The Assassin’s Creed controversy in the media

Following up on last week’s post on E3, there has been a number of comments about how much influence the controversy over a lack of female playable assassins in Assassin’s Creed: Unity had on the amount of coverage game received around E3.

I went into our tool and created a dedicated tracker to find articles discussing the topic. Because we are not talking about the title of a game here, which is usually fairly consistent between different languages, I had to stick to a smaller subset of languages here: English, German, Spanish and French.

I have used two trackers and compared them to one another:

– a tracker on Assassin’s Creed: Unity. It includes all the articles about the game.

– a tracker on Asssassin’s Creed AND female characters. There are probably a few false positives in there, but considering how prevalent the topic was during that period, they should be relatively minor. There is also no indication of whether an article was factual, negative or positive. It just states the topic was brought up.

So all the articles from the first tracker, also include the articles from the second tracker.

Here’s how it looks for each language:

02_Assassins-Creed-Unity-Articles-in-English

03_Assassins-Creed-Unity-Articles-in-Spanish

04_Assassins-Creed-Unity-Articles-in-German

04_Assassins-Creed-Unity-Articles-in-German-1024x477

For context, the Polygon article that started the discussion was published on the 11th of June (European time).

On the 20th of June, Insomniac released a video showing a female avatar dressed as an assassin in Sunset Overdrive to illustrate their answer to a fan’s question on if players can play as women in the game’s multiplayer. From the data, the stunt seems to have been picked up by mostly English speaking media, and to a lesser extent the German media.

This is more apparent when looking at the ratio of articles on the controversy for each language (it should be noted that some days have a low number of articles and  this creates some noise in the chart – this can be seen especially on the 17th of June):

01_Ratio-of-the-ACU-coverage-about-the-controversy-per-language1

06_Ratio-of-the-ACU-coverage-about-the-controversy-6th-of-June-to-20th-of-June1

After running those numbers, it got me thinking a bit further. I am not sure those were really fair at representing the way the news was treated in different languages. So I ran another set of numbers, looking at the number of individual websites and how many mentioned the news:

08_Number-of-websites-mentioning-ACU-6th-of-June-to-20th-of-June

07_Ratio-of-the-ACU-websites-with-an-article-the-controversy-6th-of-June-to-20th-of-June

Clearly, the English media have treated the topic in bigger numbers. There were a higher percentage of the media covering the game that mentioned the female characters, and there were more articles per outlet on that topic as well. On all metrics, this has been a bigger discussion point for those media.

I don’t have a specific conclusion that can be reached in regards to the discrepancy in coverage per language.

The ecosystems in which Europe’s media are evolving are considerably different from one another. The number of outlets, output volume of the different outlets and audience profiles are all different. You also see some topics becoming more or less trendy in different regions as key influencers comment on the topic – with media from the same region then competing for attention on some topics. What the data is providing though is an indicator of the impact the controversy had in the number of total articles it generated and its overall “weight”.

The comments on the E3 piece were coming mostly from English-readers working in the industry. Because of this, I suspect they got more heavily exposed to the controversy. Don’t get me wrong – it had a fair share of responsibility behind the fact that AC:U was ahead of other games in the E3 media coverage – but keeping in mind that the English coverage overall was 17% (that’s including all languages we track) of all the AC:U coverage, there is a perception that doesn’t represent an accurate picture.

Still, even if the actual percentage of controversy articles is 15% across those for 4 languages rather the 26% seen in English, that’s still almost one article in six bringing up this one topic.

And for the ones wondering, if we were pessimistic, and said about 20% of AC:U articles (as opposed to the observed 15%) were about the women characters in AC:U and they were removed, the game would still be ahead of Battlefield Hardline as the most talked about game of E3.

PR monitoring – The “who won E3 2014?” edition

Before my general update about April/May, I want to talk about the current hot topic, E3. Below is an overview of last week and the impact of E3 on the media coverage of video games.

The usual disclaimer applies:

The tool I am using is far from perfect. It gets hits on false-positives, some terms are impossible to get hits on and it is somewhat dependent on how clever I am when I create the monitoring criteria for a specific game if the name is quite generic. The tool is also dependent on the alerts I have entered. There are some prominent games that can be absent, I try to add them as I go but I know I always miss some. As I am expanding that list now, do not take the stats as an “end all” proof that X game is totally ignored by the media.

