Petra Fröhlich has been writing about video games for over 25 years. She entered the industry as a freelance editor and soon after became an editor at PC Games. There, she worked as editor-in-chief for more than a decade and oversaw the editorial offices of PC Games, PC Action, play4 and N-Zone until 2014. In the fall of 2015 Petra eventually founded GamesWirtschaft, her very own german news portal about video games.
You have been in the games industry for some time. And you have seen many trends come and go. From the beginning of your career to today: What has changed most positively in the industry, and what bothers you about the current situation?
Nowadays, unlike in the 80s, 90s, and 2000s, it’s nearly impossible to deliberately rip off customers with gaming trash. The transparency and competition are both far too great. I can’t even remember how many cheap racing games, management games and jump & runs I’ve encountered during my career as a “eviewer” That is to say that the product quality of video games these days is consistently good to very good, at the very least. That wasn’t always the case.
What saddens me is the loss of importance of local publisher branches. Due to consolidation and the creeping decline of local retail, many places are only made up of sales and marketing departments with skeleton crews, if anything. The structures that grew over the past decades have dramatically changed in the past one or two years. And that, in turn, has also resulted in the loss of a ‘party culture’. Today the games industry is earning more money than ever before – and celebrating as little as never before, even before corona.
What I miss the most in that regard are the ‘industry road trips’ to London or Los Angeles for ETCS or E3. Nowadays, anybody who wants to add two more days to their visit to see Six Flags or Santa Monica for the purpose of acclimatization, needs to at least brace oneself for the raising eyebrows coming from controlling – if the flight is approved at all.
Which key learnings in marketing can other industries draw from the games industry?
The games industry is really good at brand maintenance, community building and the customer journey – in what other industry do you have fans waiting years for an individual product with such commitment? That is truly unique and obviously not adaptable for every industry – you are bound to inevitably create far less excitement around your product as a manufacturer of insect screens compared to Tesla, Apple, or Nintendo, Rockstar Games and PlayStation.
However, you can still transform customers into fans that proudly display company logos and passionately share social media posts like they do in the games industry. For example, who would have thought that Engelbert Strauss, a provider of workwear, suddenly counts as a lifestyle brand? Or let’s take the music retail business Thomann, which, aside from Amazon, became the number 1 in Europe in their segment. With rigorous brand maintenance, consistent quality, and prime customer service both succeeded in ‘nurturing’ loyal fans, who in turn act as walking testimonials.
Who are your role models in the industry?
As a teen, I literally devoured gaming magazines like Powerplay – Heinrich Lenhardt and Boris Schneider were my personal heroes. I could downright quote many of their previews and reviews by heart. At gaming exhibitions, I sneaked around the press booth because I just didn’t have the guts to talk to both of them and ask for an autograph in my totally tattered magazine that I brought with me.
Later, when I started working as an editor myself, we were fierce competitors and fought hard about every exclusive screenshot and trailer. It was a ‘us against them’ type of situation. The tense situation eased when Boris switched industry sides and Heinrich became ‘our’ foreign correspondent. For years, we worked on the same floor, oftentimes on the same projects and experienced the same epic meetings. It may sound silly, but all of this still seems unreal to me.
How did the marketing & promotion of games change in recent years? Where are we headed in games marketing in the next years to come?
It has most definitely gotten harder because myriads of retail and social media platforms, markets and languages need to be considered and synchronized. With German productions you’ll notice that marketing activities are conceptualized and produced with international markets in mind from the very start. Oftentimes German-speaking forums, websites, Twitter or YouTube channels don’t even exist anymore and, at best, you get a trailer with German subtitles. I think the German-speaking multi-billion market with more than 100 million consumers deserves more attention, love, and local color from domestic companies.
Which social media channels do you see as key for the games industry?
Facebook was important and worthwhile at first, but became far less important because of their crazy algorithm stunts. We are also using Instagram and LinkedIn, depending on the topic in question, but currently the fastest and most efficient tool is Twitter. Besides, GamesWirtschaft has always been well on track in terms of SEO right from the beginning and enjoys a leading position when it comes to some of the biggest topics for years now. The newsletter is our backup in case Mountain View screws with the criteria without prior notice. At the same time, we are very fortunate to have many direct hits.
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?
I may be a bit oversensitive here because I am seeing many campaigns due to my occupation. But it seems to me that they just pursue the path of least resistance: casting some top 100 influencers who share a more or less creative video on their channels and, two days later, nobody talks about it anymore. Typical magnesium marketing: it burns bright, but brief.
Meanwhile, small and midsize streamers and YouTubers are confident enough to know the value of their reach and not just settle for a free game key. As far as I can see, establishing and maintaining contact with part-time streamers is cumbersome because its time-consuming. But in return, the cooperation is more sustainable.
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?
For one and a half years now conversations with the press, 1:1-interviews and press conferences have been taking place exclusively via Zoom, Teams and Skype – that won’t be going anywhere. In other words: No one will take the plane or the train to attend an hour-long presentation or Q&A session anymore. This is not just a question of ecology, but also of economy.
Unfortunately, a fantastic amount of energy is still being wasted by communication road blocks: Poorly maintained image databases, protracted approval processes, copy and paste or non-replies in response to inconvenient inquiries. Especially in the field of crisis PR, the games industry regularly falls into a state of shock and hides under a rock. Other industries and even ministries are just quicker, clearer, more independent, concrete, and helpful – not to say more professional.
And based on experience, the larger the enterprise, the smaller the leeway for local activations. Instead, oftentimes the same old international campaign will just be bluntly ‘Germanized’.
Bonus question: Which project / topic in your job were you particularly proud of?
It fills me with great joy to have single-handedly created the ever-growing brand GamesWirtschaft which operates in the twilight between B2B and B2C, out of nothing but my own self-energy. Merely looking at the prominent composition of the newsletter distributor and its many recipients makes me very happy.
Even more, because after 24 years working full-time in special interests, I initially planned on searching new impulses apart from the games industry. But in retrospect, I have to say that it couldn’t have gone any better. And as games cobbler, maybe I just need to stick to my last.
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