Doug Mealy has worked with the CEOs of 110 game developer studios in the past fifteen years and managed over 300 game launches. He shares with WarCry his entertaining and informative perspective on the mistakes CEOs have made in the past, and how gamers who want to have their own studios someday can avoid making those same mistakes.

Want to be a Successful Indie Studio CEO Someday? Then don’t screw up! Part Deux

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My first WarCry column seems to have generated some interest – over 10,000 of you read about four real life mistakes made by studio CEOs who subsequently lost their studios. Those mistakes were:

  • CEOs hire outside marketing/PR consultants without properly vetting them.
  • CEOs pay for professional advice, and then ignore it.
  • CEOs pick the wrong dates to launch their trailers.
  • CEOs and dev teams reveal too much, and too soon.

In Part Deux, let’s look at what studio-threatening mistakes CEOs must avoid making in these messy economic times.

CEOs must acknowledge that the games PR landscape has changed dramatically in the past two months: 300 games editors are now “gone.” Here’s a new and scary stat. I issue game press releases to over 1,800 online, print (industry, consumer) editors, and TV Tech Reporters. Usually, I get a 4% rejection rate because of resignations, moving, firings, etc. Just since early December, the percentage of “bounced back” emails has doubled to 8%, and I expect at least another 8% by the end of February. This means about 150 journalists who were “alive” two months ago are now gone from the landscape, and another 150 are likely to disappear in the next month. Do the math…there are fewer media people covering more content, so unless you change how you present your title to the media, your chances of getting coverage will be reduced, and by a wide margin. And, without that coverage, you’re dead in the water.

CEOs need to expand their PR reach to TV segment producers reaching consumers. You need to create an under-two-minute trailer that’s NOT a direct sales pitch. The trailer needs to have the following requisite assets: box shot, top 2-3 game features and why gamers should care (“…and this means gamers can now do [mention the action]…”), and talk to them as if they were non-gamers. Include in your email the release date, where it can be purchased, the MSRP, the pending ESRB rating, and the logos of the developer and the publisher. In short, give them everything they need to make an immediate “I’m interested” decision. Here are two recent examples about a new PC game called Commander in Chief. I sent the trailer info (just as I outlined above) to about 50 TV stations nationwide. KRON-TV in San Francisco responded within an hour, I talked with the reporter, and the segment aired three hours later. Also, CNN asked – within a few hours of getting my email — for an on-camera interview. The next morning we taped a segment in the CNN studio, and the segment aired internationally on January 19th. Check it out at http://www.commander-in-chief.net. Same type of deal with the ABC station in San Diego. Give them what they want, with the graphic assets, and you’ll improve your changes of getting coverage.

CEOs must get their web sites in order – now. Before you issue your first press release, be sure your web site is current and accurate. It kills me when I read a press release, go to that site for more information, and see a site that looks like it was developed by a bunch of junior high students. Sometimes the name of the game is one way in the press release, and slightly different on the web page. Prices, release date, and game descriptions don’t always match up. Links within the page don’t work. Editors are forced to search around trying to find who they should contact and can’t easily find out. The worst is when editors are forced to complete a “fill in the blanks” request form. They don’t. Make sure all your information is consistent and accurate. And please – no more “Contact pr@xxxx.com” – give a name and a direct email. Editors like to know who they’re dealing with.

CEOs must lower their expectations for 2009 – 2010 trade shows, and re-evaluate what they get for what they spend. I’ve done almost 160 shows, so let me share my “sense” of what’s changing on the trade show scene. Common sense dictates there will be fewer journalists and fewer attendees at shows for the rest of the year as evidenced by CES being down by 21.9%. One of the main reasons for exhibiting at a trade show was, in the past, to get media interviews. That reason is now severely diluted given the shrinking numbers of journalists at shows. The ugly truth is that waiting in your booth (or shared demo pod) for a “walk-in” journalist is now essentially a dead concept – it simply won’t happen like it used to. Getting media to commit to an at-show interview will also be a challenge – they simply have too much ground to cover and too many assignments from their editors. We may be at the point where it makes more financial sense for you to spend, say, $5,000 or $10,000 flying selected media to your studio for a guided tour, or maybe organize an all-expenses-paid “Weekend in Las Vegas” for a group of selected editors, or invest in a press tour, rather than spending the same amount on a larger-than-needed exhibit at one trade show and hope editors show up.

Summary

The current economic situation has clearly changed how PR efforts are implemented. CEOs are stuck right in the middle of this mess, and unless they adapt, their titles simply won’t get coverage like they used to. If you are an aspiring studio CEO, or are one now, and have any questions, please email them to me at dmealy@om-pr.com.

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