“It’s an incredible feeling to work on products that really touch people’s hearts” Maxim Samoylenko, video game communications and marketing expert, formerly at Blizzard and MY.GAMES

Maxim Samoylenko’s career is straight out of a movie — the kind where the first words out of your mouth after leaving the theater would be: “Things like that don’t happen in real life.” He fell in love with Diablo as a schoolboy, only to later become the head of PR for his favorite franchise at Blizzard Entertainment. How did Maxim’s journey lead him to joining the Diablo team, what did their legendary launches look like from the inside, and what can small indie studios do to capture attention? It’s all in our interview.  

“I read gaming magazines from cover to cover and memorized the authors’ surnames by heart” 

— Do you remember how you came to really love gaming? 

I have my older brother to thank for sparking my interest in gaming. Growing up, we shared a bedroom, and I’d often pick up on his interestsstarting with music, and then eventually gaming. During the early ’90s, we had a pirate Dendy console — I played Super Contra and other classic Nintendo games. And then my brother got a computer and installed Doom 2 when it came out in 1994. As a very young kid, I couldn’t tear my eyes away as he was testing it out. We only had a monochrome monitor, so for years I thought the game was in black and white. 

Discovering Doom 2 turned my world upside down. It made me realize just how serious, interesting, and immersive games could really be. I began studying games, delving into anthologies, and soaking up all I could from all sorts of genres. It’s funny how my brother’s tastes evolved in such a different direction from mine. He loved strategy and simulators, whereas I really liked first-person games. I’m still heavily into classic shooters and games from id Software. 

Something happened in 1998 that proved to be a huge influence on me. The cult stealth action game Thief: The Dark Project was released. At that point, everyone was under the impression that first-person games had to be about shooting and action-packed dynamics, but in Thief: The Dark Project, it was the opposite. You play as a thief, and your task is to lurk in the shadows, avoiding guards and conflicts, not making a sound. That showed me how developers can create huge, detailed worlds for people to immerse themselves in. Moreover, they can exist without youthere was a complete simulation of a game world that doesn’t revolve around the player. That’s what pushed me to get into modding I built levels and engaged with the community. Some of my closest friends are people I met on the Thief: The Dark Project forum.  

One of your absolute favorite games is Diablo. Did you fall in love with that one as a teenager too? 

Diablo came out in 1996 I was ten then. A classmate introduced me to the game. He was into gaming too we used to read various magazines together and share what we’d found out. One day, my friend said he’d gotten a disk with a really interesting game about a small town where something terrible had happened and demons and monsters had come pouring out of the basement of the local church. Diablo is very dark and gory, and I really shouldn’t have been playing such a brutal, mature game. But it was too late for that my interest was piqued, so I tested it out when I got home. 

That concept of procedurally generated levels is what impressed me most about Diablo apart from the atmosphere and design. Every time you go down into a dungeon, you see new labyrinths, monsters, and weaponry. I was thrilled by how I could complete the game multiple times and encounter something new in each playthrough. It sparked my lifelong love of elements of chance in games they make for unique adventures that can never be repeated. That’s how I became an avid fan of Diablo and completed the game. The franchise still has a place in my heart to this day. 

You mentioned that you dreamed of becoming a gaming journalist as a kid—it sounded like the perfect job for you. Can you tell us what drew you in that direction? 

Growing up, I had a clear affinity for the Russian language and literature. Aside from gaming, I spent a lot of time reading. And as a schoolboy, I tried my hand at writing essays, stories, and so on. This was the mid-’90s, before the Internet had properly reached Russia it was only just starting to appear. We pored over gaming magazines for info, and it felt super cool. You go to the stall, and there on the same shelf as journals about business and politics you can see your favorite gaming mags. As a young kid, I got the impression that I was onto something serious more than “just games,” as my parents would say. 

Buying all those magazines and exchanging them with my friends, I started thinking that working in gaming journalism would be unbelievably cool. You don’t just play games — you actually make money from doing it. I remember just how enthralled I was — how I’d read publications from cover to cover and memorize the authors’ surnames by heart. To me, they were real celebrities people I’d love to meet and talk to. I wrote articles about my favorite games purely for myself, since I had no means of getting them published anywhere. The rise of the Internet made things easier it opened the door for anybody to get in direct contact with publications. 