 I am only sharing the graphs showing the number of articles for a given topic – we are also using a weighted value based on the sites’ reach, but this time around I wanted to keep things simple. So what you see here is relevant about quantity, not necessarily quality. It is important to note that we purge the results coming from fansites (dedicated to one game) and content farms (that just repost other websites’ content). I am just sharing the current results because I feel they are interesting at illustrating the trend for [the week of E3].

 [EDIT – the graph on the games were showing a few games twice (Uncharted and Call of Duty). We are currently tracking games in different ways, one of them is to track the brand name rather than the game name. I have fixed the graph to show the proper result for the game. In the case of Uncharted, the brand name was coming with extra restrictions to avoid false positives, so there were fewer results for it than for “Uncharted 4” that didn’t have any restrictions as the false positives are highly unlikely. Bonus – I have added FIFA 15 that I wasn’t tracking earlier.]

The press conferences

First order of business, I wanted to see the impact of the official press conferences and see their respective impacts on the games they are putting in the spotlight.

Because of the way they are set-up, I ignored the EA and Ubisoft conferences – their top titles had already been relayed at the manufacturers’ press briefings and while my methodology is not 100% perfect, for those, it would just not provide much insight.

Another important thing to have  in mind is that I am using the time when the article was published to determine its dependency to the press conferences – and because they all happened at different times I tried to ponder the timings, but there is probably a good margin of error that you have to allow me here.

Sony / Playstation

Sony-E3-Press-conference-articles-generated-

Microsoft / Xbox

Microsoft-E3-Press-conference-articles-generated

*Evolve is not an easy game to properly track – I am trying to avoid false positives and I might be a bit heavy handed on how I do it for now.

Nintendo / Wii

Nintendo-E3-announcements-articles-generated

Comparing them

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Percentage-of-articles-generated-over-the-first-3-days

The percentage is relative to all the articles published over the week.

I wanted to see how front-loaded  the coverage was for each platform. Nintendo, despite not having an on-site event, are still getting an incredible amount of coverage.

To give some perspective, if you look at the March analysis, Playstation was getting almost 4 times the same amount of coverage as Nintendo across its games and devices, and Microsoft close to 3 times the same amount of coverage. The concentration of attention given to the industry at this time is really helping them as they don’t tend to draw as much attention usually.

The other point it highlights for me is that their format to make their announcement is not less efficient than Sony’s or Microsoft’s, and it is a lot cheaper, with an underlying message that their event is as much for their audience as it is for the press – putting both at the exact same level.

On top of Microsoft being way more front loaded than Sony, the sheer volume of coverage is significantly in favour of Sony. In March, Sony had about 30% more coverage on the PS4 than the Xbox One was generating. For the E3 conferences, Sony got 34% more coverage (despite them going second and having a slight disadvantage in my methodology), and overall for the week, 41% more coverage.

So purely from a perspective of media exposure, it seems this E3 was a significant win for Sony over Microsoft.

This also provides us a very interesting benchmark for the event and the attention it gets. In a week, Sony attained half the amount of total coverage it would normally have in a month.

The whole week

All the data below was collected from Sunday the 8th of June to Sunday, the 15th of June. Weekends are traditionally incredibly slow days for video game media, so it should offer a proper snapshot of the E3 week in that regard.

Games

Week-of-E3-2014-of-articles-per-game

I have limited the list to the games that got the most coverage.

Clearly, a portion of the AC Unity coverage is also coming from the female assassin backlash/controversy and it would have been better without it.

FPS games are still getting a lot of the attention (with Call of Duty surprisingly lagging behind though), and Nintendo’s front hitters are also incredibly well covered with Zelda and Smash Bros ahead of some massive franchises such as Call of Duty, Halo and Tomb Raider.

Platforms

Week-of-E3-2014-of-articles-per-platform

I almost feel bad about putting the Ouya in there. I had to actually check to see if they were indeed attending E3. They had more articles on Monday following up their interview with Polygon than on any day of E3 itself.

