Five Questions With... Aubrey Norris of SouthPeak Games

by: Ben Berry -
More On: Two Worlds II
With Two Worlds II fast approaching, we've seen a flurry of emails from our favorite PR person, Aubrey Norris of SouthPeak Games. She's so good, other PR folks who are not reviewing her games ask to be put on her distribution list so they can see the next bit of crazy that leaks out of her. When I wrote for a sports publication for a few years, I found you could learn a lot from/about someone by asking just 5 questions. So, today I took a minute today to write Aubrey those 5 questions. And she took the time to answer the questions (to the point of trying to file a workmans comp claim against me). Please feel free to follow me on twitter @techknowgn where you'll get a great read on some of my interactions with her, including the tweet we co-authored that suggested what it would be like if she was the PR for a cancer fighting organization. 
Gaming Nexus (GN): Two Worlds was not critically well-received. What's the biggest challenge to marketing the follow up to a game that didn't do so well in terms of user and press reviews? How do you overcome that challenge?

Aubrey Norris (AN): Well, I’d say first and foremost, you’ve got to have some humility about what you’re doing. Sequels are an opportunity for you to continue your franchise and put out a better product than you did the last time, regardless of whether or not the last entry was the GOTY or the most reviled game of its generation. Progress and evolution are constants, and we as an industry should always be striving to exceed our fans’ expectations. So – if people tell you that they didn’t like something about your game, accept it and change it in the next one if you get that chance, and be honest with your community that you realize what you did wrong and you’re working to change it.

Secondly, when your first game is not accepted well, go into the next one with a realistic expectation that you’ve got a lot to prove. Because of the stigma from the first, not everyone is going to be willing to support your game and promote the sh!t out of it, even after they’ve seen and played it. Don’t expect to get 30 magazine covers announcing your game and have people super hyped about it without having proven yourself. This is the part where you as a developer get to redeem your franchise, and you have to approach it with realistic expectations that people will be super cautious.

For the people that do want to support your franchise and want you to succeed, though, my rule of thumb is to always support them as much as you can. In general, fans and supporters are your lifeblood – you are working for them, not the other way around. :)

GN: Two Worlds II is already starting to see review scores about 25% higher than the original. What do you think the key improvements to the game are that players of the original game will notice immediately in Two Worlds II?

AN: To me the #1 thing is having that brand new engine, GRACE, that Reality Pump spent a few years developing. The environments are absolutely gorgeous and so many of the problems that plagued Two Worlds I on Xbox 360 especially are alleviated by this new tech. Also, having the team get the experience from Two Worlds I, which was their first console title developed ever I’m sure helped them learn some lessons about developing for consoles vs. the PC, which was their heritage.

Other than that, there was tons of feedback given by fans about what worked and didn’t work in Two Worlds I, and I think the team used that feedback to really flesh out a lot of the ideas they had but couldn’t execute in the original game. There’s so many things – armament sets you can bind to hotkeys, gems that can enhance your weapons and armor, the ability to change armor colours with dye, etc. There’s literally too much for me to write!

In fact, I think I have carpal tunnel just from thinking about writing about it all – can you uh, go ahead and shoot me over your address so I can submit the surgery bill to you? THIS IS YOUR FAULT, OBVIOUSLY! /beats you with a reed :P

(GN Note: I did not send her my address for the surgery bill. That’s sort of like inviting the vampire into your house, or saying Candyman into a mirror 5 times).

GN: The Sordahon videos have been a really enjoyable marketing campaign leading up to release of the game. Where did that idea come from, and is there a chance we'll see more of this, perhaps even after the games release?

AN: Lots of our ideas literally come from sitting around bullshitting and saying, “Fv*k it. Let’s DO IT!” Back when Two Worlds II was still Two Worlds: the Temptation, we had this Sordahon costume made that turned out to be supremely ridiculous with its puffy, cartoonish execution, and until then we had it adorning a mannequin in our office, not quite sure what the f*ck to do with it other than parade some poor bastard around in it at trade shows for (poops) and giggles. Oh, and abuse each other with the puffy mace. That was always good for some comedy.

Anyway, the office next to us is some kind of apartment rental company or something like that, staffed with chicks that I’m pretty sure are not “OF TEH VIDEOGAMES”. Every once in a while, one of us will put on a random costume and go out and bother them while they’re hanging out in the gazebo between the offices. One time, I put on a Ninjatown costume and literally just stood there next to them for 20 minutes for no reason. I’m pretty sure they were weirded out. One day they even managed to come out with a “So....what exactly do y’all DO over there??” question to one of us. So based on our joyful annoyance of our neighbours, we decided that the concept of a game character doing stupid sh!t in real life is pretty awesome, and we love making fun of ourselves, so why not combine both into a video series for great justice? Thus, Sordahon’s Journey was born.

We found an excellent LA-based comedian, Ian Bagg, that we’d worked with before at the Gamestop Store Managers’ show. There, we had him present our games to the managers and pretty much rip on them all for an hour, which was excellent comedy. So, we’ve been working with him and his friends on this video series and they’ve done an excellent job and really got what we were going for. :)

GN: With new games dropping all the time, what sort of process do you go through to find ways that will keep Two Worlds II at the forefront of people’s minds as the time to purchase it approaches?

AN: I think it’s all about understanding what your strengths are – in terms of the game itself and in terms of what you can do with it. There are things about Two Worlds II that are truly unique in terms of game mechanics, so we’ve really tried to highlight those in order to capture people’s interest. There’s also summonable Death Grasshoppers in this g0d damn game, and who can argue with that? I mean really. :| Or OR – baboons that throw their own sh!t at you. REALLY?! That’s awesome, come on.

Speaking of awesome, it’s also awesome that I don’t have to keep my insanity under wraps – we’re small and don’t approach PR/Marketing/whatever from the perspective of “Well, this is how it’s been done for the past 15 years and we’re sticking to it.” There’s something to be said for being willing to be yourself and do things the way that feels right to you, whether or not they stick to the industry-accepted “way things are done”. Doing things a certain way because everyone else does it that way or because it’s “PROFESSIONAL” is boring. And we’re making videogames here, not curing cancer. We should be having fun with what we do. I think that because we are having fun with what we do and being ourselves, it really sets us apart from the rest of the pack and people can have fun right along with us, which is the greatest feeling. :) OH GOD IM CRYING NOW! Hold me. QQ

GN: Did you invent the internet meme, or are you just the singular master of its usage?

AN: Well, I am a Norris. We are actually a people made of memes and roundhouse kicks. If you were to cut me open, you’d actually just find a timeline of memes and maybe the “Y U NO” guy. #Truth