The other day, I was asked what would have changed if Leonardo da Vinci had a marketing and PR team. Would his creations be different somehow? While he had to deal with prudish patrons and politics, I'm pretty sure that no one came up to him saying, "Our focus group shows that the Vitruvian Man would be more accessible if his gizmo was covered up." The big question is, "What's the role of the marketer during the phases of game production?" It's generally agreed that marketing and PR, when integrated into each level of the development, can be beneficial to the game, the audience and the bottom line. However, disagreement arises when it comes to the details of that role and the level of influence the marketer should have during development.
Production and Marketing
As someone who believes videogames are a form of artistic expression, I believe the vision of the group of creative directors, producers and developers should remain a central focus in the production of the game. The marketer's job at that point is to understand the aspects of the game, identify the intended audiences, and start listening to them. During the development phases of the game, the marketer needs to capture the needs and desires of the community and communicate those to the development team. The marketer must also disseminate to the community, in a timely fashion, media and information in the forms of dev diaries, concept art and teasers.
Marketers understand that their success is defined primarily by units sold. With that in mind, if the marketer is given too much influence on the direction of the game design and development, there's a higher potential that the game could drift from the original vision. Too much reliance on focus groups, past successful trends, over-generalization of target audiences and bad assumptions can dilute the vision and create a game that becomes less than the sum of its features. During an interview I had with Paul Bellezza, CEO of The Odd Gentlemen, creators of The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom, he described pitching the idea of a grumpy old pie-thief to a potential publisher. That unnamed publisher was in love with the idea, but suggested that based on market research, he should change the crotchety old man into a heavily armed marine, from space.
Once the vision is set and the game is in development, the marketer needs to generate awareness. Content need to be created, the enthusiast media needs to be pursued, and communities need to be built and engaged. As internal milestones are met, the marketer needs to work closely with the development and PR teams to determine what information and media can be shared. Of that shareable media, marketers identify elements that resonate with the needs of the community and will create the most excitement and distribution potential. As development and production schedules are defined, so is the media release schedule. Resembling an exponential graph where information and media assets ramp up closer to launch, this schedule solidifies the times when advertisements are purchased and retail partners are established.