Morpheus and Oculus

daily_e3week_oculusmorpheus_01

Still pursuing my personal interest in the world of VR, I wanted to have a specific look at the media coverage that Oculus and Morpheus both got throughout the week. And with E3 being so much about consoles usually, I have to say I am impressed by the fact that Oculus kept ahead in terms of media attention – of course, if Sony had pushed its own device more heavily, it would be very different – but it is still an excellent performance and testimony to the brand that Oculus is building.

A year worth of data

I have started tracking media mentions for almost a year now, even though I have only started presenting and discussing this data quite recently. This project started a couple of weeks after E3 2013, so I sadly I cannot make any comparison between this and last year’s event. However, what I have is still a year’s worth of data and I wanted to share one last graph, showing the number of articles that mentioned the Playstation 4 every day, from the 1st of July 2013 to yesterday.

See if you can spot the following milestones: gamescom; launch of the console; Christmas; and E3 2014…

Ps4_Jul13-Jun14_01

PR monitoring – March 2014

Following up from my blog post from last month, and in an attempt to do this regularly, I went and ran some numbers for the month of March in regards to the presence of the games industry in the media.

The same disclaimer applies:

The tool I am using is far from perfect. It gets hits on false-positives, some terms are impossible to get hits on and it is somewhat dependent on how clever I am when I create the monitoring criteria for a specific game if the name is quite generic. The tool is also dependent on the alerts I have entered. There are many prominent games that are absent, mostly because my primary interest when I started working on it lay with online games. I am expanding that list now, but do not take the stats as an “end all” proof that X game is totally ignored by the media.

 

I am only sharing the graphs showing the number of articles for a given topic – we are also using a weighted value based on the sites’ reach, but this time around I wanted to keep things simple. So what you see here is relevant about quantity, not necessarily quality. It is important to note that we purge the results coming from fansites (dedicated to one game) and content farms (that just repost other websites’ content). I am just sharing the current results because I feel they are interesting at illustrating the trend for the month of [March].

 

tl;dr: Take all this with a grain of salt.

March is an interesting month for the game industry. The lull from the holiday period is basically over, you have the announcements there for the ramp up to E3. you have the announcements piggy backing GDC and the concentration of media there.

And then, there was Facebook outright buying Oculus Rift before the DK2 is even out… But more of that later.

Games

201403_games

The most obvious observation is the sheer domination that Titanfall still has on the coverage of the month of March, with twice as many articles as Watch_Dogs. Launching a blockbuster at the beginning of the year, alone in that period, pretty much guarantees media coverage. I suppose the marketing budget spent in parallel helps a lot too.

The second observation, is the strongest presence of AAA titles there. I think it comes from a double effect: I have been a bit better at including those games in the monitoring tool and those games are all ramping up with their communications. For the games I was properly following already in Feb, the increase of mentions is still quite significant (ie. COD went from 2,139 articles in Feb to 2.650 articles in March – the longer month alone cannot account for that difference).

Diablo 3′s Reaper of Souls launch has had an obvious effect on the game’s presence in the media.

I find interesting that Elder Scrolls Online dropped from 2,030 articles last month to 1,631 in March, just ahead of their launch.  We shall see the impact their CGI trailer had along with the launch (spoiler: April is not over and already has twice as many articles as March).

A lot of the games there had major announcements or release in March still – and it makes for a more intense period than February.

And for those who are wondering, there were still about 1,100 articles about Flappy Bird – that’s more than Heroes of the Storm…

Platforms

201403_platforms

Interestingly, the consoles stayed relatively at the same levels, with Playstation 4 the only one with a notable increase (from 26k articles to almost 30k articles), mostly thanks to the announcement of Morpheus that had 2,000 just for itself. Also, I haven’t followed well enough the news on the mobile front to tell you why iOS got those extra articles.

One change from the tracking from last month is the inclusion of the Wii there – as opposed to tracking Nintendo in the mentions as I did last time. For this reason, I can’t tell if there was a drop-off for the machine’s mentions.

And before looking at the VR devices, I have to say I am very surprised by the incredibly low number of articles relaying the Amazon Fire announcement. I think it comes from the fact that Amazon only mentioned games in passing (the initial news was actually quite unclear about that part of the offering) and it didn’t create interest in the video game media.

