How a serial games publisher conquered its database
An interview with Iceberg Interactive's Chris Bond and Nefeli Gkoni.
Iceberg Interactive is a games publisher of more than 50 indie titles, from puzzlers to survival horror, console to Steam, which presents an interesting challenge: how do you build and manage a following when your range of products is so broad?
We spoke with PR Managers Chris Bond and Nefeli Gkoni to get their take on industry issues, the challenges Iceberg has had to overcome and Prezly's role in helping make that happen. Let's go.
A serial games publisher
Iceberg Interactive is an independent video game publisher founded in 2009 by an international group of games industry veterans. Located in Haarlem, The Netherlands, and staffed with avid gamers, Iceberg works closely with an assembly of game developers around the world, both midsize and indie.
With more than 50 games on the market (and 40 on Steam), Iceberg Interactive caters to both PC and console gamers, its many hit franchises including Killing Floor and Stardrive, while Starpoint Gemini Warlords, Shortest Trip to Earth, The Sojourn and Circle Empires count among its recent PC titles.
Iceberg's next upcoming releases are Railroad Corporation by Corbie Games on the 18th November, and Still There by Italian indies GhostShark Games, set for launch on the 20th November 2019. Just check out this stunning trailer:
"I think the main challenge was, how can we enable our relationships to be stronger?"
That's Chris Bond, Senior PR Manager at Iceberg Interactive. We got the chance to speak with him and Nefeli Gkoni, another PR Manager at Iceberg, on their experience of growing the business.
Episode 1: What can we learn from gaming PR?
A major challenge facing Iceberg was the sheer breadth of their games, given that they were publishing everything from gorgeous puzzlers to survival horror across various platforms. Needless to say, they needed a database capable of targeting their campaigns at different audience niches.
For us to have a database that is very easy to filter and tag and to really control how we are sending out our communications is absolutely critical.
"Working with independent games, we have a huge variety of titles in our house. So we’re working with everything from strategy games to multiplayer party games to racing games. And each of those has different audiences, and each has different press outlets who are interested in them and different content creators who want to actually engage with those titles," explains Chris.
"So for us to have a database that is very easy to filter and tag and to really control how we are sending out our communications is absolutely critical. If we were just sending things out to one big group of people, it would not go down very well because most of those people would not be interested in the individual thing that we have to offer."
Heralded as “one of the best games of the year”, The Sojourn by indie dev Shifting Tides is among Iceberg's 2019 releases
The concept of targeted campaigns is not unique to the gaming industry, but it is prominent there, given the close social ties and networking within the community, as well as the need to segment your audience by favoured genre and platform. The usual spectrum of sector, geography, readership doesn't apply the same way in gaming as it does in other sectors, since some titles will appeal both to a kid in school and a CTO in their 50s – for a popular example, just think of Minecraft.
To have a database that is very easy to filter and tag and to really control how we are sending out our communications is absolutely critical.
Because of these community ties and the fact that gamers feel at home online, there's also a greater culture of PR speaking with gamers directly via channels like Twitch, YouTube and Discord, rather than strictly through coverage, so you need to be mindful of who exactly will end up engaging with your content.
Whether you’re running PR in-house or are part of a big agency, we have all the tools you need to ensure you deliver the right story to each contact, every time.
"The gaming industry is often involved with a very specific audience that could be more underage people, which requires us to be extra careful with how we treat these audiences, PR-wise. So I think this is also an extra challenge," says Nefeli. "The audience is huge, but at the same time there are also lots of people who need extra care on how you position certain things."
All of this means that how you communicate needs to be genuine, unpretentious and carefully thought out: basically, no BS, because the players will call you out on it. Instead, you need to be an authentic member of that community – one of the many reasons Iceberg's PR team is made up entirely of avid gamers.
Think that's challenge enough? That's not all.
With this huge audience comes the industry hurdle of cutting through the noise.
Released May 2019, Pax Nova is a stunning turn-based 4X strategy game from Grey Wolf, published by Iceberg and currently available on Steam
"Certainly the sheer amount of competition is perhaps unique to the gaming industry, especially in indie games," says Chris. "There are literally – in any given week – thousands of different games with different marketing beats going at the exact same time as you. And at the end of the day, even in the world of digital publishing, websites and content creators only have so much time and so much space to actually promote any of that information.
How you distinguish yourself – and communication is a big part of that – really makes the difference.
"So getting onto their agenda and being something that they will actually follow as a story, as opposed to just necessarily mentioning you once, that is very challenging if you’re not a big AAA studio, if you’re not making the next Grand Theft Auto, for example. Because for every game that you have, there's another game just like it. So how you distinguish yourself – and communication is a big part of that – really makes the difference."
The answer to all of these challenges? Apps!
But while adding new apps can be a lifesaver – we at Prezly love to try out the latest life-hacking software ourselves – having too many on the go at once chips away at your efficiency and winds up doubling your workload, mixing up your information or worse.
Create beautiful online newsrooms, publish your stories, embed galleries, livestreams and more, and build your audience without relying on your tech team.
"We were using Mailchimp for our press releases, and then we were using a whole different string of Excel spreadsheets to actually keep our contact information," says Chris. "It was completely un-centralised."
That's when the Iceberg team knew they needed to Marie Kondo their workflow.
"The main difference, and what Prezly completely changed and improved for us, is now we can have a way greater insight on the contacts and the campaigns that we’re building," says Nefeli.
