ICO GDC 2016 talk for free: The 5 Pillars & Pitfalls of Indie Games PR

On this blog we mostly talk about topics from the video games consulting part of ICO Partners, but we also have an excellent Public Relations team working on a wide range of clients and titles (from big players like SMITE, Fractured Space, Endless Legend to indie titles such as Evoland, The Lion’s Song and Fragments of Him).

This April I did a talk at GDC about indie games PR titled “Everyone Can do PR – The 5 Pillars & Pitfalls of Indie Games PR”.  You can watch the talk for free on the GDC Vault by clicking on the image below. You can also check out the slides and download them here.

Talk description: “In today’s crowded games market that sees hundreds of game releases each month, getting overlooked is one of the biggest threats for indie games. This session covers the 5 PR pillars indie studios doing their own PR should prioritize in order to get heard by press, youtubers and streamers. This 5 key areas are backed up with practical examples and by showing data such as effects of PR stunts on media coverage and sales. The talk also covers 5 typical pitfalls in indie games PR and 5 future trends that will shape how to do PR as a small game studio in the future.”

talk_preview

Is an April fools’ joke a good PR tool for your game?

The unamusing data analysis of four recent examples

[Update: The Rocket League team have been in touch with and clarified this year’s April Fool’s prank was – unlike the assumption made by us and several other news outlets – not actually made by them, but rather a community site. We added an additional paragraph in the Rocket League section on this post to reflect this.] 

Traditionally, on every April 1st countless game makers pull off April fools’ jokes, with at least as many gamers and more importantly media laughing or complaining about them. This raises the question of whether cooking up an April fool’s joke could be more than just an enjoyable team building exercise, and actually be a strong PR tool for your game? The short answer: yes! Just kidding: like almost everything in PR it depends on circumstance.

To try answer the above question more in-depth, we analysed some general data from this year’s jokes. We also examined four very different examples in greater detail. The data below should hopefully help you decide whether participating in next years April’s fool’s fun is worth your PR resources.

 

2016’s April pranks PR performance comparison

In the graph below you can see the general ranking of this year’s April fools’ jokes according to how many articles they generated in media. For more info on the tracking method please read this entry. Please also note that this selection excludes several jokes – such as Hearthstones fake MMO – due to it being a too much of a generic name for our tool to track consistently. Furthermore, other stunts that didn’t get enough coverage to be tracked, were also excluded.

general_articles

If you are interested in what the actual joke for the games in the graph were, I have listed links to them at the very end at the article but now back to the coverage graph. Unsurprisingly, big brands like The Witcher 3 and Dark Souls III led the coverage charts. However, the fact that a small title like Clustertruck gained more traction than big brands like Final Fantasy 14 and most notably Rocket League, shows that a strong name doesn’t necessarily guarantee coverage when the idea or execution of the PR stunt isn’t quite right.

In the four example case studies analysed, we take a look at what helped or hindered these stunts. But first let’s have a quick look at how the different games’ related videos performed on YouTube.

general_youtube

As mention before we couldn’t track Hearthstone’s MMO joke in terms of coverage but it still included in the Youtube overview graph which it is leading – most likely due to Blizzard’s strong community. While Dark Souls III was a very hot topic in the number of articles it was featured in, it was far less popular on YouTube compared to the Witcher 3. One explanation for this could be that news outlets were eager to pick up on the Dark Souls III news, as the game was due to be released a week after. Therefore, references to Dark Souls III would most certainly generate traffic on articles. However, in reality the audience wasn’t too impressed by the video itself, leading to the smaller numbers of views.

The big difference in coverage and YouTuber numbers could also be related to a variety of other factors, such as the Witcher 3 simply pushing video content more or having a stronger YouTube community.

Lets look at our four, hand-picked examples in a bit more detail.

 

Case Study 1
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt with “Roach”

The Witcher 3’s joke high ranking does not come as a surprise as it has a lot going for it: a massive brand; a good quality video; and, of course, a horse. What was missing, however, was any sort of content or interaction with the actual game.

So by general metrics the Roach video was a huge success. Comparing the Witcher to its own high standards, it becomes clear that the April fool’s joke wasn’t strongly picked up by press compared to other Witcher news beats from the last year as illustrated in the graph below. Sure, it caused a decent bump in coverage, but compared to other  Witcher news beats, it wasn’t as impressive.

witcher_coverage

Through looking at the Witcher’s YouTube channel however, it seems that CD Project Red had more success in reaching its YouTube audience with the April Fools’ joke. The video hit a little over a million views, which is pretty much exactly the average view count across all videos on the channel. The video also seemed to have resonated with the audience as 99% of the over 30,00 YouTube ratings were positive. It also got more views than for example a video of the unboxing of the special edition or a making of video featuring Charles Dance (Dad Lannister from Game of Thrones).

witcher_3_youtube

 

Case Study 2
Clustertruck with “SUPER TRUCK”

If you follow my Twitter you will know I’m a big fan of tinybuild’s unconventional and often clever PR stunts. For April fool’s they managed to pull of an impressive joke for their game Clustertruck called SUPER TRUCK.

Not only does the April fool’s joke come with a high quality video, it also plays on Super Hot and perfectly capitalizes on the high profile of the indie hit. In addition, the joke offered a playable version of SUPER TRUCK that repackages and promotes the gameplay of the upcoming actual game Clustertruck

clustertruck_youtube

The video alone managed to get 88.420 views on tinybuilds official YouTube channel. None of the other Clustertruck videos from developer Landfill Game’s reached such a high viewing number.

Another very positive side effect of a playable April Fools’ joke is buzz from YouTubers. Just from a quick search of the first page of YouTube search results for “SUPER TRUCK” we spotted over 2 million additional views from additional Let’s Plays. A nice benefit that others – for example The Witcher’s Roach or the Hearthstone MMO – missed out on.

clustertruck_coverage

Media coverage also turned out to be great for a relatively low profile game like Clustertruck, resulting in the biggest PR beat for the game until now.  That being said, SUPER TRUCK alone generated nearly three times the amount of articles than articles about the April Fools’ joke that also mention the actual game Clustertruck, which might be both positive and negative. On the one hand, the lack of a clear and visible link between the two games may have resulted in the April Fool’s stunt looking less like a promotion, thus leading to more players’ interest. However, this doesn’t help Clustertruck as much as it could have in terms of brand awareness.

Either way, the joke is the biggest PR topic for Clustertruck so far and shows that with the right idea, a good asset, and something playable, an April fools has the potential to be a great PR booster for both press and YouTubers alike.

 

Case Study 3
Guild Wars 2 with “Super Adventure Box”

guild_wars_april

Guild Wars 2 has a tradition for April fool’s jokes of adding retro looking levels to the game. This years Super Adventure box missed a video (which was a bit of a shame in my opinion) but the actual new content in the game generated a very good amount of articles for the online game.

guild_wars_coverage

Looking at Guild Wars 2 coverage from the last year it is clear that the game has been out for a while and it is getting a bit quieter around the title. However, the in-game event managed to generate a nice media bump for the title that would have had most likely far less media impact if it wouldn’t have been placed on 1 April.

 

Case Study 4
Rocket League with “Ragequit Bot”

Update: The Rocket League team have been in touch with and clarified this year’s April Fool’s prank was – unlike the assumption made by us and several other news outlets – not actually made by them, but rather a community site. Apologies for the misunderstanding to the Rocket League team and congratulations to the Rocket League Garage team. To my knowledge this is one of the few times a fan made April Fool’s joke has made it into several prank round-ups from gaming websites. April Fool is on us I guess!

