Convention season is an unruly beast, and even with years of experience under our collective belts here at Evolve PR, events are always something of a hassle: is it worth our time to chase after appointments with media, streamers, and YouTubers? Should we focus our attention on one group? Is it worth the cost to attend these events at all? Although we’ve picked up numerous tricks and developed myriad theories about how best to go about these things over the years, we’ve never had the solid data to put it all into practice. That’s where our research team came in; it’s our job to crunch the numbers and see if those gut feelings panned out. After meticulously gathering and collating data from three recent major events, we’ve now got some answers as to the hows and the whys of what to do when it comes to conventions.
The Technical Nitty-Gritty
The above graph shows you the number of outlets/channels we sampled, compared to the overall number of outlets listed on official media lists. There may be channels or outlets that attended but were not officially registered as media. We have included a deeper description of our sample in an addendum at the bottom of this article.
There’s also obviously a slight margin of error that needs to be kept in mind when reading our results, as is the case with pretty much any study. This primarily stems from the fact that it’s impossible for us to gather all of the relevant information for something of this sort. Quite frankly, time and resources are limited, and there are things we just can’t know. For example, we have no clue what efforts other developers, publishers, and PR firms made in regards to these events and how successful they were. By that same token, it’s also not always clear what is and isn’t coverage for a given event. We often have to rely on outlets properly tagging and titling their content to help us make that distinction, and they don’t do that 100% of the time. There are some other limiting factors as well we won’t go into (either because they’re specific to a particular event or they’re somewhat esoteric), but just be aware that we’re doing our best with the information and resources available to us.
Where’s the Coverage?
The answer to that question as it turns out, is not at events like PAX and GDC, at least not in the way most developers and publishers would hope. Across all three events we saw a very low return of coverage day by day from our samples. On the best days, we would see an average 1:1 ratio of articles to outlets. That sounds good, but if every outlet is only producing a single article on a given day (and again, that’s only on the top day of each show) imagine how fierce the competition is to be the game featured in that article. Things only trend downward after that, and frankly even at the height of an event’s relevance, we were lucky to see half of our traditional media sample producing coverage.
It doesn’t help that what coverage is produced during these events is rarely distributed evenly. The big games, the ones with elaborate booths and massive companies behind them, are going to take the lion’s share of the attention, more so than may be expected. To use PAX East 2017 as an example, we saw a total of 398 articles from our sample during that event, covering 150 different games in at least some capacity. Of those 150 games, only 21 received 5 or more articles/mentions and 67 of those games only received a single mention or article. Of those top 21 games, almost all of them were AAA titles, were being published/supported by a major company, or had already received a ton of interest prior to the event for various reasons. Often times these games were already released and simply showing DLC or additional content at the show, or were on the verge of releasing and days away from being in the press’ hands anyways for review. We saw this same pattern across all three events and while there are of course outliers, small indie games that manage to be runaway successes, they’re clearly the exception and not the rule. To put it simply, events aren’t a great place to build people’s excitement about a game, but they’re fantastic for maintaining any excitement you’ve already built around your product. This also highlights how important it is to know exactly when in your game’s life-cycle to attend these events, as competition is fierce and there’s no room for games that aren’t ready for prime time.
The hope many devs will have in the face of that harsh reality is that smaller games will be able to rely on “Best of” and “Hidden Gem” listicles to garner some attention in lieu of proper previews, but our research has shown that’s not something you can put your faith in either. Previews dedicated to single games made up the majority of coverage for each event, even at GDC which is generally more focused on panels and feature content. This means less games being covered overall, and often a greater focus on those larger titles, because every site wants to have their preview of the biggest thing at the show. This means you need to bring your absolute best to an event, you need to make sure your demo is polished to a mirror sheen and really displays your game’s central hook as well as humanly possible. Quite simply, you need to make sure the build you’re bringing is worth writing a preview about, and more importantly, worthier of a preview than the game that’s being shown at the booth next door.
You might think that your game’s saving grace here is how well you can hustle and get some appointments booked. Maybe you’re a magician who with a snap of their fingers can get IGN, GameSpot, and the freaking pope all booked in for back to back play sessions. Well I hate to break it to you, but while those appointments have their uses, securing coverage isn’t anywhere near the top of the list. At best, we’ve seen about a third of our appointments result in coverage, and depending on the event and what we were showing, sometimes much less than that. But thankfully all that time and effort spent wrangling journalists, streamers, and content creators isn’t completely for naught as there are two very distinct benefits to setting up those appointments outside of trying get direct coverage.
