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Crisis PR: What to do when it all goes wrong

In life, sometimes even the best-laid plans can go awry. In PR, things are no different. Even the most experienced PR practitioner can find their self-confronted with a marketing disaster or a campaign that just fails to meet its goals. As we’ve touched on before in a previous post, PR isn’t an exact science, results often vary. What is guaranteed though is your reaction and how you choose to recover from a difficult situation. This is especially important for indie developers who, more often than not, don’t have trained PR people to the handle a crisis. So, if you find yourself in that situation here are a few tips on what you can do when it all goes wrong.

What could go wrong?

Well, frankly a lot of things. This could range from bad reviews and negative news coverage to community backlash regarding monetisation or even no media interest at all. A PR crisis can take on many forms but often in the case of indie developers, it’s lack of media interest or bad communication that cause most of the issues. Community engagement is extremely important to smaller developers and the lines of discourse are usually directly open in comparison to triple-A studios. Although this is something your audience might appreciate it also means people might shout at you on Twitter if their expectations of your game aren’t met. How you respond to that is very important.

Plan for the worst

The first reaction to any kind of PR crisis is to take stock of exactly what has gone wrong. This is the point at which you’d re-evaluate your PR plan and analyse where the issue began. If you don’t have a PR plan then that’s your first mistake. The best possible way to avoid unwanted surprises during a campaign is to have a detailed and robust strategy in place. That way you can quickly assess what has gone wrong and focus on addressing the issue instead of floundering your response time trying to understand the situation.

A plan like this should take into account the variety of challenges and threats a campaign can face and present backup ideas should they occur. With some sense of what can go wrong you should be ready to enact a counter strategy should you find that your PR hasn’t worked. PR disasters can be costly, depending on their severity, so always plan for the worst and work backwards from there.

The unexpected happens

So, you had a plan and a number of strategies in place should things go wrong, but something unexpected has happened. For a small indie game studio, this can be catastrophic, even teams with the support of bigger PR agencies can struggle in a situation like this. The first step is always to take a step back and coordinate with your team your plans moving forward. This, in PR terms, means a complete blackout, the last thing you need is someone jumping on social media and the situation spiralling beyond your control. It’s worth noting that silence is not recommended as a long-term strategy as although it may control things escalating it can cost you dearly in the long run in terms of reputation.

Now, your reaction could take on many forms depending on the scale of the PR problem you are faced with, but there are a few key guidelines that you can follow to ensure the best possible course of action.

Honesty is the best policy

First and foremost, be honest. Don’t try to escape the problem by not telling the truth or using excuses to justify your actions. If something has really gone wrong then open and honest discourse is a great starting point to reach a resolution. This could mean issuing an apology or statement of clarification in a professional and respectful manner that puts a clear line under your stance on the situation. An honest approach is a great way to repair your relationship with your audience, but it’s imperative that your communication is genuine or you could run the risk of facing a further backlash.

Avoid online debates

When issuing statements, apologies or updates on your failed marketing efforts it’s always best to do so in a way that adopts a one-way dialogue. This may be counter to how you usually interact with your audience, but often in these situations opening yourself up to a two-way dialogue can worsen the situation and course you to lose control of the discourse. For instance, you might jump into a Reddit AMA after a PR disaster with purely good intentions as a way to show your audience you acknowledge the issue only to be goaded into saying something inflammatory and causing more problems for you to deal with. In this sense, a one-way dialogue keeps your intentions clear to your audience and doesn’t open you up to further mistakes.  

Actions speak louder than words

Often, if the PR crisis you are facing is minimal, swift and efficient action can solve the problem before it becomes a bigger issue. By way of example, let’s say your game has promised certain features and this has been echoed in the press releases, but unknown glitches or bugs have meant that hasn’t happened. Facing an audience backlash becomes a lot easier if you can simply address the issue head-on fix the problem and then communicate that fact to your audience. This approach isn’t always possible but is extremely effective when utilised correctly. There are times where your audience would much rather hear you’ve fixed the issue than read an apology explaining why it happened.

With these core attitudes in mind, you should be able to evaluate and react in a way that is appropriate for your situation and results in minimal damage to your reputation.

