Something that isn’t visible on the outside is that it is very hard for the press — sometimes virtually impossible — to talk to publishers of Japanese games about their products, regardless of whether they’re in the East or West. When you have a publisher like Atlus USA that do a great job of communicating with their fans, there’s really not much scope for getting them to spill secrets. They’ll talk when they’re ready to, and that’s fine.
But in the case of other smaller publishers, especially in the case of niche games, one would think it would be beneficial to communicate a little more openly with your audience and educate them on what goes on behind the scenes so they can better appreciate the effort that goes into bringing these games over. This week, we asked Ken about why it is that publishers find this so hard to do.
Director of Publishing, Xseed – Ken Berry
Siliconera – Ishaan Sahdev
Ishaan: I remember talking to you in mails before I joined Siliconera, Ken. We talked about an Xseed blog and how you guys could communicate better with your fans. I guess you decided to settle on Facebook eventually?
It made me think about the way most companies interact with their fans. Places like Insomniac and Atlus are very keen on constantly interacting with the people that are passionate about their games, but so few other publishers do this. Especially in the case of niche game publishers, sometimes, it’s really hard for even us to talk to them. Why do you think this is? Why is there this…reluctance…to communicate openly with the people most enthusiastic about your games? Don’t niche games with a limited market need this much more than the mainstream ones?
Ken: As you know from personal experience, Ishaan, I try to respond to as many e-mails from fans as possible through our support line. We still plan on getting a blog up and running, it was just easier to set up a Facebook account first so that it could serve to connect everything else we do together, whether it be linking to an official site for a game or to our general blog.
I think the biggest problem with responding to fan inquiries is that the people that write in tend to be the hardcore followers of the industry that know exactly what you’ve already officially announced, but want to dig further into the specifics of what you haven’t, or can’t, make public. Questions about gameplay are no problem, but once you start getting into the politics of why you can’t obtain the rights to publish a specific title, it’s a very fine line on what you can and can’t say because you are now speaking on the behalf of other companies, not just your own. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten into trouble for even hinting at something in a fanmail response, only to have it posted on some message board and then found by the company behind the title that I mentioned and having it circle back to our president. Not fun.
Ishaan: Spencer and I once joked about how you manage to keep yourself out of trouble. Haha, you should just pretend every official announcement you make from now on is an unintended "leak." Kill two birds with one stone.
You’re right; the enthusiasts are always going to want frank, non-PR responses that they can’t get from a press release and sometimes, even interviews. But what I meant when I mentioned communicating with fans and the press was things like showing off aspects of how you go about localization, for example. Maybe filming your teams while they brainstorm ideas and discuss the game with each other, or shedding some light on the voice talent behind the games. Perhaps you could even have fans vote on different boxart mock-ups. It doesn’t seem like these would require a very large investment, and they’d go a long way toward helping the consumer relate to your decisions and to your staff. Have you guys considered that?
Ken: Those are some great ideas in terms of how to get more involved with the fans, some of which we’ve discussed before and didn’t have the manpower to implement yet (like podcasts), others which we can definitely consider for the future (like having people vote on the boxart). Getting voice actors involved gets difficult due to all the union issues, but if it’s just our internal staff then I guess we can interact with the fans for as much as they’re willing to put up with us.