That must be how you started out working for your first publication PC Gamer. Did you just drop them an email? 

The whole story sounds like a total miracle. I read magazines and wrote letters to their editors a few of them even got published. In the mid-2000s, a Russian version of the magazine PC Gamer appeared. It was in a league of its own compared to everything I’d read before. The majority of Russian authors wrote about games in a utilitarian or overly technical manner they broke down projects into their separate parts and graded them on their graphics, music, and sound. Discovering PC Gamer made me realize that you can analyze games in a totally different way, by treating them like pieces of art or examples of pop culture. 

As a college student, I was an avid reader of PC Gamer. I remember reading a scathing review of Quake 4 when I was in my third year the author tore the game to shreds. I was hardly the biggest fan of the game myself, but I didn’t think it was that bad. The review got under my skin, so I decided to write an email to the author to explain how fundamentally wrong they were. One evening, I sent my email, without any hope of actually getting a response. 

The next day, I heard from Mikhail Beskakotov, the editor-in-chief. Mikhail thought my email was awesome, and said he’d like to offer me the opportunity to write for PC Gamer. I was stunned, but obviously I said yes. And so, I began to translate texts for the magazine as well as writing my own reviews, interviews, and news. That’s how my career in gaming journalism got started. 

How did your expectations of your dream profession compare with the reality of working for a magazine? 

My expectations certainly didn’t match up with reality. As a schoolboy, I saw gaming magazines with their glossy paper and quality printing, and assumed it was a rich, booming business. In my imagination, they were headquartered in skyscrapers with fifty professionals working in every office. Over time, I discovered that my naive childhood fantasies couldn’t be further from the truth. 

It was often the case that the top Russian publications only had a team of five people behind them. Most people involved were freelancers, and the head office could well be the editor-in-chief’s apartment. It was all very haphazard and hinged on enthusiasm alone. The authors weren’t always fully engaged with the products they were writing about, and heading to a press tour or a big convention was an expenditure you had to fight for. I did occasionally visit some events, but pretty rarely. 

It goes without saying that there’s not a lot of money to be made in gaming journalism the rates are very modest. It didn’t take me long to realize that, aside from enjoying my job, I also wanted to eat well and pay my bills. And unless you become an editor-in-chief or a publisher, that’s a big ask. I saw my freelance colleagues writing for five different publications at once and frantically trying to meet all their deadlines. That’s the volume of work you need to take on if you want to earn enough to feed your family. 

It became clear to me that video game journalism is a job for your portfolio and your own personal fulfilment. Although, as a student, I did make some money, and my work was published in print. And that’s fantastic, if you ask me. 

“I wanted to work with the people who made games, not write articles about them” 

That was when you decided to move on from a typical career in game journalism and turn your attention to game dev companies. How did that happen?

After PC Gamer, I worked for a few other publications, including a gig as an editor at Kanobu, an online pop culture magazine. I continued doing some writing, but my main focus was on fostering connections with game companies, process management, putting teams together, and setting assignments for journalists. I knew that I liked the gaming industry, but didn’t see journalism as a long-term career path. I wanted to work with the people who made games, not write articles about them. 

A wise man once said that all good journalists dream of becoming developers. I think that, ever since my school days when I was into modding, I’d wanted to get closer to the process of creating games. I had no musical or artistic talent to speak of, but my journalistic experience helped me get a handle on the world of PR and marketing. I decided to give it a go, and that sparked a new and lengthy stage in my career. 

— Even though you didn’t study public relations, that’s the sphere where you started making a name for yourself — first at Softclub, then at Mail.ru. How did you manage that? 

 — I’m very grateful to my colleagues at Softclub for trusting me and deciding to hire someone without PR experience. The things I learned there helped me quickly find my feet. A good publicist knows what journalists need, which is much easier when you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. I soon got sucked into PR and realized right off the bat that this is what I wanted to do. Working in PR gave me the opportunity to work with developers directly. We could talk over our plans and strategies, as well as the messages we needed to convey to journalists. 

