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Guides to the Games Industry: Interview with Khai Trung Le from PocketGamer.biz

It’s time to bring another games business outlet in the spotlight! As part of our short article series on games B2B media, we are portraying major B2B outlets that are essential readings in the industry. Next up is PocketGamer.biz with their editor Khai Trung Le, who gives valuable insight into the mobile games business.

PocketGamer.biz is the premier mobile games industry website. In addition to their world-leading news coverage, they want to provide a voice for the people working in this part of the games industry, it’s game makers, analysts, service providers, and experts. Ultimately, PocketGamer.biz wants to champion the mobile games industry – which now accounts for 52% of the total global games industry market volume – by celebrating its accomplishments and casting a critical lens on what it can  do better.

Khai Trung Le is an outgoing editor at PocketGamer.biz and represents the publication at industry events, both their own and beyond. This is actually his very first position within the games industry and games media. His professional background is in the physical sciences, both as a journalist and a research writer. Previous bylines include Star Trek, Vice, and the BBC, but to him there is something enticing about covering games: a long-held dream when Khai was a teenager - “a very long time ago”, as he lovingly puts it.

1.)  What are your editorial choices based on? What does a good story for PocketGamer.biz need to have? What do you think your readers appreciate the most?

“A lot of PocketGamer.biz’s central identity is as a news site, so much of what drives us is speed and accuracy. When something happens, we want our readers to know they can come to the site and be informed.

But one area I’m especially keen to express here is that PocketGamer.biz is ultimately a platform for the industry’s voices. Over the last few months, we’ve partnered with Supercell, , Unity, Rovio, Zynga, Hutch, thatgamecompany, Niantic, ustwo, Subset Games and countless more for regular features, guest columns, and interviews – space for experts to truly explore the complexities of the industry.

I never tire of speaking with people in the industry, and I hope that comes across on the site.”

2.)  What would you recommend indie developers without much experience in PR to get your attention? What has to be in the subject of an email in order to stand out?

“I don’t have any truly insightful advice in overcoming the barrier that is an editor’s overflowing inbox besides being courteous, upfront, and don’t exaggerate what you’re offering.

But I highly recommend that you prepare media resources before any outreach: a brief synopsis of your game or service, list several contacts for any follow-up, and make sure high-quality images are immediately available. I come from a print background and a lack of print-resolution images was often a deciding factor in whether we could give a story coverage or not.

This is a more sensitive recommendation, but I can’t overemphasize the power of live events. I hesitate because one rare benefit of the pandemic has been to bring events and similar opportunities online and available for people across the world, who cannot travel, with existing conditions, or even just dislike physical networking. But I have to say, I get so much more out of meeting face-to-face than through an email exchange or video chat.“

3.)  And vice versa: What do you consider no-goes? What types of inquiries are you tired of looking at?

There are very few no-goes in my book, and frequently if a story or feature idea isn’t quite right now, we’ll work to make sure people have a sense of what we want to discuss, and how, for the future. And make sure the publication is suitable for your message – while seeing press releases about the most Googled video games villains reaching my inbox is broadly amusing, frankly it’s not something we’re going to run.

The only ideas I’ll immediately reject are nakedly self-promotional – if you want a platform (and everyone deserves one), remember you’re speaking to a broad audience – our readers encompass one-man indies to venture capitalists – and you should respect their time and attention by making sure what you want to discuss has value to as many people as possible.”

4.)  What has changed the most since you started out in the games industry?

“I have not been covering the industry for long, but one of the only constants is perpetual change. I think the games industry – particularly mobile – is very enamored with this; the identity of a young, disruptive sector that has outperformed almost every other entertainment sector .

But the industry also has a well-deserved reputation for burnout, mistreatment, and harassment at all levels, and it is disappointing to see the games industry following the footsteps of bastion, established industries.”

5.)  From your point of view, what are currently the most important trends? What innovations are here to stay? And what hype will nobody talk about in five years from now?

“One of the most important trends is the tremendous growth in mergers and acquisitions (M&A). There is a frankly astounding amount of money being channeled into the industry, and myriad benefits and concerns to be mindful of. On the developer front, one hopes this means there are more options to find funding for your games, and hopefully more parties that want to help support the kinds of games you want to make.