Failure is the greatest teacher

Once the dust has settled and the crisis has been handled it’s time to look back and assess what went wrong. The most effective way to benefit from a bad situation is to learn from it and use that knowledge moving forward to improve your PR efforts. Now is the time to reevaluate your primary research and ask yourself the important questions. Did you properly identify your target audience? Do you need to adapt your outreach strategy? There’s no value in just accepting a campaign failed. In gathering feedback from professionals and the public alike you could gain invaluable insight into what caused your PR campaign to fall into crisis and how to avoid that in the future.

A crisis doesn’t have to become a disaster

Remember crisis PR is about choosing the right strategy to address the problem and learning from what originally caused it. Proper planning can help you prepare for the worst and arm you with a strategy should things go off track. Taking the time to consider your mistakes is always the best course of action. Never just react to a situation without taking a moment to take stock of your reply. And, ultimately, always learn from your mistakes, PR is often a delicate process and mistakes will occasionally happen, but it’s how you choose to handle those mistakes that will differentiate your situation from a PR crisis to a PR disaster.

The selling-in process: How we pitch games to the media

One of the questions people sometimes ask us is: how exactly does PR work? How do we go from this conversation, to our games appearing in the press? What do you do to make that happen?

Some people imagine that we send out press releases and journalists pick their favourites to write about. Others assume we have a certain ‘sway’ with the media, or that we can ‘call in favours’ to get coverage. Others still wonder if an exchange of money is involved. In fact, the truth is a little more complex. So I figured: why not give you folks a walkthrough?

Making friends

Often people talk about ‘courting the press’ but, in my experience, our relationships with the media are much more organic and less cynical than that makes it sound. When you work in and around the same field, you meet people you get on with. Because of the nature of the work we do, often these people are journalists. Some of them were journalists back in the day, when I was doing the same job. Others are new to the field but we’ve ended up meeting at an event. I went to lunch with an editor at a major publication the other day – not because I was pitching something or trying to get ‘in’ with the right people, but because they’re a mate, and we hadn’t seen each other in ages.

So, because we’re friends, they’ll do me favours and get our clients’ games in their publication, right? Well, no, because they’re a professional: no journalist or editor worth their salt will favour their friends’ projects over the needs of their readership. And in fact, we barely talked about games all afternoon.

Rather, because we have a meaningful relationship, I have a good sense of what they like and dislike; they might sometimes tell me how work is going, their current challenges and obstacles, or what they’re really hoping to do more of. So when I next think about which reporters a particular game might be well suited to, I’ll have a good idea of how it might fit into that particular editor’s plans.

Also, crucially, we trust each other. They trust me not to bombard them with crap they won’t care about, because I know what they’re into and what their audience responds to. And I trust them to be honest, to take a look at something if I do say “look, you’re really going to like this,” and to be fair and impartial in any coverage they do provide.

When people ask me if I have a “network of press contacts,” I’m always tempted to say: “no, but I’m friends with quite a few.”

The four Ws

Journalists are taught to report on the four Ws: who, what, where, and why? In truth, a good PR professional will live by the same words when starting to put together a campaign.

In establishing the best way to get your game into the press, we often like to talk with our clients about:

  • What do you want to talk about? What story are you hoping to tell?
  • Where would you like to be seen? What publications are the best fit for your game or studio?
  • Who at these publications will be the best fit to tell your story?
  • Why will they care?

If we don’t have a strong answer to all of the above, then the chances are, the story will fall flat. It’s vital to pair compelling storytelling with targeted pitching, to give you the best chance of cutting through the noise and adding value to the publications you want to reach.

…plus an H

With this out of the way, another important question we have to ask is: how. By what method are we going to make the right people aware of this story?

The old gold standard of public relations was the press release. We still use them, but largely because they’re a good conduit of information, whereby if someone is looking for information or news about a game, being able to head to GamesPress and browse some press releases is a handy thing to be able to do. They’re also a great way for us to focus on what it is we’re trying to communicate. In reality, though, we don’t find them especially useful for actually getting stories into the press.

Why? Because eight hundred thousand of the bloody things are emailed out each day. These days, reporters tell me it’s not uncommon for them to receive several hundred in a single day. Most of them never get read. This tallies with our own data, which suggests the average press release we sent out is read by around 20% of the people we send it to.

