Media 101: Laying The Groundwork
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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2015
    St. Petersburg, FL

    Media 101: Laying The Groundwork

    Gaming has been growing again over the last few years. You can see it in the heightened sales for Wizards of the Coasts' latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons. You can see it in million dollar tabletop role-playing game Kickstarter projects like 7th Sea. You can see it in the increased attendance at events like Gen Con. The trouble is that outside of luck and hope, you still don't see a lot of coordinated effort on the part of RPG publishers or event organizers to elevated their profiles in the public, or within their share of the market. I'm not just talking about just marketing and publicity, although both of those are important to this overall conversation, but I am saying that those who consider themselves to be the tabletop role-playing game industry (as well as those hobbyists who want to jump to that next level) need to be a lot more media savvy than they currently are.

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    This is going to be the first part of a series of articles talking about role-playing games and the media. A couple of times now, I have tried pitching a track at Gen Con that not only discusses how publishers and designers can better interact with the media sources that we have clustered around tabletop RPGs but to also educate how we can have a better media covering gaming bloggers, videocasters and podcasters who can have a better understanding of how the media works, and how it can work more closely with the gaming industry. This is actually one of the goals of the user generated content program (or UGC, as we call it), to start training the next wave of gaming media.
    There honestly needs to be a higher level of media working and relations in the tabletop role-playing industry. It is a symbiotic relationship: the media needs content to drive traffic to web sites, YouTube channels and podcasts, and publishers and designers need to bring attention to the games, and material, that they are creating. Both sides can be better about working with the other, and hopefully over the course of these articles we will create a foundation that helps everyone in the equation.

    I have a background in journalism, I studied it through high school and college, and I have had a "geek" blog since 2003. I also work as a small press publisher as a co-publisher at Battlefield Press International, so I see both sides of the tracks. There's not any shame in considering yourself small press. Outside of a couple of publishers at the deep end of the pool, like Wizards of the Coast or Paizo, there's a cluster of publishers at the mid-ranks, and then a lot of operations made up of just one or two people who make up the bulk of this industry as the smaller press publishers. And part of the reason why there needs to be a better education of how to interact with the media is because, while most of them have some level of mastery of game design, and others some level of mastery of how to keep their businesses running, a lot of those people have never really had any need to interact with the media. Mostly because up until the last few years there hasn't been much of a media for them to deal with. "Big" media had, up until recently, ignored tabletop gaming because the scale of the market wasn't enough to garner the "hits" they would need, and the homegrown media hadn't had the chops to do a lot.

    When I was at Gen Con a couple of weeks ago, I went as a member of the press, as I have for the last four or so Gen Cons that I attended. This year, when I went to get my press pass, I showed up half an hour after the press office opened on Thursday, and there was already a line that stretched down the hall, and around a corner. It took me about 45 minutes to get through the line, and there were a lot of people who gathered behind me after I showed up. Gen Con also operates an email list with all of the people who are registered as media. These are people who are specifically there to cover Gen Con and talk to people about their games and products. This past year there were roughly 500 exhibitors (between publishers, retailers and other operations) at Gen Con in the exhibitors hall, and a handful of others who had booths and tables in other locations around the convention grounds, like Shapeways in one of the areas for miniatures.

    We will assume that not all of those 500+ exhibitors have operations that require media outreach, so we won't worry that not all of them utilized that media list. The question is, though, how many of those people reached out to media representatives? I had less than ten reach out to me via Gen Con's media resources (one of whom was the above mentioned Shapeways). A lot of the people who contacted me were board game publishers, and outside of the purview of what I write here at EN World, so their requests were turned down. Not a single one of the RPG publishers that I spoke with while at Gen Con utilized this resources that came with their being an exhibitor. I'm sure that most of them, and the ones that I didn't get to speak with, felt that they didn't need it because they had reached their markets already.

    When I am asked by bloggers what is the most basic thing that they can do to be able to get contact from publishers and designers, I tell them to have some way to contact them on their blog. I have a contact form on mine, and there is a link on the front page of EN World that goes out to the news staff. Is it perfect? No, but it is a first step, and an important one. How can people reach out to your if you don't have a way for them to contact you? You would be surprised how many bloggers, podcasters or videocasters don't have a contact form or email address that is easy to find.

    When I am asked by publishers what is the most basic thing that they can do to reach out to media, I say to have a mailing list of people who could be interested in what you are publishing. That can be bloggers, podcasters or other types of media. It can be as simple to start as a few quick Google searches. But these are just the starting points. Not every outlet is going to be interested in every sort of publication, or type of game. That's going to mean going through the links, reading through people's sites or listening to their feeds (and go back at least a few months to get a decent sampling of what they talk about) and determine which outlets are going to be most interested in what you have to offer.

    This will take time and effort. Time and effort that won't be spent on making games, but it is a necessary evil. Bigger publishers, and those with more money, like Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Modiphius and Arc Dream Publishing utilize publicity firms (yes, there are some who deal with the tabletop role-playing community and they do good jobs of it), so that they can spend their time and effort on the things that they need to do to get their games out the door. If you don't have the money, you have to do the legwork yourself, unfortunately.

    But this work pays off in the long term because, as I said earlier, there is a symbiotic relationship between the media, like myself, and the publishers making role-playing games. Each week I have to fill 1,500 words or so, and each week there are new games that come out that give me things to talk about with those words. It is win/win for both of us. But I also work with a growing staff of UGC writers who are looking to fill up their 500 word pieces two or three times each month. All of these words add up. Part of my point of this initial column on this topic was to point out that there are resources out there that are underutilized, and cost only time and effort (unless of course you're paying a public relations firm, then it costs money). Thinking that you have "reached your market" is a fallacy as a publisher, and there are always more people that can be reached who might have an interest in playing your games. That combination of luck and hope works for a while, but at some point it will falter, or you will start to wonder why, after a while, you are starting to sell the same numbers for your books.

    Reach out and build some relationships with the media, and see where it can take your games. And it isn't just about how a well timed article on a site like this one can help you out. Look at people with sizeable and active social media followings who will tweet and post about your games as well. There are a lot of media tools that publishers can have in their toolboxes to widen their reaches. Over time we will talk about a few of them here.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2015
    Cumming, GA

    This is an excellent article. I had a duh moment when I read your suggestion that bloggers should have a link to contact them on their blog... I realized that I didn't have a direct link to my FB/Google+/email on my personal blog. Thank you for helping me improve my self-promotion game. ;-)

    Let me go one step further, for EN World I review all-ages RPGs for kids. If you're a publisher and have an all-ages RPG that you'd like to have reviewed on EN World, please contact me here.

    Egg Embry, Wanna-lancer
    EN World All-Ages Reviewer:
    The FirstFable RPG , Monster Slayers , Mouse Tails , Little Wizards , and Hero Kids

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    South Bend, IN, USA
    Of all the times that PCGen has had a booth, I don't think that GenCon ever let us know about the media resources.
    Last edited by Nylanfs; Thursday, 31st August, 2017 at 12:13 PM.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2015
    St. Petersburg, FL
    Quote Originally Posted by Nylanfs View Post
    Of all the times that PCGen has had a both, I don't think that GenCon ever let us know about the media resources.
    Gen Con isn't always the best about communications.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Sep 2016
    Chillicothe, MO
    Oh! How did I miss this one...

    My Name is J.L. Duncan and I review RPGs and system neutral RPG products. I write reviews for EN World, Knights of the Dinner Table & Stuffer Shack. Any publishers are welcome to contact me about reviews, here. (to my contact page on my blog)

    And I'm really looking forward to this article series Chris. Great idea!
    XP Egg Embry gave XP for this post

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