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Oliver Birch explains why new digital marketing agency PlayReplay is needed in the current climate of self-publishing

When we look back on 2009 one of the key developments to note will be the noticeable increase in independent developers looking to use digital platforms to go directly to market, as the principle publishers withdrew to the generally safer - or more profitable - ground of franchises and sequels.

But one of the learning points from this new direction has been the importance of talking to consumers - something that traditional publishers are so adept at. To try and plug that gap a new company has formed called PlayReplay, and here account director Oliver Birch explains more about its plans.

GamesIndustry.biz What's the company been set up to do?
Oliver Birch

Really to work in the digital download space for games, and to empower those people and organisations to have marketing resource. That's probably the main reason for us existing.

The pendulum of power in the industry is really shifting, I think - once again we're seeing the developer having the decisions to make in terms of how they might publish titles, how they get them out there, and being involved in those decisions that they haven't been for a while.

I think what they do is make great games, and that's what they're there to do - so they may not have the marketing expertise, the PR specialism, in-house. It's that which enables them to engage in the gaming community and give them the opportunity to talk about their game, because ultimately that's what the publisher - in the retail space - has been doing for such a long time.

GamesIndustry.biz The traditional publishers obviously aren't going to go away, but other than physical retail and distribution they also do a bunch of other things - funding not the least of those - so how significant is the shift away from that for some developers?
Oliver Birch

I think it's a massive shift. If you look at the iPhone, there one person can create a game that could go out to millions - it really has changed the power in terms of what developers can achieve now.

Of course, publishers have been there and they have that relationship with retail. That's never going to go away, and I come from a background of working at Pinnacle Software, so I understand boxed product distribution quite well.

But now it's really about having that direct relationship with the consumer - that's what the developers can do - they can engage with them, create dialogue, and that's what's so exciting about it now.

It won't work with every single game, and there are few success stories in the download area at the moment, but it's an emerging market. As things change businesses have to adapt to those changes, and that's where PlayReplay can come in to help target those consumers, engage them, and get feedback.

In the end, you're only as good as your last game, and you really need to know what people think about your games, so you have to have the channels to be able to communicate with your audience.

GamesIndustry.biz How different is marketing an online game, compared to market a game online?
Oliver Birch

Well, we do both at PlayReplay, so we work with browser-based games and MMOs as well as some of the digital download platform titles. I think there are some of the traditional marketing ideas that can be brought forward into this digital space, but the important thing is that you become agile, and we're calling this agile online marketing - so you have to have a battle plan to begin with about how you're going to approach promotion of your product.

But you have to listen to what people are saying, and adapt. Work across your development team, your PR team, they have to be thinking in the same way, and basically you plan to the strengths of the product and what the community is telling you.

I think that is a skill in itself. I had a meeting recently with a particular browser-based MMO organisation and what was amazing was the fact that they didn't really engage their communities in terms of competitions and promotions as such. That's something that gives extra value to the consumer experience, and tapping into that is really about going beyond gameplay.

GamesIndustry.biz There are some games out there which, for whatever reason, already have big communities. How does that change the need to do some of the more traditional PR, for example working with media channels?
Oliver Birch

I think you can let the community take on a life of its own - there is value in having preview and review campaigns still, especially with some of the platform games that's probably more important than some of the browser-based games.

Simply because, what that allows you to do is give your customers references points - the ability to find information. At the moment if people hear about something they'll immediately go online and look for more information, so that's the firs port of call. You have to leave those reference points for them to pick up on.

But also it just increases that share of voice - the chatter, the interest and viral opinion about a product, and that's key in having success for something like Trials HD. That's over 300,000 sales, I think that's the figure that's out at the moment, so really word of mouth is making that happen quite a lot.

But you have to get to that stage in the first place, so traditional PR is definitely an angle to make that happen.

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