Part two of Develop's interview with Robert Bowling covers the changing landscape of developer-led PR
The driving force behind Infinity Ward’s public relations programme is one person’s Twitter account.
The studio’s community manager, Robert Bowling, has over 66,000 followers on the social networking site, each of them privy to the latest details surrounding Modern Warfare 2.
During the final part of Develop’s extensive interview with Bowling, we discuss the advantages of Twitter and the need for developers to go hands on in promoting their own products.
Part One here
You recently told Develop that Twitter was like ‘having the players in the studio with you’. Is that still the case?
Definitely. I try to be very transparent on Twitter with the game development and what’s going on with us. I communicate with our Twitter followers the same way I’d communicate with my office buddies. So if something happens I just throw it out there and opinions come in and we converse.
Also during development, if we are sitting in a design meeting and we are arguing about something, no matter what it is I can just turn to what is now 60,000 people and post the same question.
‘Do we think will players like this?’ well why don’t we ask 60,000 of them and get a good representation of what we think they may like. Twitter has been fantastic throughout development, and I would recommend many, many more people adapted that into their design schedule.
How much of that feedback does the studio actively listen to?
We listen to all of it. And then you have to filter out what fits within our design philosophy and what doesn’t.
Some suggestions are really good but they’re just not good for our game. But some of that stuff can be inspirational. So maybe this exact feature they’re suggesting doesn’t work for Call of Duty, but maybe the end result they’re looking to get out of it, maybe that does.
So we listen to all of it. And some ideas go in directly, and some are used for inspiration.
What sort of suggestions don’t make the cut?
Typically stuff like: ‘we want more gore.’ That’s against our design philosophy. We don’t make gory games. It’s not that we can’t, but it’s not the experience we go for. And then we get ‘We want this tank in multiplayer,’ but no. We don’t do that. It changes the way we design levels and the experience we are going for. So there are things we are hard set on.
How dramatically do you think games production has changed because of this new relationship studios are having with their audiences?
Very much so. It depends on how transparent you are. The average gamer is so much closer to the people who make the games than they ever were before.
And as a result of that they are so much more developer aware. No longer is it an Activision game, but an Infinity Ward game, or a Treyarch game or a Bungie game. And gamers know where to go to offer their feedback.
What is the future of this direct relationship?
You can only become so transparent. I would eventually like to get to the point where there is no wall. So things happen and it’s very organic with the community. So something happens and they know about it and they offer feedback on it. So we’re all part of the same team. The more we get away from the PR and towards what’s real, the better.
A simple FourZeroTwo Tweet can find itself break news across a range of websites. Is it important that the Infinity Ward team are a big part of Modern Warfare’s PR campaign?
It is extremely important. We know everything there is to know about Modern Warfare 2. Not only do we know the game but we know the gamer. We know what to expect from them and what they expect from us. So it helps us guide design decisions and decisions overall, including with PR and marketing.
There are certain things that are good for a press release and there are some things that are good if we presented them in a casual way. The unboxing of the Prestige Edition is one example. We designed that with the hardcore, niche gamer in mind. Only the super-hardcore will want the Prestige Edition. And we are fortunate that our super-hardcore is a much larger audience than you’d expect. Which is why we are selling out of the Prestige Edition.
I’m a gamer too, and when there’s a game I am hyped about, then I want the collector’s edition, and I can’t wait to get it out and see the packaging. So we wanted to present the Prestige Edition in such a way that the fans would appreciate. This is for them. That is why we maintain our own YouTube channel, and this is why we have our own Facebook page and we are so active on Twitter.
The funny thing that happened this weekend is that I am on this trip, and we do interviews all day, grab dinner and then go to sleep. But then I’d log-on to Twitter and see all these replies and get distracted. In Germany alone I answered 200 questions on Twitter, and it was 3am and I read one that said: ‘Is Infinity Ward making you answer all these questions?’ and I was thinking wow, do people really think my job is to tweet? So I replied: ‘No, I’m doing it because I am excited about what you’re asking and I want to talk about it.’ I think it is cool because we are getting closer to what is real about game development, and why we got into game development in the first place. Which is to make fun games and enjoy them with other.
As ‘creative strategist’ at the studio have you personally been involved much in the marketing?
Yep, I am directly involved in all aspects of marketing. And a benefit of being so close to the gamer, is that you can call bullshit on the really lame shit. Sometimes a marketing idea will come through we just don’t like it.
For example, recently we launched our new Infinity Ward website, and we were going to send a mass newsletter out to everybody. And it was suggested that we should send in the newsletter a note to pre-order the strategy guide for Modern Warfare 2. And I said no. Yeah it would probably sell a few more strategy guides, but we don’t use our newsletter to market to our gamers. We will only e-mail our gamers if it is worth their while. So if a new trailer comes out, they might want to know and we’ll send them that.
If they want the strategy guide, it is an awesome guide, and they’ll buy it because they want it. Not because we’re advertising it to them. So we draw lines.
Some would see that level of authority fairly uncommon. Do developers really need to be involved in video game marketing? Isn’t that the publisher’s job?
I think it is essential. I don’t think any developer should not have control of how their game is presented or marketed or communicated. And they should take control of that a lot, lot more.
It is why I started the Twitter account in the first place. As you said, I have direct line to our audience and the press. Many editors will follow me, and they can direct message me and I can clarify things. There is no middleman. We are responsible for what we say and what we do, and we can be held accountable for our successes and failures.