As mentioned above, getting media attention for an April Fools joke is no doubt easier with a bigger brand. However, our final case study, Rocket League, demonstrated clearly that even a huge name does not guarantee media attention. Rocket League’s video seemed a bit rushed, not very well thought-out, and most importantly not very funny.

rocket_league_coverage

That is also reflected in the media coverage for the trailer,  which hovered somewhere in the single to low double digit numbers, whereas more successful news beats for the game generated several hundred articles. As Rocket League was also featured on several other topics that day, the low performance of the Ragequit bot video is not very apparent in the coverage graph above. To make it more visible, we decided to display it in a separate line in the graph.

rocket_league_youtube

On the YouTube front, the video didn’t generate great viewing numbers for the Rocket League community. It should be pointed out however that the video was not featured on the main YouTube channel of Rocket League, but instead on a community channel.

On average a video on the Rocket League main channel gets 173.613 views, and the community channel 115.404 views; the Ragequit Bot only managed to get 64.254 views, meaning that it under-performed in direct comparison.

 

The five golden rules of April fool’s jokes

To conclude, we wrote up five rules to keep in mind if you try to run an April fool’s joke next year.

  1. Stick to joke that are obviously jokes – even an idiot can see it is not serious…
  2. … but even if taken seriously, then make sure the announcement can’t be seen as a negative.
  3. If you don’t have good ideas, don’t do a prank announcement. Better nothing than something lame.
  4. Announce your prank before 12:00 pm. Late jokes seem out of place and miss round up featuring.
  5. If you manage to have something that is playable, do it. It works for Let’s Plays videos, it can get you tons of extra views; but it will get better effect overall.

 

 


2016 April pranks featured in this article

GDC 2016 in media coverage

VR dominates the headlines, PlayStation beats Xbox and less but better coverage for the event

Like last year, I have put together a quick summary of the media coverage the Game Developer Conference received. If you have a look at last year’s blog post, you will see the methodology for measuring events’ media coverage has evolved. For events, I am looking at the “Key 20 days”, standing for the 9 days prior to the events and the 11 days from the beginning of the event. For topics, like last year, we look at the coverage for the whole week, from Sunday to Sunday that specifically mentioned the event.

GDC 2016: Fewer articles but higher profile coverage

For anyone attending, this year was a really impressive GDC. The halls were busy right from the beginning of the week and this is the first time since I have been attending the event (about 15 years out of 30 years of its existence) that I saw sessions showing as being full on the Monday.

Surprisingly, the official press release after the event that shows attendance numbers, announced the event has only grown from  “more than 26,000 visitors” to “more than 27,000 visitors“.

Where does GDC 2016 stand from a media coverage perspective though?

001-gdc_articles

There has been a slight decline in the number of articles mentioning GDC this year. It still saw more media coverage than 2 years ago though, and this is a significant amount of media attention for a professional event.

The fact is, even more than other comparable events, GDC media coverage is very dependent on the profile of the announcements made during the week and there are no staple press conferences like the ones at E3 or gamescom. Last year’s HTC Vive reveal, or the Unreal and Unity shifts of business models announcements might be at play here? The single biggest news in this 2016 edition was the Playstation VR’s price point though, but more on this later.

002-gameevents_articles

* Just a reminder that E3 is missing due to technical limitations with our tools.

The GDC stays in the same range of media coverage as the Playstation Experience or the Paris Games Week (the one with the Sony Press Conference).

However, there is one metric on which it stays ahead.

I have mentioned in the past, we give different media outlets a score based on their Alexa ranking. The better the ranking, the higher the score, up to a maximum of 10. This score doesn’t feature very often in the blog post as it is not always relevant and I also try to keep things simple (even if sometimes I fail despite various experiments over on Twitter).

The following graph shows the average score for the articles covering different game events. It is quite telling.

003-gameevents_averagescore

With the exception of the Playstation Experience 2015, the GDC is standing head and shoulders above the other events in terms of the profile of the media covering it. More articles are written that mention GDC from large websites than any other event, and this might be stemming from the professional dimension of the event.

Games engines media coverage comparison

More than any other event, GDC sees more announcements related to game engines and professional software and it is always interesting to see which one is coming on top each edition.

004-gdc_engines

This year was light on announcement around game engines, especially compared to last year. Crytek’s “Pay what you want” communication being the one standing out once the dust settled, but it still didn’t rock the world the way Unreal’s communication last year did.

Virtual Reality wins GDC

While it seems the decline in media coverage from last year could be explained purely by the fewer articles on game engine, it is time to address the biggest topic of this year’s GDC.

And while I wrote this right after the event, it is interesting to see that the general feeling that Virtual Reality took over this year edition is not just an impression:

005-gdc_vr

No question about it, between the eminent release of the Rift, and the Playstation VR announcements, there has been a lot of media coverage for Virtual Reality the week of GDC.

Virtual Reality was such a big topic that of the articles that mention GDC, a significant portion of them were about VR:

tweet_VRandGDC

In those five days, 28% of articles mentioning GDC are about VR. On the 16th of March, the day with the most articles related to the GDC, 38% of those articles mention VR.  Even on the 17th of March, where VR is only in 17% of GDC articles, it was the dominant topic.

Platforms comparison – A strong year for Sony and PlayStation

Looking at the evolution from one year to another in regards to the platforms and their coverage during the GDC week.

006-gdc_platforms

Things have stayed more or less at the same level for Xbox. There was quite a bit of news from Microsoft though, between the announcement they would open their platform for crossplay and the doubling down on the ID@Xbox commitment.

Playstation obviously is surfing on the Playstation VR wave, and probably has a few more things related to this up its sleeve for E3.

Leading up to June, it will be interesting to see how much Sony builds up on the momentum that the VR hype has created.

Top games in the media in 2015 (and how well the platforms did too)

With 2015 behind us, and the new year already under way, it is time for the traditional year-in-review articles, and I don’t see any reason for us to avoid the trend. I went to Twitter to ask about what to tackle first, and the media overview won over a Kickstarter post (probably due to my recent article on GI.biz satisfying the need for the time being, but don’t worry, a Kickstarter related article will happen too).

As usual, if you are not familiar with the way the data is collected, I invite you to read the blog post on the topic.

Games

As a reminder, we mostly look at the top games for every single month. While this is not ideal, at least it provides some insights on what the top topics in the media are. I have selected a few games to look at in more detail to help give some sense of scale.

But to start things, here are the top 15 games that garnered the most media coverage in 2015:

games_top15_year_2015

First thing, please note the scale starts at 20,000 articles over the whole year. It is a bit deceiving, but it does make the  chart easier to read.

At the top, at a comparable amount of coverage, we have 3 different games:

  • The Witcher 3. An action RPG, historically a PC franchise, from a smaller publisher (smaller doesn’t mean small though) and that got a fantastic amount of coverage which I believe is mostly because of how good it is and how much its audience wanted to read about it. CD Project also managed the communication on the title very well, including after launch and with a strong and clever DLC strategy.
  • Fallout 4. I have talked a lot about Fallout 4 in the past already. The game got a huge amount of coverage, but is not the first on the list only because it was announced until we were already 5 months into the year.
  • Grand Theft Auto V. A game launched released in 2013, but the franchise is strong in the family (should have kept that one for the next game in the list, but hey). If you look at the key events for this game in the year, it was mostly the PC release. For a strong console franchise this is not considered key, but it seems there is a never-ending interest for the GTA games in the media.

Next in the line is Star Wars Battlefront, which did significantly well in terms of coverage. However, considering this is the comeback of a beloved name, a Star Wars game released close to the 7th Episode of the movie saga, and the Battlefield/DICE FPS of the holidays, it came to be expected that it would do well with the media.