Clearly, however, we have not gone out of business. So what do we do to get games into the media?

Well, in the most part, we combine one-to-one discussions with personalised mass-mail outreach. First, we pick the – say – 20 people we really think are the best fit for the story, and we get in touch. “We’ve got a story we’d like to discuss,” we tell them. “We think it’s a great fit for you, for these reasons. We’ll be sending this out next week, on Tuesday. What do you reckon? How can we make this work?”

Now, perhaps only five of these 20 pitches end up being picked up – but we often find that this route is the best way to generate really interesting story opportunities, that go beyond ‘a quick news post’. We often end up having follow-up conversations, about things that might work in the future; or we find out they aren’t interested right now, but that the game would make a great fit for a feature they’re running next month, and so on. We learn a lot from these discussions too, and even a failed pitch can often result in gaining great insight and feedback from the journalist in question.

And then, for a slightly wider reach, we send a mass mail. I’m really proud of our mail system. I’m gonna go ahead and call it a trade secret, beyond telling you that it selects around 100 journalists that should be a good fit for the game, and lets us email them in a fashion that feels personal and tailored. It works well enough that one editor personally replies to these emails every single time, even though I’ve told him repeatedly that we use mail-merge. When we started using this system, our engagement rate went up by almost 50%.

And finally… sometimes, it’s true, we pay for content. Some gamers would have you believe that most content in the mainstream games media is paid-for. It isn’t, and you’ll always know the content that’s paid for because it’ll be marked with the word ‘promotional’ or ‘advertisement’ or similar, because it has to be, by law. But sometimes, these placements can be useful – partly to guarantee that a story gets in front of the right people, and partly because we can often get an insight from advertisement features into the audience that reads them, helping us to tailor future content. (In case you were wondering, these features tend to start from a few hundred pounds, and go up to several thousand, depending on the publication and the feature type.)

And that’s about it

That, in a nutshell (or, more precisely, in 1230 words), is how we go about getting your game into the press. You’ll see that it’s an inexact science, which is why we always make a point of reminding developers that, in the world of PR, there are no guarantees. It’s also why PR campaigns often take time, and it might not be until the third or fourth conversation with a journalist that an opportunity for coverage finally appears – if indeed it ever does at all.

In any case, what I like to think about the way we work is this: we always learn something. Whether it’s over lunch with an editor, or in response to an email we send out, or by analysing the click-rate on a press release, with each outreach campaign we gain additional insight into how your game is resonating with different people in the media, and how the stories we’re telling about it are being received. As with many disciplines, PR is a world in which you build up knowledge and skills over time which transfer between campaigns – but each project always comes with its own nuance, which needs to be learned on the job.

The Influence of Influencers

The term influencer is something that has become ubiquitous within online marketing over the past few years, particularly with regard to video games, with streaming platforms such as YouTube and Twitch dominating the online space. Any conversations you’ll hear around marketing and PR for games these days will no doubt involve some mention of the benefit of influencers. So, what does that mean if you’re trying to promote an indie game?

Why influencers matter for indie game PR and marketing

With live streaming increasingly becoming a part of people’s everyday life, and the popularity of video content causing a notable shift in media consumption, it seems influencers will become a permanent fixture in marketing strategies moving forward. It’s easy to see the benefits in someone like Markiplier playing your game on his channel in front of millions of viewers. He has an established fan base and has built up a level of trust with his audience, but, in reality, the chance of most indie games making the cut is unlikely.

With hundreds of emails landing in their inboxes each and every day (and most probably filtered out by an agent or manager), there’s a real challenge in managing the relationships you have with influencers and making sure they represent your game in the way you want it to be seen. But an often unspoken challenge is ensuring that the influencers you reach out, and the audiences they possess, to are a genuinely good fit for your game.

Choosing the right influencer

Rockfish Games’ co-founder Michael Schade, recently speaking at the Reboot Develop conference in Croatia, highlighted the dangers of selecting the wrong influencers to promote your work. Schade’s team reportedly paid €5,000 an hour for a prominent streamer to broadcast their game, Everspace who Schade reportedly went on to say was ‘shit at playing the game’. In fact, Schade claimed that only three or five of the 20 YouTubers and influencers that were involved with the game worked out and said the rest were either just ‘OK, or a disaster,”. So, selecting the right influencers from the offset or being involved in that process if you’re using an agency could save you time and money down the line.

