Quick Friday post for prospective (and current) Novy clients. I felt it was time to get back to the topic after a couple game development-centered posts.
In short, picking the right PR firm is CRITICAL for your launch. Of course, having a quality game in the first place is key… but skipping PR activities like targeted pitches, a press release, trailers and screenshots will derail ANY project — be it a strategy masterpiece or the latest “click cow to win” clone.
Let’s get to it, shall we?
(Deep) Understanding of Game Development
Most agencies are filled with casual gamers. It turns out it’s pretty hard to live in 2013 and NOT play games. They’re everywhere: in your Mac or PC, phone, tablet, consoles, portables, you name it. So the chances that someone actually plays games are pretty high. The problem is that they don’t understand development.
If your PR firm doesn’t “get” development, you’ll be in a world of trouble. Getting them to install and play your game will be a nightmare… Communicating with the enthusiast press, virtually ALL hardcore gamers, will be a non-starter. Finally, don’t count on the agency to spot bugs or interface issues – they might not even know what “interface” actually means.
Familiar with Reddit and YouTube Channels
It took me years to mostly understand Reddit. It paid off with a number of successful IAmAs, a better understanding of what’s newsworthy (most journalists look to Reddit for “hot” topics) and even new business/lead generation – a direct result of Novy’s own IAmA. Likewise, YouTube channels are what blogs used to be in 2002: sometimes chaotic, often brilliant, incredibly important in the long run. Nowadays, YouTube channels that focus on indie gaming are ESSENTIAL for PC games and a nice addition to any mobile launch. If a prospective PR firm has no active Reddit users and only visits YouTube to watch cat videos, stay away.
Accountable Human Beings
With Novy, you’ll be dealing with me and/or Jeannie Novak. We are Novy. No one is relegated to the interns… because we don’t have them. That’s not the case with other PR firms. They might sell you the “sizzle” but what you get is a cost-reduced burger instead. Make sure that’s not the case with the always-helpful question: “Who will be my main contact?” In other words “Who is accountable?”
When the person you email/talk to every day is also pitching journalists AND reporting/updating you on coverage, accountability is a very real thing. The opposite is true as well: if you’re dealing with an Account Executive who can blame an intern or his/her own boss, suddenly no one is accountable.
Once upon a time, BlackBerry was all the rage. Then touchscreens became cool with the iPhone, which was quickly followed by the testosterone-driven Motorola Droid. Four years later, now we have iPad Mini versus Nexus 7 FHD, iPhone 5 versus Moto X… a war without end.
Your PR firm needs to be able handle both Android and iOS. They can’t take sides. Maybe your game is iOS-only today, but what if you decide to add Android to the mix six months later? Likewise, they need to own both tablets and smartphones. Finally, an understanding of TestFlight is essential. If they don’t know how to install beta builds – or worse, don’t even have an account – go look somewhere else.
The Intangibles: Fun, Creative, Fearless
One phone call is enough. Half an hour on the phone and you’ll get a clear picture of the PR pros on the other end of the line. Are they funny? Up-to-date? Do they understand the idea of the game quickly, or do they need some “ELI5” (Explain Like I’m 5) lecture to get there?
Make sure to discuss both successes and failures. The way someone fails is often more illuminating than the way they succeed. Explore the client-agency relationship, good and bad experiences. Discuss long-term scenarios and “big picture” goals.
If the call is a success, you’ll be in a much better position than someone who requested (and received) a proposal via email. It will also save both of you from never-ending email back-and-forth.
Of course we want you to become our client. But if the stars failed to align and you decided look elsewhere, keep these tips in mind. They just might save you a ton of cash – and time – in the long run.
Step 1: Make a trailer
It’s hard to believe that some developers choose not to make a trailer. But it happens. While screenshots are easy and straightforward, trailers sound terribly complicated and time-intensive. Don’t let the extra workload deprive your game of a proper trailer. The consequences are often dire, starting with less coverage and ending with non-existing sales.
Step 2: Make every second count
The only thing worse than not having a trailer is having a 3-minute one. No one will watch a 3-minute trailer for a mobile game. The ideal length is 45 seconds to a full minute.
Step 3: Make it dynamic
We like trailers that show off different gameplay mechanics, characters, locations and atmosphere. You can’t have a minute of the same exact gameplay, over and over again. Think of the joy of driving the Pacific Coast Highway versus the mind-numbing boredom of the I-5.
Step 4: Make it descriptive
Text-less trailers might look stunning but will often leave viewers with a big question mark. Is it a sequel or an update? Is it for Android or iOS? Is this a new feature? Is it free? This information must be in there. If the best you can do is list the most important information at the very end, with bullets, that’s still better than leaving everyone in the dark.
Step 5: Make it real
Killzone 2 is famous for trying to pass CGI for actual gameplay. Don’t be tempted to make the same mistake — I know it’s easier to re-purpose the intro CGI or cut-scenes in the trailer, but you will lose your target audience in the process. Gamers watch trailers on YouTube and GameTrailers in order to evaluate a future purchase. They need to see how the game plays, not how great the cut-scenes are.
