Ask anybody who has started a gaming blog or website of their experience so far and you’ll mostly likely hear that it’s hard to keep motivated. With a plethora of established gaming websites available today, it’s hard to imagine where smaller community websites can fit in. For the most part, the bigger players will always be the first for news, reviews and previews.
Where it becomes a little easier is when you’re recognized for your work and this comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. The turning point for most people is when they’re noticed and supported by their first game publisher. This could be anything from being provided a review copy of a game, being invited to an event, or even something as simple as receiving a compliment via email or tweet.
Community Engagement Done Right
Let me tell you about a little company called THQ. You might know them for publishing gems such as Saints Row, Darksiders, Red Faction and whole slew of others. What you might not know is how connected they are with their community; in particular the gaming website communities that cover news, reviews and other related editorial content. Before I go any further though, I have to specify that when I refer to THQ I’m actually referring to the ANZ (Australian and New Zealand) arm of THQ, as this is who I’m familiar with. The THQ arms in other parts of world may or may not employ similar policies and methods.
The official @THQANZ Twitter account was registered on the 6th December 2011 and now sports over 600 followers; an impressive feat for a localised publisher in this short of a time span. What makes THQ stand out from the rest though? Put simply, they have no qualification or screening process for who they connect with. This contrasts greatly to other specific publishers who employ a requirement that your website reaches a seemingly magical number of hits before they start taking you seriously.
From a publisher perspective, you might think this logic makes sense. Why support a community website that only pulls in a few thousand hits a month when they can focus on the bigger players thar pull in millions? Well, there are at least two reasons:
Encourages aspiring independent games journalists – Although there’s not a definitive list of every independent gaming blog available, you can bet your bottom dollar there’s many aspiring games journalists out there. Many of these come from different walks of life and many have something unique to share. With greater publisher support these independent journos will feel more encouraged and will more likely try to pursue a career in games journalism.
Encourages people to create more gaming websites and communities – This is similar to the above point, but on a greater scale. It’s great for the industry as a whole because ultimately, more websites and communities means more people talking about games, which in turn makes gaming even more mainstream. The more the industry becomes mainstream, the more viable it is for game developers, designers, progamers and others to pursue a career in their preferred profession. It’s a snowball effect that means we’ll see more games, more consoles and generally, more gaming content.
How to Effectively Support Your Community
THQ maintains a community list which is essentially a way for them to send press releases and breaking stories to press. As an aspiring journalist, this means you’ll get access to breaking news the same time the big players do. How do you get on this list? It’s really simple, all you have to do is email THQ. That’s right, no jumping through hoops, no requirements to “prove yourself,” and no fancy introductions. Just an email stating who you are and where you write.
Another great initiative is that they themselves actively seek out people to add to their list. A quick browse through their latest tweets will reveal various attempts at contacting individuals who may be interested in receiving updates on THQ and Capcom titles. Example below:
@panique Hello! Love your work on the YouTubes. Would you like to be added to our community list for THQ/Capcom news & event invitations?— THQ Australia & NZ (@THQANZ) August 22, 2012
Game Review Copies
As many of you are aware Darksiders II was recently released and I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve seen ridiculous amounts of coverage for it over the past few weeks.
I know personally I’ve been bombarded with tweets, Facebook updates, YouTube videos and more. One of the primary reasons for this is the fact that THQ sent out a tonne of review copies to the press. Included in this list were many grateful individuals and websites that don’t often garner enough respect from publishers to score themselves a helping hand.
You may have also noticed a large number of Darksiders II giveaways. Again, THQ ran a massive campaign providing gaming websites and communities the chance to give away various Darksiders II merchandise in preparation for its release. If I had to estimate, out of all the giveaways that took place, many of these would have been the first gaming related giveaway for that particular website.
Still, it was an awesome initiative that provided websites the chance to give something back to their readers and allowed website owners the chance to connect and collaborate with THQ directly.
This is where the majority of the communication happens between THQ and the community. It’s a much better communication platform compared to email as it’s open, public and lets other people collaborate and chime in with their opinions and ideas. In addition to this, THQ are adamant about retweeting relevant content and giving the spotlight to individuals and websites. Here are some examples of THQ engaging their community on Twitter:
Smashing Darksiders 2, it’s awesome. I want my son to grow up and become a horseman of the apocalypse. Thanks @thqanz— Ryan Fitzgerald (@FitzySA) August 21, 2012
Hey @thqanz I’ve got all the boys in camp playing the new Darksiders II game and now I’m hardly getting a go hahaThe boys love it!!— Drew Mitchell (@drew_mitchell) August 21, 2012
Is This Viable for all Game Publishers?
