I’m pretty sure you don’t know who I am, and you probably don’t have any reason to. My name is Scott Bishop, and for several years I helped run the fan site Mortal Kombat Online, which was one of the top fansites for the Mortal Kombat series. I’ve noticed a bit of a disturbing trend recently, and I was hoping to bend your ear for a little bit.
To give a bit of history, we worked heavily with Midway Games in the time between Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance up until their closing (and your subsequent purchase of a good chunk of their library). We reported any news on the series we could. We had Fan Interviews where fans could submit their questions to be answered by Ed Boon. We had live chats with the Mortal Kombat development team. We and other sites banded together to successfully petition Microsoft to make Mortal Kombat: Deception and Mortal Kombat: Armageddon backwards-compatible on Xbox 360. We and other sites were even invited to press events like Midway Gamers’ Day, so that we could report the latest news for the fans.
All in all, it was a good time, for us and for Midway.
These days, though, it’s feeling a lot less rosy.
I want to bring up something my friend Patrick McCarron said on Twitter today. For reference, he’s a fellow Mortal Kombat fan site webmaster, having run the site TRMK for many years (longer than even Mortal Kombat Online has been around).
It honestly feels really shitty to run a fan site for a developer's games for over 18 years and I'm still not allowed on the PR blast list.
— Patrick McCarron (@McCarron) August 7, 2013
As I understand it, there is a PR policy at WB Games that fan sites are not allowed on the mailing list for press releases. In addition, many requests for info, interviews, and the like have been ignored and/or outright denied. I would put forward to you that this is not a helpful policy for either yourselves or the fan communities.
Now, I understand the need to approach the “big name” sites such as IGN, Gamespot, and Game Informer before the fan sites. After all, we could be more or less considered “guaranteed sales”, as we are fans of the series and would very likely buy the games. The big sites have much larger subscriber bases, with many people who need to be convinced to purchase your game as they are not necessarily fans. That’s the purpose of marketing, after all.
What you need to realize, however, is what the fan sites can bring to the table. The fan sites are not invisible; for the longest time sites like Mortal Kombat Online and TRMK even ranked higher on search engines than your own official sites. They all have different communities, and focus on different things that you yourself may not have time to do. Mortal Kombat Online and TRMK, for example, focus on news reporting and fan discussions on same. Test Your Might focuses on the tournament space and discussions of same. The Kombat Pavilion gives a spotlight on anything and everything regarding Mortal Kombat media. While we might be guaranteed sales, we also generate buzz outside of the sites, as fans relay what they learn and discuss from us and each other to the internet at large. Large sites sometimes even take notice; when Mortal Kombat Online broke the news that 2008’s Mortal Kombat title was Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, the site was crushed by incoming traffic as it was linked to by sites such as Kotaku and Gamespot.
While we fans do what we do for love of the fans and the games, it gets discouraging when we are not just unnoticed, but actively ignored by the publishers we are trying to reach out to. We don’t blame the folks at NetherRealm Studios, as they reach out to us as best they can. However, the impression we get is that they’re hamstrung by the policies you put into place, and we end up feeling left out when public press releases are blasted out to the big sites but we’re not seen as “good enough”. In addition, lack of timely information can lead to massive amounts of confusion and miscommunication. For example, in today’s announcement of new DLC for Injustice: Gods Among Us, fan sites were announcing Zatanna’s inclusion without being able to say when she would be available for purchase… information that would have been available had they had access to the actual press release. As a result, I know more than one longtime fan site webmaster has been considering hanging up their hat and leaving the community (and thus letting their fan communities wither and rot) because they don’t feel like the work they do for the fans is appreciated.
Here’s the thing: I’m not asking that the fan sites get preferential treatment over the big-name sites. As stated before, the big-name sites deserve the best stuff because they provide the widest audience. All I propose is that you give the fan sites back their seats at the table. At the very least, giving the fan sites access to press releases can generate buzz among the fan communities that will excite the base faster than on their own. Even minor exclusives would make the fans feel like their work has been worth it.
The big name sites are the major marketing tools, but the fan sites are your advocates. Please don’t alienate them.