Oculus and Morpheus

As a VR enthusiast, March was a roller coaster of announcements… Oculus started things off  by finally announcing its DK2, then with Sony formally announcing and presenting Morpheus at GDC, followed by Michael Pachter denouncing Sony and the Morpheus as a bad move with VR being a niche too small for them to pursue. And finally, that notion of VR niche was blown apart by the announcement of the acquisition of Oculus by Facebook.

To give you a sense of the impact of the Facebook announcement, here is a graph with the number of articles per day for Oculus and Morpheus until the 24th of March:

oculusvsmorpheus-til24032014

At that point, Oculus had 2,200 articles, 50% more than the previous month. Their announcements along with the Morpheus reveal had created a surge in articles about them. Then, there was the 25th of March:

oculusvsmorpheusdailymarch2014

It is incredibly difficult to tell what the future holds for those technologies, but purely on the level of media awareness, this has been a massive month. And interestingly, both products have benefited from the media presence of the other.

Here is my last graph. The break down is different for each product, but I thought I would present them together to save some space.

For Oculus, in blue you have articles only on Oculus and in orange articles mentioning both Oculus and Facebook.

For Morpheus, in blue you have articles only on Morpheus and in orange articles mentioning both Oculus and Morpheus.

201403_oculusvsmorpheus

Despite the massive impact the Facebook announcement had, Oculus is really standing on its own and has an excellent media presence.

As for Morpheus, they are benefiting a lot from that media presence – more so than the fact it is being backed by an industry giant such as Sony (though that helps them massively for the credibility of the project).

As always, let me know if you have questions or comments.

PR monitoring – February 2014 – with a “F” like…

A growing activity for us is our PR services that we provide under the ICO Media brand. While this is a topic that we have very rarely discussed on this blog, we are developing in many ways and I might share more on the topic in the future (it is unlikely however, that I will discuss anything specific related to the work we do for our clients).

So, we do PR. But as you may have noticed, I tend to like data and I value information that is backed by numbers and not just intuition. For the past year we have been developing a couple of tools in order to make the team’s work easier and/or more efficient. As a “happy accident” from the building of these tools, I have now a monitoring tool that tracks articles mentioning specific game-related terms in our database of websites (about 5,000 sites IIRC). I have been feeding the tool with specific search for a few month now and what I will share today are the results for the month of February for a number of video games and video games platform.

Disclaimer The tool I am using is far from perfect. It gets hits on false-positives, some terms are impossible to get hits on and it is somewhat dependent on how clever I am when I create the monitoring criteria for a specific game if the name is quite generic. The tool is also dependent on the alerts I have entered. There are manyprominent games that are absent, mostly because my primary interest when I started working on it lied with online games. I am expending that list now, but do not take the stats as an “end all” proof that X game is totally ignored by the media.

I am only sharing the graphs showing the number of articles for a given topic – we are also using a weighted value based on the sites’ reach, but this time around I wanted to keep things simple. So what you see here is relevant about quantity, not necessarily quality. It is important to note that we purge the results coming from fansites (dedicated to one game) and content farms (that just repost other websites’ content). I am just sharing the current results because I feel they are interesting at illustrating the trend for the month of February.

tl;dr: Take all this with a grain of salt.

On to it then.

Games

PR_Intel_Feb2014_games_articles2

The media like blockbusters. And blockbusters like media. Titanfall being a bit alone for the beginning of the year [arguably, I missed a few AAA that also have launches in the Q1, but let’s not focus on what is missing] and it seems normal that it is standing out so much. They had a lot of actuality as well during Feb. However, you can see that blockbusters from Q4 are still getting a lot of coverage (BF4, COD, Batman and GTA), despite having weaker announcements.

Elder Scrolls Online also stands out – you can see the license in action there as it is unusual for MMOs to get a very wide coverage – with the obvious exception of World of Warcraft. Online games in general tend to get more regularly covered once they have proven their worth – as shown with WOW, but also with League of Legends and World of Tanks as well as (in its own unique way) Minecraft.

It is also interesting to see that Watch_Dogs is below the coverage I would have expected – but you can see now as we are in early March, Ubisoft is cranking it up again.

I left the obvious outlier for the end, the odd event of the month and a fascinating one from a PR perspective: Flappy Bird.