Gaining meaningful insight into campaigns is only possible by unifying the contact management side of PR with the campaign mailer and publisher, so that you know exactly which individual contacts are engaging with your news and are able to retarget them appropriately. That's why we built all these elements into Prezly – to give you the information you need to build the best possible strategy, in a way that's as uncomplicated as we can make it.
With Prezly, we can tailor the recipients of each campaign to really, really specific people.
"With Mailchimp, we had no insights on who we were actually emailing or what our relationship with them was. We could know how to engage with them, but we couldn’t really design a campaign accordingly and target specific people," explains Nefeli. "With Prezly, we can tailor the recipients of each campaign to really, really specific people.
Prezly shows you straightforward engagement data on a per-contact basis for every campaign sent
"Now we have way more insight and it also makes our lives way easier when we need to report. For example, each particular beat, how did it perform? Now we can see the percentage of engagement each campaign has, and then from that engagement we can estimate what coverage we should expect the next day when we send out a press release. We didn’t have so many insights previously when we used another software, so definitely, this has improved the way we work."
Now we have way more insight and it also makes our lives way easier when we need to report.
And in addition to sending out campaigns via Prezly, you can build a simple, branded newsroom where to publish your stories, giving you a repository of updates to pitch from at the click of a button as well as making your chosen posts discoverable by search engines.
"The newsroom is something that we have now fully implemented to showcase our news. It is now the valve of our news, especially for LinkedIn," says Nefeli. "We always link to our Prezly newsroom when we announce something big."
See what the most effective pitches are made of, based on 15,976,113 emails.
"For our team, email is still a primary way to distribute information. It’s still the way that most journalists are consuming and echoing news," says Chris. But it isn't the only channel they use, particularly when going straight to the community.
"So for instance, direct messages through Discord or Twitter have been a good avenue for us as well, certainly at least to set up information before we actually then distribute it. And of course we attend events all year long, all around the world, which are a great way for us to further establish relationships."
Features like this, not all software actually can do in one. That was a big appeal of Prezly in the first place, and it’s definitely worked out over the last year.
So while email isn't the only means of communication, it remains the most prominent, particularly when establishing or trying to cement a relationship.
Campaign creation is easy with Prezly – pick your audience, personalise your email, insert a multimedia story from your newsroom and hit send (or schedule!)
"When you already have that relationship with someone, what’s great about a tool like Prezly, especially, is that we’re able to take notes on those profiles," explains Chris. "We can see things like what emails they’ve opened, what they haven’t opened and when they visit our pressroom, what are they interacting with?
The ability to share and update contacts across our small team has really helped us to form more personal relationships with our contacts, and ensure our communication is more relevant to them.
"Features like this, not all software actually can do in one. That was a big appeal of Prezly in the first place, and it’s definitely worked out over the last year."
That was an important thing for us to get right, knowing that most PR teams fall prey to the challenge of collaborating on immense contact lists while keeping up to date with who's engaging with their content, who's opening emails, which member of the team said what to whom.
Control who sees your data and use our built-in tools to comply with the GDPR
By bringing together all those features within a single platform and presenting interactions with each contact on a dedicated timeline, you can see the complete comms trail and leave notes for other members of your team on anything that may have happened offline.
"The contact management area of Prezly is a daily place for us to be, always working on improving, enriching our database," says Nefeli. "This is essentially a way for us to track, who do we know, who are valuable contacts for us? It's a way for us to monitor our work."
One way to organise contacts within Prezly is through using tags, which you can set up and manipulate however you like
"I think that, certainly, adopting Prezly as we did has been a real help for us to actually follow up on relationships, to be more aware of them and to share them amongst the team," adds Chris. "Simply through the basic features of Prezly and the way that it works in a very smooth and responsive way... I think that the overall service has enabled that to happen."
Adopting Prezly as we did has been a real help for us to actually follow up on relationships, to be more aware of them and to share them amongst the team.
And because our software covers the PR workflow from contact management to distribution, there's just the one place you need to contact if there's a problem anywhere along the line.
"Even little things like support have always been really prompt as well," says Chris. "There have been instances where, for example, something went wrong and they were so quick to reply and so quick to fix the issue, which was really a stress relief."
Modern PR is hard, and with so many comms channels out there and new apps popping up all the time, it can be easy to think that just adding one more will boost your workflow – when unfortunately, that's the opposite of what normally happens; instead you end up injecting more clutter into your day-to-day, leaving less and less time to do the human things that matter.
Prezly tries to do the opposite of this by bringing the various functions of PR under one roof and automating wherever possible: contact management, press release creation, campaign mailer, analytics, newsroom publication and coverage tracking. We think it can make your life easier, and we'd love the opportunity to show you how. If you're game, why not try a free trial? :)
Find out how Prezly's all-in-one comms software helps bring your games news to life
Huge thank you to Chris and Nefeli for taking the time to share their experience, which will help us further develop our product and hopefully give you some food for thought. You can follow Iceberg Interactive on Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn or check out their latest updates on their Prezly newsroom.
Your free PR stack
As lovers of all things new, tech and shiny here at Prezly, we need to be ultra careful not to fall into the app trap ourselves. So when an exciting new piece of software launches, we'll most likely grab hold, try it out and then recap a few weeks later on whether it's made life easier, or just added another thing to the daily to-do list.
In an effort to help you decide what works for you – and the answers do differ – we built PRstack: a listing of helpful PR software together with tips and interviews from PR professionals from all walks of life. It's completely free and open source, so if you have something to add, please do check it out :)