started tracking media coverage (January 2014), but it is still way behind what Sony and Microsoft gained for their biggest announcements in the period (usually around E3, but not exclusively, as the PlayStation Experience managed to build a lot of significant coverage the past couple of years too).

Where is the interest?

websites_compared_lg

Looking at the same metric (unique websites covering the announcement), there is a similar level of increased interest for the Nintendo Switch compared to the PlayStation 4 Pro across most languages. The notable exceptions being French and Spanish media, which covered this announcement in a bigger proportion than the other languages (and which makes sense considering the findings from the report on the different media landscapes) and Italian media where the increase was smaller than the other languages (and contrary to the same findings).

The websites parsed by the monitoring tool are also put in different categories and this is where an interesting pattern appears for this announcement:

websites_compared_mt

Nintendo is often seen as a family-friendly brand, one that has a wide appeal and name recognition outside of the video game industry. The bigger reach the Nintendo Switch announcement had with General Interest media would reflect that, and is quite significant here (note that the tool’s database is very much geared towards video games media and is not as exhaustive when it comes to media from different categories). But the significant reach the news had with websites qualified as Special Interest, is one I didn’t expect. Special Interest media cover a range of very specific topics, generally only tangentially related to video games. For example, it includes websites that focus on board games, “geek culture”, and science-fiction in its broadest expression. The news seems to have found a very strong resonance with those media compared to the “upgraded console” announcements.

All in all, this was a massive announcement for Nintendo, one on a scale that they don’t often have. And while it worked and found a significant reach in the media, it was not spectacular. Pokemon Go, at its highest week, saw a lot more coverage than the announcement of a brand new console. Of course, Pokemon Go was an extraordinary phenomenon, but so should be the reveal of your new device.

Here are the last couple of numbers to give some food for thought: at the time of writing this blog post, 5 days after the reveal, the Nintendo Switch reveal video on Youtube had 17m views; the Battlefield 1 reveal trailer had 22m views over the same time period.

 

Last week, Sony launched its VR headset, the last of the 3 major tethered HMDs (head mounted display) to release in 2016. This is a perfect opportunity to have a look at the media coverage around the launch and to see how well it has performed compared to the other two. If you have read our blog post on the VR in media report, the result shouldn’t be very surprising, though.

The Launches

To compare the launches, I looked at the 48h cycle around the official release of each headset and the number of articles gathered for each device.

hmd_launches

Sony is a lot better organized in regards to its PR, especially where games and technology media are concerned, and the results shows, with twice the coverage that Oculus had for its launch, that was itself better covered than the HTC Vive’s launch. But even then, the magnitude of the difference is really impressive. Oculus was first to market, in a highly anticipated technological advancement.

hmd_launches_lg

A first explanation can be found with the languages breakdown. It seems Sony has been way better at engaging with non-English media than both Oculus and HTC were. In English, the PlayStation VR is 37% bigger than Oculus’, where in Italian – the biggest gap – it is 249% bigger.

This said I don’t have any good comparisons with other, different hardware launches. The Xbox One S was launched in the middle of the summer with little fanfare, and it is arguably not a very significant launch (667 articles for its launch if you are curious). I guess the NX launch will be the next similar event that we can compare these numbers to.

it is good to note as well, and that’s true for all three HMDs, that the launch is not the biggest media beat of their lifecycle. For example, for the PlayStation VR, the price point announcement earlier this year at GDC and the E3 coverage were both more significant when it comes to the volume of media coverage.

psvr_announcements

The Games

With the launch of the new headset, a slew of VR games were part of the story. To cover the communications, that were spread across the week, I looked at their coverage for the whole of last week. Most of the articles were on the day of the PlayStation VR release or the following day.

vr_games

The odd one out in this top 10 is Robinson: The Journey. The game is not available yet on PSVR, but they announced they release date right around the PSVR release, getting a lot of attention thanks to that timing.

The Batman VR game has been getting a lot of coverage, the brand power probably helping it a bit. This game still has the best performance, getting more coverage than Sony’s first party titles Until Dawn and Driveclub.

EvE Valkyrie is also very well covered, especially for a game that has already been released on Oculus months ago.

These seem like good numbers for games launches overall – however, when looking at established IP’s going into VR such as Driveclub, the numbers are still lagging behind.

driveclub

These are the early days of VR, and it doesn’t seem like a bad start, but there is a long way to go still to get a proper foothold in the media. We can expect this to grow alongside VR adoption.