When I worked at Softclub, I was fortunate to organize and attend some memorable press events, such as the presentation of Total War: Rome II organized by SEGA at the set of the Rome TV show (2013).

I’m very grateful to Softclub for the wonderful experience. We worked with Western publishers, and I accumulated a huge database of contacts through interacting with their marketing and PR departments. The more I understood how it all worked, the more I wanted to break out of the Russian market. But back then, I had no idea how to make that transition. 

Softclub worked with many great international partners, such as Warner Bros. Games. One of their business summits took place in Warner Bros. Studios in LA in 2015.

— How did you end up at Mail.ru? 

— I worked at Softclub for a long time and rose through the ranks, starting as a PR manager and finishing as the head of marketing communications. An important task for any marketing specialist is working with advertising placements and data analysis. I found I was interested in delving deeper into all that stuff — finding out why companies invest budgets in advertising platforms and what results they achieve. 

Igromir 2015

I got stuck into the data and soon realized that, without direct access to the product, it’s hard to gauge how effective your actions are. I could see the ad revenue and how many people had clicked on the banner, but that was the extent of my knowledge. Whether people bought the game from the store afterwards was anybody’s guess. Digital sales conversion was not an option — companies were placing their products on Steam themselves and didn’t need an agency to do that. 

I realized that if I wanted to develop in marketing, that would mean working with the product directly in order to oversee the process to the very end and understand whether it works or not. So I moved to the role of head of product marketing at Mail.ru’s gaming division for the CIS markets. That’s where I fully immersed myself in figures and analytics. I still think back to that period with a smile — I learned a great deal. 

Mail.ru Group used to have awesome offices near Moscow city center. A big hall on the ground floor was constantly used for various activities, including esports events such as Warface Open Cup, and various athletic activities for employees and guests (2016).

“I just couldn’t turn down the opportunity to work for the company behind Diablo” 

— Perhaps one of the most iconic turns in your career was starting work at Blizzard’s European office in France as the head of PR for Diablo and Overwatch. How did you get your position as a PR manager at Blizzard? 

Blizzard isn’t a company known for slacking off. It was a big player back in the ’90s, and has only grown since then. In the 2000s, the team had grown so large that they opened a massive publishing hub in Versailles.  Blizzard had started to not only develop, but also publish their own games. People are still surprised to hear that a few hundred people worked at the European office, but few of them were directly involved in development. That’s the size of a major AAA studio, but Blizzard’s Versaille office only housed marketing staff, localization, legal, customer support, and other support functions. Most companies outsource those roles, but Blizzard preferred to keep things in-house. 

There came a time when the European team were faced with so many tasks that they opened a few vacancies for heads of PR for various franchises. I was told about the opportunity and encouraged to apply, so I went ahead and did just that. Frankly, I didn’t get my hopes up. I didn’t think my application would stand up against the competition from the huge number of applicants from Europe who had more relevant experience. Still, I gave it a shot anyway and made it to the last round. The company invited me to their European office for my final interview. 

— How did it go? 

This was back in 2016. I remember booking two days off work and asking my girlfriend to come with me to Versailles. I saw the Blizzard office for the first time and spent the whole day being interviewed — I had an interview with various members of the team that lasted for five hours.  

My experience proved to be relevant thanks to the huge amount of different products I’d worked on at Softclub, where we sometimes had launches every two weeks. That looked good on my resume. My experience at Mail.ru was also useful in terms of marketing and team management.  

Some photos from Paris that I took during my trip to France for the final round of interviews with Blizzard Europe (2016)

Making up my mind to move abroad was an important life decision. Especially as it was to France, where I had never been before and didn’t speak the language. It wasn’t easy, but I understood that it was the next step in my professional development. I just couldn’t turn down the opportunity to work for the company behind Diablo, a product I’d loved so much since I was a kid. 

How did it feel to no longer be just a Diablo player, but a part of the Blizzard team, working on your favorite game?  

