Dealing with Publisher Rejection

25 May , 2010 Community

First of all, sorry about the time away from posting any blogs, but New Austin isn’t going to clean itself up, now is it? With so many great games coming out recently, and with E3 just around the corner, I wanted to touch on a subject no doubt many of you that run smaller community sites have had to deal with lately – publisher rejection. You know the feeling. When you email over and over asking for review copies of the hottest upcoming games, only to be told that they’re all reserved for press. You’ve gotten that email. So let’s talk about what happens next.

Zip It

More times than I can count, I’ve seen community sites posting passive-aggressive – or sometimes openly aggressive – remarks about how a publisher must not care about community because they didn’t send a review copy. Honestly, making these kind of remarks doesn’t do a thing for you. It makes you look petty in many ways, and speaks to a general lack of understanding about how the PR side of the industry works. If a publisher rejects your request for a review copy or event ticket, be sure to thank them for considering you (hey, they wrote back at least, right?) and ask them to please keep you in mind for future opportunities. And then? Don’t mention it again. These things happen for a ton of reasons, and complaining about it will only ensure that it happens to you more. I assure you, you’re never going to guilt a publisher into including you on their review copy list, so don’t even try. Don’t try to fire up your community to be angry at the publisher because you weren’t included, either. That’s an abuse of your community leadership power, as far as I’m concerned. Take your rejection professionally, with head held high, and remember that these type of perks shouldn’t be the keystone of your site.

Remember that You Are a Community

I see a lot of sites getting wrapped up in the “exclusives” and the reviews. If that’s your goal, that’s great, but it hardly makes you a community site. It makes you a blogger, really. Small press. And if you’re trying to compete directly with the press sites, you’re going to find it pretty difficult for a while, until you’ve built a sizable audience or unless you have an amazing angle for your reviews. But if you’re a community site, you shouldn’t be focusing on getting early reviews or exclusive news. Sure, that’ll get the attention of viewers, but if you want to build a community for the long-term, you need to be focusing your attention more on how you can involve your community in everything that happens on your website.

Recently, on gaming blog Kotaku, the staff started a book-club-like discussion of the recently released Alan Wake. The gist of the program is that each evening players go through a single episode of the game and come back to the site the next day to have an intelligent discussion about their experience from all angles. This is, frankly, the type of thing that more community sites should be doing. The gaming press are beating you at your own game. Not only does this type of activity encourage your viwers to come back every day for the discussion, but it also gets your entire community involved in the news. I’ve been inside publishers and developers when stuff like this gets posted. When people are having those type of conversations online about your title, the article almost always gets passed around the whole studio in email. Xbox community site 360Junkies also has regular gaming sessions called “Saturday Nights LIVE.” It’s a great program that ensures their community members get together every week. It’s an Xbox LIVE version of a Tweet-Up, if you will. Events like this build a strong community around a site or forum, and require absolutely nothing from publishers.

There are a lot of ways that a publisher can reject you, but that doesn’t mean that you’re cut off at the knees. It just means you need to get more creative and focus more on leveraging your community to generate great content. If you pull it off, your community will reward you for it in the end. What programs can you start on your site that benefit your comminity without being dependent on publishers helping you out?

No Responses

  1. DjDATZ says:

    Completely get what you’re getting at here, focusing on the community is key, rather than reviews, preview copies and the like.

    And honestly, I’m fine with getting rejected by publishers, because that just means you need to work harder to prove you’re worth their time.

    What gets me is when you email multiple PR contacts at a company (not naming names or anything) and they don’t even bother to reply. Or, even worse, reply 3 weeks after your original email, after said “request” is no longer important, saying they can’t fulfill it. I understand that they may be busy, but isn’t dealing with external people part of what PR gets paid for?

    I’ve also met the complete polar opposite, and I’ll name names here: High Road Communications up here in Canada. They do PR for Xbox Canada and the folks there will generally pretty much bend over backwards to help you out, generally, provided you’re a Canuck. And the mix of media and community at various game events is really awesome as well. 😀

    But, since this is all for fun, there’s no point in getting all bent out of shape about it right? Not to mention, I love my community and the folks I work with.

  2. sixokay says:

    So the whole email thing is always interesting. Before community sites came along, PR people already had really full plates to begin with. With the explosion of community sites in the past several years, it’s almost impossible for a PR person to keep up with all of that without the support of a community manager. Additionally, most every PR person I’ve ever worked with or known isn’t just blatantly a jerk. They don’t simply dismiss people’s emails and such, but they do have to choose what they can get done in a day. While it’s best if they can take the time to write back, even to say “sorry, no” I can understand if they simply can’t. But I also think that if they can’t handle the press and the community sites, they should hire a Community Manager to help them out 🙂

  3. fourzerotwo says:

    Great post. Dead on with the “Zip It” part. I’m consistently amazed when people are so aggressive online, especially when online is their “work place”.

  4. thx for the insight Justin – something else that popped up more in 2009 was that with many layoffs that meant people I had direct connections with at companies were suddenly ‘gone’. Sometimes it feels like every 3 months I’m having to re-introduce myself to certain companies because their people change often. I’d like to see this trend go away – have had more luck with third party PR agencies whose employees aren’t being hired/fired as often.