A few other things I feel like pointing out:

  • Minecraft is a regular performer in the monthly media performance overview, and it is a game that is incredibly steady (few spikes, but few lows) and expected to be in this ranking. League of Legends, though, is rarely in the monthly Top 15 games, but is incredibly steady in the amount of media coverage it gets. While I expected the game to have a wider reach due to the final Worlds being in Europe (with events across different countries for about a month), it makes it one of the most presented game in online media in 2015.
  • There are 4 games in that list that are exclusives: Bloodborne (released in spring with less high profile competition and more time to gather coverage through the year), Halo 5 (the strongest Microsoft game franchise… after Minecraft), Rise of the Tomb Raider (an iconic, hall-of-famey franchise) and… Splatoon. Incredibly good media coverage for the Nintendo squid-shooter game, and again I believe the quality of the game resulted in its excellent media presence.

Highlighted games through 2015

game_SELEC_2015

In order to give some sense of the media coverage for games, I arbitrarily picked 5 games with fairly different patterns on the way they are covered. Right away, with this first comparison, we can see the difference in the scale of the coverage between 3 of the top 15 games in media coverage, and 2 indie games that were very well covered by media.

game_fallout_2015

 

Fallout 4 had a dream start at E3, getting record breaking coverage during the event. But the coverage it received on release, 16,000 articles in the month of November, is way, way more than the highest number of articles for a single game in a month. In 2014, the game with the most articles in a given month was Watch Dogs with close to 11,000 articles when it was released in May, with the close second GTA 5 with 9,600 articles in November, both of those performances being quite unique during the year. Here we have Fallout 4 with close to 50% more articles than the best of those performance in November. Truly a phenomenon.

 

game_minecraft_2015

I was talking about the steadiness of the Minecraft media coverage and I really wanted to show it off. There were never less than 2,000 articles per month and there was a nice flow of new releases, as well as the announcements of the support with new devices like the Oculus Rift and Microsoft’s Hololens for instance.

game_tombraider_2015

Rise of the Tomb Raider illustrates nicely the media cycle for a game as part of a big franchise. The game had been announced earlier in the previous year and before E3 had very few communications pushed by out by Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics. The February spike is coming from the one announcement in that period, about the fact the game would be released on the Xbox 360 as well.

Then E3 kicked in, the machine was in motion, steadily ramping up till the launch of the game in November.

game_goatsim_2015

I make no secret of my undying love for Goat Simulator and its incredibly efficient communication style. The DayZ parody DLC (even though I no longer know if this is still a parody with Goat Sim) in May was the height of the media coverage for the game, followed by the media coverage of the PS3/PS4 version of the game in August. It is interesting to see how the larger overall coverage observed for the different platforms is echoed here for Goat Simulator where, while released earlier on Xbox 360 and Xbox One (in April), it didn’t receive as many mentions in the media.

 

game_dontstarve_2015

Looking at the most important months in terms of coverage for Don’t Starve:

  • June saw two very large announcements with the release of Don’t Starve Together and Don’t Starve coming to Xbox One.
  • In December, Don’t Starve Shipwrecked was released in Early Access on Steam and Don’t Starve Together was featured at the PlayStation Experience.
  • May had the Wii U version of the game released.
  • April, July, August and November have a remarkably close amount of coverage which was (mostly) coming in respective order from the release of Invisible Inc. (where many media mentioned Klei as “The makers of Don’t Starve”), the Don’t Starve Pocket edition release, the announcement of Don’t Starve Shipwrecked, and the announcement of the release date of Don’t Starve Shipwrecked on Early Access.

More games data

Platforms

I won’t be looking at 2015 year month by month, but will rather mention a few things that happened that are worth highlighting before sharing slides with the monthly data for anyone who wants to dig into those in more detail.

What’s is interesting to note is that looking at the whole year, there are big differences in the global coverage across the different platforms.

platforms_articles_2015b

The PlayStation brand is having a very strong lead over Xbox, with 66% more articles taken over the whole period. The brand not only has more usage (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation VR) but also leads across products in a similar generation, with PlayStation 4 for instance having 35% more mentions in the media than the Xbox One.

Worth noting is that at the end of the year, mobile platforms are neck and neck in terms of coverage. The media samples we use are not heavily geared towards tech websites though, and it might be a totally different story if they were. We mostly have websites covering the game side of mobile (and sometimes also other news in that space), but regardless it is a very interesting outcome.

The Nintendo brands are very much behind the other consoles. This is not necessarily very surprising as there is a strong correlation between the number of title releases each console see every year, and Nintendo consoles don’t have as many title launches. Looking at the monthly data, Nintendo is also very much behind the curve on the media coverage.

PlayStation and Xbox

playstation_monthly_articles_2015

xbox_monthly_articles_2015 xboxvps_monthly_articles_2015

Unsurprisingly, the biggest month for the media coverage was E3. We have seen in the past that it is the event in the year that has the biggest media impact. Interestingly, March is next for both platforms. That month sees a lot of game releases, and I suspect a harder push on the media side because of  the fiscal year ending. Events such as GDC and PAX East, while having some effect, are not covered enough to be the reason behind the March spike. September is the third biggest month for PlayStation; it sees the double effect of the first wave of the year-end releases and the Tokyo Game Show.

Of course, we can see the outcome of Microsoft being the only platform holder with a media conference at gamescom. It is the one month in the year where they clearly close the gap with Sony’s console, even if they don’t necessarily reach the same level.

Finally, the steady performance of the PlayStation over the last quarter is quite remarkable. A steady release of AAA games helps, but the positive effect of the PlayStation Experience on the media coverage is tremendous and the one reason that December, an otherwise slow month for the other platforms, is one of the strongest for Son – right in time for Christmas.

I think the competitors should take a page from Sony’s playbook on this.

Oculus

While I plan to delve further into VR in the media later this year, it is interesting to have a look at Oculus specifically. We are still far from the media coverage the large game platforms have, but this is still quite significant.

oculus_monthly_articles_2015

A lot of the Oculus media coverage is lead by announcements and events. June 2015 had the Oculus media event the week before E3, as well as coverage from the VR company’s presence at E3. May 2015 saw the announcement of the release of the commercial version for 2016, and while expected, this had been a confirmation as there were still discussions of the device being a Christmas 2015 release. September 2015 was when the Oculus Connect 2 event happened, and even while this is a developer event and the device not being available yet, it is a strong platform for announcements such as Minecraft coming to the Oculus Rift. Interestingly, December 2015 saw a more incremental build-up from multiple beats during the month, even if the Games Awards announcement (Guitar Hero VR leading the charge) had a strong effect there too.

Even though I was expecting to see a growth from last year (there were almost 30,000 articles in 2014, with at least 1,500 articles just on the Facebook acquisition of the company though), all in all, this is a decent point to build up from and we shall see how much VR will evolve in 2016 as the first time when you can actually buy the first commercial headset. Personally, I can’t wait to get our CV version that we will receive as Kickstarter backers.

More platforms data…

 

Paris Games Week 2015 – Media coverage

Going back as promised on this year’s game events and their media coverage, today I am looking into the early results of the Paris Games Week held from 28th of October to the 1st of November.

This year’s event was particularly interesting as it was chosen to host the Sony media conference instead of the one usually held during gamescom.

Last time around I used a formula looking at the key 20 days of different events, so the numbers I am showing today are a bit short for the Paris Games Week (PGW). I had to make a choice about getting the same numbers but publishing in a few weeks (I am away in Korea to attend Gstar and have meetings with clients) and publishing this week with a partial outlook. Considering the partial numbers are already very telling, it seems like a better idea to make this post while the event is still fresh in everyone’s mind.

Scale of PGW 2015

Using the same numbers for all the recent events as the last time, the results are very interesting:

events_scale_tillPGW2015_articles_b

The PGW 2015 edition has seen a massive growth in its media coverage – it has grown over 500% compared to last year alone. There is no doubt the Sony press conference played a key role (more on that later), and its takes the event close to the size of the main GDC event.

However, it is still a way  from the  media coverage we can see out of gamescom or even the Tokyo Game Show (which has still about a 1/3 more coverage than the PGW) despite the fact that the event happens on the other side of the world and the media that we track are Western media. But for its first edition, backed by a major media event, this is an outstanding performance.