Choosing influencers isn’t exactly an easy process. It requires exhaustive research and a deep understanding of how content creators and streamers work. As a start, you’ll want to pick influencers with an audience that fit your game. This seems like a simple step, but as the example laid out above demonstrates, even people with marketing experience don’t always get it right. Watch their videos, look at the previous games they’ve covered and evaluate the kind of reaction you think your game would get on their channel.

Next you’ll want to consider what kind of a following they have. For instance, a YouTuber with 43 subscribers is going to be of little value to you. Similarly, a channel with tens of thousands of subscribers yet very few views per video implies that their audience might not be that dedicated, or even genuine. You’re looking for consistency, in terms of quantity, views and engagement.

The approach

Once you’ve established an influencer you’d like to work with it’s time to approach them with an offer. Getting the correct emails can be a challenge in itself if you don’t have access to a PR list, but, particularly with the mid-range influencers, you may get a response.

It’s at this point you should really know your goals and how they align with your marketing budget. If you have a budget of zero (which isn’t ideal, but, you know, we get it) it’s best to be clear about this from your initial communications. You can simply introduce them to your game and see if they’d be interested in covering it; the rest is in their hands. Alternatively, if you do have a marketing budget you can start looking at your options for reaching influencers through PR channels and even directly paying them for promotional content. Caution is advised here though, as the influencer market is still in its infancy and getting ripped off or misled is unfortunately commonplace. The best advice is to either work through agencies that manage influencers, or only reach out to reputable content creators that have some element of trust in the industry.

The benefits of micro-influencers

It doesn’t just stop at major influencers though. ‘Micro-influencers’ are not huge personalities with millions of followers, but everyday people with small but  highly engaged audiences usually focused on a specific subject, such as indie games. Research on platforms such as Instagram has shown that engagement hits its peak around the 1,000 follower mark and as an account’s followers move beyond the 10,000 point it in fact starts to dramatically decrease. There are also several other benefits of working with micro-influencers you might want to consider, which are especially relevant to indie developers with limited budgets.

First and foremost, the cost is significantly cheaper with micro-influencers generally offering much better engagement levels for the cost. Trust is also an important aspect of what makes micro-influencers so appealing, as it’s generally accepted that there is a close relationship with an audience that relates to an influencer and the effect that has on purchasing decisions. People tend not to trust bigger accounts or celebrities. There are also a lot more accessible lines of contact to less widely known personalities that might not register on a global level but have considerable sway in their particular niche. As have a direct line of contact can often be the hardest step. And finally, they can offer a chance to reach a highly defined audience that, if suitable for your game, can translate into a sales return that greatly exceeds the marketing cost thus offering value for money.

Worth the cost?

This should lay out some of the basic approaches to utilising influencers to promote your indie game. In short, find a content creator that fits your audience, do your research and negotiate an agreement that is mutually beneficial for both parties. Exercise a degree of caution when people start by asking for upfront payments and consult with other people in the industry to get an idea of what is a reasonable price. It’s hard to define a clear cost structure for influencer marketing due in part to a general lack of transparency on the creator’s side and because of the wide variety in scale and scope each campaign presents.

All this said, it’s pretty clear the benefits influencers can offer to indie game developers and PR agencies. The business of influencers is still very much in its infancy and has a lot of room for growth, but the potential it has already shown in promoting games is undeniable. Contrary to popular belief traditional PR still holds a large amount of power in the video game industry, but the influence of influencers is growing year on year and the role they play in indie game PR and marketing campaigns is becoming ever more important.

Kotaku is not the answer: Strategic thinking for indie game PR

Jon and I are on a call with a developer. It’s an initial call about the possibility of working together. They’re informal discussions, these initial calls: they help us to get a sense of whether we might be a good fit for the game, whether our ambitions align, and what sort of promotional work might be the best for their project.

One of the questions I like to ask in these calls is: “What does success mean to you?” Often people seem a bit nonplussed by this question, like, isn’t it obvious what success means? But almost every developer has a different answer.

