The big indie game PR FAQ

If it’s your first time working with a PR or marketing company, you might be unsure what to expect. Bringing in external consultants can be a little intimidating, even.

We noticed a lot of our clients, especially those for whom this is their first time bringing in outside help for PR and marketing, ask a lot of the same questions. So, we thought we’d answer the most common ones here on our blog.

Q. What happens when we start working together?

A. Different agencies and consultancies have different on-boarding processes. Ours is simple. We begin with a kick-off meeting, where we discuss your aims and ambitions, and any limitations you might have (such as budget or time). We take lots of notes, then we go away and do some research – into your target audience, your competitors, and the media we think might be helpful – before coming back to you with a proposed plan of attack. Once you’re happy with everything, we lock down the dates, prepare the assets we’ll need, and we’re ready to get started!

Q. How involved will I be in the process?

A. Some clients want to be involved every step of the way. Others prefer to take a back-seat and allow us to take the lead. Within reason, we try to accommodate a client’s preferences.

We do find there’s a sweet spot, however. Good PR is both proactive and reactive, and the best results often emerge when a client trusts us to jump at new opportunities that spring up along the way, tweaking the plan accordingly on the fly. But collaboration is key. Most indie studios don’t have the budget to outsource all of their marketing – so being open to taking on certain responsibilities yourself, and making sure you’re able to coordinate your own efforts with ours, is vital in ensuring a solid, consistent, and well-timed campaign.

Q. Which publications will write an article about our game?

A. This is a question people ask a lot and, sadly, it’s not often one we can answer until the last minute. PR is what’s known as ‘earned media’ – see our post on this here – and that means we have to spend time ‘selling’ your project to the media we think will be interested.

This doesn’t mean we literally sell stories to the press; we’re not a news agency. This means we approach influencers we think will be interested, and we try to convince them your game is worth covering. Depending on a range of factors, sometimes we get a 100% hit rate, and other times it’s almost zero – but most of the time it’s somewhere in between.

We work hard to maintain meaningful relationships with the most influential games media in the world, and that gives us an edge against someone reaching out for the first time. But we don’t have a magic media wand, and if your game simply isn’t right for a particular journalist or publication, we can’t work miracles. What we can do is get you into the very best position to pitch for coverage, and give you the best possible chance of success.

Q. Okay, so what sort of results can I expect? And how can I measure your success?

A. When we first sit down together, we’ll talk a lot about your goals, aspirations and objectives. When we go away and do our initial research, one of the questions we’re asking is: “Do we think those goals are realistic?”

If we do, fantastic – we’ll tell you so, and we’ll note those down as a target. If not, we’ll tell you why, and propose what we think might be a more sensible target to aim for.

These targets aren’t designed to be hard-and-fast measures of success. For example, for your game’s first campaign, we might be aiming to achieve five articles on mid-tier publications, and instead we achieve only two of those but we also get on IGN. In which case, we’d still consider that a pretty good start! But these broad objectives should give us all a sense of the sort of thing we’re aiming for, and give both of us a sense of whether or not we’re on-track.

Q. When is the best time to start indie game PR?

A. As soon as you decide that you are going to release a game.

That doesn’t mean you need to start shouting from the rooftops when you’ve only been working on the game for a week. But having a strategy in place is vital.

The sad reality is, so many studios fail because they think about their communications strategy too late. If you’re only a couple of months away from release and suddenly it turns out no one’s interested in your game, or that the assumptions you made about your audience and the media are no longer true, it can be extraordinarily difficult to recover.

You should be thinking about your PR and marketing strategy at least a couple of months before you expect to be ready to start showing things. For most PC or console games, this usually means a minimum of 6-9 months before release. Even if you don’t plan to run a full campaign for months, there’s value in consulting with an expert at the earliest possible stage.

That isn’t to say we can’t help you if your release is just around the corner – but hopefully you’ve already done some of the legwork in that case!

Q. How many copies will our game sell?

A. Unfortunately, this too is a question no good PR professional will be willing to answer. There are two important things to understand:

1) Public relations is not a sales tool. It’s about raising awareness, building identity, and engendering trust and respect.

2) Regardless of point 1, no one in the world knows how many copies your game will sell.

Knowing how many copies your game will sell would involve being able to accurately predict the market, know exactly what your production plans look like, imagine precisely the finished game you’ll release, gain knowledge of exactly what other competitive companies will be doing around the same time, and know how much cash Little Jimmy’s mum will give him for his birthday this year.

What people usually mean when they ask this is either “Do you think my game has the potential to be a commercially viable product?” – which is a very sensible question to ask, and one that we probably can answer, at least in part – or “What return on investment can you achieve for me?”

If it’s the latter question you’re asking, you might want to look at more performance-based forms of marketing, such as digital advertising and user acquisition campaigns. These can be much more expensive than public relations, but are more suited to those who need to a direct through-line from action to sale.

Q. Can I just pay you / another PR agency to distribute a press release we’ve written?

A. There are companies that offer this service, but they’re few and far between. This is because a PR team’s media list is only one tiny part of what makes up an effective campaign.

Press releases are ‘catch-all’ PR. We do use them, because they’re a good way of ensuring a story is spread far and wide. But the bulk of our work takes place on the phone, or via email, or in person at an event – talking to specific journalists about a specific story about a specific game.

Plus, trust is at the heart of a business like ours. Journalists and influencers need to know that everything we send them will be relevant, exceptional, and on-point. It needs to have our ‘seal of quality’, so to speak. So we tend only to distribute media materials we’ve either produced ourselves, or which our clients have produced under our consultation.

Q. How much does indie game PR cost?

A. Exactly £4,748.36.

No, in all seriousness, it’s impossible to say without first defining a scope of work. Some clients only need a small helping hand, in which case a few hundred pounds or dollars might be enough. Other clients need something more comprehensive and long-term, so we might be talking in the four- or five-figure range. The best thing you can do is advise your potential PR partners of any budgetary constraints you need to work within right from the start, so they can plan and advise accordingly.

As a general rule of thumb, if you’re a serious developer you should be looking at reserving around 25% of your total budget for PR and marketing. So if you’ve spent £60,000 making your game, you might expect to spend around £20,000 on all of your PR and marketing campaigns and supporting assets.

Don’t let these figures put you off, though. Specialist indie game PR and marketing professionals will be used to working with limited budgets, and even if you’re producing your game on a shoestring, you’re likely to find someone who can help.

Q. Can I pay based on results?

A. Our answer to this is always “no.” And without wishing to speak ill of other companies, we’d be wary of anyone who says “yes.”

Why? Because any experienced PR professional will know that results are never guaranteed in this game. They’ll know that their own work is only one component of the overall pitch that ends up in front of a journalist or YouTuber. The quality of the game, the suitability of any existing marketing assets, the saturation of a target market, seasonal trends in the media, timing in relation to other stories… heck, even whether or not the news editor is off sick that day – they can all have an impact on the success of any given campaign.

PR professionals are just that: professionals in their field, not miracle-workers. Competent ones will expect to be paid for their work, not their ability to create gold out of thin air.

Q. So, like… isn’t paying a PR company a massive risk that might not even pay off?

A. Yes. Yes it is.

There’s no point skirting around this issue. There are thousands of indie games out there, and only a small handful receive significant media attention in any given week.

You might run a PR campaign and find it doesn’t have the impact you hoped. You might feel disheartened by that. But the fact is that running a good, solid, well-planned PR campaign will increase your chances of success far above zero – which is what it would be if you didn’t bother.

PR is an investment and, as with any investment, you should go into it knowing the risks. But doing so can help you to plan for contingencies too, making your overall strategy that bit more water-tight.

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