— It felt great. There were no developers at the European office, so I couldn’t walk up to anybody and discuss Diablo’s design. But it was an incredible feeling all the same. Small as it may be, Versailles is a very pleasant town and only half an hour away from Paris. It wasn’t long before I started finding myself in situations where people treated me better after finding out about my job at Blizzard. The French don’t rent out apartments to just anyone, but when our middle-aged landlord heard what I do for a living, his face immediately lit up. It transpired that he’d played World of Warcraft for years, and his son played Overwatch. 

Blizzard Europe’s office lobby (2017)

I could walk down the street in my branded hoodie, and people would come up to me and ask if I worked at Blizzard. It was nice to feel like I’d become a part of something very important. This is a company that makes products for a huge number of people all over the world, so it comes with a lot of responsibility. The bar was as high as it gets, since there could be no excuse for disappointing so many people with our work. 

— There came a point when your tasks switched focus to Overwatch. Why was that? 

— I’d loved Diablo since I was a kid, so the idea of working on that game in particular appealed to me. I started work at the end of January, 2017 — a few months before the release of Diablo III: Rise of the Necromancer. I dived into the process head-first, got to know the global team, and we launched that DLC in Europe. Afterwards, the company did some internal reorganization. Work on Diablo was handed to another team, and I then started to focus exclusively on Overwatch.

My first BlizzCon (2017)

I don’t have any regrets about that. At that time, only about a year had passed since we’d launched Overwatch, and literally everybody was talking about it — it was the most successful and fastest-growing game in the world. Even within the company, there had been a general feeling for many years that the World of Warcraft team were the top dogs — they were behind Blizzard’s main game. But by that point, in my subjective opinion, Overwatch had become such a hit that the roles had shifted. The team was absolutely phenomenal, so I look back on my time working on that game very fondly. 

“Despite a certain stigma surrounding video games, it’s an industry that does a lot of good” 

Working for Blizzard must have been very different from anything you’d seen at Softclub or Mail.ru. How long did it take you to adapt after getting hired for such a coveted post? 

— Mail.ru was very different from Softclub, and Blizzard is absolutely nothing like Mail.ru. There was a time when I was surprised to discover that, if I wanted to find out how effectively our campaign was luring returning players back to the game, that data either didn’t exist or it was very tricky to obtain. The team I worked closely with didn’t study daily traffic indicators, instead prioritizing other tasks. I later realized that analytics were in fact being carried out, just by separate people who didn’t share that data with other units unless you explicitly asked for it.

Blizzard had a huge presence at Gamescom 2017 – this was my first Gamescom that I worked on as an event organizer (as opposed to a visitor).

On the other hand, I woke up every morning with the understanding that I was doing something important for a lot of people. We constantly received messages from players — some childlike and naive, but others mature and touching. It could be a note of gratitude from a newlywed couple: “I met my wife playing World of Warcraft. We got married a month ago. Thank you so much!” Or a story from a player battling a serious illness, who wrote that one of the few things that brought him happiness was playing Overwatch with his sister and friends. 

Moments like that make you realize that, despite a certain stigma surrounding video games, it’s an industry that does a lot of good. I could walk down the street, randomly turn my head, and see somebody playing Overwatch through the window. It’s an incredible feeling to work on products that really touch people’s hearts. 

— What differences did you notice as an office worker? 

The most obvious difference is in how processes are organized. In France, the government keeps a strict watch to ensure that companies don’t overwork their employees. In Russia, I was in the habit of sitting at my desk until late and I sometimes had to work during weekends or holidays if something went wrong or if a big launch was coming up. But in Versailles, I would be the last person to leave the office at 7 PM, seeing nothing but dark corridors and nobody but the security guard outside the building. 

I had a pretty high-ranking position, so my contract permitted me to conduct business outside of working hours. As compensation, I was provided with five weeks of vacation time and nine additional days off per year. But most employees aren’t even allowed to open their work email on their days off — the company gets punished for that. That’s the French government’s way of protecting employees from burnout, which is regarded as harmful to families and society. 

Streets of Versailles

There’s a stereotype about French people being lazy and bad workers. But everybody I interacted with was professional and highly productive. Time constraints really discipline employees. Management sets realistic tasks and thinks carefully before setting a tight deadline. It’s a contentious topic—some people see it as a barrier to doing business effectively. But from an employee’s point of view, it’s definitely a plus. Out of the three countries where I’ve lived and worked, France has the happiest people with the best work-life balance. 

