Fabian Mario Döhla is Head of Communication at CD PROJEKT RED, the studio behind The Witcher games and Cyberpunk 2077. Before that, he worked in PR at SEGA and Codemasters and prior to that, he was working as an editor at gaming magazines like “Fun Generation” “Das offizielle PlayStation Magazin” and “Mega Fun”.
You have been in the games industry for some time. And you have seen many trends come and go. From the beginning of your carrier to today: What has changed most positively in the industry and what bothers you about the current situation?
Obviously, the games industry strongly benefits from technological progress. More processing power brings more possibilities. Not only in terms of graphics, but also in areas such as VR and AR. At the same time, the display possibilities have improved a lot – progress goes hand in hand, 4K on PlayStation 5 meets 4K on the television at home.
But this is also something that you could criticize. The focus lies sometimes too much on the look and less on the content. The immense development costs for visually appealing games are so high that only a few studios and publisher will take risks. Part 4 of a highly popular super series is sadly more reasonable than a creative approach.
Which key learnings in marketing can other industries draw from the games industry?
I always find it difficult to give advice to other industries. I’d have to know them better to do that. However, it is obvious that the focus on digital has become much more important across-the-board. And naturally, we as the games industry had an advantage – anybody who is interested in video games was “surfing the internet” much earlier than the community or fans of many other industries.
Who are your role models in the industry? Is there anybody? And if so why?
There are so many people who fit that description. Tom Kalinske, the former CEO of SEGA of America, is one of them. First he stirred up the market at Mattel with Masters of the Universe and then he put SEGA on an equal footing with chief competitor Nintendo – at least for a while. I was lucky enough to have talked to him a few times and I always enjoyed that.
And then there was that one employee at SEGA Germany, who, sometime in the nineties, attended the IFA Berlin and answered a few of my questions and got me interested in the industry. I can’t remember his further career. But I do remember his name: Torsten Oppermann! Yeah, he’s a good guy.
How did the marketing & promotion of games change in recent years? Where are we headed in games marketing in the next years to come?
Purposeful targeting has changed a lot of things. It obviously has its advantages (less stray, better addressing of target groups) but it also has disadvantages. Clickbait has become a business model and, because of that, reputable sites grapple with decreasing revenue. Now we must wait and see whether the engagement in the area of creators and streamers wears thin over time and loses authenticity. In this case it depends on the management and the artists, and on which deals they can and want to get across in an authentic manner.
Which social media channels do you see as key for the games industry?
That strongly depends on content and country – aside from the classics (like Facebook which still works pretty well), there are usually local differences. Especially in China and Russia, there are other platforms and demands that we manage directly through local colleagues.
About the current trend on creators and influencer marketing: The trend towards more micro and macro influencers with a smaller reach and less fans, but more authenticity and engagement: How can the Games industry leverage that trend in your opinion?
This particular trend continuously repeats itself – it was exactly the same back then with print magazines where you chose to work with smaller outlets and city journals. Then came the age of fan sites and blogs and now we have micro influencers. Personally, I really like this approach, because it demands that this industry engages with the facets of reach and marketing possibilities more intensely. Many companies already have in-house experts or are well advised by specialist agencies. And the own credibility benefits immensely from that.
The media landscape has changed massively in the last ten years. However, PR is still one of the most important communications tools in the games sector. Where do you see PR in the next five years, what will the challenges be?
PR will remain a hybrid project and must be closely interconnected with community management and social media. But what sounds logical and makes sense on paper still appears to be detached in practice. It would certainly help to elevate the value of community managers and to put the position on par with PR managers.
Some companies have already positioned themselves in a more modern manner, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. Immediate exchange – which must be the foundation of successful communication – will become much more important. Community managers and social media staff usually have a better feeling at how a topic comes across and thus can help PR, which obviously also has to allow being helped.
Bonus question: Which project / topic in your job were you particularly proud of?
Most of the times, it’s when an announcement works without leaks, where the element of surprise is still 100% present. Like the first Mario & Sonic game (where people were still speculating about it being an April Fools’ joke hours later) or the appearance of Keanu Reeves at E3 2019. I also got the chance to work with Adidas and Puma – and as a passionate collector of sneakers, that was pretty exciting too.
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