Video games as art and the changing PR

In researching this PRWeek article on video games as an art form, I got some great responses from video game and PR professionals alike. You'll...

In researching this PRWeek article on video games as an art form, I got some great responses from video game and PR professionals alike. You'll find full interviews with several sources here.

Melody Ann Pfeiffer, senior PR manager for Capcom

PRWeek: How have video games evolved into more of an art form? In what ways are they competing with more traditional forms of entertainment, like movies?

Pfeiffer: I think they have always been an art form but what has changed is the mainstream's perception of video games. For years, video games have been looked at as the "redheaded stepchild" to wide-spread entertainment mediums like music and movies. I think it's less a question of them being an art form and more a question of, are they a viable source of entertainment for the masses. With hugely popular franchises like Halo, Grand Theft Auto and the new rise of casual gaming, video games are not only being accepted by the mainstream consumer but are now becoming a preferred source of entertainment for many.

PRWeek: Has the target audience for video games changed?

Pfeiffer: It hasn't changed; it's just expanded as games appeal to a wide variety of audiences. Instead of just having one target to go after, video game PR campaigns typically now have primary, secondary and sometimes third tier targets they go after. For big campaigns, the sky is the limit as we are constantly thinking up new angles and creative ways to get our games covered in alternative mediums. Even in just this last year, I have seen a huge rise in outlets covering video games – it's a really fun time for us as we are no longer coming up against the same prejudices and walls that we used to with the consumer press. Just in this last year, I've seen video games get covered in Cosmo, US Weekly, and the cover of Time magazine – that would never have happened five years ago!

PRWeek: In turn, how has PR changed for video games?

Pfeiffer: Due to this expansion in audiences, our focus has also had to shift. In the past, video game PR campaigns mainly focused on gaming enthusiast/tech outlets to achieve most of their hits. Today, everyone is covering video games from men's lifestyle to celebrity mags like Star magazine which means that video game campaigns have evolved into much grander affairs, not just an extension of what marketing is doing.

PRWeek: What specific tactics does Capcom use to reach out to more mainstream media outlets?

Pfeiffer: You've got to start early with the consumer guys. Their space is limited and the competition is fierce so you want them on your side right off the bat, seeing and playing the games so they are more likely to write about them when they launch. You'll see a lot more video game companies now hiring consumer specialist agencies to take on their consumer outreach as well as a lot more effort being spent taking the games on tour to visit the mainstream outlets. It's also all about the creative pitch with the mainstream journalists. Their world does not revolve around gaming which means you have to catch their attention and prove that your game will appeal to their audience.

PRWeek: What specific ways does Capcom use online media in PR campaigns?

Pfeiffer: Online media is a priority for us especially considering we have very few gaming enthusiast print outlets left. In the last 10 years there has been a huge switch from print to online. Product announcements and exclusives almost always went to print first, now a majority of titles are announced first online. Online media is also a great way to expand on print coverage - you can paint a much more compelling picture of your game and how it plays and looks, by debuting a new trailer, video clip and demo on the web. The Web is one of our greatest tools when getting the word out. Blog sites are also blowing up these days and making a huge impact on how both the industry and consumers see games; therefore it's extremely important as PR professionals that we create strong relationships with these guys as they can be our most important key evangelists or our worst enemies.

Pete Pedersen, EVP for Edelman
David Hufford, senior director of global PR for Microsoft Interactive Entertainment Business

PRWeek: How have video games evolved into more of an art form?

Pedersen: Video game developers have always been great storytellers, but the ability to express these stories effectively is closely tied to how good the technology is. With today's powerful consoles, we're at the point where it's hard to distinguish video games from live action. Scenery is detailed and dynamic, motion is fluid, and characters are incredibly lifelike. Details like blades of grass shifting in the wind and emotion in characters' faces are common. Game developers finally have the canvas they need to fully express their creative visions.

Hufford: What really makes games so powerful is their interactivity. Players aren't just enjoying a story, they're creating the story. Every choice they make changes the outcome of the story. And with many games, you can download new episodes of these stories, so the experience stays fresh and new. It's like having your favorite movie last as long as you want it to.

In what ways are video games competing with more traditional forms of entertainment, like movies?

Hufford: I'd argue it's not a competition at all. A brilliant storyteller like Peter Jackson [director of Lord of the Rings, King Kong movie and video game, and a later Halo game] can now take a single idea and express it many different ways. This gives his fans the ability to get more immersed in the story and experience it from different perspectives. Same with music. We're seeing more and more artists use video games to reach their fans in new and interesting ways. Grand Theft Auto IV, for example, has a soundtrack featuring more than 200 songs. It's a not only a great game, it's a great way for consumers to discover new music.

Pedersen: Video game consoles are also becoming distribution points for so-called traditional entertainment. With Xbox LIVE, for example, you can download thousands of high-definition movies, television shows, and music tracks directly to your console. By enabling new ways to reach fans, new distribution methods and new revenue streams, the video game sector is in fact propelling the entire entertainment industry forward.

Has the target audience for video games changed?

Pedersen: The audience is much more diverse now. More people are playing games than ever before. People who grew up playing Atari are now parents, so we're seeing cross-generational gaming. Parents and kids are finding common ground - and common fun - playing video games together. And women are finding fun in video games now. For example, on New Year's Eve, the women in our neighborhood spent more time singing, drumming, and jamming on the guitar to Rock Band than the guys. That was fun to watch. So, for the first time ever, video games are cross-cultural, cross-gender, and cross-generational in their appeal.

Hufford: The industry is also doing a better job of producing content that is less intimidating. Games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero are easy to jump in to and incredibly entertaining.

PRWeek: How has PR changed for video games? What was a traditional PR campaign like five years ago? Now, how is it different?

Hufford: The biggest change is the number of mainstream media outlets regularly covering the industry. We're working with a cross-section of media that spans XXL, ESPN, Ellen, The New Yorker, Perez Hilton, USA Today, and Univision. And of course the Internet has changed everything. We work very hard to feed the insatiable appetites of people who are most passionate about games. Feeding the fans takes an incredible amount of work. Finally, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and MTV now all have journalists covering the beat full time. There is far more coverage and stiffer competition amongst the press. The quality of journalism has really risen.

Pedersen: The proliferation of outlets that cover the video game space has also allowed PR professionals to tell deeper, richer stories. Campaigns today are layered and complex, and must address many different stakeholders. For any given release, enthusiasts want trailers, Wall Street wants to know how many units, and People magazine wants to know if the celebrities are playing

PRWeek: Is there anything else you would like to say about this topic?

Hufford: It's a great time to be part of the video game industry. Games are the fastest-growing form of entertainment. People spent more money on games in 2007 than they spent on music worldwide. In many ways, we're driving pop culture, driving entertainment, and creating powerful new ways for people to connect with one another.

Pedersen: And it's a great time to be doing PR in the industry. We've got a perfect storm – the games are amazing, the audience is rapidly expanding, and the press can't seem to get enough.

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