 

Sony events

With the Paris Games Week behind us now, we have a great opportunity to look into the effect the event had on Sony’s game console media presence in comparison to its other recent media events.

events_sony_tillPGW15_articles_3days

To focus on the media dedicating time to the Sony conference, I limited the sample to 3 days – the day of the conference and the following 2 days. Longer period give more weight to the media initiatives on the show floor, or other unrelated announcements. Also bear in mind that articles only related to the console, but not the specifically about the event, are also counted.

The result was surprising to me. While Paris Game Week was the event this year that had the least coverage, it came surprisingly close to the Tokyo Game Show, but even more surprising, it had more media coverage than its direct European predecessor, the Sony media conference at gamescom last year.

Sony obviously did a great job in its media outreach around the event as well as efficiently managing the invites to the event itself. There is probably a positive effect from the company being on its own at the event, with no particular major announcement from its console competitors at the same time. An effect that Microsoft benefited from this year at gamescom as we saw earlier.

In many ways, this validates Sony’s decision to feature its media conference during the Paris Games Week. As each event is unique in many ways, the value of certain announcements not being equal, it is impossible to say if the number would have been better at gamescom, but the fact that they look so good, even compared to the closer Tokyo Game Show, is a feat in itself. It looks like a small repeat of last year’s brilliant Playstation Experience.

Talking of which, it will be the next milestone in this series on the impact of events on the media coverage.

The PGW’s paradox

Running concurrently with Paris Games Week is Game Connection – a special networking event where industry professionals can make appointments to meet. Last week, I also attended the Game Connection side of the event, and on multiple occasions I discussed with the people I was meeting the overall presence of the media (including a few journalists) at PGW.

There was a clear lack of international journalists at the Paris Games Week itself. It appears that many media flew over for the Sony conference and left right after it. In a few discussions, it seemed like they were not aware of the fact that they could attend PGW as well, nor that they could easily get newsworthy content from the exhibitors. And to be honest, they were not totally wrong. In many ways, the event is not structured to include media. The Game Connection, which is the only B2B space at the location, isn’t historically structured to host journalists. They have made specific efforts to be more inclusive of media, but we are far from the gamescom equivalent of the B2B area which hosts business meetings as well as media meetings in a dedicated environment.

But even the showfloor, which at gamescom is used for many media meetings and hands-on experiences, wasn’t set-up with media in mind. The space was almost always totally open, with very few meetings rooms there, and from what I could see, no booth had an identified location to find staff for a professional enquiry. Add to this the fact (reported to me, being fluent in French, it didn’t come to mind to actually check on this the couple of times I went to the showfloor) that the hosting staff were not selected with their capacity to communicate in English in mind. As a result you have a very consumer driven event, not very welcoming for the few international media that were present.

Local media were there though, and with a strong presence, but that doesn’t answer my questions in regards to what I call the PGW’s Paradox:

The PGW has stated its international ambitions many times. This is taken from their October press release:

International scope

The first Paris Games Week was held 5 years ago. This event tailored for all gamers has quickly and firmly established itself in the world’s top 5 video gaming fairs. Today, Paris Games Week is one of the world’s essential gaming industry events, for gamers as much as for professionals. The 2015 edition will host international speakers and exclusive releases, brand new to Paris Games Week. Members of SELL, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, are delighted to see the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre become home to everyone involved in video gaming, a place where the industry comes together to discover the new products that will be the stars of the end-of-year season.

While the Game Connection is very international, the PGW showfloor wasn’t. And its management of media lacked significantly in providing a strong basis for coverage outside of France.

This is by no means an easy fit. You would need a number of publishers and studios to play along, to provide multiple key beats during the event to attract international media, and the date of the event doesn’t make this very easy as October/November is usually more about the seasonal blockbusters and AAA-titles than new, upcoming announcements. But, if there was a perfect opportunity to do this, it was this year, and if there was one organisation in France able to coordinate this, it would the SELL, the PGW’s organizer, a trade body representing the videogame publishers.

There is a missed opportunity there, and depending on what Sony does next year in regards to its European media conference, this might have been a unique chance. With gamescom later in August, Sony might move back the conference there and depending on how happy they are of the Paris conference and how they want to situate the important announcements compared the competition. It is interesting to note that nothing prevents Microsoft to look into making its own announcements during PGW next year. However, I doubt the two companies will share their thoughts on what they will do…

Paris Games Week – picture @icotom

Note – you can find out more on the methodology on the dedicated blog post.

PR Intelligence – Video game events

While I had some requests to look into the Tokyo Game Show the way we looked into gamescom or E3, I thought that with the event being at a different scale (on this side of the world, the tool doesn’t track very well coverage from Asian media and they are just excluded from the data on these posts) it could be the opportunity to look at the coverage of different game events instead of an in-depth look at just TGS.

The usual disclaimers from the articles on the media monitor apply, but on top of this, I need to remind everyone that we can’t currently properly track E3 specifically in the media coverage (hence the slightly different methodology applied in the E3 coverage article).

Methodology for events – the Key 20 days

When looking at the way events are covered in the media, there was an interesting pattern on the timing of the coverage. There is some media attention as the event is getting closer and the hype is ramping up. You have rumours of the reveals you can expect, announcements about what to expect on site, this sort of things. Events also happen with very different timing in terms of the week of the day they happen. Business events will take place during the work week, consumer events will usually continue during the weekend. Then, you have such a density of information being thrown at the audience that you also see a good amount of coverage happening the week following the events when some interviews that couldn’t be put formatted properly during the event itself, or some change encounter that could only probably followed up on afterwards, can finally be published.

To cover all those aspects, and looking at patterns of media coverage across different events, I decided on a formula that seemed to apply fairly for all events. Taking on the first day of the event, I take the media coverage of the 9 days preceding the event, and the 11 days from the day the event start. I called them the Key 20 days, for lack of a better terminology.

As you will see, I also consider the media coverage on a daily basis, but this formula gives me a component to compare the events with each other.

Tokyo Game Show

This year’s Tokyo Game Show had a Sony press conference ahead of the show. And comparing the media coverage of this year with the coverage of last year, there is a very interesting effect that immediately noticeable.

tgs14_v_tgs15_daily_articles

The total amount of media coverage is not massively different from last year. But a lot of the media coverage shifted to a few days earlier, coinciding with the Sony conference.

It seems that the Sony conference had no effect but to displace when the media coverage happened. To be fair, over the key 20 days, there has been a marginal growth year-on-year, but nothing incredibly significant.

There are two possibilities:

  1. The Sony conference has just shifted when the media coverage is happening and there wasn’t an impact on the volume of coverage.
  2. The general coverage of the event decreased, and the Sony conference is hiding that decrease of media coverage.

I would tend to align with the second option, if only because the Sony Conference happened at a much more convenient time (during the work week). Of course, it shifted a lot of the Sony specific media coverage earlier, but I would have expected to see a more significant growth due to the more friendly timing. This hidden decrease could possibly be related to a weaker lineup of titles at the show this year compared to 2014.

This is just a theory though – at the end of the day TGS this year still had more media presence and any growth is a good sign for them.

 

Video Game Events scales

Events around video games seems to be multiplying every year, be they business events or consumer events. More and more local events are organised, conferences multiply as the industry diversifies.

In a marketing budget, events can represent very significant investments And not just because of the actual cash cost, but also in terms of the human resources that need to be allocated for it, and the disruption they can have on the development of games in order to have playable builds for them.

Getting a sense of the ROI for events is incredibly difficult – and while media coverage is one element to look at, it is definitely not the only measure to take into account. Still, this is the tool I have at my disposal, and one that can provide some interesting frame for references.

events_articles_k20daysb

To clarify this graph, both PAXes in there are the PAX Prime event in Seattle, the largest of the PAX event. PGW is the Paris Games week and I didn’t put the 2015 numbers because the event hasn’t happened yet (it’s at the end of October). I will post the 2015 numbers on Twitter and might do a follow up of this article on it.