— How about general adaptation — do you remember any unfamiliar situations? 

France won me over as soon as I arrived. It wasn’t my first time in Europe, but visiting somewhere as a tourist is completely different from forging a new life for yourself there. I had some tricky situations — hunting for an apartment was one of them. I worked with a relocation agency that took me to local apartments, and some of them were utter pigsties. That was when I realized the importance of choosing a place carefully — you sign a contract, and then it turns out that the house comes with complimentary rats included. 

Versailles architecture 

My main issue, naturally, was the language barrier. I didn’t speak French, and I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t learn it even after five years of living in France. At the very beginning, I didn’t understand a single word, so the relocation agency and my colleagues had to help me call the bank. Some people understand English but can’t say anything, and workers at government institutions are not permitted to speak to you in any language other than French unless you’re lucky. This proved so demotivating that I would put off even the simplest of errands until the last moment, dreading the inevitable game of charades it would entail. 

All in all, I enjoyed living in Versailles. It’s no village, but it’s not a metropolis either. As someone who was born and raised in Moscow, I was aware of how stressful it can be there at times — there are too many people, and you’re always stuck in traffic. There, however, you’re just half an hour away from Paris but still feel like you’re part of a small community, and you can reach any part of the city within fifteen minutes. I was particularly blown away by all the beauty that surrounded me. I’ve always been amazed by the European sense of taste — starting from the way people dress, all the way up to the architecture.  

If I found myself feeling stressed out at work, an hour’s stroll around Versailles soon brought me back to my senses. Seeing happy, content, good-looking people around you is an instant mood-booster. What’s more, I lived five minutes away from the Palace of Versailles, one of the most beautiful places the world has to offer. Walking past it every day is a privilege that few can afford. I look back on my time working in France very fondly. It was a really positive and pleasant period of my life. 

Palace of Versailles

— In 2021, you were appointed as a senior PR manager at the American office and you started working on Diablo again. How did that come about?

— When I started out at the European office, I knew that my long-term professional ambition was to move to Irvine and work at Blizzard’s head office. I still wanted to be surrounded by people who made games with their own hands, to have conversations with them over coffee or lunch. There was no game development going on in Blizzard Europe, so my sights were set on the USA. Every time I went to Irvine on work trips, I knew that was where I wanted to be — right in the thick of it. 

Photos from my first visit to Blizzard’s HQ in Irvine (2017)

When the vacancy opened up for a senior PR manager for Diablo at the American office, I had to apply and interview for it just like any external candidate. The process was the same as it was the first time, except this time I didn’t fly to Irvine for my final interview. Coronavirus had hit. I ended up receiving a job offer in 2020, but I only officially switched my position from the European office to the American one in February of 2021. 

— How did your second relocation, this time to America, go? 

— The company offered to relocate me from France to California, but emigrating to the USA is a long and arduous process. I had to gather all the necessary paperwork and apply for an intracompany transfer visa. The problem was that, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, government agencies were working either at half capacity or not at all. The American embassy in France was no exception. 

Blizzard’s HQ in Irvine (2017)

After I’d gotten all my documents together, I opened the embassy’s website and saw that the next available interview date was in exactly one year. To be honest, I didn’t know what to do at that point. I was worried that the company wouldn’t wait for me for that long. Fortunately, we came to a compromise — they let me work remotely and move after I’d received a visa. I decided for myself that I was going to work in the Pacific time zone, even though nobody had asked me to do it. I simply understood that I couldn’t perform my tasks professionally if I wasn’t synchronized with the team in California.

Blizzard’s HQ in Irvine (2017)

For that entire year while I was waiting for my visa interview date, I started working at 6 PM and finished at 4 AM. I wouldn’t recommend that schedule to anybody — it made having a social life impossible. My coworkers would sometimes invite me to hang out at a bar in the evening, but I was just starting my work day. It was particularly tough in winter — you fall asleep when it’s dark, and you wake up with half of the daytime already behind you. It’s not all bad, though — it’s physically impossible to sleep in and be late for work. And to my surprise, it was also easier to sort out day-to-day tasks — after waking up, I had six hours to spare before starting work, which gave me time to go to the bank or the store. But those are all the positives I can think of. When I got back to an ordinary schedule, I realized how nice it is to work at a normal time. 