Step 6: Make your mark
Lush trailers can cost a lot of money. They usually have sweeping 3D art, post-processing, sharp HD visuals and booming soundtrack. That’s awesome if you can pay for it, but it doesn’t mean a more “indie” trailer can’t compete. The YouTube video embedded in the post is for a game currently in production, Planck. It’s for a single level. And it didn’t break the bank. Still, the trailer worked wonders for the game. It made Reddit and many game sites and blogs. It worked because it had personality. The developer, Shadegrown Games, poured itself in the trailer… And it shows. From the copy to the music choices, everything meshed. If you’re like me, you were dying to play Planck after watching it. So… be creative. Make the trailer an extension of your game. Give it an attitude. That’s the only way to fight the big boys, with their over-produced trailers and licensed music.
Feel free to add great mobile game trailers in the comments. Then tell us why you chose each particular example and what makes it an excellent trailer.
Looking forward to your submission :)
Here are some PR mistakes new studios will often make. Each (or all) of them can sink your mobile title in a single hit.
Duke Leto knows best:
"The first step in avoiding a trap is knowing of its existence"
1. Launching on a Friday
Fridays are when bad, bad companies like BP put news out so it gets BURIED. Therefore, if you need your game to stand out, the whole idea is to launch on a productive day like Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. Another reason to avoid Fridays is the fact that Friday morning in the West Coast is Friday night in the UK, so you will lose most (if not all) Euro pubs.
[Go here for a great top ten of “buried news: http://www.poynter.org/content/content_view.asp?id=14489]
2. Failing to produce a trailer
Trailers are essential nowadays. They’re a basic complement to posts in sites like Gizmodo or Slide to Play. Through trailers, customers & press alike can understand how the game looks and sounds in motion — in short, how polished the whole thing is except for pure gameplay. So make sure to have a 30-second to 1 minute trailer ready for launch.
Here’s a great example: http://youtu.be/2_ObxR8d6LA
The game is FaceFighter Ultimate, a fun mobile brawler by Appy Entertainment.
3. Engaging in astroturfing
Astroturfing is when PR pros & interns pretend they are the common folk in order to give games they represent great scores/reviews in the App Store or the Android Market. Recently, a famous PR firm was caught doing it, making them look really bad to both prospective clients, the press and iPhone users. NEVER, EVER engage in astroturfing. You can easily get caught red-handed and in full public display.
Le Astroturf. As fake as my French accent
4. Changing the price / business model two weeks after launch
Pricing and mobile apps/games is always a point of contention. There’s a whole school of thought preaching that $0.99 is the place to be since it allows for mass penetration and wide distribution (the Angry Birds model). Others believe every game or app has it’s rightful place in the Great Pricing Pyramid — so games with a niche audience or high production values demand a higher price. That’s what EA and Activision do and I’m with the big boys on this one. However, there’s nothing worse than launching at, say, $1.99 then quickly dropping the price to $0.99 if lacking in sales. Or going for the whole in-app purchases bonanza only to find out no-one is buying — therefore immediately launching a premium (paid) version. Don’t change horses in the middle of the race. Stick to your guns — hopefully, you didn’t take the whole pricing issue lightly and made a great choice in the first place.
Don’t forget to check their user reviews in the App Store
5. Pestering the press with multiple emails/phone calls/voice messages
The press is busy just like you. They work hard and are often underpaid. It’s perfectly fine to send them one email and leave one voice message.
Don’t email them multiple times per day or leave multiple voice messages. Don’t keep calling either — maybe they are at their desk, but can’t pick up the phone due to a major deadline. Annoying journalists is the shortest path to getting ignored for the foreseeable future. No press = no coverage = tiny, tiny sales
Pests are found in many shapes and forms
6. Failing to provide sites with promo codes / premium accounts
Give the press promo codes of your game. Don’t make them buy it. Also, if your game is an MMO, let them know you can max out their character after a couple hours in-game so they get to see the whole world. Don’t make them play 10-15 hours straight just to have access to all the content — journalists have better things to do with their time. Finally, a word of warning: U.S. promo codes won’t work in Europe. If a target publication is in Europe — like the aptly-named Eurogamer — you’ll need to produce Euro codes or possibly reimburse them via Paypal.
No one will buy your game in order to review it
7. Having no presence on Twitter/Facebook/Google+
Twitter is great to keep in touch with your fans on a day-to-day basis. You can let them know a patch is in the works — or that this massive giveaway starts in two days. Facebook, on the other hand, fosters a sense of community, of belonging. You can still “broadcast” like in Twitter, but you need to understand every post will have lots of comments under it. So don’t assume everyone will love everything you say — expect criticisms from time to time. No matter what, use Twitter and Facebook to RESPOND as well. Engage your fans. Answer their questions. Post pictures of the studio, goofy videos, tips & tricks. You’ll thank me later.
Google+, the latest entrant in the Social Media Wars, it a hybrid of both Twitter and Facebook. G+ is perfect for the typical “broadcasts” done on Twitter but it also allows for posts well-beyond 140 characters. G+ is also a much more engaging social network; comments will be thoughtful — and plentiful.
How about you? Do you have any sins to add to the list? Tell your story in the comments!