Heiko Klinge began his industry career in November 2000 as a trainee at GameStar. In 2005, Heiko founded the industry magazine “Making Games” together with André Horn and Gunnar Lott, which he oversaw as managing editor and editor-in-chief for over ten years. “Making Games” didn’t just consist of a magazine and website, but also included the recruiting events “Making Games Talents” and “gamescom Jobs & Karriere” as well as the industry index “Key Players”.
In 2015, Heiko Klinge eventually took over the chief editorship of the gaming magazines GamePro and GameStar. Since 2020 he’s entirely focused on GameStar. The roughly 30-person editorial team not only oversees Germanys biggest PC gaming website, but also manages Europe’s biggest editorial gaming channel on YouTube with more than 1.37 million subscribers and one of the most-listened to gaming podcasts. And the printed edition of GameStar, where Heikos career once began over 20 years ago, is still going strong.
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?
Everything is measurable and analyzable. As an outspoken numbers cruncher, that brings many advantages. On the other hand, the dare to risk something has been lost a bit in gaming and even in games journalism. And the speed and pressure in games journalism has obviously changed a lot. Back in the print era, we had editorial deadlines every four weeks, today it’s ever-present.
I will not assume the right to judge the industry itself. I am a journalist and don’t work for a publisher or developer. However, when it comes to games journalism, I’d wish for more emphasis on direct research as opposed to adopting unverified information from other websites, social media or reddit.
Which key learnings in marketing can other industries draw from the games industry?
The direct line to consumers. I don’t know of any other industry that communicates with the audience in such a personal and straight manner. The games industry is probably also on top of many other industries in terms of data analysis.
Who are your role models in the industry? Is there anybody? And if so why?
I have always tried to find my own way. Stances, values and behaviors impress me, and I am certainly guided by them. But I do not have specific role models.
How did the marketing & promotion of games change in recent years? Where are we headed in games marketing in the next years to come?
From my point of view, there are two trends that, at first glance, seem to be opposing: 1. automation and 2. specialization. The former is all about understanding the audience as effectively as possible to lead targeted marketing measures regardless of the used platforms.
When it comes to the latter, I primarily think of holistic cross-platform campaigns with a continuous narrative and relatively elaborate spending. In a case like this, football stars are chartered to a livestream studio to play multiplayer matches. Or the airport of Munich suddenly becomes the stage of an unboxing world record. The standards for marketers as well as agencies and media houses have risen dramatically over the past few years.
Which social media channels do you see as key for the games industry?
Every social media channel serves a purpose, which is why GameStar is ever-present. It’s fascinating to me how different the channels truly are, which in turn demands completely different approaches. Fundamentally speaking, we’ve got more momentum through Instagram (134.000 followers) and TikTok (83.000) in the past twelve months than through Facebook and Twitter.
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?
For me one of the pivotal key success factors of GameStar is the fact that we have always tried to maintain a very direct line between our community and the editors. Building trust takes months or even years, destroying it merely takes a few seconds. It’s my firm opinion that honesty and transparency always pay off in the long run.
The same holds true for me in the selection of partnerships: Who has the more fitting audience? Where do I get the feeling that he or she truly understands the game and its players and takes it seriously? And – again, this is the numbers cruncher in me speaking – how can I measure and verify that?
To me its not a question of micro- or macro influencers, as even the latter can be authentic and enthusiastic. But the choice must fit the game and the audience. If everything comes together, consumers can become fans. A big chance, but also a big responsibility.
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?
Whew, five years is an awfully long time in PR as well as in games journalism, especially because this industry always makes things exciting as unforeseen events regularly occur. But I feel safe enough about two challenges to go out on a limb here and predicts something:
The Netflixification of the games market: I am convinced that subscription services will win the day in the gaming segment sooner or later. On the one hand, this will extend the life cycle of games, but on the other hand it will pose completely new challenges to PR. When, how and where do I place my messages? How do you come out on top in the overabundance of information and “freely” available games? Even today we already see how the information demand on our platforms gradually changes away from “Is this game worth the money?” to “How and with what do I make best use of my free time?”. Properly addressing these questions will require a change of thinking in journalism as well as in PR.
The story will become more important than the game: The amount of classic press releases has been declining rapidly over the last few years and my best guess is that this process will speed up even more the more gaming establishes itself in the general interest media. Nobody wants to read that update X in MMO Y adds raid Z. Instead, the focus will shift more to stories which are interesting even to someone who has never heard of the game in question. This requires even more anticipation capabilities from PR as well as journalism. What will someone search for if they are interested in my game? And how do I capitalize their interest? “My game is great!” won’t suffice as an answer.
Bonus question: Which project / topic in your job were you particularly proud of?
Pride might be the wrong word here, but I feel true joy and gratitude every time strangers approach me and share their memories and stories about GameStar and Making Games with me, whether it’s a specific article, an editorial video or even a recruiting event through which they’ve found their way into the industry. It always reminds me of what a huge privilege it is to work for something that is recognized and appreciated by so many people.
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