The first is the obvious one, that it gets your game on the press’ minds, and even if they don’t create coverage right then and there for your game it increases the chances that they might chuck you a bone somewhere down the line. That possibility is only enhanced by the second benefit of booking appointments, and that is the fact that doing so can let you know ahead of time which outlets are more likely to create coverage overall. We noticed during our GDC and PAX East studies that outlets who booked appointments with us produced more coverage overall than those with whom we were unable to book appointments. It wasn’t a negligible amount either, those booked outlets produced ~52% more coverage per day on average than their non-booking counterparts during our reporting period. This means (in theory at least) you can identify ahead of time which outlets are most likely to write a preview for your game (and hopefully cover it later on as well) and then go the extra mile to impress them specifically at the event. It’s still not a guarantee of anything, because most appointments won’t result in anything, but having that knowledge of who’s most likely to be making coverage in general gives you a definite strategic advantage for the event and beyond.
YouTube & Twitch
So you might be wondering why Twitch & YouTube are buried all the way down here? They’re major drivers of market activity after all! Well the reason they’re down here is because when it comes to events, YouTubers and Twitch casters simply don’t make enough content to really move the needle. Once again using PAX East as an example, we saw a total of only 21 pieces of coverage over our entire reporting period from these groups combined. That’s not even halfway to each channel putting out only one show related video or stream. The content being created isn’t exactly the sort of intensive coverage you’d be hoping for anyways. From what we saw, the videos that went up were primarily sponsored streams done from a company’s booth or loose vlogs that covered more of the show itself than the games present at the show. This means that unless you’ve got pockets deep enough to sponsor these guys (and do in-booth streaming) or are fine having their coverage of your game be some grainy footage shot off a monitor while they talk about the line at the booth next door, it’s generally not worth your time chasing these groups.
However, that’s not to say it isn’t worth engaging with YouTubers and Twitch Casters when you have the chance. Fact of the matter is, a lot of them come to events like these to meet up with their fans and generally hang out and wander the floor. If they come by your booth, make the effort to show them what you’ve got, because simply getting your game into their head can pay off massively in the long run, and can even help in the short run. Anecdotally, we’ve noticed that the video focused segment of the media is far more likely to talk about the games they’ve seen during an event on social media. Theoretically this drives further traffic to your booth and spreads the mindworm that is awareness of your game even further. Now that is completely anecdotal and we need to do more research into how much they’re tweeting or posting or instagramming or whatever-ing and exactly how much impact that actually has when it comes to events, but it’s something to keep in mind nonetheless.
Ultimately the biggest lesson to take away from all of this is that less time should be spent trying to chase down appointments and coverage at these events. PAX is not E3, nor is GDC, and we need to stop treating these events like they’re that same kind of media circus. Instead you should be focusing on having a great booth, making sure your game is at the right point in its life cycle to be shown, and ensuring that you have an absolutely killer demo. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be booking press appointments, or emailing YouTubers and streamers to let them know you’ll be there, but getting those people into your booth and covering your game shouldn’t be your ultimate goal. Generating awareness with media and content creators is very important, and these events are great places to get your game in front of them. You should be there to engage with that event’s intended audience, to get your game into their hands, and receive some valuable feedback from them in return; media coverage should simply be the icing on the cake.If you go into PAX or GDC (or any similar event) with that goal in mind, and prepare accordingly, you’ll have a better and more useful experience than you would otherwise.
Addendum – Sample Description
For each event we looked at (PAX West 2016, GDC 2017, and PAX East 2017) we gathered together a sample of different outlets and channels that were attending, and tracked all of their event-specific coverage during the event and for a period of 1-2 weeks immediately following it. Each sample was built to be broadly representative of the media as a whole (aiming to cover a minimum of 10% of the outlets attending each event) and was split between more traditional websites and blogs, as well YouTubers and Twitch casters. For both PAXes this meant we tracked 50 traditional media outlets, 25 YouTube Channels, and 25 Twitch channels. At GDC we tracked a combined total of 36 outlets, though only 4 were YouTube or Twitch channels, due to the fact that YouTubers & streamers attended that event in very limited numbers. We did lean toward larger gaming-focused outlets and channels, as that’s generally whom you’ll want to secure coverage from. We also stuck to English-language media to aid in data gathering.
As for what we defined as “Coverage”, that included any content that required someone being at the show to create. For the most part that meant previews, interviews, and listicles covering games at the show. We did not include any news that would have come from show-related press releases, or any articles that were about games at the show but clearly written from home. The reason for this is because we trying to quantify the effect of actually attending these shows and booking appointments, and articles that simply stemmed from press releases everyone (at the show or not) would have access to aren’t part of that.
It’s also important to note that this post as a whole only relates to PAX and GDC. The results coming out of shows like E3, gamescom, or even TGS will most likely be quite different, as those events have a much larger press and business focus than either PAX or GDC.