A lot of folks are working under false pretenses. Looking over at the excellent GamesPress site (or their forums, to be specific), it seems that people tend to build a gaming website because they think they’re going to get free shit. Before they began writing articles about Let’s Fashion A Grand Piano Out Of Matchsticks With Poniez 5, they thought that all they’d have to do is copy and paste a news story, fire off an email to the right person and – BOOM – they’d get free games and party invites falling through their letterbox each and every day. That isn’t the way, and neither should it be.
After pointlessly trying to explain the process of getting on press lists to a new site owner this week and having him point-blank refuse to believe a word I said, I thought I’d use my own experience of PR teams in order to make the point. I even said I’d post it on my blog. So Mike, here’s a little game I’ve come up with based on what you’ll need to go through before you reach the promised land that you think that I live in. If it isn’t enough, I’ll show you my credit card receipts for FIFA 12 and F1 2011, both of which I bought last week and didn’t get “for free.”
Start at Stage 1, and go to the next stage every time you’ve added another 10,000 visitors a month to your reader stats.
With no budget.
And with the writing ability and insight of a blind chipmunk with irritable bowel syndrome.
The 16 Stages – A Game for Game Site Owners
You launch your site. Riches and free stuff aren’t far away, right?
PR team ignores all emails from you. You phone them, but all of the PR staff are in a meeting, despite the person answering the phone actually being the Head of PR, who you went to school with. You write them a letter, they ignore you. Back in the day – which was a Wednesday, as it goes – I noticed it was nearly February 14th, so I sent a two-woman PR team a pair of Valentine’s Day cards and some flowers along with a request to be added to their press list. Cunning, huh? They could smell that I was only at stage 1, and ignored me.
By the way, ladies, you totally owe me some flowers. Unless you thought the whole affair was a bit sexist, in which case you can keep the flowers as an apology.
Stage 2 – Ignorance is a Bitch
PR team ignores all emails from you. You phone them, they offer to put you on their news list – which means you’ll get their press releases via email. You’ll probably get each and every one four times, as the blind, deaf work experience lad they’ve got adding email addresses to the list doesn’t have any thumbs. Don’t take the piss, he’ll be the head of PR within the next 5 years.
Stage 3 – Extra, Extra! Your Inbox is Full
PR team ignores 2 out of 3 emails from you, but they do give you access to their press extranet – which means you can download screenshots, box art and promotional images from them directly. Oh, and now their extranet software will automatically send you the press releases as well, so expect five emails for every piece of news they ever want you to cover. Which is everything. Every day. For ever. By now, I half-expect emails to turn up informing me that someone from Activision’s Accounting department has just eaten a cake and that it was delicious.
PR team ignores 1 out of 3 emails from you, including all requests for review code. Well, they don’t ignore the requests, persay. They just say that the press list is full or that they “only had limited stock” of the title you want to cover and that they’ve all been sent out. You lie, and tell them that you suddenly get 200,000 unique visitors per month, and – oh, wait – what’s this? A copy of the game you want to review has JUST appeared on their desk. It’ll be with you shortly.
Stage 5 – Indecent Proposal
PR team emails you, asking if you want to review Barbie Race & Ride 3 for the Nintendo DS – even though you only cover PSP games. You tell them this, they take time out of their busy day in order to ignore you. Then they go back to their hectic schedule of ignoring you.
Stage 6 – Indecent Proposal II
PR team emails to request that you review Shrek Snakes and Ladders 3D for the Nintendo DS.
Stage 7 – Welcome to The Dark Side
If you didn’t review Shrek Snakes and Ladders 3D, return to Stage 4, and keep doing so until they send you something relevant to write about. If you gave in, welcome to the game! You’ve officially started to turn towards the corrupt side. On you go.
Stage 8 – Turn Back, Weary Traveller
Publisher decides to hire new PR firm to deal with all their affairs. You’re probably back at Stage 3 at this point, since there’s blatantly not going to be the slightest bit of information passed between the two companies.
Stage 9 – Il Postino
Once you get here, you might, MIGHT get a positive response to your request for a review copy of a game that you actually want to review. They might totally ignore you again. The PR team might even send you the game. Then again, they might not bother and then demand to see your review anyway. It might get “lost” by your local postman. Or at your local post office. Or at the parcel collections depot. Or at the receiving sorting office. Or at the sending sorting office. It might go missing before the Royal Mail even get their hands on it. It might not even have been sent. Who knows?
If the game doesn’t turn up and you tell the PR crew that you never received it, return to Stage 7 as they’ll think you just want another copy for your friend, or to sell on eBay – mainly because of the dumb pricks that actually do this. If you dug your way out of a hole by renting it and reviewing it, move on to the next stage.
Stage 10 – Dinner For Schmucks
After you’ve reviewed a few of their products, the PR company decides to disagree with your latest effort, which rated the game they’re promoting as a 7 out of 10. The reason for their concern being that it was “clearly an 8 because everybody else said it was and it’s hitting exactly 80/100 on Metacritic. So it should be an 8. GIVE IT AN 8. We may not be able to support your site anymore unless you ‘re-review’ our product.”
