Inside the Games: Mad Catz’s Alex Verrey

The Game Reviews: We are speaking with Alex Verres, Global PR and Communications Manager for the third party video game accessory manufacturer Mad Catz. Can you tell us a little bit about your title, and your lineage? 

Alex Verrey: I started in the games industry when I was about 12 years old over in the U.K., where I am from. The first big video game television show in the U.K. was called Games Master. I appeared on Episode 1 of the show, performing challenges as a kid of 12 or 13 years old. I played Sonic the Hedgehog on the Mega Drive, beat the game and the challenge, and won a prize.

About a year later, I got a call from the producers of the show, who were doing a spin off for satellite television called Games World. They were looking for really good game players, who were fun in front of the camera. They asked me to audition for a role on the new television show.

I tried out, got hired, and played a character in the U.K. called Big Boy Barry – kind of like American Gladiators playing a venerator. I would come out every week and take on kids playing the video games against them. That went really well, so the show came back for a second season and they offered me my own show. I got my own series, dressed up as a sitcom, called Barry’s Joy Pad. The show involved my living in a big mansion, with different guests reviewing games, and so forth. 

I did that for a few years, and a lot of video gaming television presenting in the U.K.; the most of anybody in the country. I still hold that record. I wanted to get a mortgage and realized I needed some steady income. A good buddy of mine ran a company in the U.K. called Joy Tech, a huge manufacturer of third party game accessories. He offered me a chance to do a little PR for one or two days a week, which I began doing, to supplement the television work. That situation grew and it suddenly turned into a full-time position.

Last year, in 2007, Take Two got a new Board of Directors and decided to go a different way. They could not quite figure out why they had an accessory company as part of their core business. Mad Catz acquired Joy Tech’s name and assets, including me. That is how I started working for Mad Catz, here in L.A.

TGR: That’s great. Can you tell us about what you do for Mad Catz?

AV: When Mad Catz acquired Joy Tech, they really did not have too much going in PR. I filled the position of Global PR and Communications Manager and it is my job to shout about Mad Catz and Joy Tech products around the world, as well as Side Tech products. Side Tech is another company that Mad Catz acquired soon after; they do PC accessories.

It is my job to shout about our brands and products, everywhere around the world. I make sure people are covering and reviewing the products, and getting us seen in the media. 

TGR: Can you tell us specifically some of the things that you do as the Global PR and Communications Manager?

AV: I write press releases, and am in constant communication with journalists and media sources around the world. I make sure that they have all the information they need on our products; that all journalists and media sources speak about our products. I "sell them the products," as it were. Whereas a traditional sales guy will sell products to retailers, I sell to the press. I explain why products should be covered.

I send images and press releases. I ensure they have all the information on hand to build and put together a campaign, and present the products in an exciting manner. I also take product samples down and meet one on one with journalists, show them what we have, why it is cool, and why it should gain coverage. I arrange competitions, sponsorships and promotions, among other similar kinds of things.

TGR: Do you also deal with the marketing side, as well?

AV: Yes. We all wear many different hats at Mad Catz. We are a relatively small company, so we utilize many different skill sets.

TGR: What is the best way for organizations to work with you?

AV: To call me to find out what we have, what is new and cool – and what is happening. It is really about communication; making sure you are in constant communication with people in the industry that matter. I think working for a company like Mad Catz, you cannot do good PR unless you love games as well. Thankfully, I consider myself first and foremost a gamer. I am a television presenter in a previous existence, a PR guy now, but really I consider myself a gamer. I love games, and I love the industry that we are in. I think it is the best industry in the world. I love playing games and talking about games. I think good journalists in the video game industry also love their games and that makes life much easier if you both have a connection in that way.

TGR: When it comes down to sharing your time though, because a lot of entities such as individuals, IGN, etc. request information, how do you deal with all of it? 

AV: I would say, "my name is Alex from Mad Catz, and I whole-heartedly recommend The Game Reviews."

TGR: We have sites that have 100,000 users, with a really good, decent enthusiastic calling. We are routinely asked how to get in touch with people, and if anyone is really going to pay attention to them. What is your suggestion to all the enthusiast sites that are out there that want to work with a company like yours?

