Whether you are an experienced game developer who is seeking media attention for your next project or a newbie trying to pitch a new game to a journalist, one thing is always certain: Getting the media to notice your game can be a very challenging task. This is arguably one of the most important parts of the game development process. After all, you could have just spent years developing the greatest hidden gem in the indie game market—but without the proper press attention, it’s going to remain hidden. Having spent the last two years working as an indie game journalist, I wanted to share some lessons I learned about my experience with the indie community and why having a PR company can ensure that your game gets the coverage it deserves.
1. The Email Struggle is Real!
While pursuing my degree in Public Relations, I was always told that journalists receive hundreds of press requests per day—and that standing out among the crowd was a critical part of our jobs as Public Relations professionals. Of course, no one actually believed this. We always assumed that it was just the professors trying to scare us into listening to that day’s lecture. Let me be the first to tell you: The email struggle is real.
Most game developers have probably heard how difficult it can be just to get your emails noticed by the press. It’s not a big industry secret. Even the smaller sites get slammed with more press requests than you can imagine. While working on my website, I received anywhere from 75 to 100+ emails daily. There is no way anyone would have time to sort through all of those emails and play all the games attached to them. The sad reality is that many games don’t get covered just because there are too many to talk about. There is a fine art to sifting through emails and deciding what messages get opened and which ones get ignored. It’s not that journalists don’t want to hear about your game; there’s just not enough hours in the day to get through all of them.
This is the first stage of getting noticed. Before a journalist reads your pitch or plays your game, their exposure to your game is the subject line of the email you send. You can understand the importance of the subject line in getting noticed in the sea of emails journalists receive per day.
Some of the best subject lines I received made me laugh, contained a reference about why I would like the game from past coverage, or included some context about their game fitting in with my site’s content. This is just personal experience—but if a developer took the extra time to research my site, know the games I’ve covered, or make me laugh, then there was a higher probability that I was going to notice their email.
That being said, there are some great games that I’m sure we missed. Do not be afraid to send a follow-up request every once in a while. However, do not start spamming journalists with requests and follow-ups. Spamming leads to getting blocked, and that does no one any good.
As a journalist, I began forming relationships with PR agencies I trusted to send me good content. Part of sifting through the emails is being able to sniff out the good games from the fluff. Knowing which PR agencies would send me good content regularly made life much easier because I knew when they sent me an email, there was a good game to write about. It also made the developers’ lives easier because their games were getting press coverage and they weren’t having to fight with the press to get noticed.
2. Press Kits are a Journalist’s Best Friend!
So you have a catchy subject line and a beautifully written pitch. You’re good, right? Your game is about to get covered by all the gaming sites, and you’re on the way to making millions.
To cover your game, a journalist needs more than just your pitch. Journalists need screenshots, videos, trailers, logos, and a myriad of other things that, if not included, can result in your email being sent straight to the trash bin. These are the things you normally find in a press kit. Most media outlets will not cover a game without the inclusion of assets such as high-resolution screenshots and a trailer. I cannot count the number of times I had to delete an email to what sounded like a great game because there was no way for me to get the assets I needed to be able to cover the game.
It should be your goal to make life as easy for the journalist as possible. The more clicks a journalist needs to make to get the content they’re looking for leads to a higher probability of your game not getting covered.
This was one of the other reasons why I enjoyed receiving press requests from PR agencies. More often than naught, when I received an email from an agency, everything I was looking for was immediately available to me. High-resolution images, logos, trailers, and anything else you can think of were provided in all the popular formats.
3. Don’t Compete with Halo or Call of Duty. You Will Lose.
Now that you’ve got your assets and your awesome subject line to accompany your perfect pitch, you are ready to start messaging all the media outlets! Well, on a normal day, you would be right; however, you need to think about the timing. What is the date? What games are releasing? Are there any major events happening in the industry right now?
Imagine you started to push your game on November 11, 2014. This is a bad idea for anyone—not just an indie developer.
Because Halo: The Master Chief Collection just launched, and it’s taking up a good chunk of the gaming community’s time.
Knowing when to push your game is just as important as planning the actual release. You don’t want to be overshadowed because you launched on the same day as one of the most anticipated games of the year.
The gaming media needs to keep their audience entertained, as well as informed—and if all the attention is on Halo, then chances are that it’s not going to be on you.
