Tom McQuillin has been in gaming for most of his career, first at Xbox in product marketing and product strategy and now at Facebook. He worked on Xbox Live, the launch of Xbox One and titles such as Tomb Raider, Halo and Gears, before he moved to Facebook. Tom joined to launch Oculus Rift in Europe and now leads a retail marketing team responsible for all Facebook hardware. Tom says he doesn’t have a tattoo, but if he did, it would probably say “EAT, SLEEP, MINE, REPEAT.”
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 most positive change in my view is the progress that gaming has made from an entertainment genre dominated by men, and typically young men, to one that appeals to and caters to a much more diverse audience. I remember when gaming overtook movies in the race to become the largest entertainment industry in terms of revenue; and I felt this was a big step. But in truth, video gaming at that time, around 2010 I guess, set out to appeal largely to a male audience and most gaming hours were generated by young men. Things are markedly different now – and there has been a surge in female gaming during the pandemic – but there is still a very long way to go.
The stereotypical gamer is still perceived as young and male, and most surveys show that gaming has a heavily male dominated audience, but the whole industry is behaving in a more diverse way. Many more senior exec positions are occupied by women now and diverse characters in games have greater depth and are more varied which is great to see. Oculus is seeing many more women come into VR with more women using Oculus Quest 2 than any of our previous headsets. Again though, there is still a lot of progress to be made.
The replacement of physical discs with digital games has probably been the biggest technological change. When I started working in gaming, physical games ruled and it took a long while for digital to overtake. But the shift has been more rapid over the last few years, and I haven’t bought a game on a disc for quite a while now. Since music led the way, it was a trend that was seen as inevitable. For me it is a positive shift because it has unlocked so many new business models and allowed publishers to experiment more.
Of course, the biggest area of excitement for me is VR gaming and it seems pretty obvious to me that the level of immersion offered by VR/AR means that it will become the dominant gaming platform in time. Since Oculus launched its first headsets, the tech has come on so fast that the barriers to VR gaming becoming mainstream have largely been eroded. VR has the power to transform how we experience so many different types of content and is now decidedly delivering on the expectations that have built up since it first appeared.
Which key learnings in marketing can other industries draw from the games industry?
My mantra as a marketeer is that whatever we do and however we talk to consumers, we need to bring a sense of excitement and innovation to the table. Working in the gaming industry entails bringing the best entertainment to a passionate audience who demand escapism, diversion, and fun. Getting a consumer’s attention for an extended period can be costly but is a lot easier if you make the experience unique and memorable.
Building on this, when we launched Oculus Rift, we focused a lot on experiential marketing – simply giving people the opportunity to trial VR. Offering people the chance to try something they’d never encountered before was thrilling for us as a brand and for our customers too. The opportunity to afford people a first-time experience doesn’t come around too often, but if you are able to, you’re going to create a magical and lasting memory.
Who are your role models in the industry? Is there anybody? And if so why?
One of my role models is a former boss who I worked for at Xbox. I won’t name him, but he was heavily involved in inventing Xbox Live and he was one of the most impressive senior business people I have ever encountered. He taught me a great deal in a short space of time – primarily by precision questioning anything that I presented to him – but he also helped further my career by guiding me towards positive choices.
How did the marketing & promotion of games change in recent years? Where are we headed in games marketing in the next years to come?
I’m going to take a longer-range view here than I would normally but bear with me. I think the cost of creating games is going to fall dramatically over the next few years and the quality and size of games will also make some leaps forward thanks to AI. I think therefore that in time, we’ll see a much larger number of games launched each year. I expect most games to be cross-platform and there to be fewer exclusives. This will present new challenges around marketing and promoting games.
That said, I think that blockbuster game launches will continue, and I think that the art of storytelling in games will become increasingly enhanced. This is an area where gaming can learn more from the movie industry – Hollywood creates amazing stories and fantastic characters, and the gaming industry is using that playbook to bring to life deep character stories in even more exciting ways. Investment will be needed here so the cost of creating these blockbuster games won’t come down. I think this will offer unique and exciting ways to introduce gaming to new audiences and marketeers will have the opportunity to expand and iterate on these stories with exciting and creative marketing campaigns.
You’ve already talked a bit about VR gaming – what excites you the most about the future of virtual reality?
The gaming side of VR is obviously full of promise, and I can’t wait to see all the fantastic new titles that come out over the next few years. I’m equally excited about the potential of VR to transform other industries too, though. VR uniquely immerses you in a scenario and through that experience you can understand, feel, and learn so much more completely.
VR can safely put you in a situation that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to experience for real – you can virtually stand in someone else’s shoes and get a pretty good sense of what that is like. This can be a great way to develop more empathy and understanding and there are so many examples of where this is valuable – understanding discrimination, loneliness, dangerous situations, experiencing nature, visiting the inside of an Egyptian pyramid – the possibilities are endless. I’m excited to see how this develops in the future.
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?
I think that PR has changed a lot in the last 10 years as well, although I think it’s true that, historically, PR hasn’t been a fast-moving industry! I think you are right that it will continue to be a super important tool within the games sector. Gamers love a big launch moment and engage with gaming brands with fierce loyalty. Today’s news is delivered via social though and so it feels like press releases need to have a 280-character limit.
I think gaming will continue to provide immensely PR-able moments though with celebrities, streamers and influencers all playing a big part and I’m excited about what’s coming – but watch out for the rise of micro-influencers as peer-to-peer recommendation and authenticity and relatability become increasingly important factors in consumer choice.
Bonus question: Which project / topic in your job were you particularly proud of?
I have to say that it’s the Truck Tour that we worked on together to launch Oculus Rift in Germany. There were some significant technical challenges and a lot of tough decisions to make, but seeing an idea brought to life and driving around Germany was really awesome. It ties in to our earlier discussion about how gaming is leading in marketing initiative innovation, and it also brought a lot of fun to a lot of people! I also launched one of the Tomb Raider games (a great female lead character there!) and the marketing won a bunch of awards which, I have to say, was pretty cool.
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