If you decide to change the score to suit them, fuck off. Seriously. Close your browser, head into the kitchen, turn the gas oven on and stick your head in, because you’re an arsehole of the highest order and I don’t want you reading my beautifully weighted and
immaculatly imaculeately very well spelt prose.
However, if you stuck to your guns, return to Stage 4 or if dealing with a particularly stubborn bastard, Stage 1. The guys at SCi – before they were “absorbed” by Eidos, that is – had me at Stage -48 at one point, because I rated a game a whole point lower than the average of the two other sites that had reviewed it. (Bitter? Me? Noooooooo.)
Stage 11 – Pockets Changed
You get invited to a press event by the PR guys. You should probably have a massive great fucking party at this point, as you’re well on your way.
Unless you live outside of London, that is. If that’s the case, you should probably start crying, as it’s going to cost you at least £150 for transport and a hotel, just so you can see some glamour model wearing a t-shirt featuring a game logo, and hear one of the game’s developers talk about how amazing the game he’s spent four years working on really and truly is. What’s good about this is that after you’ve attended about 10 of these events, you can start working out what score you should give a game, solely based on the quality of the buffet at the event. There’s a correlation between vol-au-vent quality and gameplay, I tell you.
Stage 12 – Bric-A-Cack
PR team starts to send you promotional items that vary from the benign to the utterly strange in order to “expand mindshare” or some other phrase that equates to walking up to random people in the street and bellowing the name of the game in their face.
I once had to go to the Post Office in order to sign for a bent spoon and a sock containing a bar of soap, which was sent to promote Midway’s below-average prison romp The Suffering. Got some bizarre looks in that Post Office, I tell you. It didn’t help that I hadn’t shaved in a week.
Stage 13 – Back to The Future
PR team decides to start using Alexa.com in order to work out who to send review copies to. This would be a stellar idea, were it 1996. Or if Alexa rankings were ever anything like accurate. In ten years time, the most popular site in the world according to Alexa, will be the one that you’re reading now. The only reason it isn’t as it stands, is because the two other people in the world that still use the Alexa Toolbar can click faster than I can. I’m sure they’ll uninstall it soon. Either way, since your site is blatantly not going to be in the top 10,000 on Alexa, you can move your sweet ass back to Stage 7.
Stage 14 – Debuggery
PR company responds to your requests for review code each and every time, but starts sending “debug” code that can only be played on a “debug” version of the console, which you can’t get unless you actually like cupping Satan’s balls. When you ask for retail code, you can just go back to Stage 10, since the thinking is that if a platform holder doesn’t hold you in high-enough esteem to give you a debug console, why the hell should the PR team have you so high on their list of priorities?
What nobody ever used to say, is that preview code such as this used to work on “chipped” or “hacked” consoles. I’ve no idea if it does now. Getting a console modified to play preview code did used to be a hell of a lot cheaper than selling your soul, though. Just sayin’.
Stage 15 – The Promised Land
The PR guys send you final retail code of everything they ever work on, on every format. You don’t ask. It just turns up. This is the mystical stage that 99% of people who decide to run gaming websites believe is actually at stage 1. It generally takes around 63 years to reach this point, but you can do it in 5 if you’re REALLY good at brown-nosing.
Stage 16 – An Extra One as 2,000 Words Wasn’t Enough For Me
The PR guys come around and clean your house, whilst making canapes for the hookers they’ve brought as a gift for you. You’ll be dead in about an hour.
The last one may or may not happen. If you ever get past stage 16, you might even get them to buy advertising on your site. You can use the revenue to buy a warm coat and some firelighters, given that hell is actually freezing over at this point.
Oh, and bear in mind that the PR teams know full well that they can drop you a few stages for whatever reason they wish. If they come into the office in a bad mood on a Monday morning because their little friend refused to stand to attention the night before, they might decide to banish any emails from you to the bin, effectively putting you back to stage one. They might even do it after agreeing to provide you with competition prizes two weeks back, meaning that you have five people waiting for prizes and…well, either a severely damaged reputation or a fucking great hole in your wallet from having to buy replacements.
Bear in mind that you may well have to go through this with the PR team for EVERY publisher individually. In addition, if you’re dealing with cartridge-based games (aside from really, really awful children’s Nintendo DS fodder) or digital downloads – bizarrely – expect to double the number of stages. Oh, and finally, forget any concept of time when it comes to dealing with PR teams. Their game comes out on Friday, you request it two weeks before, they send it two days after it comes out – despite them having stock on the Tuesday before release. Why? Well, it was Karen’s birthday in the office, so they had to down tools for three days for some cake.
And you thought that all you had to do was get busy with copy and paste and you were in business! The reason you think that way, is because nobody else will be honest about what happens when dealing with PR, lest the PR team sees in and kicks them back to stage 1. I, however, don’t care anymore.
All the best.