I am very confident that even with the AAAs I missed (current trends for March make me think that Castlevania, Assassin’s Creed, Infamous and Dark Souls would have made it in that top 15 had I added them early enough), Flappy Bird would have had that same (second) position. It is obviously a black swan but one that I find fascinating (as anyone who talked to me in the past 4 weeks can attest). Beyond the impossibility to reproduce such a phenomenon, I still think it gives an excellent lesson in what makes media pick up a news: the story.

Flappy Bird hits the mark on so many levels:

– Money (reported daily income for the lone creator from a poor country)

– Drama (the hate towards the creator; the creator taking drastic actions)

– Exotism (Creator living in Hanoi)

A perfect storm… And a good lesson. We very regularly discuss with studios on how they should approach the way they present their games to the media. Way too often they are lacking the story component. Of course you need to talk about your game and what it is about, but putting it into context, presenting a narrative (the studio’s, the origin of the core concept, or anything relevant really) will make it that much more appealing for a journalist to cover it. I would advise strongly against taking this advice as a spin on “there is no bad publicity” – you will always want to be a positive story in the end.

Back to the bird.

01_Number-of-Articles-Flappy-Bird-Feb-2014

02_Number-of-Articles-Titanfall-Feb-2014

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Another fascinating aspect is that the game got a lot of its coverage over a weekend. If you look at the Titanfall chart, you see the big drop that happens then. Flappy Bird’s removal started over the week-end, and it was still massively picked-up with a huge follow-up on the next Monday, where all the media that missed it played catch up.

In case you are wondering what is the 17th of Feb bump related to, it comes from the news that Apple and Google were cracking down on the Flappy Bird clones. An aftershock of sort.

This must also be considered within the context that mobile game get very little real media coverage. To give some reference points, Candy Crush Saga,  in the midst of January’s trademark debacle, had 725 stories mentioning them over the month, peaking at 172 articles on the day the story broke out.

And, in a most impressive way, if Flappy Bird is absent from the app stores, it has stayed in the news. It averages at 40-45 articles mentioning it every day. That the same average you see for World of Tanks (on their quiet day).

Platforms

If you need to take all the previous graphs with a grain of salt, you need to take the following up with a bucket. I looked into “platforms” that are currently prevalent in the game industry and the number of articles that mention them – however, our database is very skewed towards video game website while still including a number of tech websites.  So what you have here is very unrefined data, pooling things together that probably shouldn’t be pooled together. I still find that somehow relevant and an interesting check on what online media are covering.

I was tempted to remove iOS and Android from the chart – they get a lot of their mentions from tech websites that tend to delve into new devices and new OS features and not be very relevant from game industry point of view, but leaving them here doesn’t do much harm and give a sense of scale for the media presence they have.

PR_Intel_Feb2014_platforms_articles

Unsurprisingly, the “brands” are leading the way in a significant way. If you wonder why “Xbox – Brand” doesn’t equal “Xbox One” + “Xbox 360″, that’s because some articles mention both machines while others only mention “Xbox” without being specific about it.

Our tool is covering websites from all over the Western hemisphere. With Europe and its fragmented landscape, we have way more European websites though, and the prevalence of the Playstation brand there shows in the volume of articles they get, regardless of the generation. It is possibly mitigated by Titanfall’s very strong media presence, considering the game won’t be available on the PS4 – something to research at a later date perhaps.

The fact that Nintendo is getting an equal amount of coverage as Steam is very impressive of Steam (or very depressing for Nintendo?), and clearly showing how much of a power house it has become. I would expect this to continue and the media presence of Steam to even grow with time – despite Valve’s very hands-off approach to PR.

I find the Oculus Rift performance very promising. The device is clearly sparking the imagination, and the novelty factor is working for them. For reference, in February, they announced their exclusivity deal for EVE Valkyrie; shortage of components for the Dev Kit (and thus, shortage of Dev Kits); and they got a fair number of mentions from the announcement that Sony would show its VR headset at GDC. For comparison though, they had about 1,900 articles mentioning the Oculus Rift in January – that was mostly thanks to the Steam Dev Days. In any case, for a technology that is not publicly available and with no firm release date, the interest is there.

I am not sure I need to comment the Ouya media coverage at this stage – but it is one I keep an eye on.