The reason the PGW was included, despite being a pretty “small” event from a media coverage point of view is because Sony will do an international press conference ahead of the event. It was presented as the replacement for its gamescom conference that didn’t happen this year (leaving Microsoft alone to take the lead on the event media coverage).

What is very revealing with this graph, is the difference in the magnitude of each event for media coverage. Keeping in mind that the tools we use don’t properly cover Asian media, the TGS is a significantly smaller event compared to gamescom, and it makes sense in that regard. What is more impressive is the difference in scale between those 2 events and PAX Prime.

PAX Prime is a consumer first event, but it saw more and more announcements being made there the years. Cliff Bleszinsky’s upcoming LawBreakers used that event for its first reveal for instance (and to great effect IMHO). There is an impressive discrepancy in the media impact between the premiere shows, with established brands (and strong support from the largest actors) and the rest. While I expected a big difference, this is bigger than I would have expected.

If E3 was in the graph, it would dwarf gamescom, and everything else would look even more ridiculously smaller. If anything, I feel this shows there is probably too much concentration at the moment in terms of the media coverage of events. It will be incredibly interesting to see if the PGW can show the impact of the Sony conference move for the event coverage – it could prove that spreading the communication across more events is a worthy strategy, the way they brilliantly orchestrated the Playstation Experience last year.

Summer 2015 events

With gamescom, PAX and TGS within 2 months of the summer, I thought I could show how they get covered in that period.

events_aug15_articles_daily

It is important to remember that gamescom was unusually early this year. It will be back to the 2nd of August next year, and closer to PAX Prime again.

In the graph, the fact that PAX Prime runs over a weekend is quite apparent. Where gamescom and TGS both peak around the large conferences and the first days, PAX main day is on the Monday (and the last day of the event).

I also went and looked at the media languages of those 3 events:

gc15_paxp15_tgs15_k20days_languages

gc15_paxp15_tgs15_k20days_languages_domains

The first graph is looking at the total number if articles in each languages. The second graph at the number of unique websites in each languages.

For all languages, both in volume of articles and number of unique media, the gamescom is the largest event. It is a lot larger for Germany though, unsurprisingly as the event is hosted there, and a lot more local media is likely to pick up on related news.

It is interesting to note though, that there are more English media covering PAX Prime and the TGS (again, PAX being in the US, they benefit from the locality), but more articles are written in English about TGS. It shows they are just more news announced there (which is also logical considering the events profiles). However, the fact that about the same number of German media are covering PAX as TGS is more unexpected. I suspect the stronger PC profile of German media makes a larger proportion of outlets interested in PAX news, than say French media (about half of the number of websites covering TGS covered PAX). Looking at number of articles in French for the TGS compared to PAX Prime also shows a strong interest in the Japanese event compared to the other languages (and France love history with the Japanese culture could be at play here).

A few more thoughts

Large events are very unique beasts, they concentrate a lot of the communication happening in the game industry. But looking at the data for the smaller events, it is clear they are growing in terms of their media coverage too. They can play a very interesting role for companies that cannot compete with the large budgets the big shows are commanding. I will keep a close eye on those data and likely do a follow up, with a focus on events outside of the “blockbusters” of each continent (E3, gamescom, TGS).

 

gamescom 2015 – media coverage analysis

The dust has settled and it is time to have an in-depth look at the media coverage that gamescom received this year. I think you would all benefit checking out my article from last year. I will compare a lot this year and last year, but a proper refresher can be found in that post.

gamescom 2015

This year’s gamescom was particularly interesting due to a number of differences from the previous years.

New dates

gamescom 2015 was 2 weeks earlier than the previous editions. It took place from the 5th of August to the 9th of August. I have heard multiple theories as to why the dates were changed, but couldn’t confirm any of them. What is certain is that on the industry side, I haven’t met anyone who liked those dates. They are in the sacrosanct first half of August during which most of continental Europe is on holidays. While it might have been a motivation, in order to make it easier for consumers to attend the B2C side of the event, the business side hated it. Another point was the proximity with E3 which is further explained below. This said, it didn’t seem to affect much my own meetings (anecdotal evidence there) or the attendance numbers. But it probably impacted the second change from previous years:

No Sony conference

While Sony was present at gamescom and had a massive booth, there was no media briefing the day before the event started. Microsoft was basically on its own this time around, with no other comparable media briefing to face it.

The reason for this is more than likely due the proximity between gamescom and E3 this year. With an extra early gamescom, there were only 6 weeks between the two events and Sony decided to skip gamescom and to have a media briefing ahead of the Paris Games Week this year instead (late October, in Paris as the name suggests).

Expanded halls

This was the first time in a while that the exhibition halls were moved at gamescom. It meant some extra space for the B2B area with Hall 2 and 3 for the first time used at gamescom. The B2C section was also expanded, with the usually only partially used Halls 10.1 and 10.2 better populated, and Hall 5 taken from the B2B for the first time. Hall 1 was also secured for a one night event around German Youtubers.

Riot Games wasn’t present this year, after having occupied half a hall in 2014, but the space they left vacant was filled in with more exhibitors this year.

Numbers

Here are the numbers as announced by the gamescom’s organisers:

  • 345,000 visitors (+10,000 from 2014)
  • 33,200 trade visitors (+1,700 from 2014)
  • 806 exhibitors (+106 from 2014)
  • 6,000 media reps (same as 2014, but according to the organizers they were stricter than previously with the requirements for a press accreditation)

There is a growth for the event, even if it is not a massive one (were are talking about +3% for visitors and +5% for trade visitors). Considering the size the event has already reached, this is not necessarily surprising. I wonder though if the change in dates helped or made it harder for the growth.

Photo: Koelnmesse

Hallendurchblick Halle 7

In short, this year gamescom was again massive. But enough of this, let’s look at *our* numbers.

gamescom in the media

All numbers here are taken as usual from our media monitor. They cover the whole week of gamescom, like last year.

gc14-vs-15_dailies_articles

With only one media briefing taking place on the Tuesday, the peak of the media coverage didn’t happen on that day like last year. Wednesday is an important day at gamescom as this is the one day where the show floor is open to professionals-only. A lot of media meetings happen during that day, and somehow, this year saw a lot more output than last year.

So, despite no press conference from Sony this year, there were more articles published on the Tuesday and way way more articles on the Wednesday. Overall, this year’s media output was significantly bigger than last year.

gc14-vs-15_articles

More than 25% articles published in the week mentioned gamescom. That’s a very significant increase, especially when Sony didn’t have a media brief to announce something major.

gc14-vs-15_languages_articles

Looking only at the 5 top languages, there was some growth across the board, but the largest part of this year’s growth came from German and Italian media outlets.

gc14-vs-15_languages_uniquewebsites

Looking purely at the number of unique websites covering the event, it is interesting to see that there is almost no growth – the increase in the number of articles is coming from a generally bigger output by the media attending, rather than more media attending the event. This is particularly striking when considering the Italian media, where fewer sites covered gamescom, but still had close to 67% more articles than last year.

Platforms

With no Sony media brief this year, the results for the platform with the largest media coverage shouldn’t be very surprising.

gamescom2015_platforms_articles

What is quite striking is how the Playstation 4 performance is still strong in regards to its main competitor. A lot was happening for Sony at gamescom, their booth was large and busy, but it also speaks for the strength of the brand (especially in Europe) to keep such a strong media presence.

gc14-vs-15_platform_articles

Compared to last year, where they were holding a press conference, Sony didn’t seem to lose much media presence. It is good to bear in mind that this year was a very strong year in terms of the media output, though. Less media coverage, during a year that saw a significant growth, could well hide a much bigger missed opportunity for Sony.

