What do you do now and who do you work for?
I’m account manager at Peppermint P, a nice PR agency for game industry publishers and developers based in London, England.
Tell us how you become a games PR in the first place.
It was really a case of ‘who you know’ rather than ‘what you know’. I’d been writing some freelance reviews and features for a couple of places. A friend of mine got a job at a big games PR agency and pushed a lot of content my way. This meant I was lucky enough to be basically writing an incredibly specific portfolio of work to appeal to his agency and, funnily enough, I got asked to come aboard.
What’s the best or most memorable campaign, event or meeting involving games journalists you’ve had since then?
That would definitely be a notorious client with a notorious history, but a gift for going over the top with events. This was for a licensed sports car game and despite the client being something of a total nightmare (but I still love the guy personally), the event was getting to drive high-end cars around a genuine race track in Italy, with instructors insisting you floored it at every opportunity. I hadn’t driven a real car for about 15 years, so to be behind the wheel of a 180mph monster was a totally mind-blowing, life-changing event. All the journalists we took had a blast too, though as they weren’t car enthusiasts to quite the same rabidity as me, they didn’t have quite the orgasmic connection that I had.
And the worst one?
I couldn’t pick a ‘worst’, as the stuff at the bottom tends to become a grey mass that you quickly try to forget about. The worst things in my experience all share the same issues: terrible products with unrealistic client expectations and not enough budget to mitigate either!
But then there’s the tragic stuff where there’s a good product, person or technology, but it’s so niche, obscure or undeveloped that the opportunities are miniscule. You know there’s a good story, but only for a select group of readers, or there’s not enough information for public release to craft a good tale around. There’s this sense that if you could only get the right coverage at the right time that the story could explode and even some technical thing (like a piece of impenetrable middleware) could become incredibly interesting to a much wider audience, but it’s not your job as a PR to dictate coverage and if the client can’t give you the meat to make the story exciting and interesting, then it can be amazingly frustrating to have things slip through the net.
The worst meeting I ever had was about two weeks into a new campaign with a client I’d never met before. It was our second meeting and I was there with the owner of the agency. After answering a question about the strengths of the game in question, the client tried to headhunt me in front of my boss. That got weird really, really quickly. I’ve had more than enough conference calls that were a total waste of time, too!
How has the games industry changed since you started out?
I got started in a transition period – just before the launch of the 360. So for me, the big change has been the rise of online. It’s seeped into every corner of the industry now, from integration into the very core of the console experience, to the media we talk to and the ways we can distribute information, not to mention the way games can be bought, or where games can be played.
Is this for the better or worse?
Generally better, I’d say, though there’re some trends that are worrying, such as trust in slightly questionable metrics (such as giant registered user figures without context in some sectors, or the dominance of metacritic-style aggregators as a marker for success). I also think that as the barriers to entry into videogames journalism have lowered somewhat (getting a decent position is still horrifically tough, but anyone can start a blog), the quality of critique has dropped. There’s too much of a generalised set of references and agreed standards, and not enough freedom for individual tastes. There’s also a curious homogeneity happening, where you can be fairly assured that if a game gets a 9 from outlet Y, then outlets X and Z will give it the same score – and the reviews will all be broadly the same. I don’t know if this is because games have advanced to the point where so many aspects need to be of a certain quality that they’ll get generally similar reviews, or if it’s because the mass of writers all hold generally similar tastes and opinions.
Who has had the most influence on your career so far?
Simon Byron. He has a legendary status for very good reasons and he taught me how to write professionally.
What is the best bit of advice about the games industry/PR anyone’s ever given you?
The funniest and most wise is simply “don’t be a c**t”. The best, though, is “find the balance”. There’s always a tension between client and journalist needs and I think good PR practice is to find where the ideal balance is between those two. It’s a real skill, and as PR can come down to cat-and-mouse on both sides of the coin, identifying balance and creating good compromises can be the only way to stay sane.
How do you find working with games journalists and how has it changed since you started out?
Games journalists are generally great to work with as long as you keep in mind that you’re supposed to be making their life easier. The working context hasn’t really changed that much! We still use the same methods and channels as we did six years ago, even if there are supplemental services beyond the core disciplines (like social media etc). I’d say that these days, clients are much more risk-averse, which tends to make things less interesting – especially in terms of what’s possible for creative coverage like meaningful features.
What advice would you give to games journalists starting out/wanting to get into industry?
Write enthusiastically and don’t be afraid to go to extremes if you honestly believe in what you’re writing. The greatest crime of all is mediocrity. Also know the history of your sector, know about game development and never, ever stop learning or researching. The difference between a poor amateur enthusiast and a well-paid professional expert is smaller than most people think.
What is your dream PR job/campaign?
My dream job is design consultancy rather than PR (shhhh!). However, my dream PR campaign would be either another licensed sports car game with enough budget to do the kind of mad trips mentioned above, or to work on a game I truly love as a gamer (but only for the early hands-on access!).
A few quick questions. What’s your favourite*… ?
Platform: Current: 360. It’s been an astonishingly good format over the last six years, really rivaling the PS2 for breadth and appeal to the hardest of the hardcore, though PS3 has caught up marvelously.
All time: Commodore 64. Runner up is the PC Engine, but nostalgia rather than retro-rediscovery takes precedent here!
Game: Too many vying for the top, but I’d have to put Splinter Cell, Fallout, Gran Turismo, PGR, Virtua Fighter and Saints Row 2 all on the same footing. I’d shove in some 8/16-bit favourites in too, but the list would be way too long.
Developer: Sega AM2. Just for the history.
Games writer: Current: Christian Donlan. All time: Gary Penn
Games magazine: Edge.
Non-gaming magazine/website: Mag: Octane – retro/modern sports car porn. Web: Image-based Tumblrs – there’s a Tumblr for everything and the interface is, in general, magnificently streamlined.
Who’s your games industry hero? Yu Suzuki. He’s the Stanley Kubrick of games.
*These are all personal choices and do NOT represent the official view of Peppermint P.
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