“We wanted people to talk about Diablo IV in the same way you’d mention a new Marvel movie or the latest chart-topper” 

— Tell us about one of the most memorable situations you’ve encountered at work — any iconic launch, or perhaps a major blunder that you handled like a pro? 

— Luckily for me, I started my job at the American office when new releases in the Diablo franchise started coming out one after another. There was an understanding within the team that a huge number of people still played Diablo III, even ten years after its launch. It wasn’t intended to be a full-scale live service game, but it was done so well that it proved immortal. Even so, the franchise hadn’t had a major release in a very long time, and fans were waiting for a new game. The team was well aware of that — we knew that we weren’t keeping up with players’ expectations. 

When I started working in California, I saw just how inspired everybody at the company was. We were working on the launch of three Diablo titles at once — Diablo II: Resurrected, Diablo Immortal, and Diablo IV. It was a new era in the history of the franchise. We knew that, if we could pull it off, we’d make an enormous number of people happy.

Every employee who worked on launching a Diablo game in recent years received a memorable coin. I’m lucky to have launched 3 games 

I was able to work on each of the projects — I launched three games in the space of three years. Diablo II: Resurrected stirred up a great deal of nostalgia for me. I grew up playing that game, and here I was working on the remaster with the product team. They perfectly understood what made Diablo II such a cult hit, and they knew just what to do when working on the remastered version. Announcing that game was a real pleasure. The feedback we got from the community was very positive. 

But Diablo Immortal turned out to be a very complicated product. A lot of people remember how badly the first announcement at BlizzCon 2018 flopped. When I started working on Diablo Immortal, the press wrote about the game with irony and skepticism, and our main audience started hating on the product en masse. The game’s announcement couldn’t have gone worse, and so I was tasked with fixing this product’s bad press. 

— What was the reaction like when the long-awaited Diablo IV finally came out? 

— Announcing Diablo IV was the culmination of everything that had come before — it was the largest and most anticipated game I’d ever worked on. The background for this game was different, but we still had to contend with serious levels of distrust. Players weren’t sure how well the game would turn out, since the team behind Diablo IV wasn’t the same as that for Diablo III. Blizzard’s audience is always very meticulous when it comes to studying new games and is often skeptical towards them. We had to prove that we knew what we were doing. 

Diablo IV launch team photo; eagle eyed observers can try to spot me (2023)

We promised to announce the release date at the Game Awards in 2022. It was a vital and very successful step that I enjoy looking back on. We didn’t want to just announce the date and show the trailer. We wanted to launch pre-order sales right away. We had to convince players that the game was so awesome that it was worth buying in advance. We prepared a big hands-on experience for press and creators from all over the world. We invited people over and gave them early access for one week to explore the product and talk to the developers. We lifted our embargo on previews and interviews the day before the Game Awards, and enthusiastic articles came pouring in. Nobody got any work done at the office that day — all we did was take screenshots of headlines and quotes. The developers in our office chats were misty-eyed with happiness. Getting such positive public feedback after working on the game for several years was priceless. 

Diablo IV community event in Cologne, Germany (2023)

Our announcement of the release date proved extremely effective. We wanted to make sure everyone was talking about Diablo IV, so our marketing team did a bunch of cool things, including partnering with the singer Halsey. One of our tasks for the launch was to break into mainstream media. Diablo is a franchise with history and big potential. We wanted people to talk about Diablo IV in the same way you’d mention a new Marvel movie or the latest chart-topper. Yet all the partners we considered were people who knew about Diablo, had played it, or are doing so now. It’s important to us that people believe in our product and are happy to become a part of it. As a result, everything worked out great — the pre-order statistics spoke for themselves. We’d won the audience’s trust.  