In a word, yes. There’s absolutely no reason other publishers couldn’t follow suit and implement similar methods to what THQ are currently doing. I’m not a marketing or public relations graduate, but what I’m about to do next is compare a form of traditional advertisement to something more community driven.
Let’s look at the costs and effort involved in running a billboard advertising campaign and compare it to something as simple as producing 500 review copies of the game you’re trying to market and handing these out to individuals and websites to review.
The below costs were researched thoroughly where possible, others costs may be estimated. These estimates may not be 100% accurate, but will suffice in getting the point made.
CBD Billboard Advertisement
|Copywriting & Legal||$l,000|
|Billboard Hire (p/month)||$50,000|
500 Review Copies
|Disc + Case (500pcs)||$3,000|
Note: Billboard prices were quoted to me by oOh!media. Their estimate was between $30,000 and $100,000 p/month for a single billboard in the Sydney CBD area.
You can see that there’s a massive cost discrepancy, but these figures mean nothing without context. So which method will be more effective and which will have a bigger return on investment? For this we can look at the pros and cons of each approach. Warning: more tables incoming.
CBD Billboard Advertisement
|Massive reach.||Not targeted, many won’t be interested.|
|Brand awareness.||Not engaging. A massive poster doesn’t say much about the game and whether or not people will be interested by it.|
|Many thousands people will see the advertisement.||No chance of going viral. People won’t be discussing a billboard on social networks, blogs and websites.|
500 Review Copies
|Extremely engaging. The community will market the product for you, providing in-depth articles, videos and more.||Potential loss of 500 sales.|
|Super targeted – the majority of the people reading the content will be interested in what they’re reading.||Not as big of a reach. If each blog receives an average of 1,000 unique hits a month then you can expect approximately 200k views.|
|Moderate chance of going viral. At a minimum you’ll have 500 blog posts, 500 Facebook shares, 500 tweets and a decent number of YouTube videos.|
You can draw your own conclusions from what I’ve presented, but personally, I believe the billboard approach doesn’t provide the best return on investment. Its a static approach that will reach many people, but fail to engage them.
A Few Words From THQ
I reached out to THQ and asked their opinion on the importance of supporting community members and websites. They of course replied and had the following to say:
“Globally THQ has taken a very active approach to community engagement, with a presence on most major community and social media platforms. Twitter plays a big role in the strategy – there are global “franchise” accounts (Darksiders, Saints Row, WWE, etc) which fans from all over the world can follow to get the latest information on their favourite THQ games at a wider level. Then there are local, THQ-branded accounts, where we engage with local fans, gaming media and community members, with information specific to local territories.
I started at THQ Asia Pacific in November last year in the new, dedicated Community Manager role, set up our local Twitter and YouTube accounts, and began posting regularly on the franchise Facebook pages to our Australian and New Zealand fans. So that’s why you’ve seen an increase in activity from a local perspective in the last nine months.
But I also initiated our community program, where I actively seek out guys and girls who are making gaming videos on YouTube, writing gaming blogs, Tweeting or otherwise making positive gaming noise and offer them the opportunity to be added to our database to receive our news releases, trailers, event invitations and more. By helping them branch out into new titles and create content for their subscribers, it helps them with their subs, content diversity and overall profile. It adds massive credibility if they’re able to post content from an event that used to only be available to traditional gaming media outlets. For some of them, this is the first contact they’ve had directly with a publisher, and they’re pretty stoked. But it shows that yes, we are seeing what they’re doing and how much effort they’re putting in, and they deserve to be rewarded for that.
There are huge benefits for us as well. Suddenly we’ve got this groundswell of community gurus talking about our games, which might not have been on their radars at all otherwise. Darksiders II was a great example – it has been everywhere on Twitter and YouTube. At THQ Asia Pacific, we hold community on an equal footing to gaming media – that’s how important they are, and that’s how they’re treated. I also think that’s starting to be reflected in the profile of our games among the community here, and that’s how I intend it to keep growing.”
Digital and Community Manager – Asia Pacific
There you have it folks, straight from the horse’s mouth. What are your thoughts on the matter, should publishers be more proactive in supporting smaller community websites and individuals or is the current support enough? Let your opinions be heard in the comment section below.