How Much Attention Should Publishers Get For Game Reviews?
Is getting the attention of publishers such an important thing, and if so, how much effort should one exert to get that attention? A quick thought leans towards the idea that it is important to be noticed by publishers, because ultimately any publication relies on the identification of it by key industry players.
At the same time, key publications are important for publishers, because effectively, that is how they receive a lot of publicity. Media houses are critical for information sharing, especially without spending a lot of money. Advertising campaigns and alerting the general public is completely different to gaining publicity through publications, as various articles and features about the different titles in development offer great exposure for such titles.
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One could then say that it is a balance. Publications need publishers and developers, whereby publishers and developers need publications.
However, this balance is often skewed. Publishers, because they are the creators, often control most of the power in the relationship. They try to decide who gets what and when, and because publications need to get the scoop first, their fate is often decided by publishers. It seems a little unfair, does it not? The people whose job it is to talk about games and what is happening are often dictated to by the very people they write about. Do not want to play ball? Then enjoy having a tough time doing a good job.
Fortunately, publishers do understand the balance. And this article is not really about them, rather about up-and-coming developers and publishers. Because we deal with indie teams quite a bit, we see their unique approach.
Often it is a case of power being taken a little too seriously. Yes, the studio has developed a game and it is famous. It has done well. Controlling image is both give and take, however. One often has to do whatever it takes to get the right message out there, even if it has a slight cost attached.
We, as EGMR, have dealt with companies where, after review, there have been complaints that the ‘score’ was harsh. This was prior to us removing the scoring system–so think back to 2009 and 2010. Our reviewer’s complaints about a game that was tough to play and even tougher to enjoy–not to mention a clear cash-in on a popular TV series at the time–was met with anger from the head honcho of the developing company. Rude words and the like were shared. Is that anyone other than the developer’s/publisher’s fault? We did not make the game.
Sometimes, though, it does not even get to the review. The relationship stops after contact to enquire about a single code to review the game. An example I could share is where we have put a lot of effort into contacting an indie developer privately, in an attempt to try their game for review. It was met with ‘Sorry, we do not have codes generated at the moment.’ Then, after a bit of public complaint on Twitter, that tune changed. We were offered a code, where in return the person would need to delete the tweet.
Excuse me, what?
If one believes that he/she controls the power, then one should deal with the consequences of such power. Controlling power is not as simple and effective as one may think. Only offering a code after public complaint is not fair and not how this give-and-take practice should be approached. Either the publisher should stick by its word, or face the consequences of the action it took.
Fortunately, review codes from publishers is not the only way to get a job done. It is just a really effective means to an end. It benefits both parties. And that is how the practice is, and one should not attempt to control who does what and when. Serious publishers have the ability to do that, however as an indie developer it is a lot tougher. The goal of an indie publisher, in my mind, should be to get the game out as much as possible, to everyone.
And that leads me to the question: how far should one go for publisher attention?
Do we need to break the bank, give overly positive reviews, or be as popular as the studio itself? Is not all exposure worth it and good, in the long run? Sure–some cases are not worth the effort, however some might very well be.
Games will be reviewed, whether handed to the publication or not. As one would imagine, being handed a game feels a little more positive than having to fight with a publisher, only to be denied, and then buying the game privately.
Control of ‘what and where’ is a seriously difficult game to play. And if the publisher is going to play the game, it should not complain about the consequences when other means of achieving goals are used. In this case, complaints on Twitter.
I believe in balance, and arrogance has no place in the industry. Not every publication is here for a free ride. And luckily, we have means to get the job done. I am, therefore, glad that companies are managing their image and that Twitter exists–to get the job done. And I am glad that, inadvertently, small publishers realise that if a single Tweet to a minority amount of followers is potentially ‘damaging’ then a review on a smaller site may be equally as positive as a Tweet is damaging.
Strange how a little bit of negative, no matter how small, is a lot more important to control than the potential good that can come from a review.
As for how much attention we should give? Well, just enough to get the job done.