On the other hand, there is a very real risk that consolidation means fewer channels and less control over how we engage with games in the long-term. What’s the hype no one will be talking about? Here’s a controversial answer (especially when the mobile industry is so pot-committed) I’ll half-commit to: blockchain gaming. Celebrations of its demise are grossly premature, but while the old rhetoric – its value being interoperability, play-to-earn, and speculation – is steadily being recognised as fruitless, the number of high-profile losses and failures, difficulty in expressing true value for players, and the declines in non-gaming blockchain are considerable barriers to overcome.

We’re starting to move past the early adopters and projects that, frankly, never had any true promise or potential beyond the financial. And many of the largest companies in the world, both within gaming and beyond, are throwing their hat into the ring. Frankly, I couldn’t say what a standardized blockchain games sector looks like.”

6.) The next big buzzword in the industry is “metaverse”: What do you as an editor make of this topic and how companies and players are reacting to it?

“The phrase ‘metaverse’ already feels tired. The players currently engaging with it – buying branded trainers on Roblox, attending virtual gigs in Fortnite, enjoying the fantastically overt, unmoderated copyright exploitation in VR Chat – don’t think of the metaverse as an active form, any more than someone browsing a website is “going on the internet”.

But I don’t think the metaverse will be whatever Meta imagines it to be, which appears to be a clinical, recognisable vacuum defined by the kind of lofty Golden Age sci-fi speculation. Don’t get me wrong; I think Golden Age sci-fi is great, but it’s poor source material for groundbreaking digital expression.”

7.)  What does the future hold for PocketGamer.biz? What goals do you have in mind for the coming years?

“I’ve mentioned my fondness for industry contributors, and ultimately, I would like more embedded coverage – something exploring a project in intimate detail from start to finish. We recently launched our embedded coverage of Hutch’s four-day working week trial, which will see us follow the company’s progress across the months and from a variety of perspectives. That’s the kind of storytelling I want from our reportage, and it’s exciting to leave with more than a few seed planted”

8.)  Which of your articles are you particularly proud of?

“It may not come across so, but I’m actually deeply uncomfortable discussing myself and any accomplishments I may have achieved! So, besides incidentally making Unity’s John Riccitiello into Game Dev Twitter’s main character for a few days, here are some off the top of my head:

Game UI Database’s Edd Coates wrote a fascinatingly insightful article about dark patterns in free-to-play mobile games. I mentioned earlier that PocketGamer.biz is a champion of the mobile games industry. That also means holding up a mirror to itself, and sometimes seeing something that needs to change I think this is one of the best examples of doing so, and we worked hard to ensure a precision of tone and insight without judgment or condemnation.

I’ve been a fan of Jenova Chen since I played Flow while at university. So, having the opportunity to speak with him following his GDC talk was simply incredible. Getting his thoughts on designing altruistic in-game monetisation made me see the mobile industry in a whole new light and - a little self-aggrandising perhaps - it was somewhat comforting to discover how similarly we felt about industry issues and challenges.

We worked with InnoGames ahead of the publication of 80% of its salary bands, to ensure a precision and accuracy of message. I think salary transparency is deeply important, and our culture of secrecy and shame – not just within the games industry but in all industries I’ve experienced – does no one any favours.

I didn’t earn this. Ryu Games’ Lilly Contino approached us. But it means the world to me that she wanted to discuss her experience of being trans on PocketGamer.biz on the day she came out, professionally. I’m based in the UK, and I’ve seen firsthand the pain caused to our trans community by our press, celebrities, and institutions. Anything I – a cis, straight male in a position of relative power – can do is a necessity. Thank you, Lilly.”

9.)  What makes PocketGamer.biz an essential read for games industry professionals all around the world?

“PocketGamer.biz is the authority in the mobile games industry. The mobile games industry reaches the largest audience, engages with arguably the widest demographics in gaming, and – for good and ill – is the testing ground for the most disruptive elements that will find its way into console and PC gaming and beyond. Find the latest news and most valuable insight there.

And if that’s too sales’y for you, come to PocketGamer.biz because I asked you to. Please?”

________________________

About this interview series:

They shine light on the games industry, yet rarely stand in the spotlight. They are our guides to the business, but barely guided to. We’re talking about games business outlets, of course. In a short series will be your guide to the real guides of the games industry, portraying major B2B outlets that are essential readings in order to learn about and connect with the games industry. As part of these portraits, we’ve spoken with journalists and asked them what developers and newcomers should keep in mind when pitching stories or trying to establish themselves within the industry.

Read our first article of the series portraying GamesIndustry.biz and their Head of Games B2B, Christopher Dring, here.

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