A Diablo IV panel on the main stage at BlizzCon 2023

“Everything the Blizzard team does or says is examined in microscopic detail”

— You said that your work is “more like communications work than clear-cut PR.” Which communication channels have you used for promotion, and which ones are worth keeping an eye on these days?

— My work in the Diablo team can be split into two parts. The first was classic, traditional PR work: talking to the press and content creators, either directly or via agencies and regional teams. And the second part was working with teams inside the company and coordinating our content. I interacted with community management, content creators, and the social media team. It was of utmost importance not to contradict one another. We had to maintain the same tone of voice and transmit consistent information. You can’t say one thing on social media and another thing to the press. My job was all about communicating with all the teams in order to craft a unified strategy for reaching out to our audience.  

As far as the importance of communication channels goes, I’m a firm believer that every part plays a vital role — think of it as a big media orchestra. It isn’t possible, for example, to separate PR from community work. It’s one big communications team where everybody is in constant contact with each other. Sometimes, people submit questions to tech support that concern the entire communications team, such as why an item description on the website doesn’t match the one shown in-game. You can’t respond with the first thing that comes into your head, because there’s a high chance that the player will get their answer from Blizzard and post it online. That’s why it’s so important to first reach out to me, the community team, and the product team in order to give a clear and concise answer.

The Blizzard team has always been very close to its audience and players. A huge number of creators make content about Blizzard’s franchises on YouTube and Twitch. Working with such people has always been very important for the company. Blizzard invites them to events and private content showings to get honest feedback and show them that they’re making the game together and for the players. Moreover, in recent years, the press has started to post a lot of articles about the community’s feelings towards games. That’s especially true when it comes to service games that change every year. Journalists don’t have the time to follow a game constantly, so they post players’ reviews. That’s an interesting context as well, and one which PR professionals need to get acquainted with these days. 

— Working with bloggers and streamers is one of the most effective promotion strategies. How did you interact with them during your time at Blizzard?

Bloggers and content creators come in all flavors. Some of them make content about a wide range of games, and others focus on one franchise in particular, such as World of Warcraft. The format will be different on YouTube, Twitch, or TikTok. You need a bespoke approach for each creator. Historically, it has been very important for the company to work with creators who make content about Blizzard games specifically, because that’s what core players watch. 

Rhykker, a blogger who makes Diablo content, might not have as big an audience as the mega-popular Dr Disrespect, but the people who watch his videos about Diablo every day trust his opinion. Content like that works not only to attract new players, but also to bring back former users. People might quit playing for years, and then watch a clip from Rhykker and download Diablo IV. Engaging with that audience is crucial. 

Companies allocate huge budgets to working with streamers and creators. Getting someone to make content for free is always a delicate task. Blizzard is one of the few companies that can afford not to actively invest in that area. Their attention is always heavily focused on their games. Everything the Blizzard team does or says is examined in microscopic detail, without any further promotion. We didn’t need to convince players that our games were interesting. Quite the opposite, in fact — there are always so many opinions and public discussions to tap into. 

— What should creators do to get game dev companies to notice them and reach out to collaborate? 

— Whether you make YouTube videos or podcasts, the kind of content you make isn’t the most important factor. What matters is that you speak about the game in a smooth and convincing manner. If your thoughts could potentially be useful to players or the devs, then all you need to do is grow your audience just a little, and you’ll get noticed. One time, our community manager from the Overwatch team came across a content creator from the UK. He had a relatively small audience of a few thousand people. My colleague watched his YouTube videos and saw that this guy understood the game, knew what he was talking about, and made quality content. We got in touch with him and proposed staying in contact to answer his questions and give him key codes for digital content to use in his videos. Nowadays, that creator’s audience has grown to hundreds of thousands and he’s one of the top global creators. 

In my experience, if you like a particular game and company and you can see yourself in the content creation sphere, just give it a shot. You don’t have to draw in a huge audience right away. It’s better to focus on the quality of what you’re doing. If your thoughts go against the grain and you provide interesting analysis, you’re bound to turn heads. That doesn’t mean that the team will immediately start inviting you to events, but at least you’ll be on their radar. 

