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.
November — and early December — were an incredibly busy time for Novy. Let’s look back and remember some of the highlights:
VentureBeat interviewed Swarm, creator of the SwarmConnect platform. The piece came out a day before our big Unity announcement.
Appy Entertainment (www.appyentertainment.com)
Kotaku writer Mike Fahey loves Animal Legends for one reason and one reason only: he gets to be a Rogue Raccoon.
Shadegrown Games (www.shadegrowngames.com)
TUAW (The Unofficial Apple Weblog)
TUAW featured Starbloom as its Daily iPhone App for December 3. Better yet, editor Mike Schramm shot a video review of it!
Modojo / Business Insider
Editor Chris Buffa needed developer reactions to Peter Molyneux’ Curiosity. Novy PR was happy to help.
Swarm’s CEO (Matt Haggerty) penned an extremely polished piece for GamesIndustry International. His article includes a ton of updated numbers and in-depth analysis, making it a must-read if you’re interested in mobile gaming.
Woo Games (www.woogames.com)
Indie Woo Games relied on Novy PR to help them with the iOS launch of ErnCon. 148Apps, one of our favorite sites, did a very fair and accurate review of the game, helping this one-man studio reach a wider audience.
Kickstarter. It extends funding for those who are tired of catering to publishers. It creates a lasting bond with your “backers,” leading to tons of press coverage, adulation from gamers worldwide, and financial freedom. It will change the world as we know it.
Hold on a minute. Let’s back off a bit. There’s a lot of buzz around Kickstarter and game development ever since Double Fine’s Adventure created a huge splash back in February. Adventure is regarded as Kickstarter’s poster child thanks to almost 90 thousand backers and $3.4 million in funding.
After Adventure, it was Wasteland 2’s chance to shine. And it didn’t disappoint: almost 62 thousand backers, $3 million in funding. Wow.
Those two games led to a veritable gold rush. Independent studios and amateurs alike suddenly realized they didn’t need to bootstrap in order to make a game. They didn’t need to go begging to a publisher either. Getting funded on Kickstarter would mean getting a project fast-tracked to success with full creative control and a horde of “backers” ready to help spread the word. It seemed too good to be true, and in a way, it still is.
Winter is Coming
Stealing from Game of Thrones is fun. Do you know what’s even more fun? Watching history unfold in real time. My day job, promoting indie and mobile games, allowed me to observe (and learn) a lot in the past few months. In HBO’s hit series, “winter” is when the White Walkers may return once more to wreak havoc on the Realms.
In the Kickstarter world, winter would be:
b) Failed projects
We already had our first scam. Uncovered by Reddit, Mythic: The Story of Gods and Men was quickly outed to the whole world as a shameless attempt to scam Kickstarter users. Since no one’s credit card gets charged unless a project is fully funded, financial loss was avoided.
There are hundreds of failed projects. They are no fault of Kickstarter nor the project owners. Like the App Store, the sheer number of new projects — increasing every day — will make getting noticed and therefore funded much harder than in the halcyon days of 2011. Such failures should be taken as learning opportunities, high quality feedback before the game is actually in the market. Seen in this light, failing to get funded on Kickstarter might actually be a blessing in disguise.
This is what a Kickstarter scam looks like
Best Laid Plans
It pains me to see quality projects fail to generate enough excitement to get funded. As an independent games supporter, I want creative ideas and concepts not only to get funded, but to get made. I want to read about them — and play them. Still, a huge number of projects fails to take off or crashes right before landing. After months of careful observation, I concluded the problem is fourfold:
(1) Developers without a “following” fail to gain traction
(2) Projects without playable code scare away possible backers
(3) Lack of a high concept or “big idea”
(4) Journalists tired of Kickstarter pitches limit the amount of coverage devoted to Kickstarter projects
As seen in Adventure and Wasteland 2, well-known studios/developers have a much better chance of getting funded. Gamers recognize that such developers have a track record; that they have shipped dozens of games in the past, often much bigger projects than the one currently hosted on Kickstarter. Of course, no one takes a minute to consider that a huge number of well-known developers has failed to ship titles before, or that even publisher-supported AAA titles may get cancelled (sometimes mere months before release). Nonetheless, being a celebrity — or even a minor celebrity — pays off if you need to fund a game via Kickstarter.
Playable code. We’re all used to open betas where an almost-finished game is stress-tested by hordes across the planet. Few of us have access to alpha builds and an even smaller number to prototypes. In Kickstarter, concept art and videos are a given, but real prototypes are hard to come by. Well, I can share with readers right now that in the near future, you will need a prototype to get funded. A backlash against prototype-less titles is already evident — see this Reddit thread for the supporting evidence. Concept art, music, videos will not be able to assure possible backers that a project is healthy. The same goes for the press: it’s much more newsworthy to try a new Kickstarter project, share your own particular impressions with readers, than to write about yet another new project.
Everyone knows a big idea from a generic, OK one. Big ideas have reach. They make us look at the world in a different way. The personal computer was a big idea. Same for the App Store and the creation of Android. In Kickstarter, big ideas inspire gamers to become backers. They are more viral and more newsworthy to the press. A big idea spreads via social media, provoking oohs and aahs on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ — and therefore driving funding. Picking a niche genre in Kickstarter, something smaller, is a big risk instead. You would think that gamers would welcome an approachable, doable concept but the opposite is true: they shrug their shoulders and move on to the next game. Another problem is that a niche genre like casino games or music has a smaller pool of fans than something big like first-person shooters or even the Phoenix-like adventure genre. From a small pool of fans, you’d need to convince an even smaller pool of Kickstarter users or sympathizers to support your project. That makes things exponentially more difficult.
