Social Game Distractions: PR Advice for a Generation Constantly at Play

Sun, Aug 1, 2010

Casual, Facebook, Features, Industry, Social

It’s soapbox time again – enjoy (and add your 2 cents below)!

Know why I prefer writing on the weekends? Because all the noise dies down around me – our unrelenting 24/7 news cycle doesn’t stop, but it slows down long enough for a person to clear their head…. During the week, we’re lucky to have time to think about how all the news “pieces” of the day fit into the bigger puzzle – not just in the tech & gaming industry, but anywhere.

Everyday we’re bombarded with new games, new features, new partnerships, milestones and announcements of all shapes and sizes. I’m speaking from experience in 3 crucial game industry roles: PR (public relations), journalist (news editor), and most important for the advice that follows, gaming/tech consumer.

You may be wondering… what makes consumer experience most important when you’re handing out PR advice? Everything. For example, the “corporate stuff” does not matter at all to 95% of consumers. Most people could care less about *who* develops, publishes, promotes or profits from a game, as long as it’s fun, and it’s a good value for their time and money. If you lose sight of that – from any business level, you’ve got an unenviable, uphill battle ahead. That’s not to say corporate announcements don’t have their place, so long as you’re telling consumers what it means for them in the end.

Anyway, speaking of fun –

Back to reasons I like writing on the weekend. It’s easier to pick out the cool, fun, unique stuff (from the weekly news noise) when you’re actually *playing* games and doing things IRL (in real life) that you *enjoy*. The distracting, buzzing news machine is all but silent when you are doing (or writing) something because you want to.

I haven’t logged into FarmVille or Cafe World in weeks. I’ve been busy this summer, traveling too much for any successful harvest schedule. I have been social gaming though – here’s some of what I *have* played lately: Rock Band, The Gig, Wii Sports, LEGO Universe, foursquare, Words with Friends, Bejeweled Blitz, HexaLex, DizzyPad, Pure Hidden, Spot the Difference, Poker, Tennis, Mini-Golf, Bowling, Bean Bag Shuffleboard, Ping Pong, Beer Pong, Name That Tune – well, you get the idea ;) And I’m not alone -

Social and casual games are fighting for the time, attention and money of a generation constantly at play. Everywhere we turn there’s a game-like distraction to pass the time (or sell us something). Why pay when we can get great game experience for free? I imagine that’s a developer’s eternal conundrum, but that’s another topic, another post…

For journalists, it’s getting harder and harder to report anything new in Facebook gaming. I’m tired of pretending to care about new virtual goods. When did microtransactions become the end-all be-all for social games? I realize the freemium model can be somewhat limiting for innovative revenue options, but all these collectibles, gifts, power-ups and digital doo-dads are starting to feel like deja vu all over again.

Ditching the distractions

Pro tips are always common sense once you’ve heard them, so try this on for size: If your pitch is newsworthy, it will write itself. If you are just sending an announcement to try and drum up news or sales during development downtime, you’ll find yourself stretching for a “hook”, and you won’t fool anyone. I’m not being cynical, jaded or bitter, and I know the rest of the world (and industry) is still spinning when you aren’t, but just be patient. Wait for the *right* times and get the *right* stories out there – don’t make your game/name another distraction – make it a hot topic. The biggest news, best promotions, most important business moves, and most unique pitches/campaigns are the easiest and most fulfilling to pull off. More importantly, they generate the best impact and results. In other words, BE news to make news.

(duh)

Here in the social gaming news space, so far, we’ve been pretty darn open to distractions. Everything from new in-game items and UI tweaks, to free gifts and fan bonuses, gets plenty of play in all social game blogrolls (including the ‘Goose)… But as more games come to market, Facebook users are slowing spreading out across a multitude of titles.

Too big for their britches?

If your game isn’t in the top 25 leaderboards (aka, has 7+ million MAUs), or growing like a weed in in the top gainers category, you’ll be hardpressed to get coverage on your new line of virtual goods. (#justbeinghonest) Unless, of course, you’ve partnered with X top brand (a la Zynga – 7/11), will support a well-known charity by donating some significant portion of virtual good sales, or are giving away large sums of cash in an exciting contest, tournament or event… But that all goes back to *being* news to *make* news, in the end.

Even still, the top 25 developers and other social game superstars are starting to find less bang for their buck *because* the increasingly diversified industry has become too big and too busy. It’s simply not possible to cover every individual update, even top titles are becoming a newsfeed distraction for straying users. On the bright side, this diversifying market should eventually yield more loyal players, who play more often and don’t need/want a barrage of third-party news. These loyal fans already know about new items, and want to hear something new – something more. They want to be heard, be connected, be a part – not just the end-user. Give players major real world news that brings them back to your game – they want culture and they want it now!

Your turn – Where do you draw the line between social and casual gaming, and how do you intend to drown out the distractions?

LEGO Universe and HexaLex are TriplePoint clients.

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