Recently I read a post on Edge Online about the trials a small indie developer has had to go through to get hold of development units from Sony and Microsoft.
It got me thinking, and I couldn’t help noticing certain similarities between independent games development and independent games coverage.
No matter what business you’re involved in – sports, fashion, raw materials – you always have a certain audience, or client, to satisfy. When it comes to games development for consoles, you have to get friendly with the hardware manufacturers if you want any hope of getting your hands on a devkit. When it comes to games journalism, its predominately public relations you’ll be dealing with.
When you’re in the media, readers are your bread and butter, so timey and high quality coverage cannot be overlooked. And with the speed and efficiency of today’s media organisations reader expectations are higher than ever. You go to any major consumer media site these days and you’ll see product reviews published on the day of release, or maybe even a week before. Even fansites with large readerships are getting a piece of the action these days – and to great effect.
So, if your little slice of the web doesn’t get much traffic it can be tremendously tough to keep up with the Joneses.
When it comes to my own publication, I’ve learnt to value and respect the position PRs are in. They notify you of important events, they regularly send out press releases, they are the verbal gatekeepers for their respective client(s) and, most importantly, they allocate review code.
Years ago I use to think that game companies had an inexhaustible supply of review copies to send to press. Turns out it doesn’t quite work that way. Depending upon the publisher and title, there might be 30 review copies or there may be 300. Then it works on a hierarchy basis: first the specialist websites and print magazines, then the mainstream press, then lifestyle and television and so on. And it’s the same thing when it comes to one-to-one interviews at events.
Should you not manage to get hold of the hot new release or snag that 10 minute interview timeslot, you’ll be in hot water when publishing time comes around and everybody’s reading every other site but yours.
In order to make the gatekeepers sit up and take notice I’ve had to grow a thick skin and be real tenacious about how I approach requesting review code and interviews.
Much like the devs in the blog post, though I may not have realised it, I too have been trying to play Sony and Microsoft off each other. Reviews for Sony and Microsoft titles have appeared in Platform Magazine (often in the same month), I’ve mingled with representatives from both companies trying to drum up contacts, and articles we’ve published have shown support, but also some scepticism, for both companies.
Getting into this business has already begun to change my outlook on the industry. Developers need to eat and journalists do too. There was a time when I would have been happy covering PlayStation titles alone, but things don’t seem so simple any more. Playing the ‘media game’ is tough beans. As long as I’m sensible and it leads to new and up-to-date coverage for readers, I think it’s good to encourage a bit of healthy competition between Sony and Microsoft.