In the case of Microsoft, the net gain is incontestable, with almost +50% articles on Xbox One from last year’s event. Also notable for them, is the very strong showing of Windows 10 in the media, even though this is across kind of articles and a number of them might just be related to the release of the OS and not be connected to gamescom. By our metrics, it is still a very strong week in terms of media presence.

Nintendo’s consoles performed better than last year as well, following the general growth of the event in term of media coverage.

Finally, while closer than ever to its consumer version launch, Oculus doesn’t seem to have grown massively its media coverage from its presence at gamescom.

Comparing E3 and gamescom

For reference, this is the same comparison I did last year:

09_Week-of-E3-vs-gamescom-2014-of-articles-per-platform

 

Those numbers from last year show a significant difference of scale between the two events, with E3 taking a much more prominent role in the calendar of all actors in the games industry.

gc15-vs-e315_platform_articles

The number for this year are very instructive. Where the Playstation 4 had a similar coverage at E3 year-on-year, the Xbox One had a great E3 compared to last year, and an even greater gamescom. The media coverage it received was at a similar level as E3 last year.

Unsurprisingly, Microsoft having free reign at gamescom paid off – but I think it is important to highlight that it didn’t happen purely because of the absence of serious contenders. This year’s gamescom conference was, to me, the best Microsoft has organised in years, across the different E3s and gamescoms. If you ignore the incredibly cringey eSport moment with the commentators going on about a pre-recorded match, the overall line was very strong, quite varied, and had a surprising number of first announcements, without too much of the forced-down-your-throat “we are awesome” lines that are usual for Microsoft (and that I believe is not as well received in Europe as it is in the US).

It is a welcome strong performance and sets up for an interesting gamescom next year, when it will be held at a more usual time of somewhere in mid-August.

Games

Like last year, I have prepared a graph with the top 30 games mentioned during the gamescom’s week. All games highlighted in green are titles that were featured during the Microsoft press conference:

top30_games_articles_gamescom15_b

 

The star of the show last year was Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (with about 1,700 articles). This time around, the Call of Duty game ranks 19th. The change of privileged partner from Sony to Microsoft is surely playing a big role (and we should see how it pays off media-wise after Paris Games Week).

EA and Blizzard also both holding press conferences had a big impact. World of Warcraft, while having a very very steady amount of coverage normally, rarely breaks into the most covered in the media. Star Wars Battlefront, FIFA 16 and Mirror’s Edge all benefitted from Electronic Arts media conference.

Metal Gear Solid 5 shows the incredible strength of the brand, and Konami did put a lot out during gamescom to promote their game.

Another very notable performance is DOTA 2. Totally unrelated from gamescom, this is thanks to the final phase of The International 5 taking place the exact same week as gamescom. I am not sure this was ideal for the game, but it still managed to be very present in the news cycles.

Concluding thoughts

While there is already a very interesting picture appearing from this year’s gamescom, the story won’t really be complete until we see how the shift to Paris Games Week will do for Sony. The lead that Microsoft has created in its media presence during gamescom is very real, but it hasn’t translated in something durable so far:

aug2015_ps4xb1_articles

 

PR Intelligence – Games media output rhythm

In a couple of weeks, Thomas Reisenegger from the ICO PR team will giving a talk at GDC Europe titled Everyone Can Do PR: How Small Studios Get Themselves Heard.

The talk is an evolution from the one he gave in Vienna in January, with some format changes to help the audience better understand the key takeaways.

 

However, one topic we have been discussing is how to add was some metrics to accompany the presentation. While there is a lot of common sense behind most of Thomas’ advice, we thought that adding some hard data was a good way to sway an audience perhaps unfamiliar with the day-to-day workings of PR but with a strong scientific predisposition (game developers, basically).

 

A lot of this will read as obvious to some, but now we have the data to back up these common assumptions on timing of communications.

 

I went into the media monitor tool, and ran some numbers. All the data below is based on one year of media tracking (from the July 1 2014 to June 30 2015), and it is based on the number of articles published by the websites we monitor. The idea is to look at what are the hotspots for the media, when they publish and when they don’t and take it into account in your PR strategy.

 

Days of the week

Journalists tend to work mostly during week days, from 9 to 5. Making an announcement during the weekend makes it less likely to be picked up. In the same spirit, publishing late on Friday will likely push your news to the other side of the weekend, or possibly cause it to miss the news cycle altogether.

weekday_all_games

 

Beyond Saturday and Sunday, Monday is the 3rd slowest day in terms of volume of publications. As people come back from the weekend, it may take a while to go through events from the weekend and get back on the rhythm.

For reference, I have compared Games media to Tech and General Interest media:

weekday_all_acrossmedia

Monday as a “slow” day is true across the board. General Media (newspapers, magazine outlets) tend to have more activity over the weekend, as could be expected from a media type that covers news on a 24/7 basis.

It is interesting to note that they are also variations across languages. These first two graphs are across all languages, and I looked at language specific trends:

weekday_defruk_acrossmedia

The concentration of media publications during the work week is actually more pronounced in the English language outlets than the French and the German ones. If anything, French websites are the most likely of the language groups to publish over the weekend (not what I would have expected).

 

Monthly data

I have talked in the past about the volume of media coverage at certain time of the year, but that was mostly in the context of specific games. This is the opportunity to look at overall volume of articles, month-on-month.

monthly_all_games

Clearly standing out is the month of June, thanks to the great media coverage of E3, it is the one month during the year that sees the most output from game-related outlets. Getting media attention during E3 is difficult, but that’s also true for the week before and the week after.

March is also a busy month. As the last month in the financial year for many companies, it sees a number important games releases. GDC San Francisco is also probably contributing in the extra media coverage.

January is a slow month, and probably the time of the year where it is a bit easier to pitch a game to the media that may be a struggle otherwise.

July/August are also slow, but it might be more due to holidays (and fewer editors available to maintain the output). Gamescom is probably helping in August. It’s particularly apparent when comparing other media types:

monthly_all_acrossmedia

I might do a follow-up purely to discuss October/November, but suffice to say, that while it sees a lot of media coverage, it is highly concentrated on a few AAA games.

The process to do this for each month would be too time consuming for now, but to give an example, I went and look at the weight of the top 10 most mentioned games across all the articles published by video game media, and it is scary, almost an article out of 4 is about a game in that top 10:

november14_games_topgamesratio

There are also local specificities that are interesting to consider. Here are a few chosen examples:

monthly_fr_games

May in France is a slow month. There are a lot of bank holidays, and many people take a few extra holidays to maximise their time off.

monthly_de_games

The German media output is very steady. Steadier than any other languages. The summer months are not incredibly lower than the others. And it is worth noting that gamescom, being a local event, is probably having a significant impact on the August numbers.

monthly_uk_games

At the other end of the spectrum, English-language media has a significant drop in the summer, bigger than the one seen across all languages, and gamescom only helps a bit.

This discrepancy between the 3 languages is even more striking looking at the Quarterly data:

quarterly_defruk_games

It shows the relative importance of E3 and gamescom for the 3 different languages.

TL;DR

Don’t announce over the weekend or late on Fridays.

Avoid making key announcements in October or November; around E3 in June; and you probably want to stay away from the summer holidays too.

Do go to Thomas’ talk if you are at GDC Europe.

 

 

 

* These monthly data have been adjusted to take into account the fewer number of days certain months

 

E3 2015 Media Coverage Analysis – aka “Who won the E3 media battle?”

A year ago, I did a pretty extensive analysis of the media coverage around E3. Well, I have done it again, and it now benefits from the added experience of data tracking for the past 12 months.

As usual, if you are not familiar with the way the data is collected, I invite you to read the blog post on the topic. For the purpose of this article, I have only looked at the data from articles published during the week of E3 (from Sunday to Saturday).