AV: I think that is perhaps one of the most interesting questions I have been asked today, because it is a very good point. We are in a whole new world now. When I started to get into PR, there were the big magazines, and maybe a couple of big news channels that would contact us. The world of PR now is very different and it is very hard. We get now, on average, 20 or 30 e-mails a day. The problem is that when you are looking at an e-mail, it is faceless; there is no way to separate who is legitimate and who is not. That, and professional gaming leagues, seem to be everywhere.

A company like EA, Sony or Microsoft usually has a team of PR individuals who can sort through all of the PR requests. When you are from a company like Mad Catz, especially if you are working on a small team and in my case, it is pretty much myself, it is very, very hard and time consuming to work through that sort of stuff. 

On the other side of that fence, I do not ignore people. If people write to me, I will read their e-mails and I give them time, because you never know when somebody is legitimate.

What I would recommend to people who want to do business, is first and foremost, be honest. I do not like people who try to feed you some bull and say that they are the biggest website in the world, get a million hits a day, and then ask for free stuff. I prefer the honest, direct approach. Tell the truth about the number of hits per day, ask what the chance of looking at some reviews is, or to be added to a press list and see how it goes.

What I am looking for is proof; I need to know key demographics, who you are trying to hit and how popular your site and the kind of traffic is. Obviously, if you are doing so many millions of hits a month, then of course, we want to be part of that. If you are only getting a couple hundred hits a month, well that is okay, too. We are happy to talk to everyone, and provide you with information.

I might not be able to dedicate as much time as some of the other sources, but I will always try to be courteous and ask them to keep in touch. Perhaps they can send me an e-mail once a month, or every couple of months. Show me that you are growing, that your hits and popularity is going up. Then let’s review it, and look at things in three to six months’ time.

TGR: That is a refreshing approach.

AV: That is what we try to do. I do try to keep a community filled with Mad Catz, because we want the gamers on our side.  

TGR: Considering that they are the ones who actually buy your products, yes.

AV: That is right, and word of mouth goes a long way in this industry. So I want to try to be kind and courteous, but I do ask for the same in return. Again, honesty is the key; if somebody says they do millions of hits a month, I will find out very quickly if they do not. But there are other ways that we can work together. I think some of the smaller websites don’t understand that being in accessories as opposed to software is different. Traditionally, software in terms of replication is actually quite cheap to produce. Since it is just a disc, it takes up very little space, and is very easy to ship. To send a disc to a journalist does not actually cost a lot of money. Even though, the retail perception is much greater than that of an accessory, in terms of samples they are relatively cheap and inexpensive.

If I am putting a big game controller in the mail, there is a proper retail controller to ship that and the sample cost is actually, ironically, a lot more expensive than even a full price game, because it is a bigger, bulkier, and full sample. Even though the retail value might be a lot less than a full size game, it actually costs a lot more to ship out samples. Therefore, you have to be careful where they go.

TGR:
So from a business aspect, you need to be careful.  

AV: So you look at things with a gamer’s head and a business head.

TGR: Exactly, and that is good. How can people get in contact with you?

AV: At madcatz.com, there is a "contact us" page and a section for PR. Feel free to contact me, if you think there is business to be done.

TGR:
Perfect. What do you recommend to people if they want to get into the industry? For example, if they want to come and work for PR, and are just trying to get in the industry in general.

AV: I would love that, especially if they are willing to do it for free. I think a passion for the industry and games will always to me, come first and foremost. If you are really into games, and are really enthusiastic about joining the industry, then it is important to be polite and courteous. But do be enthusiastic and do not give up. Write to the companies in question, to ask if they have any openings, or be prepared to come in at a low level. Perhaps maybe even to do work experience for free.

I have seen that so many times before, huge names in the industry that have come in with absolutely no experience. I have no media qualifications, other than I know games. I consider myself relatively good at PR, I know games, and I am enthusiastic. That got me in. I am not saying, ’do not go to school or become educated,’ or not to go to college or university. But I think enthusiasm will take you very far. If you know and love your games, write to and call people, to see if they have any openings.

I also I think a PR professional will know very quickly if you are just cutting and pasting a standard letter. That does not fly. It helps if you do a little bit of research, to know the company and know your stuff. Try to form a connection with these guys, to know what you are talking about, and a little bit about the company that you are approaching. And do not give up.

