Watch Out for Industry Frauds

Doug Mealy | 30 Oct 2009 12:00
Op-Ed - RSS 2.0

As more unemployed people become desperate for their next games marketing job, and as some newly formed PR agencies get too hungry for their next games client, a new trend is emerging: certain job and PR agency candidates are making brazenly false claims about their successes that cross the line from "truth stretching" to "fraud."

With hundreds of studio closures, mergers, and acquisitions over the past two decades, it's easier now than ever to create a fraudulent resume or agency background with a bogus client list. Here are three real-world examples of frauds who misrepresented themselves, got hired, and caused significant damage.

  • A studio hired a newly formed PR agency that touted significant experience in games PR to do a game launch. The agency's website claimed to have managed the launch PR for a globally-recognized triple-A title and even posted a photo of the big launch party. Who would dare do this unless it was true, right? They fooled everybody, they were hired, and they screwed up the launch. Post-disaster Google and Linked-in searches revealed that the agency not only had nothing to do with the triple-A launch, but they made up the entire story. In fact, the photo of the launch party was actually "borrowed" from the website of the PR agency that actually did the launch PR. The studio's 15-person dev team worked nine months to produce a good title, but the fraudulent PR agency's inexperience essentially killed the IP.
  • A job applicant for a Marketing VP job was hired, in part, because of his "extensive trade show experience" supported by photos of "his" booths at previous shows. He joined the 25-person studio and within a week he signed an exhibitor contract for a 50'x50' trade show space at a major show for $125,000. The stunned CEO's research revealed that the booth photos the VP presented as "his" booths were actually photos he took from a website of a used booth vendor; the VP had no actual trade show experience. He was fired, but the damage was already done. The studio downsized to a 10'x10' booth and negotiated a post-show settlement liability of $55,000. They couldn't make the payment, legal action ensued, and the studio closed six months later. It took only one week and one contract signature for this fraud to put the studio on a path to financial ruin.
  • A studio hired a local PR agent in a foreign country to launch a game. This fellow claimed he managed in-country PR for a globally-recognized search engine company and knew all the local press people. It turned out that everything he claimed was totally false - he was actually an unemployed business editor who had no previous games experience. The studio found out after the game launch failed; investors were livid and withdrew funding, and the studio closed two months later.

You might think that the studio executives who hired these frauds were somehow grossly negligent - they weren't. In each of the real-world examples above, the candidates presented themselves as professionals, spoke the appropriate lingo, and gave no indication that anything was wrong. These hiring studios paid a high price for not taking a few extra minutes to do some online research.

Here are a few steps you can take to avoid hiring a fraud. Each step takes fewer than five minutes to do and can help you avoid major headaches.

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