This developer answers without missing a beat. “Well, I mean, to get press coverage, of course. Like, can you get us on Kotaku?”

The indie game PR dream?

You can replace ‘Kotaku’ with ‘IGN’ or ‘Gamespot’, but the message is the same: “We’re looking for an agency that can get us on the very biggest games websites.” But while having this in mind as an objective does communicate something about a developer’s vision, it’s often not the most helpful measure of success – and sometimes not even especially helpful from a promotional perspective.

On the surface, it’s easy to see why Kotaku may be an indie developer’s dream. It’s one of the biggest games websites on the planet, read by more than 15 million people each month. It’s also a highly engaged audience. A glance at Kotaku’s biggest stories of the week might lead you to hundred-comment-long threads that have been widely shared around the web by the site’s passionate and vocal community.

And it’s a household name in the gaming community, one of the most recognisable games media brands on the planet. To be covered by Kotaku (or IGN, or Gamespot) is to gain a tangible amount of prestige – and in the world of PR, prestige alone can go a long way.

Analysing the audience

All this said, when we’re designing a PR campaign for one of our clients, we need to be smart and calculated in the way we expend our promotional energy. And often, the tangible results that a story on Kotaku has on an indie game’s success are less than one might think.

For one thing, Kotaku – and, yes, IGN and Gamespot and the like – produces an especially high volume of content. Yesterday, Kotaku posted 40 stories on its US portal alone. Stories on the front page stay there for a matter of hours before being lost to oblivion. (In a sense, Kotaku isn’t too bad in this respect, compared to the competition. On Gamespot, only ‘popular’ stories make the front page by default at all.)

The content does get read, of course. But by whom? Kotaku’s audience largely comprises console gamers who are embedded in gamer culture. They play mainly on PlayStation and Xbox platforms, they value high production values and flashy marketing materials depicting fast-paced action. They are overwhelmingly male, and based largely in North America (Kotaku redirects international users to their own local portals, which are independently run and have much smaller readerships). Apparently they spend an above-average amount of money on amusement park tickets, but that’s probably a data point we can safely ignore. Unless you’re making a new RollerCoaster Tycoon, perhaps.

They also have – and this is not a dig at Kotaku readers, just a statement of fact – relatively short attention spans compared to readers of other games websites. Kotaku readers average 1.7 page views per visit. This suggests most readers scan the home page and maybe click through to one full article or discussion. They’re on the site for a little over 2 minutes a day. (By way of comparison, Gamespot’s numbers are 2.2 and 2:20; IGN’s are 2.6 and 2:34).

What does this mean?

It means that if Kotaku covers your game, it may spark a discussion – but it may simply fall down the listings, to be forgotten about within 24 hours.

It means that discussions that do form around your game might be negative. Sites that primarily cater to AAA console gamers, which then publish a story about a more humble indie game, often become very hostile spaces – with readers bemoaning “yet another crappy indie game” or finding it hilarious that your graphics shaders aren’t as competent as those used by first-party studios for their $100 million production.

And stories that get lost in the crowd, or which don’t resonate with the readership, are unlikely to serve you too well when it comes to getting people hyped up for launch day. But to dwell on these aspects is to miss an even more crucial point, an elephant in the room, which is that Kotaku probably won’t cover your game at all, no matter how hard any of us tries.

Why Kotaku won’t cover your game

Kotaku simply doesn’t regularly cover indie games. In the past three days (that’s around 40 stories a day, remember), aside from it’s ‘Weekly Indie’ video (weekly indie – think about how many indie games are released each week), Kotaku has covered two indie games. One is Frostpunk, whose developers 11Bit Studios were founded by ex-CJProjekt types and have already shipped multiple successful titles. The other is Death Road To Canada, which only made the news in reference to the horrific Toronto attack this week.

In the same time frame, Far Cry 5 has been covered twice, PUBG three times, and God of War six times. It’s no coincidence that these are currently among the highest-tending Google search terms leading people to Kotaku.

Why doesn’t Kotaku really cover indie games? Because, as we’ve established, Kotaku’s readers don’t really enjoy that many indie games. It’s not a good fit for their readership.

