Managing news flow

At last weeks E3 there were two massive announcements that Microsoft could have made but didn’t. The first was about their upcoming gesture interface, the second was an announcement about a new Halo game from Bungie, which was only pulled at the last minute. So why did Microsoft pull two massive stories that would have been worldwide headlines?

The answer is that, quite simply, they already had the world’s press in the palm of their hands. They had the maximum column inches and airtime that was possible. So to add extra content would only dilute the coverage that each story would get. They had reached the law of diminishing returns. Far better to save stories for another day when they will not be cluttered out and so will get far more coverage. Microsoft marketing want to get the maximum impact, the maximum number of times.

Which is exactly what I did when managing the news flow at Codemasters. Often I was sitting on a whole pile of “secrets” but was manipulating unveiling them so as to maximise the coverage that they received.

I started telling the world about a new game 12 months before street date. So that meant 12 monthly press releases plus the launch press release. This gave a nice pace that allowed me to gradually unveil the USPs and features of the game in a way that enabled the press, and therefore the public, to understand what it was that we were making.

I had a press release schedule for a release every Tuesday and every Thursday. Slots on this schedule were booked for months ahead. The schedule was shared with all our marketing people worldwide so we could maximise our management of the press. And with the development staff to maximise internal co-operation. Every release was translated into every language necessary well before release. And we also planned the assets such as screenshots, videos, renders and demos well in advance so they could be polished to the highest quality.

By having a well drilled global press mechanism and only ever releasing quality news content I was guaranteed to reach tens of millions of people with every word that I sent out of the door.

An example was IGI 2, a stealth FPS. The game contained infra red sights that could see through walls and the Barratt 0.5inch sniper rifle, these made a massive difference to the gameplay. I deliberately kept these features secret until fairly close to release date. By then the press thought that they knew the game pretty well, so when I announced these two features in a press release they went “wow” and we got loads of coverage. Far more that if I hadn’t sat on these features for so long.

So there we have it. Manage your flow of news to maximise the marketing impact that it gives you. Secrets are a precious asset so get the most out of revealing each and every one of them.

7 comments ↓

#1 rckt42 on 07.23.08 at 9:29 am

Yeah, a good release strategy can maintain your game in everybody’s mind so when the game is finally released you really want to buy it.

What Microsoft did, though, will hurt them. A lot of people where looking forward to Bungie’s announcement, with the usual countdown, clues, etc, and in the last day Microsoft pulls it just because they think it is better to move it to a timeframe less loaded with news?.

Sorry, but in those circunstances you’re doing more damage than good. No wonder that the guys at Bungie where pretty pissed.

#2 Darren on 07.23.08 at 9:39 am

I think the flow of information about games to the actual release of games is far too long. It’s getting to ridiculous with some games (Alan Wake & The Outsiders for example) getting shown years before their release.

I think Nintendo’s “new” approach of announcing games within a few months of them hitting the shelves is a step in the right direction. It generates a lot of buzz right before the game is released, and probably maximises the potential sales.

I’m sure I’m not alone with getting bored of seeing previews of games a year before I can play them. I’ve got to the point where I skip right past the preview sections in magazines.

In my ideal world games would get announced, and reviewed in the month prior to being released…

#3 Callum Godfrey on 07.23.08 at 10:03 am

A lot of getting this right hinges on the development teams and their ability to commit to the dates and the features being revealed.

One of my big problems with the way some companies manage their PR and Market awareness is that they don’t seem to be clued in to whats actually in the product past the list of features someone has handed to them. So many previews, first looks, announcements and so forth promise the world but then when the game comes out it shows that these features are really not the all singing all dancing moments that they promised.

All communications should be done in conjuction with a development team to try and avoid this “over hype – under deliver” scenario that is happening more and more in games these days.

#4 Bruce on 07.23.08 at 10:31 am

Callum, as you know at Codemasters I was a firm believer in MBWA (management by walking about) and would very regularly go and chat with someone instead of sending them an email. This meant I was in every development studio all the time, including the walk over to Warickshire’s famous development shed. I was also in QA, sound, licensing etc etc. So I was always as fully informed as possible about products under development. Though I must admit that many of my conversations about Dragon Empires were a bit of a strain!

The point I am trying to make is that marketing and development should embrace each other and work together to get the best marketing outcome. It is not difficult.

#5 Callum Godfrey on 07.23.08 at 11:43 am

Agree totally that it is not difficult, it just worry me that its also not standard practise for some. :)

#6 Arjen on 07.23.08 at 11:20 pm

I liked IGI2 for its time, not super but it killed some time.
Never was any real good use for the big terrains, that was a bit of a shame.

#7 Gamersworldbd on 07.28.08 at 6:10 pm

One word, it’s called “manipulation”. Not in the truest sense of the word, but you still have to play your cards right. One thing I learned as a games site publisher is not to deliver all the “breaking news/stories” all at once. If you spread it evenly, you have the maximum chance to gain new readers.

Sure, I deliver time sensitive news in an instant, but what about featured articles? I usually publish one every other day and this model has been really effective for me.

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