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"The oil tanker is turning in terms of the mainstream media's approach to games” | Bastion AFK Series

Sponsored article: PR specialists Bastion speaks to the BBC's Steffan Powell

For most communication campaigns, the holy grail is achieving cut through mainstream coverage. That fifteen minutes in the spotlight when you achieve reach beyond the boundary of your usual audience and start to entice new customers. However, for video games, mainstream coverage can often end in disappointment when an uninformed reporter asks questions like, "But what about violence in video games" or "Can you talk to me about loot boxes" or "Are video games safe"?

Questions like these lead us to shout into the echo chamber that is social media about the blasphemy that has unfolded and how we don't need mainstream media outlets when our passionate followers reside on Twitch or Reddit anyway.

As we all know, video games isn't for a select, or even nerdy, few. It's an art form that that is enjoyed by the majority of people in this country, so should no longer be portrayed as unusual, quirky or in any way a niche. As an industry we need to work with mainstream media to root out this outdated thinking and end the cycle of misinformation and in turn grow the player base even further.

In the first of a series of conversations with key figures from the world of games media, Bastion Director Ravi Vijh talks to Radio 1 Newsbeat's Steffan Powell about the BBC's coverage of the sector and its relationship with the wider industry...

Can we start by asking about the specifics of your role at the BBC and where that fits into the corporation's overall games coverage?
I'm Radio 1 Newsbeat's gaming reporter, that means I produce documentaries for the telly, write online articles, put radio reports together and I also present a new podcast for BBC Sounds called Press X To Continue.

We are also there for other parts of the BBC to give us a call and say, 'Hey, this Cyberpunk thing is kicking off, do you fancy coming to tell us about it?' So we can be 'parachuted in', if you like, and end up on Radio 4, BBC Breakfast, 5 Live, the BBC News website etc.

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Steffan Powell, BBC

You've been there four or five years now, what sort of changes have you seen in that time in terms of games coverage? The change has been massive, and the amount of places that cover games now, within the BBC, is much bigger than before and growing.

When you start looking at it, there's a lot more gaming coverage on the BBC than people perhaps would realise. And also, what's interesting about all of the different strands, is that the type of stories I might do for Newsbeat, for Radio 1, for Press X To Continue, will be very different to the tone and the type of stories that you might hear on Adam Rosser's 5 Live show, Game On, for example.

There's not a one size fits all approach. We can be very mainstream, and we can be very niche. Whatever your story and whoever your audience is, there's a place for it within the BBC.

But, in saying that, also the beautiful thing about working for the BBC is that these different strands aren't siloed off. If a story is appropriate for other bits of the Beeb, we share it. She's a big beast, the BBC, and it can be quite confusing, but I think the overall message is that there are lots of different places doing lots of different things and there is something for everyone, in terms of audience and in terms of whatever content you have to bring to us.

That's a key to think about, if you want to get the BBC coverage: Who is your audience? Who do you want it to get to? And then we'll figure it out from there, because whoever it is, they're somewhere within the BBC. And you know what, if you're confused, just give me a call.

How are levels of engagement across those areas you've mentioned?
The growth we've seen the last five, six years has been fantastic. I think if you look at our gaming stories that we do on Newsbeat, since the launch of the podcast especially, I was looking at our figures earlier on... I can't give away trade secrets and say what the numbers are, but the audience engagement is seriously high.

Every gaming story I write and put on the Newsbeat section of the front page of BBC News will be in the top 10 articles that we've have done that month, every month. Gaming articles do really well; the audience is there.

And also, this year we've been on BBC Breakfast with our gaming stories, we've been on Radio 4 with our gaming stories.

There is an interest there because we know, and people reading this know, that gaming is a central part of British culture, and mainstream culture, and popular culture, and it has been for years; we get that. The oil tanker is turning in terms of the mainstream media's approach to it now.

We get gaming stories on a weekly basis on the front page of BBC News now, which wasn't happening five, six years ago. We've really invested editorially and in the sense of being open to suggestions. We keep wanting to improve the steps that we make.

Are there any vestiges of stuffiness within the Beeb about games and video gaming? Maybe a slight feeling of aloofness?
I think largely it's been washed away over several generational shifts. You still get it, but you get it in every single organisation that's talking about stuff that's changing. There's always someone you've got to explain TikTok to!

It brings me back to my original point, which is all about who your audience is. In my meetings in Newsbeat, if I say, 'Oh, there's a really good gaming story today.' It's like, who does it affect? What does it sound like? Who can we get? But if I'm having that same conversation with a different part of the BBC, the questions are more, 'Why does this matter to my audience?' That's just good journalism.

How aware do you think the industry is of the breadth and detail of the BBC's games coverage - and how it can work for them? Do you think you're on their radar enough?
Good question. I certainly hope so, and I suspect they've stumbled across Newsbeat coverage in their everyday lives as much as anything else on in the background of the radio or shared on Twitter - but I also suspect that a lot of our best work might have passed people by because they don't know to look for it. We're particularly proud of our behind-the-scenes Death Stranding documentary and the new podcast Press X To Continue.

Sometimes it can be a bit intimidating to know which bit of the BBC to come to with a games story. At Newsbeat we've been building great relationships with people in the industry over the last five, six years by doing stories with them and chatting regularly - so I think they know the value we can offer.

But we maybe can do a better job of making it easier for people, we're working on it, we're getting there.

What would your message be to the games industry who maybe prioritise other outlets, perhaps more specialist platforms? What would you like to put out there that you feel perhaps isn't really understood?
I think the messages is that there's a big audience here who are really engaging with gaming stories, who don't necessarily engage with stories from specialist press. The specialist press does an amazing job, I read it all the time, and we don't look to compete with them.

"Every gaming story I put on the Newsbeat section of the front page of BBC News will be in the top 10 articles that we've have done that month, every month"

But if I'm Dave or Denise, a white van driver in Stoke, and I've got a console in the corner of my living room, I like games, I dip in and out, but I'm a bit intimidated by some coverage that assumes a lot of knowledge, or where there's a barrier of entry... we're trying to make stuff that they engage with.

Because my belief is that the majority of gamers, especially at the moment, when people have got time to invest, they want to know about this world. They're interested in what's happening, but they want to be told about it on their level, and that's what we're trying to do.

We have an audience that is full of people who play games but might not seek out gaming content, editorial content, but through the BBC they might stumble upon it, they might prick up their ears and all of a sudden learn about a new release, or esports, or whatever. We're putting it out there for them as much as anyone.

I think the main thing that we're trying to do is normalise... not gaming, because gaming is an everyday part of most people's lives, but normalise games in the media. We want to have an impact on the broader, mainstream, popular consciousness of gaming.

This isn't a niche that the BBC is dipping into, this is a fantastic and popular part of British popular culture that we want to reflect in the same way that we reflect as brilliantly and as widely as we reflect sport, films, etc. And actually, I think we are.

And finally, from all that you've seen and heard within the BBC, is there a strategy around games and interactive entertainment within the BBC. In many ways' games are the enemy in the war of screen time market share, so are games part of the long-term plan for the future of the BBC?
I think it's a question that's very much above my paygrade! However, in terms of games coverage and making gaming related content on air and online - it will very much be a part of the future of the BBC especially as we strive, in places like Newsbeat especially, to make stuff that engages and entertains an under 35 audience.

Bastion is an integrated communications agency based in London, with capabilities across the globe. From media relations and cooperate communications to influencer engagement and content creation, we'd love to tell your story. Visit www.bastion.co.uk or drop us a line at hello@bastion.co.uk.

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