Following up on the blog post looking at the media coverage of E3 and gamescom, I wanted to do one on the “September Events”. The month was rich in games industry events, and I want to try to keep this series of articles as regular as possible to provide more context around the benefits of attending different events, from a media/PR point of view.

As usual, you can read about the tool and methodology here.

And take this with a pinch of salt, as always. Media coverage shouldn’t be the only reason to attend any event. And it’s also sometimes beneficial to be the biggest announcement of a smaller event rather than one-in-a-million at E3.

PAX West 2016

Going by chronological order, the PAX main event (even if it is getting challenged by PAX East), renamed PAX West this year after being PAX Prime for so long, took place early September in Seattle.

pax_years

Collecting data prior to 2015 proved complicated this time around, so I only look at this year and the previous one.

Overall coverage is lower, but stayed in the same order of magnitude. PAX being an American event, I was more curious about the coverage spread across different languages.

pax_lg_years

The year-on-year coverage stayed the same for English media, but there were fewer articles mentioning the event in Italian and German media. Looking at the media coverage, it seems there were fewer larger AAA games present at this year’s event, or at least, there were fewer announcements around the event. The fact that overall coverage in English stayed about the same should be seen as a sign that the event stayed strong despite fewer key news beats taking place at the show.

Tokyo Game Show

Next in line, the main games event in Japan, the Tokyo Game Show (TGS for short) started on the 15th September.

tgs_years

With Sony having its PlayStation Meeting earlier in the month in New York, it deprived the TGS from announcements that would have been done there in previous years. Sony still held a press conference during TGS, but it didn’t get as many headlines as the one from the previous year.

The major announcements for 2016 were related to the Final Fantasy games, the new Resident Evil, and the controversy around the new Metal Gear title (and it being disavowed by Hideo Kojima).

tgs_lg_2016

When looking at the EFIGS coverage, there is a surprising balance between the amount of articles referring to TGS in French, Italian, German and Spanish.

tgs_lg_years

The international appeal of the TGS is clear when looking at the distribution of the EFIGS coverage. Interesting to note that the English media are the only ones that covered this year’s edition more than last year’s.

EGX

Coming last in September was EGX. The event is very much geared towards consumers, but benefits from being the largest games event in the UK, with local studios using it as a platform for their own announcements. This year, the latest Yooka-Laylee trailer (that includes Shovel Knight as a guest star) was probably one of the biggest announcements tied to the event.

egx_years

After seeing a significant growth in coverage from 2014 last year, this year’s media mentions of the event saw a slight decline. EGX 2015 saw a lot of media attention due to some of the comments made by Sony’s president Shuhei Yoshida.

egx_lg_years

Unlike the more internationally covered PAX West and TGS, EGX is mostly covered and mentioned by English speaking media. The amount of coverage in French is actually surprisingly low considering that the event is still a vehicle for announcements that see significant relay in other languages.

Comparing the reach

As a last exercise, I compared the actual number of unique English websites that covered each event, as a way to compare their reach and presence in that media landscape that is less reliant on the number of news beats relayed at the event.

websites

It is quite interesting to see PAX being at the level of TGS, and while EGX is significantly behind, it is not an insurmountable gap. In 2014, there were 143 unique English websites reporting on TGS, by then already a very well established event. I can see EGX reaching similar numbers in a couple of years if they keep building their profile as a good platform for reaching media and the right people in the industry.

Over the past few years, we have been trying many different ways to support the growing number of independent studios, especially when it comes to gaining visibility for their video games. The realities of a PR agency like ICO Media mean that we charge for the service. While this is often outside of what the studios can afford, that doesn’t mean we are not trying to find ways around it.

For instance Thomas (the-other-Thomas) is contributing regularly to events like the GDC (you can watch a free talk on the 5 Pillars and Pitfalls on indie games PR here), the Central Europe Game Conference (a free talk on PR basics for indies can be found here), or most recently, Digital Taipei (yes, there are independent studios in Taiwan), are part of that.

And as we look on how we can help further, the team has devised a one-day workshop specifically geared towards independent studios who can’t afford to pay an agency. The idea is very much to explain in great detail how to outreach media and influencers, but also to give the opportunity for the studios to show their texts, assets, and PR plans to PR professionals, get their feedback, and improve their strategy with concrete advice they can apply to their project.

 

The very first edition of this workshop will take place on the 14th of October, around the corner from us in Brighton, UK. You can find more details and the workshop content on the page of the event.