Last disclaimer: of all the games that were featured in the main press conference, we have one that is problematic to track with our current tools and which has been excluded from all the data below: Just Cause 3. Just keep this in mind, we haven’t ignored it, it is just a slightly problematic game for us at the moment.

 

Platforms

To get started, I wanted to get advantage of some information I didn’t have last year: the data from the previous year.

Comparing the coverage year-on-year is an important indicator, one I wanted to check first. It is important to note that the number of media we properly track is constantly evolving – some websites die, some news ones emerge, and sometimes the websites break the way we track them, so the system for tracking articles is consistently improved upon. Overall, I think the pure volume of media we track is increasing overtime, but it is a rather slow increase.

E3 - Platforms in the media - number of articles

In terms of number of articles, we can see a decline for both Sony and Nintendo, while Microsoft has a significant increase in the media coverage. This might come from a stronger line up on Microsoft’s part or weaker showing from their competitors. We shall see later, but it might also come from a more clever selection of the multiformat titles featured for the respective conferences (well, between Sony and Microsoft as Nintendo is not invited to play that game).

* The following graph requires some pre-explanation. In order to measure the magnitude of an article, with have created a formula based on the websites’ Alexa ranking to give their articles different “weight”. The more popular the website, the more weight we give to their article. This value is called Reach in our tools and range from 0.1 to 10. For example, currently, Eurogamer.net has a reach of 10, Gamasutra.com has a reach of 9, MondesPersistants.com has a reach of 2. So what you see below, is a chart of the total reach of all the articles showed above. We refresh the reach values constantly.

E3 - Platforms in the media - Total Reach

The graph shows an interesting pattern. It shows that the media coverage might have reduced in volume, but the media covering the event have grown. It could be the websites have a better penetration than last year, or it could be more general interest media (that tend to have a much better reach) are taking a bigger interest in the video games news.

It also shows this year wasn’t a Nintendo year, hardly maintaining its reach from last year when both Microsoft and Sony expanded.

Looking more at the specific platforms more specifically:

E3 2015 - Platforms - number of articles

Leading the pack, the Playstation 4 has roughly the same volume of articles as last year. Xbox One saw a 25% increase in the number of articles mentioning it. The Wii U, the PS3 and the Xbox 360 are all seeing a decline. That’s understandable for the two “old gen” machines, but more concerning for Nintendo.

On the front of the new technology, Oculus Rift (which had its own media conference the week before), Morpheus and Hololens are all holding up nicely in the same range.

I added StarVR, newcomer to the VR scene, as they had just announced their existence and had a presence at E3. With 264 articles, and considering their lower profile, I think this is a good performance.

Games

I have kept things a bit simpler this year and avoided looking at the games as mentioned during the console makers’ conferences. They tend to bleed over the conference of the publishers and not provide much insight. I am going to experiment with the publishers conferences instead – especially as this year two new companies are trying themselves at this perilous exercise with Bethesda and Square Enix joining EA and Ubisoft.

But, first, just looking at all the games we track, here are the top 15 games the most mentioned during E3:

E3 2015 - Top 15 Games

First thing to mention, all the games making the top 15 were featured during one or more of the media conference.

Second thing to mention, FALLOUT 4!!! I have meant to write an article on the media coverage the announcement for the game had but couldn’t make it happen pre-E3. From the current research I made for that article, Fallout 4 announcement is the most covered game announcement since we track these data. By a large margin. But even with such a strong sign of the franchise power, I didn’t expect Fallout 4 to dominate by that much, especially after the storm of coverage that FF7 and Shenmue created.

Bethesda had a brilliant timing and this helps a lot for their presence in that chart (Fallout 4; DOOM; Dishonored 2). By going first on the Sunday, with journalists all already present in LA and with nothing to do for a whole news cycle but write about their games, Bethesda snatched a great spot. Fallout also got double featured, at the Bethesda event as well as the Microsoft briefing.

Sony, despite losing ground to Microsoft year-on-year, still has the knack to bring topics that make the buzz going: Final Fantasy 7; Shenmue on Kickstarter; The Last Guardian. They certainly won’t be able to use a similar trick for next year – unless they can convince Ubisoft to announce Beyond Good and Evil 2 at their press conference that is…

Comparing the publishers’ conferences

E3 2015 - Publishers compared

[click to enlarge]

Looking at publishers one by one, Electronic Arts looks a bit underwhelming. Arguably, Battlefront did very well, considering how loved the franchise is (the movies and the games), it is a bit surprising it didn’t perform even better. It didn’t pass on the coverage Battlefield Hardline received the previous year, a surprising fact. Mirror’s Edge coming as the 2nd game of the publisher is more surprising. While critically acclaimed, Mirror’s Edge wasn’t a big hit. Few details were available ahead of the show (and seemingly not in a controlled fashion that might have compromised the potential) possibly making it a hot topic for journalists on site last week. Interestingly, FIFA 16 has about 20% fewer articles this E3 than what FIFA 15 had last year. Pelé didn’t make up for it.

Bethesda is the clear “winner” this year. They didn’t have many games at the show, but they got the interest of the media. While Fallout and DOOM are strong and well established franchises that haven’t been seen in a while, Dishonored 2 has done very well for itself. For the second title of a new IP, it received 50% more coverage than this year’s Assassin’s Creed. Quite the performance. The other surprise is Fallout Shelter. While Fallout is obviously a strong brand, mobile games are generally not as well covered as PC/Console titles by a very significant margin. Fallout Shelter is not only the 4th Bethesda most talked about game (coming before The Elder Scrolls titles as well as Battlecry), but it received coverage comparable to Ubisoft’s key titles. My theory is that it benefitted from a number of things: the Fallout brand; the 1st game on mobile for Bethesda; being available “right now”; the excellent Bethesda timing mentioned earlier. If you are a journalist in LA on the Sunday before E3, waiting for the big event to start the following day, why not download this now to give it a spin?

I have already mentioned Ubisoft twice in this section, not in a very positive manner. What happened? To be honest, I like Ubisoft’s conferences. But maybe the formula is a bit too established? The Division‘s very decent performance is the saving grace, and a surprising one to me: this is not the first time the game is presented at E3. But it managed to garner more coverage than last year (about 10% more). Possibly, the fact it got featured during 2 of the conferences helped significantly? I imagine the game was playable on the show floor and that, along with a release date, was a contributing factor. Rainbow 6 Siege was also present at last year E3, and it also received more coverage this time around. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is the disappointing element of the Ubisoft line up. Assassin’s Creed Unity had about 2,300 articles during last year show – compared to this, Syndicate doesn’t even reach the 1,000 articles threshold. I found the trailer quite compelling, I suspect something different happening in the strategy for the game this time around: looking at the daily data for the two games, it is obvious there was significantly more coverage on the days after the conference for Unity than for Syndicate. Overall, a weak media presence, especially considering that last year, Ubisoft had Assassin’s Creed Unity as the most covered game of E3 and Far Cry 4 as the 3rd most covered game of E3.

To conclude this section, Square Enix returned as a publisher hosting a conference. It wasn’t an easy ride for them – they had to postpone their conference after realizing they would collide with Nintendo’s; and the conference itself was… let’s say there is a huge margin for them to improve for next year. But beyond those considerations, the numbers are showing up. Even if you are ready to consider the Final Fantasy VII as a unique anomaly (how often will you be able to reboot one of the most well-loved games in the world?), the Hitman announcement has been very well received (arguably, I think the Deus Ex announcement in April was a better announcement, but that will be for its own case study). Deus Ex Mankind Divided did very well. It was supported massively by the 20 minutes demo on the show floor – a video of which was shared later in the week, leading to a lot of additional coverage for the game. Tomb Raider is getting a very decent amount of coverage, but maybe not to the extent I would have expected for the franchise. Overall, Square Enix did incredibly well (and that’s without being able to properly track Just Cause 3). Not sure how much more coverage they got through this though – a lot of their coverage was supported by console makers conferences (FF7 with Sony and Tomb Raider with Microsoft).

