Box Score: Taking the message to the core

Box Score is a weekly column that offers a look at sports games and the athletic side of the industry from the perspective of veteran reviewer and sports fan Richard Grisham.

At first, I thought it was personal.

I’d worked hard establishing my credentials with various teams from EA Sports, convincing them I wasn’t some random guy with a blog that three people read. I’d sent along links to my (at the time brand-new) Box Score column here at GamesRadar, and after a series of phone calls and emails had worked my way into some one-on-one, hands-on previews with their biggest sports games this year. I recorded interviews, took voluminous notes, asked Twitter followers for questions, and put together an arsenal of information to release to a curious public about NCAA, Madden, FIFA, NHL, and other big-time sports titles.

Then, EA went ahead and did their own webcast going over everything I’d put together (and more), releasing all of it several hours before the embargoes were up.

I’d been trumped.

Of course, it wasn’t personal. I’m just obsessive-compulsive and have a tendency to think that way even though it’s clearly not the case. After all, I’m just one of many media types that had been granted early access to key information, and my series of previews and podcasts about these games and the people who make them had different angles. However, the most crucial information gamers care about – feature, function, and improvement – was now delivered first by the guys actually making the game.

My, how times have changed. It wasn’t that long ago that a sports game’s marketing team would have to fight and claw to get preview coverage of their upcoming title in the industry’s biggest magazines or on the front pages of top websites. Even when they were successful, tight word count constraints inevitably meant that precious little information would make it out to the market in the weeks and months leading up to the release. Often, key selling points would vanish onto the virtual cutting room floor.

Not anymore.

The rise of social media and prevalence of web-based content has empowered sports game makers to become their own authority on delivering exhaustive preview content. Virtually nonexistent two years ago, multi-hour weekly webcasts produced and hosted by development teams now go into the most intimate details about every nook and cranny of a game as the launch date approaches, generating conversations among the communities while being promoted via Twitter and Facebook.

Realizing this, the development teams have moved quickly to strengthen their hands even more. Thanks to embargoes, the makers themselves now become the first to deliver news about new game modes and features. In a radical shift, they now present it in a way that is all-encompassing. Instead of so-called “sizzle reels” full of quick hits, marketing bullet points, and catchphrases, the leaders of the group stand in front of their biggest fans breaking down the nuances of the game to a level of detail which few, if any, mainstream outlets could ever dedicate similar space.

“Doing those presentations really allow us to speak directly to our fans and give them the details,” says Sean Ramjagsingh, a Producer on NHL 13 and one of the hosts of his game’s most recent shows. “We get feedback from our fans all year round and what we’re doing year in year out addresses a lot of that feedback. So for us it takes time to go through the details of why we did things and why it’s important to the game. I think it gives them a better level of depth as opposed to high-level surface messaging. It gives them more insight to the decisions that we had to make and why it’s important that we made them for the product moving forward.”