That might be a good approach for those who play live service games like Overwatch or World of Warcraft. You’ll have several years while the game is alive and developing — it’s a long-term product. For channels that feature a variety of games, the approach is different. But in any case, quality should always remain the top priority. 

— What sets apart the PR strategies of these big, popular projects from major developers that the whole world seems to know about? What problems fade away, and which difficulties come to light? 

The plus side is that there’s no need to get the audience interested in the game. It’s the opposite of when you’re calling different journalists in an attempt to get at least someone to write about you. Working on Diablo and Overwatch, that’s not an issue. But that doesn’t mean it’s not challenging: big-name companies attract attention from a wider audience than just their core player base. They might have different opinions about the game or the company, including extremely negative ones. 

Another task is working with the business press. For the Diablo IV launch, I collaborated with publications as prestigious as The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Esquire. It’s highly likely that professional journalists from media outlets like that will be interested in covering Blizzard, but they won’t be satisfied with simply publishing an article about the game. They need a broader story about the business to pique the interest of their readership, which may include people who don’t play games at all or only do so extremely rarely. That’s precisely why the bulk of the material could be a dramatic story that attracts a wide audience. 

Some of the Blizzard’s games coverage in newspapers and magazines that I contributed to

If you’re a PR specialist tasked with getting published in top-tier publications, it’s important to understand that they won’t shy away from asking difficult questions and bringing up negative points. The most simple and effective method for them is to write material about controversial events in the company’s history, scandals, or legal disputes. Much of my work was dedicated to media training and prepping speakers for tough interviews like that.  

If you work for a small studio, your main challenge is making your voice heard over the deafening information noise and winning journalists’ attention. But if you can manage that and your company has not yet had time to mess up, then any publications will most likely be focused on the actual game rather than dubious moments in the studio’s history.  

— Let’s talk about developers who are currently preparing to launch their new projects and have yet to gather an audience as big as Diablo’s, for example. What should PR departments and marketing teams do to catch the audience’s attention and make a name for themselves in the digital sphere?

— In some respects, times are tough at the moment, but in others, there’s a lot of opportunities to be had. For a long time, the industry has existed in a context where there are a lot of games. Breaking through the thick layer of content that’s already out there is no easy task. Attracting the attention of the press is a mammoth task, so I would advise very small companies to work with agencies. They already have the necessary contacts, so it’s easier to get noticed through them. 

As far as working with content creators is concerned, that’s not so simple either. We’re talking about people who work a hell of a lot — they don’t sleep at night, recording and editing for hours on end. If you’re approaching a big name creator, your product needs to interest them enough to justify dedicating time to it instead of a major title. And that takes either a hefty budget or connections and contacts. 

An extra challenge is convincing people to switch their attention from the established game services that have garnered a massive audience of players over the past ten years. People have been playing Fortnite, Call of Duty, GTA Online, and Destiny for years. Not only are the developers constantly releasing new content for these games, but all your friends are there too. In these games, you can talk, meet up, and get to know people. If your project is small, it’s very difficult to tear the audience away from all those games. 

— So, what options are there? 

Right now, a lot of people are getting the feeling that the big name AAA industry is stagnating — we aren’t seeing many new mechanics or ideas. Gamers and the press are paying more attention to the indie scene and small teams than ever before. I come across games being made by one person or a small group of five people every day. I read the description and think, “Woah, that’s cool!” The audience is sick of playing the same games over and over. They want new content, and that’s what the indie scene provides. 

Publications see this demand and are happy to shine a spotlight on fresh, innovative games from small studios. Geoff Keighley, a Canadian video game journalist who organizes the Game Awards and a lot of other events, provides venues and opportunities for indie teams to announce and present their games. It would’ve been hard to imagine a buzz like this around the indie scene ten years ago, but now it’s a reality — it’s getting a lot of attention. 

Small studios have the ability to communicate with their players directly. It’s great when the press are writing about you, but today you can work directly with Steam, launch an early-access game, and round up a small core of players. If you manage to hook them, they’ll spread the word about your game by themselves because they like it. And that can create a solid foundation to getting noticed by the press. You can climb up from the very bottom of the ladder. So, no matter how hard it may be, new developers have a lot of opportunities nowadays.