Ingo Horn began his career in 1992 as a local newspaper editor before joining Magna Media Verlag in Munich as editor of Power Play in 1995 after serving in the German Armed Forces. He then moved “to the dark side of the industry” and since 1997 has acted as a PR person for Bomico/Infogrames, Interplay, Virgin Interactive, Westka Interactive and Travian Games, among others.
Since 2013, he has held various positions in Wargaming’s communications and currently leads a team of remote PR managers across Europe as Communication Director Europe. From 2013-2016, he was founder and chairman of Gaming-Aid e.V. and today presides as chairman over the non-profit recognized association Letsplay4Charity e.V. In 2016 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame at the German Developer Award and in 2020 he received the Medal of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany – popularly known as the Federal Cross of Merit.
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?
The fact that the industry has become more professional is of course very positive on so many levels, but it also has its downsides. The topics of promotion, social acceptance, targeted training, and business conduct in tough but mostly fair negotiations have certainly developed positively.
On the other hand, much of the spontaneity and the likeable naivety of the early days has given way to a thoroughly exercised planning process, which can curtail creativity in many respects if a project is cancelled or not even picked up on the basis of KPIs, USPs or other forecasts because it might not reach a profitable margin. Thanks to increased costs, heartfelt projects can no longer be realized by a small team, as was more often the case in the past – which can also be seen in the decreasing number of innovations or “one-man-products” and instead see the x-th sequel of the same miscellaneous product come onto the market in the fall.
Which key learnings in marketing can other industries draw from the games industry?
Even with a small team you are still able to attract broad attention thanks to creativity and you don’t always have to necessarily follow the mainstream. The indie market shows more and more often how supposedly small and inexpensive products can compete with AAA titles in marketing when it comes to gaining the favor of players and thus achieving great sales figures – especially when they are rejected by established big ships (publishers) and thus cannot be supported by a plethora of marketing experts.
That’s how it started with Wargaming and World of Tanks, as the title was rejected by many publishers as “unfeasible and unpromising” until the creators took it into their own hands to do trustworthy marketing tailored to the target group, which was the key to success, and we now employ 5,500 people around the world who look after 200 million players worldwide.
Who are your role models in the industry? Is there anybody? And if so why?
When you’re approaching 50, you like to look over the shoulders of the supposedly clueless and sometimes still idealistically driven youngsters and are often surprised by their creativity, speed, and multitasking. Especially when it comes to social media, a few decades make a difference, as the younger generation has experienced trends through their network (friends and acquaintances) since their childhood and accordingly sees them coming (and going) earlier.
With somnambulistic certainty, people are simultaneously hashtagged on TikTok, Instagram and the like, while a stream is simultaneously hosted on YouTube, Twitch, Facebook and the like, to which matching tweets and stories are then shared. Whether this restlessness will endure in the long term, however, is something I’ll leave to the next generation of marketers and then watch from retirement with the necessary composure.
How did the marketing & promotion of games change in recent years? Where are we headed in games marketing in the next years to come?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 28 years in the games industry, it’s this: there’s never a standstill! However, many of today’s trends have not necessarily come to stay – just as many things become obsolete on their own over time. The speed, however, has increased drastically. Thanks to the Internet and social media, marketing can be even more targeted, and this is where the scope for the future lies.
Targeted online marketing based on data, tailored campaigns to dedicated age groups or fanbases, while classic marketing channels such as print ads serve only as decorative garnish in the marketing mix. Creativity remains the key to success, as cheeky or impressive campaigns are shared, commented on and even discussed even without a huge advertising budget. It’s just that viral success is increasingly difficult to plan for and often depends on too many factors that can only very rarely all be taken into account.
Which social media channels do you see as key for the games industry?
Here we have to distinguish between my volunteer work at Letsplay4charity e.V. and my job as Communication Director Europe at Wargaming. While charity basically lives on the volunteer network and the supporters (qua donors and pro bono streamers), because we of course don’t spend any money on advertising or collaboration but rely on the “together strong” feature and virality.
In contrast, free-to-play games are primarily tailored to the community. As a result, influencer campaigns have a high priority, opinion forming from the community (we call these community contributors), advertising tailored to the age groups (over 30) or classic PR work with media contacts, as well as cooperations with museums that fit in thematically with our product portfolio – everything must be planned through and reflected in the products through quality and creativity.
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?
Wargaming has been doing this very successfully for years, as we have a very specific gaming audience with our World of Tanks or World of Warships products – older and less volatile and thus longstanding and loyal. As so-called CCs (Community Contributors), selected influencers with partly exclusive Wargaming product channels inform globally in the respective regional languages at an early stage about changes and additions to the game – sometimes already on the super test servers long before the release.
This way, the fan is confidently introduced to changes that are communicated professionally and independently, as it is not financed by a campaign with high-reach YouTubers, with accompanying complete script and coordinated messaging.
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 has come to stay – but as before, PR is subject to constant change. For me, as a veteran, PR is now more like personal relations, because I can look back on years of trusting collaboration with key decision-makers in editorial departments, media houses, and broadcasters. A large part of my day job, therefore, is ensuring timed communications across all channels and keeping them in sync – whether between countries or continents or in synchronization with other departments.
Key for PR today is to mediate between the different publication channels. It’s important to run in sync like a clockwork, or at least mesh well like cogs – as needed, for example, on your own social media channels, external media, forums, websites, booked campaign pitches, influencer channels, and so on.
Bonus question: Which project / topic in your job were you particularly proud of?
Quite impossible to do from today’s perspective is my personal record of print covers for a single title, which I was able to achieve with Dino Crisis as Virgin Interactive’s PR manager for GSA, when games magazines were virtually at their peak in terms of circulation and numbers. A full 13 covers graced my private Wall of Fame in just six months of work, which is very difficult to achieve for a PlayStation-exclusive title from today’s perspective.
Nowadays, however, I live off the almost daily moments of happiness when charitable commitment bears fruit and our non-profit association Letsplay4Charity e.V. welcomes a new member (advertisement: can be found at www.letsplay4charity.com), an influencer has pledged his support (anyone can join) or we are allowed to pass around the virtual collection bag at an event (hopefully soon again) for a good cause, so that we can do good together. Especially in times of the pandemic, it is so important in my eyes to help those who are not on the sunny side of life and who are not doing so well.
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