Promoting SRRN’s Always Outnumbered last month, I encountered three different reactions from journalists. The first one was support — they know SRRN from Ash and Ash II: Shadows and helped us with a small post or tweet. A site even gave us free advertising (!) The second one was silence. No reply, which is expected and part of everyday life if you work in Public Relations. The third reaction was one of frustration. The journalist in question told me he gets such pitches, dozens of them, day in and day out. That other journos have filters set up so by merely mentioning the word “Kickstarter” an email gets moved to a particular folder, or deleted forever. He told me that there are way too many developers jumping on the bandwagon and flooding journalists with pitches in the process.
I understand why he reacted this way. I share some of his misgivings and can certainly imagine how annoying it is to get 20, 30 Kickstarter pitches every day. Where you can click on a link and download the game featured in a real pitch, that’s not an option with Kickstarter. There’s no way to know how good — or how bad — the game truly is. Journalists are forced to trust the studio, believe in all the promised features, have faith in the release date. And that’s IF the project gets funded. No wonder so many are burned-out.
I still have hope that projects like SRRN’s, full of potential and with innovative gameplay, get fully funded instead of yet another zombie game. But I don’t have that power. What I can do is list a few directives that may help developers in their quest for crowd-funding.
A period of euphoria tends to follow the introduction of every new technology. In gaming, we saw it with CD-ROM drives in the 1990s, in-game advertising in 2007 and now free-to-play. In its current incarnation, Kickstarter is a truly disruptive development for the game industry, one which no one knows where it will take us. It will be worth your while to take a few deep breaths, then make the best possible decision(s) for your project.
Feel free to share your opinion/experience in the comments. And if you feel like this is a worthy post, please share it with colleagues, friends and family.
Jovan Johson is an attorney with L.A. firm Johnson & Moo. Like Novy PR, Jovan specializes on helping indie and mobile developers grow their companies from one-man start-ups to successful studios with a global audience.
Stray Pixels asked Jovan a few questions about attorneys, contracts, working with foreign publishers and more. Let us know what you think in the comments!
1. When should indie studios seek out a lawyer?
Indies should probably seek legal counsel once they begin working with others, including artists, programmers, marketers, etc. This will help ensure the terms of their agreement are written clearly and structured properly.
For example, last year my partner and I met with a potential client who produced a song (which, of course, is a form of intellectual property) that turned out to be quite successful. Gross revenue was close to $460,000, costs and expenses were approximately $25,000. Under his arrangement with the recording artist the producer’s share should have been $160,000, give or take.
The producer’s first problem was that he drafted the contract he signed with the artist. The document he came up with was quite detailed but didn’t make any sense. I’m not saying that as an attorney. I’m saying that as someone who reads and writes English. Next, he involved himself with investor-partners who were attorneys. The producer didn’t have an attorney review this second deal either. At the end of the day, he’s probably going to wind up with nothing to show for his efforts. In fact, he may be in debt before the ordeal is over. If he would have retained counsel from the beginning, he would probably have $160,000 in his bank account right now.
Some people think they cannot afford a lawyer. If you’re doing business and want to succeed, you can’t afford not having a lawyer.
2. How are mobile deals structured nowadays? What is the publisher role, for example?
The publisher’s role is to promote the game and sell units. They should provide input on polishing the game and a base level of PR and marketing. For that they receive a percentage of revenue, which may seem high to some developers. However, it’s better to have part of a financially successful game than 100% of one that sells 200 copies.
Some publishers have relationships that help with key placements within the Android Market and App Store, but that will not show up as a contract term.
3. What should developers watch for before signing a contract?
It’s always important that both parties have a clear understanding of what’s expected of them. Warm and fuzzy feelings are nice but the content of the written contract is what matters.
Some common issues that developers need to understand before signing a deal are:
4. Can working with foreign capital or a foreign publisher affect the way a contract is drafted?
Absolutely. If you plan on dealing with a foreign publisher you may have an issue in terms of choice of law. If the publisher insists on their local law, it’s a good idea for the developer to hire an attorney who is familiar with those laws.
Any deal regarding capital gets complicated quickly because it may be a securities transaction. Most attorneys are NOT capable of reviewing these contracts. Get help immediately if you’re thinking about a deal with capital, especially if it’s foreign capital.
5. Tell us about yourself. Were you always a gamer? When did you decide to focus on indies?
I’ve actually been a gamer on-and-off. Of course, I can remember spending many hours playing Nintendo when I was in elementary school. Same thing throughout high school, college, and after law school. Let’s just say if I get into something, I’m really into that thing. It’s best that I stick to casual games.
One of my brightest friends released a couple of iOS games. He worked with a small team on a handshake deal. This made me wonder about others making games without business and legal assistance. I’ve had a great time working with all of my indie clients. That makes me feel like I’m on to something.
6. Where do you see the game industry in the next 10 years?
I think gaming may go the way of movie studios. That is, large game companies who are financially sound will focus on blockbusters. That leaves a big opening for the indies to produce most everything else.
I also think mobile games will continue eating away at the market share console games have enjoyed for so many years. Game engines like Unity allow for increasingly advanced mobile games. It’s astounding, really. Google and Apple release mobile operating systems at a break-neck pace and developers take advantage of that.
Another advantage mobile developers have is that very few people want to buy a new Sony / Microsoft / Nintendo console year-after-year, but statistics seem to indicate that many people will opt to buy a new iPhone annually.
7. Is there anything else you’d like to say to Novy PR’s clients and readers?
Don’t hesitate to reach out to us for help. We answer emails and return phone calls. Kamal Moo, my partner, focuses on music and film law and has been around the block. We’re currently working with a fan-funded project, Angry Video Game Nerd The Movie. If you have a creative project in the works, there’s a good chance my firm can provide the attention and advice you need.
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!