None of this is to say you should blacklist Kotaku. But it is about figuring out where best to invest your time and resources. Getting on Kotaku is going to be a challenge. It’s going to take a lot of hard work, a lot of failed pitches, an immense amount of reading to figure out which reporters work which shifts and which are the most likely to cover indies on which day and at what time. And even then it might not work. And even if it does, people might not care or, worse, leave with a negative impression of your game.

You might start to ask yourself if getting on a site like Kotaku is really the smartest campaign objective after all.

OK, never mind Kotaku then. What should you aim for?

Getting on the biggest games websites can be a great boost, but it’s important to think strategically about your wider marketing goals, and how your PR efforts need to fit into that.

If you want prestige then, sure, getting the occasional story in the major outlets can be a great way of developing that. But if you want to build a meaningful audience, more niche outlets are often a great way to start out.

If you’re making a PC game, then platform-specific websites such as Rock Paper Shotgun, PC Gamer and PCGamesN all have large readerships, who play games on your target platform, and who are more receptive to indie games than readers of most multiplatform websites. Even if their readership is half that of Kotaku’s, it’s very likely that the number of receptive readers is many times higher.

Plus, PR works best when your audience is exposed to your content regularly over a long period of time. The biggest games websites may struggle to justify running one story a month about your indie game in the run-up to launch – but smaller sites might be able to offer you that. A website like GameReactor.eu – which serves content to half a million readers a month – might be much smaller than the big three, but its willingness to get behind indie games it likes the look of means much better prospects of long-term exposure.

And starting out with smaller publications, building trust among their writers and readership, can be an excellent way of impressing the bigger outlets later down the line – as it shows that you have meaningful media value (find out more about media value and how to earn your place in the press).

Of course, all of this is without even considering the other PR channels that are available to everyone these days. Long gone is the era in which the press was the only way of reaching your audience. With YouTube, Twitch, social media and community all more vital tools than ever, investing more of your energy in these directions from an early stage can pay dividends later down the line.

Thinking strategically

The important thing is ensuring you’ve established a strategy, and working backwards from that to develop a meaningful plan of action that works for your game, rather than playing into an assumption of what good PR should be.

Who is your target audience? Which media do they consume? Where do they hang out? How can you really engage them? And what’s the most time- and cost-effective method of doing so? These are all questions you should be asking yourself, before you hit ‘send’ on that email to tips@kotaku.com.

Data via AlexaQuantcast and SimilarWeb, captured on 24 April 2018.

Storm warning: How to survive the indiepocalypse

The first warning signs of trouble on the horizon for indie games and their developers came around 2014 when people in the industry started to speak of an indiepocalypse. With an oversaturation of titles flooding onto Steam and App Stores already pushed to capacity by the huge influx of smaller games concerns were beginning to grow. So, is the indiepocalypse still something indie game developers and fans alike should be worried about? Let’s look at some of the key predictions that perpetuate this belief.

The fierce competition

So, according to the Doomsday prophecies, releasing indie games would get more competitive every year and the likelihood of your game succeeding would become less and less. If you take a straightforward look at the statistics it’s easy to see how this conclusion could be reached. The number of games released on Steam, for instance, has increased significantly year on year.

(Stats obtained via the sadly soon-to-be-defunct SteamSpy)

Taking this chart at face value you’d be forgiven for thinking the indie scene is in danger of collapsing in on itself as online retailers become swollen with daily releases. What hasn’t really been taken into account is the fact that Steam as a platform and video games as a medium have experienced a natural amount of growth that can easily account for this rise. For instance, so far, this year roughly 2,600 games have released on Steam. Those figures, taken tentatively of course, would suggest the peak of the storm is plateauing and the collapse may not be happening after all. But, what does that mean for indie games?

The value of visibility

Well, it means the same as it always has: your game still has to be good to get noticed. The number of competitors you face – and let’s be honest, a vast number of the releases on Steam Greenlight, now Steam Direct, were shovelware – doesn’t impact any particular game’s chance of success as much as people fear. Competitors were always there, albeit peddling their games in different ways and in different marketplaces, but they were still a part of the ecosystem that indie games existed in. The issue then, more than anything, is visibility.