    • sixokay says:

      Having been on the recieving end of one of those layoffs, I know excatly the kind of situation you’re talking about. I had to hand off my entire work and list of contacts to a producer who was remaining on the team and hope for the best. Thankfully, that situation turned out well, but it doesn’t always. But I think it works as a two-way street. Community leaders are left trying to find people to get in touch with on the inside, but I think that even after layoffs, internal folks should be doing what they can to stay in touch with their community site leaders. If your CM gets laid off, then the community site leaders can be your greatest ally and asset. They can help you continue to maintain your relationship with your community and keep information flowing appropriately. But doing that isn’t necessarily everyone’s forte… which, I suppose, is why we have Community Managers to begin with.

  5. JVB says:

    Great stuff, Six.

    I have been involved in many communities within the last 5 years. One thing I have always tried to preach to those community sites is respect. Respect the community and respect the industry that helped mold this community. It’s good to have an opinion and I always encourage people to speak their mind. But they also need to have substance behind their statements – good or bad.

    I’ve never understood the need to bash a publisher or developer for not giving away a review/preview copy to a game, in public. If I’m a community leader and I run go around bashing about free games, I would lose all the respect I’ve earn over the years. And you would get “black listed” for being a jerk.

    Running a community is really tough. I used to run an online get-together on XBL and PSN called: TAG Meet-ups. The purpose of those meet-ups were to get feedback about and to introduce myself to new members. It became pretty popular for a time, and some of the members who attended these meet-ups became podcasters and key members of the site. They just loved the fact that they could take part in a site they enjoyed going to everyday and that their opinion meant something.

    Sorry for the long post. Thanks for the great read, Six.

  6. Ed aka SpaceGhost2K says:

    Spot on with the comments, but I want to ask the game publishers a question: Why ARE you so tight-fisted with the software? I worked for the music industry for ten years, both as a buyer for a distributor and a salesman for a label, and music studios are very generous with promotional copies. As a buyer, I received full, 30-count boxes of CD’s to spread around, and as a salesman, I could order as many as I needed for a particular artist. In fact, the musical acts I dealt with had contracts written so that up to 15% of the total number of units pressed were “royalty free” copies that could be used for promotion. If your CD was going to ship “gold” (500,000 units), the company was allotted up to 75,000 of those units to be spread around. Of course, that’s “spread around with discretion” and not just “chumming the fish”. I have never understood why they would run off a copy for Lindsay Lohan’s VIP swag bag, and not give it instead to someone who is going to use it to affect community perception of the game. Again: 500,000/75,000. We have multiple games released yearly that ship over a million units, and they don’t even come close to a 1% promotional rate, God forbid 15%.

    • sixokay says:

      SpaceGhost – I think you’d be surprised at how many copies actually do get sent out. I’ve seen boxes and boxes full of games aroudn ship time that all have to be sent out to gaming press around the globe, to big events, used for contests, etc. Now that said, that’s still nowhere near the percentage numbers you saw in the film industry. I’m not on the business side of things too deeply in this industry, but I feel reasonably confident that there are financial reasons that it’s not as high. I’m sure it has a lot more to do with things like profit margins, royalties, and all of the numbers game that people get paid more than me to deal with every day 🙂

      However, taking numbers off the table, I think there’s a general cautiousness among PR people in the industry to send out early copies to community sites. While you and I know that most community sites are completely reputable, we’ve all seen what can happen when early copies of games get into people’s hands. FourZeroTwo saw that himself when “No Russian” was on the web via crappy hand-cam before the game shipped. When dealing with large press, there’s more of a feeling of assurance that an early copy isn’t going to end up anywhere but in the reviewers hands. On the community side of things, it’s not always so certain, unfortunately. I’ve always trusted the people I work with, but I can understand the average PR guy’s perspective.

  7. You hit it right on the head! A big part of being a community site, is remembering you are part of the community. Not above it. The publishers respect community, and flaming a publisher for not giving you a review copy does not paint your site in good light with the publishers. There are plenty of other community sites out there, and plenty of press sites. Your community is not a weapon or a tool to use for leverage to get what you want from the publisher. It isn’t about what you want, it is about what the publisher sees as best for the community as a whole, not just your site, but the entire audience the game is targeted at.

    I have been amazed at the amount of people creating cut and paste sites lately, and labeling them community sites just to try and score free games. They do nothing for their community or for the industry and give a bad name to the real community sites.

    I don’t run a community site in the fullest definition, I run a game focused blog, but even at that small level, having good positive relationships with publishers and PR is important. Put in the work, you will be rewarded eventually, it is not about instant gratification. Many of the commenters here are from amazing community sites that respect the PR and publishers and are able to give back to their communities because of it.

    Anyway, must my 2 cents… not that it may be worth as much as 2 cents, the exchange rate for opinions on the internet isn’t what it used to be 🙂

    Thanks SixOkay for an awesome post!