 

It is fascinating to see the two publishers that aren’t traditionally seen hosting an E3 conference performing so well in comparison to EA and Ubisoft. I am pretty sure the devil is in the details, and the fact they elected to have a conference this year of all years was also driven by the strength of their announcements. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t have predicted such an outcome.

 

Mobile titles

This segment is a bit of a stretch as they aren’t many mobile titles that are part of the E3 line-ups, but it is the opportunity for me to make a point that I already discussing on the Goat Simulator case study.

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A quick overview of the games, from the publicly available information:

Fallout Shelter (Bethesda) – a management game, set in the Fallout universe, revealed at the conference and available to all at the same time.

The Elder Scrolls Legends (Bethesda) – a CCG set in Tamriel, the universe of The Elder Scrolls series. Revealed at the conference, it will be available on iPad and PC but no release date for now.

Lara Croft Go (Square Enix) – a turn-based puzzle adventure game, based on the Tomb Raider franchise. Announced at the conference, nothing specific on devices required and no release date announced yet.

Minions Paradise (EA) – a management game, set in the Despicable Me universe. I am a bit confused on the whole announcement, trying to do some quick fact checks, it seems the app is already on the different stores, since end of April, but the conference presented it as an upcoming game, the host even stating “later this year”. So, go figure. Not sure it would have made a massive difference for the media present.

Star Wars Galaxy of Heroes (EA) – a CCG set in the Star Wars universe. Announced at the EA conference, no release dates and no devices specified.

Kingdom Hearts Unchained Key (Square Enix) – an adventure game (I think) set in the Kingdom Hearts universe (now, that’s the easy way out for me to avoid explaining that setting). Announced at the Square Enix press conference, with no release date.

 

Here are my takeaways (based on a very small sample, so it might not be worth much):

  • I don’t understand how the Elder Scrolls CCG got so well covered. It might be the brand; it might be the fact it was announced as coming to PC; it might be because Sunday was a pretty boring day in LA.
  • Minions Paradise had a whole part of the EA conference presentation dedicated to itself. With a trailer followed by a gameplay demo. Nobody cared. Planning your communication for your mobile title like a console or a PC game seems like a bad idea.
  • But not as bad an idea as just announcing “a Star Wars CCG with all the characters of the franchise you love”. I don’t think you can make it sound more generic and bland. At least, the Elder Scrolls CCG had a trailer of sort.
  • Lara Croft Go was very well covered all things considered. I suspect Hitman Go and the relatively good feedback it received helped, along with a peek at the art direction and the game style.
  • Nobody cared about Kingdom Hearts Unchained Key, despite providing a (cryptic, I admit) gameplay video.
  • Announcing your mobile game as it becomes available seems like a good idea. The brand is a multiplier if you have one.

 

Non-AAA titles

Finally, I wanted to also provide a sample of smaller titles, across the board from the games presented at E3, to provide some benchmark materials beyond the big titles. Here is the selection with some context:

American Truck Simulator (Excalibur Publishing) – announced during the PC games conference. A simulator where you drive trucks in America.

Beyond Eyes (Team17) – announced during the Xbox conference and featured during the PC games conference. A game where you play as a blind girl named Rae in search for her missing cat.

Crossing Souls (Devolver) – featured during the Sony conference. An action-adventure game in pixel art and with a goonies vibe to it.

Cuphead (Studio MDHR) – featured during the Xbox conference (and revealed last year IIRC). A run and gun Platform game drawn in the style of 1930s cartoons. Also, my personal favourite concept (along with SUPERHOT).

Mother Russia Bleeds (Devolver) – featured during the Sony conference. An ultra violent Beat ‘Em Up game set in an alternate 1980s USSR.

No Man’s Sky (Hello games) – featured during the Sony conference and during the PC games conference. A science-fiction game set in an infinite procedurally generated galaxy.

Unravel (EA) – announced during the EA press conference. A physically based platformer with a character made of yarn.

Vampyr (Focus Interactive) – not featured during any of the high profile conference but presented during the show.  An Action RPG set in early 20th Century England.

With the selection I tried to have games with different profiles, that were presented through different medium during the event and with interesting comparison points.

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Crossing Souls and Mother Russia Bleeds are both published by Devolver, they both got the same visibility during the Sony press conference and they were both hands on at the show (from what I could gather). Mother Russia Bleeds also released a trailer later in the week. Ignoring the media that trailer generated, Mother Russia was still getting more media coverage than Crossing Souls. The more immediately understandable gameplay, and the very graphic violence possibly making it an easier story to relay.

Cuphead has received a lot of coverage, thanks to its very unique art direction. Considering that Beyond Eyes was featured at a similar level at the Xbox conference, and was featured again at the PC conference, Cuphead has been resonating better with the media (and makes for very shareable gifs).

No Man’s Sky and Unravel are two games that have been incredibly well covered, while being outside of the AAA norm. No Man’s Sky has been announced in December 2013 and was already featured at E3 2014 (at the Sony conference). Coverage this year has progressed from last year (about 200 more articles). Unravel on the other hand is one of EA’s rare venture into games outside of the AAA formula, and with its reveal garnered almost as much coverage as FIFA 16. What made those two games perform so well? With No Man’s Sky, there is no doubt since its announcement that there is a strong following for the game and media is following suit. The details are quite rare and the E3 demo, while short, illustrated elements of the game never shown before. Unravel on the other hand was an announcement (more case studies on those to come), garnering extra attention thanks to this, and the incredibly emotional designer that presented the character on stage (a real doll made out of yarn) probably resonated well with the audience, while being at odds with the usually dry and corporate image that people have of EA.

Vampyr  finally is very interesting. For not being featured at any of the conference, this game made by Remember Me and Life is Strange developer Don’t Nod, was relatively well covered with its presence at E3, illustrating that the press conference are not necessarily the end all solution for a decent media presence from your E3 show.

 

Closing words

I have tried to keep the size of the article under a manageable size. There are more that could be dug from the data gathered (and I might do some follow ups), but I hope this gives a good view of last week’s E3 and the media outcome from the different announcements.

There is no doubt in my mind that Bethesda is the clear “winner” of this E3. They brilliantly managed the event (from a media presence perspective at least) and I will be very curious to see next year who will try to get the Sunday conference spot. Prior to the event, I was very skeptical about Bethesda decision to do a conference at E3. Those conferences are expensive to set up and a massive burden on your teams to organise properly. I also tend to question the wisdom to share the limelight with your competition during the same week. Sony’s Playstation Experience was a great illustration of how running your own media event could benefit you in a great (better?) way than a shared global event. With Bethesda running Quakecon, I was thinking they would be diluting their effort in an event where it would difficult for them to shine. I was wrong – they did great. Which makes me wonder if the others were not wrong in sharing their audience with them this time around.

 

I will leave you with this comic from @TheMeatly, illustrating nicely those concluding thoughts:

 

Goat Simulator – Media presence case study

 

As promised, here is the first in a series of case studies on specific games and their media presence. I have a couple of objectives with these case studies. First, I want to provide a sense of scale, by looking beyond the very top titles covered every month. There are a lot of very interesting games that have done very well in their PR endeavours, yet don’t necessarily come up in the monthly “top 15” I put together. These titles are better benchmarks for looking at the broader media landscape in games. These are titles that have been successful in their media outreach, they are on the high end of the benchmark, but provide a more “typical” example of coverage. Second, this is a great exercise to look at what kind of beats gain traction and how other games organise their communication campaigns.

 

With Goat Simulator having recently announced its zombie DLC, this is a great opportunity to look at how the game has done in terms of media presence. We start from its Dead Island-inspired trailer through to the most recent announcements. I prepared this article just before GoatZ  was revealed, so it isn’t in the below set of data. Read more