The concerns surrounding visibility can clearly be seen in the current goldrush to platforms like the Switch, where developers hope for greener pastures among a far less crowded flock. But the same problems persist, as is evident with talk already circulating in the indie community of a Nindiepocalypse, as games flood onto the system. The truth is visibility is often a byproduct of success. What you really need in the development phase of an indie game is direction, planning, and honest feedback, helping you to make smart market-related decisions.

But when so much depends on people seeing your game when it launches, what can you do in advance to give yourself the best chance of success? It’s important to think early about how to promote  your game to the right people. For example, investing early in community can increase a game’s chance of success in tangible and measurable ways. Studios that have invested early in building a large community following on social media, and who regularly have meaningful engagement through those channels during development, can release their game knowing they already have a significant number of eager players waiting to hit that ‘purchase’ button – driving their games onto Steam’s ‘trending’ list.

Planning for success

Still, having a load of social followers isn’t helpful in and of itself. What’s vital is putting the right product in front of the right people – and making sure that the people you want to impress actually are impressed with your work. Giving your game to members of your target audience during development, and asking them for feedback, might sound like more of a development activity than a marketing one – but the two are inextricably linked.  You’re going to find out what is and isn’t working, the things that might lead to bad reviews, the turn-offs that lie where the turn-ons should be. And you’re going to learn this information early enough to act on it, mitigating a huge risk when it comes to launch.

Perhaps more than anything, running a tight ship business-wise is perhaps more imporant for indies now than ever before. While overall game sales are on the rise, your market share is going to be much lower than it used to be, and the average revenue per indie game has fallen. This doesn’t mean you can’t make a viable living as an indie developer – plenty do – but getting good at budgeting, cost-saving and, ultimately, planning how to make your marketing spend go further, are all important skills to learn if you want to make your project a success. Besides, having a budget in place from the start of your project, even during the concept phase, will save you complications later down the line. You don’t want to spend five years making your dream game, only to find you have no money left to market it with.

There will always be certain factors out of your control in the games industry – it’s a creative pursuit after all – and who knows what will be the next Braid or Limbo? The key to progress then is increasing the chance you have of succeeding, rather than searching in vain for a way to guarantee it.

So, in that sense the indiepocalypse could be considered a myth, an afterthought of the video game crash of the 1980s that saw the industry flooded with companies eager to make money off a once booming market. With developers recently opening up about how their games have failed and why, such as Where the Water Tastes Like Wine’s Johnnemann Nordhagen touched on in his postmortem of the game, it’s more important than ever to budget accordingly for things like PR, marketing, business management and playtesting – as that consultation, guidance or knowledge could help put your game in front of the right people and give it the best chance of success.

Dissecting indie game PR emails – what works, and what doesn’t?

I haven’t worked as a journalist or editor for a long time now, meaning I’ve often wondered what other people are sending out as PR materials. Typically, as a PR, you don’t end up on many competitors’ press lists (although inexplicably I’ve been receiving press releases from one music PR firm pretty much every week, despite telling them multiple times that the last time I wrote about music was 12 years ago).

However, in January we launched The Indie Game Website. While I’m not directly involved in the running of that site, and almost never check the PR inbox myself, I thought I’d have a sneaky peek at what other indie developers are sending out in the hope of coverage. And what I found there was really interesting.

I’ve had a number of developers ask me: what goes into a really good PR email? And the standard answers are things like: “Describe your game, link to a press kit, yadda yadda.” But reading these emails in the TIGW inbox, I realised there were a few recurring issues that were likely going to make these studios struggle to get the press attention they may well deserve.

So, in this post, I’m going to walk through a selection of them and show you where I think they went right or wrong. For obvious reasons, I’ve redacted names and personal info, but I’ve also redacted anything I felt could be used to identify their game, because I don’t think it would be fair if it were possible to do so. So apologies for all the black bars, but I’ll go ahead and assume you understand.

Let’s go!


Here’s an example of an email that will almost never get any sort of response. It’s obviously been sent to a bunch of people at once, so no indication of why it’s been sent to this particular editor. The game description (redacted for privacy) is a few words long and doesn’t really say anything. The press kit linked in the email contains almost no information or high-quality images – although kudos for including a link to download the game in the email. There’s also just not much an editor can do with this email. There’s no story to tell, no information to disseminate. “I made a video game” is not newsworthy.


