On Tuesday, games columnist and designer James Portnow visited Weber Shandwick Seattle to share his perspectives on PR and marketing in the games industry. His immensely popular Web series Extra Credits for The Escapist looks at how games are designed and marketed, and at their effects on our lives.

James emphasized the importance of PR being a part of the game development process from the beginning. In many cases development and PR teams conflict because PR will ask for changes to a game relatively late in the process. If PR is included early on, their input — based on market research and their knowledge of the game’s audiences — can be incorporated without disrupting the development schedule.

When asked about good and bad PR practices in the games industry, James said that a good agency will personalize its approach to fit individual games, and will have the flexibility necessary to work on large and small accounts (something we take to heart at the Weber Shandwick games practice.)

In terms of bad PR practices, James believes that the industry focuses too much on the hardcore gamer audience, missing out on whole market segments as a result. He cited multiple examples of game companies alienating female customers with promotional campaigns that had sexist elements.  He added that even members of the hardcore demographic want to shed the stereotype of gamers as juvenile “basement troglodytes,” who play because they want to “see stuff blow up.” Campaigns that try to connect with gamers by appealing to this immature stereotype can come across as clueless and condescending.

James said that PR provides a valuable service to game companies by helping them understand what resonates about a brand, identifying what’s genuinely cool about a game, and communicating that to diverse audiences. A good PR team also brings market knowledge to help in areas that, while not typically associated with public relations, make a big difference in communications — for example, knowing which game distribution platforms are most familiar to a game’s key audiences.

Our thanks to James for taking the time to meet with us. We’ll be inviting more games industry professionals to speak at Weber Shandwick Seattle in the future, so keep an eye on our Games category for updates.

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