TGR: We have a lot of people that apply to be writers with us and that is one of the main things they are looking to do. They are looking to get in the industry in some way, and so they will start writing.  

AV: Certainly in the U.K., it starts with games journalism or magazines, and websites. People will often get into games magazines through the love of being a gamer and then get a staff writer position at a games magazine. From there, they can progress into PR as a nice route to market. I think first and foremost, know and love games, and know a little bit about the company that you are trying to penetrate; it is always a good way in.

TGR: Sounds like good common sense. What is your favorite game of all time?

AV: Mario 64. For me, it was the video game equivalent of Jurassic Park. It is the last time I remember being completely blown away at goal post changing. Everything from Mario 64 on, has been an evolution. The first time you saw Mario 64, it is a moving cartoon. I cannot remember being impressed so much by a game since Mario 64. Games are getting prettier and nicer, but never have the goal posts changed so much in a single title than Mario 64. It will always have a special place.  

TGR: What games are you playing now?

AV: Rock Band. I would say that because Mad Catz is doing so many cool accessories. But it is actually the truth. PRs know other PRs, and I am very fortunate to be in the industry that I am in and have a lot of samples and games to play. I have games from the holidays in 2007 that are still in cellophane that have not been played. I cannot stop playing Rock Band. It is the downloadable content online that is going to get you every time. You just cannot stop playing; it is fantastic.  

TGR: It is an awesome game. Can you tell us something that nobody knows and probably would not care about?

AV: I was at The Who concert yesterday and sat next to Woody Harrelson.

TGR: Okay, very cool. That is a very good one.  

ALEX: I was singing Karaoke with John DiMaggio, who plays Bender, on Futurama.

TGR: As the reversal to that question, can you tell us something that nobody knows, but they would care about.

ALEX: Rock Band 2, the official drum kit, can be upscaled so that you can add cymbals to the official drum kit. 

TGR: We already know that.

ALEX: Mad Catz are the only show in town producing the cymbals for the official drum kit.

TGR: We did not know that. Sweet.

AV: So that works does it not? Plus we are doing the full-size strap and the full-size bass.

TGR: I know.

AV: 200 bucks coming out in 2009.

TGR: That tells me a lot about what I was just about to ask you. Is it $200.00 for both of them?

ALEX: Yes; they are the full size, not scale replicas; they are the full-size staccato and the full size P Bass. Absolutely incredible. Coming out for 360 and for PS3, wireless, they are built for a Spy Fender, they are true wooden guitars. They are exactly the same size, shape, and dimension as the real thing. They are built by Fender — the real thing.

TGR: I am going to be visiting Fender when I get back, because I am in Arizona, as they are. Is Mad Catz making all of these different?

AV: No, that is not quite the case. I would like to think that Mad Catz is certainly one of the most prolific working with Rock Band. So down here, that is the full size strat and full size P bass. This is our premium bass, which is a traditional controller; it has the split strum bar which is a Mad Catz innovation. The strum bar is split into two, so you can strum much quicker. An incredible piece of kit, that is for 360, PS3 and for Wii.

TGR: How much does that one cost?

AV: That is going to be about $70.00 and will be available for the fall. We are the first to include the game controller inside the microphone itself, so you no longer need a separate controller, which drove everybody mad.

TGR: Is it going to have a rumble?

AV: It has no rumble inside. That would be a bit disconcerting when you are singing. But it is using studio grade components inside, so it is a really high quality mic, but it has the controller built into it as well.

TGR: Are you making the hats?

AV: We are not doing the hats, or any straps, but we are doing premium Fender straps. We have the portable drum kit. You can take drums wherever you want, lay them out on any surface and start playing. It comes with a foot pedal, completely folds down flat and stacks up like dinner plates. You can lay them out on any surface. They have suckers on them. It comes with drum sticks that unscrew in the middle, so everything is completely portable. You can play drums anywhere.

TGR: And it connects to Rock Band?

AV: Yes, absolutely. And there is a lot more to come.

TGR: Awesome, well we are going to be looking forward to covering it all. Most definitely.

AV: And I am looking forward to being there every step of the way with you.  

TGR: Thank you. 

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