MEDIA ROUNDUP: Video games aim to go mainstream

Though the video-game industry is not yet completely accepted by the traditional press, it has gone far in gaining more coverage from mainstream media.

Though the video-game industry is not yet completely accepted by the traditional press, it has gone far in gaining more coverage from mainstream media.

Last month's Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles attracted the usual mix of game publishers, developers, retailers, and industry wannabes, all looking for the latest video games. But perhaps more significant for the industry's long-term health was the fact that the show was covered not just by gaming-fan magazines and websites, but also by the media elite, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and CNN. Video games might not yet be completely accepted by the traditional press, but it's clear the industry has come a long way from the days when games were considered simply a diversion for teenage boys. Erica Kohnke, founder and president of San Francisco-based agency Kohnke Communications, suggests this mainstreaming can be seen primarily in the breadth of outlets now doing interactive-entertainment coverage. "Men's magazines are taking it a lot more seriously, and there are also outlets like skateboarding publications and other lifestyle outlets that are now really covering video games," she says. Looking for coverage One of the issues video games have always faced is the lack of star quality present in other entertainment. But the fact that actors like Vin Diesel are taking an interest in games is not only lending some glamour to the business, it's also expanding the types of writers covering the space. "One of the biggest stories to emerge in the last year or so is the merging of Hollywood and interactive entertainment," says Chris Olmstead, senior media specialist with Golin/Harris International, which represents Nintendo. "This has allowed entertainment-business writers who don't normally cover video games an opportunity to delve into our business." But others complain that video games still don't get covered consistently in the traditional media, especially when compared with other entertainment segments, such as movies, music, and television. "I have noticed that national newspapers have declined in their coverage," Kohnke notes. "Sometimes they have a freelancer or someone on staff who's a game fan do reviews, but most newspapers still don't respect the industry." Sue Bohle, founder of The Bohle Company, says the fact that video games are now a $10 billion annual industry in North America has at least convinced business outlets like The Wall Street Journal and Forbes to beef up their coverage. But, she adds, there remains a media generation gap when it comes to video games. "Reporters are telling us they are having trouble giving the beat as much coverage as they feel they would like to, because old-line editors just can't believe there is that much reader interest," Bohle says. Despite the complaints, Peter Pedersen, SVP and deputy GM of Edelman Worldwide/ Seattle, which represents the Microsoft Xbox, says the coverage is getting better. "It's becoming a much more competitive environment, and that's driving the reporters to be more inquisitive and insightful," he says. "They're doing more on the story behind the game, the personalities, the creative vision, and the technological breakthroughs." Importance of fan titles The mainstreaming of the industry has heightened the importance of leading game-enthusiast magazines, such as GamePro. "As the consumer media are increasing their video-game coverage, they are turning to game-enthusiast magazine editors to get their 'expert' opinions on the best games and trends," says Olmstead. "For instance, Dan Hsu [of Electronic Gaming Monthly] is regularly interviewed on CNN for an update on the latest noteworthy games." Video-game coverage also is aggressively extending beyond print. Bohle points out that the combined IGN/GameSpy website now has about 20 million unique visitors a month. And TV is also finally adding more game coverage. G4, the Comcast-backed dedicated video-game channel, recently merged with TechTV, but is still doing new dedicated gaming programming on a weekly basis. In addition, networks ranging from MTV to ESPN have all done video game-related programming. "There's a lot of interest from broadcasters who want to find new ways to cover the industry," explains Pedersen. "They know that's what their audience is doing, so they are trying to figure out how to make it relevant to their viewership." Pitching... video games
  • Dedicated game magazines are facing a lot more competition, but they still influence mainstream coverage, so keep your client's games top-of-mind among enthusiast reporters
  • While now a back-burner issue, the debate over violence in games and its impact on youth is always only a tragedy away from becoming front-page news, so make sure there's a crisis response on hand for these stories
  • The bulk of coverage still tends to be previews and reviews of new titles, so focus a lot of your PR on getting the right screen shots and demos to key reporters and editors

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