As a journalist, I was often faced with tough choices about cutting coverage for new games because the articles about Halo or Smash Bros. were bringing in the numbers. This meant that we had to devote more time to writing about these games and not the string of new games that kept appearing in our inboxes. As much as I hate to admit it, prioritizing coverage based off click rates does happen. We can’t always cover a game because we want to; there has to be an audience ready to hear about it. It’s best to avoid this pitfall altogether and start releasing materials after most of the hype has passed from a big game’s launch.
Often, a PR agency is informed about what is happening in the industry and can provide insights about consumer behavior. An agency can advise you when to push your game and tell you when to wait.
4. Don’t Forget the Little Guys! Smaller Sites are Important!
Just because you didn’t land on the homepage of IGN doesn’t mean you’ve lost. Smaller sites and game-focused blogs are important, too!
As my site grew in popularity and clout, we had a group of core fans that grew steadily each month. These people were very passionate about games and were also readers of the larger sites. As a result, our fans would share our articles all over the Internet. They would even go to the larger sites and comment links to our articles about the games we covered or if we covered a game in greater detail.
Having your game mentioned in as many places as possible on the Internet is not a bad thing. It boosts your search engine optimization (SEO) ranking and increases your exposure to different parts of the gaming community.
PR agencies know the value of these sites and can gear content for specific sites when needed. There are so many different outlets, and each one has its own unique personality; a PR agency can make sure each site has exactly what it needs to cover the game.
5. Buzzwords Suck & Annoy Journalists. Be Original.
Procedurally-generated roguelike dungeon crawler. How many times have you heard that? Or what about “New retro platformer mixing RPG elements…”? If you’re tired of seeing these cliched phrases on the homepages of the gaming media to describe games, imagine the disdain of the journalist who sees them on hundreds of press releases and pitches daily.
It’s no secret that part of selling a game is coming up with marketing phrases and buzzwords to build hype for the game. However, when you hear the same words and phrases being used to describe virtually every game on the market, it’s time to change vocabulary. My team of writers would keep a weekly tally for each time the phrase “procedurally-generated roguelike” was written in an email they received as a sort of running joke. That’s how often we saw the same set of buzzwords and phrases—and how tired we were of hearing them.
As a journalist, I largely ignored these phrases. They told me nothing about the game and just served to fill space in the email. If they were part of a subject line, chances are that I ignored the email. Granted, some games cannot help but to be described using common terminology. If your game is a dungeon crawler, don’t try to pass it off as anything other than a dungeon crawler. But don’t make the focus of the pitch be about the “procedurally-generated roguelike dungeon crawler.” Instead, make it about the mechanics that set your game apart from the other “procedurally-generated roguelike dungeon crawlers.”
PR agencies are aware of the growing distaste for the same buzzwords and can often simplify a message to emphasize the unique features of the game you are making. PR agencies share in the general dislike for buzzwords and would rather let the game do the talking. As such, they are the ones who can shape the vocabulary that is being used by the media and get the focus on the actual game and not its “roguelikeness.”
6. PR Agencies are Good!
A good PR agency serves several needs in the game industry. They make journalists’ and developers’ lives easier, and they serve as a great point of contact between the developer and a media outlet.
Let’s face it: Not many developers want to be at the media’s beck and call. When I was writing articles and I needed a specific asset or a quote, I found it much easier to reach out to the PR firm than try to contact developers—who don’t always have the time to deal with press because they would much rather be making games! Sometimes, this attitude would come across in the emails I received from developers when following up on a game. It made me not want to continue covering a game. I know it’s not intentional, but sometimes this sort of thing can have an impact on the coverage.
Good PR agencies are filled with trained professionals who are able to deal with these situations. When a media outlet needs something, they can provide it with minimum interruption to the developer. The agency can provide the journalist with what they need, and what formats they need it in. The result is greater exposure about your game.
As I mentioned earlier, journalists often speak with the same PR professionals over and over again—leading to regular conversations about the games they are representing, and eventually to the formation of friendships. No, it’s not collusion or some secret agenda. It’s just human nature—and it happens.
Independent developers can capitalize on the relationships PR firms have with journalists by hiring them to represent their games.
PR agencies also have a rather extensive media contact list. This can save any developer a huge chunk of time of having to search for outlets to contact and how to best approach them.
Being in front of the media, scheduling interviews, finding people interested in playing your game and having to respond to all the follow-up requests can be very time-consuming. Wouldn’t you rather be spending your time polishing your game?
Journalists and bloggers face a variety of challenges every day while writing about games—and in my experience, many game developers are unaware that these obstacles exist. Using the knowledge I have shared here will hopefully increase your chances of getting some highly sought-after media coverage.