Paul Holmes 15 Jan 2006 // 12:00AM GMT
Audio technology is nearly never mentioned in the videogame press. However, Dolby and The Hoffman Agency determined that “gamers” were an emerging target audience for the company’s surround sound solutions – which could enhance and make their game experiences more realistic. The Hoffman Agency conducted extensive outreach to the gaming press, working to educate them on audio technology and position Dolby as the industry leader. The Agency took Dolby from a standing start in the gaming press and, using a very targeted thought leadership approach, was successful in securing prominent coverage for the company in high-profile publications reaching the gaming audience.
Reviews and previews dominate coverage in the videogame press. Often, these pieces focus on an analysis of the game’s graphics and story line, with little or no mention of audio technology. Dolby Laboratories presented The Hoffman Agency with a challenge: Demonstrate how surround sound technology provides gamers with a key advantage in game play via the gaming press.
The press had little knowledge of audio technology in the context of gaming. This presented the Agency with a great opportunity: The team could take advantage of this “uncharted territory” by grasping the chance to educate the press on audio technology, thereby positioning Dolby as the leader of gaming audio.
To ramp up for this challenge, the Agency team entrenched itself in the gaming press, reading and learning the nuances of all the major publications. The team also decided to become gamers themselves – building a videogame system with surround sound audio in the office so that when pitching the press, they would really be able to credibly speak to the benefits of cutting-edge audio in games.
The team determined the top most influential publications amongst the gaming community and aimed to target them in their outreach, keeping the following objectives in mind throughout the campaign: secure significant coverage in target media, positioning Dolby as a leader in gaming audio, educate the press on the benefits of surround sound audio in games and leverage timely trends in the gaming industry to communicate Dolby messages.
Throughout the year, gamers had been eagerly seeking the latest “Halo 2” information. Yet, no publication had covered “Halo 2” from an audio angle, despite the fact that audio plays a central role in “Halo 2” game play. The team knew that the key to coverage was to help provide readers with fresh insider information on the popular game of the moment. For a sneak peek, the team tapped the game’s lead audio specialist from Bungie (the game’s creator), Marty O’Donnell. A fan of Dolby, O’Donnell had utilized Dolby’s technology in the making of “Halo 2.” The team targeted two top-tier game publications (Electronic Gaming Monthly and GameStar) and one professional audio publication (Mix) to offer a special preview of the game’s audio elements.
The team’s goal was to position Dolby as an innovator in audio and as a home theater resource among gamers by providing the press with education, background information and interviews with Jack Buser, Dolby’s manager of game developer relations. Since Dolby Digital 5.1 is optimized for the Xbox platform, the team targeted a premier Xbox-focused publication, Xbox Nation. The team also wanted to target an online game publication and pitched GameSpot, which was working to develop content for its upcoming hardware-focused Web site. Also fortuitous: both Xbox Nation and GameSpot are based in the same city as Dolby and could come to Dolby’s state-of-the-art facilities for meetings and tours.
The original “Halo” set the bar for audio in games – easily the most influential game for real time
multi-channel game play. “Halo 2” was going to have an even greater emphasis on sound, having players rely on sound cues when hunting enemies. Because of Dolby’s close working relationship with the “Halo 2” creators, the team could offer target reporters a behind-the-scenes look at how audio for this game was created, and how influential surround sound technology will be for gamers when playing “Halo 2.”
O’Donnell’s busy schedule leading up to the “Halo 2” release demanded quick scheduling on the part of the PR team. The team would often get notice of his schedule on the morning of a free day, quickly springing into motion to secure interviews within hours.
The team positioned surround sound equipment as the next “must-have” accessory for gamers’ systems. No longer are home theater systems used for just watching shows and movies: Gamers are looking to get the most out of their games and to obtain a real advantage with surround sound. Dolby offered target reporters an opportunity to give their readers an inside look into the company behind the brand. The team offered Dolby experts to share tips and tricks for easy setup, positioning speakers and buying systems on various budgets. The team invited target media to Dolby’s offices for tutorial sessions and demos of cutting-edge gaming audio. The team reminded its targets that, with the impending release of “Halo 2,” gamers should gear up now to experience its audio effects.
The team developed a backgrounder that was distributed to Xbox Nation and GameSpot, providing an overview of Dolby technologies, categories of home theater systems, the history of Dolby’s legacy in games, and guidelines for setting up a surround sound game center. As a result, the team met with Xbox Nation several months later to pitch and sketch out a possible feature article angle. The team began groundwork early in order to coordinate for publication in the issue which coincided with the release of “Halo 2,” the most anticipated issue of the year.
The team secured meetings between Xbox Nation and GameSpot reporters and Buser in-person at Dolby’s offices. The Dolby team also demonstrated games in surround sound for the publications, gave tutorial sessions on audio in gaming, and gave tours of Dolby’s museum, theater and games lab. The team also coordinated an on-site photo shoot of the games lab, theater and games group.
In Mix’s “First-Person Pseudo-Reality of ‘Halo 2,’” an article resulting from the team’s outreach, O’Donnell champions surround sound game play and Dolby’s technology; “Everything has been turned up to ‘11’ on ‘Halo 2.’ There’s more detail and more surround sound … It’s just more realistic all the way around … That’s an amazing accomplishment. I have to hand it to the guys at Microsoft and Dolby: They worked together and figured out how to do that with a chip.”
Coverage also appeared in Electronic Gaming Monthly in October 2004 and is expected to run in the February 2005 issue of GameStar.
The team met success with its second strategy as well. Xbox Nation ran a three-page spread in what is sure to be its top-selling issue of the year – its “Halo 2” edition. Titled “The Surround of Music,” the article discussed Dolby’s legacy in games and highlighted the company as “the world’s epicenter for progressive sound technology.” Key messages on Dolby’s innovation in audio were clearly stated. The article also featured a sidebar on “The three things you should know about setting up your Dolby Digital 5.1 system.” It included considerations and guidelines from background material on surround sound setup that the team provided.