This one’s better. The email is tight and concise, contains some important information displayed clearly, plus clear links to assets. A direct link to some screenshots would have made it even better. What I really like here is that there’s a clear story to tell (“we just opened our closed alpha”) and there’s a direct question to the recipient (“would this be the kind of thing you’d be interested in covering?”). If the email had addressed the recipient individually, rather than being something that appeared to have been mass-mailed, it’d be pretty much on the money.


Yeah… if you released your game last year, and it’s now February, then you left it too late: your game isn’t newsworthy any more, making this type of content of little value to editors. Also, this is an email requesting a review that doesn’t include a key for the game. Don’t make the journalist work harder than they need to. If you want a review, send them the game straight-up.


For example, this email includes multiple Steam keys. A great idea, as an editor might like to try out a game to see if it’s worth covering, before assigning the review itself to another staff member. However, please never call your game “short and vague” and, while Steam keys are nice, it may be smart to give some indication of why you’re sending the email in the first place.


This one’s pretty good. Concise, to the point, and with assets and info clearly linked. Still, if I’m an editor here, I’m not exactly convinced. You haven’t told me why your Kickstarter is worth backing or why your game is worth covering. What makes your game awesome? Why do you deserve that hotly contested page space?


The first thing I see here is “Hello dear Editors” which makes me immediately know it’s been mass-mailed. Mass mail is fine – we use it too, when we need to reach a large number of people in a short space of time – but show a little effort. It’s not hard to come up with a couple of nice mail-merge tags to at least include the editor’s name, and preferably even their publication, somewhere in the email. Free software like Mailchimp handles it all like a boss, with a visual interface to boot. We A/B tested some mass mails once; the ones that included the journalist’s name had a 60% higher click-through rate.


This is very close to being an excellent email. Describes the game, includes assets and information, a Steam key, and all that good stuff. I still wish they’d been more direct on the reason they’re sending the email, though, something I think it highlighted by the subject line ‘Game Submission’.


That’s what I’d like to end this post by talking about. I fear there is an assumption that what games journalists do is have games ‘submitted’ to them, and that they exist as a sort of panel of judges, selecting the games to ‘award’ with coverage. Wading through the Indie Game Website PR inbox, I genuinely struggled to find an email that didn’t make this mistake. Journalists are not judges. They’re journalists. They report the news. Sometimes they critique products that are newsworthy.

Back when I was an editor, I used to get a lot of emails from indie developers saying “here is my game, check it out” – and sometimes that game looked great, but there was so little I could actually do with it. Is it brand new? No, it came out last month. Is there a new update? No, not really. Are there any interesting stories surrounding it? No, not really, it’s just sat there on a store front, waiting for people to find it.

It’s sad to see this doesn’t seem to have changed, and I think the most important piece of advice I would have to indie developers emailing the press is: figure out what you want from them, ask for it, and give them the tools to deliver. If you want a review, send them code ahead of release and say “we’d love to see a review on your site when the game launches next week – do you think that’s something you’d be interested in running?” If you want your news covered, make sure you actually have a story to tell, and ask them if they think it could be fit into their news schedule? If you just send your game and a few links – or, worse, just a few links – you’re asking the journalist or editor to do all the mental work of researching and figuring out how they might be able to run a story on it, and the fact is, most are too busy to be bothering with that, and will move onto the next newsworthy item.

So in the spirit of openness and sharing, here’s an email I sent out yesterday, which resulted in coverage on a website with over a million monthly readers. It is worth acknowledging that, because I’m not the main person behind the game, I’m able to big it up a bit more than I’d have felt comfortable with as the main creative force, so do bear that in mind. Names redacted, natch.


Subject Line: [Game Name] news on [Website name] this afternoon?

Hi [Name], hope all is well.

I was hoping you might be interested in covering some news that I personally am super excited about. The Piano – Mistaken Visions’ noir horror adventure – will release on Steam this Spring, and there’s a brand new teaser trailer and set of screenshots. Which is especially exciting because we’re directly involved in the project, having partnered with Mistaken Visions to help them out not just with the PR side of things, but also in a sort of producer/design consultant capacity.

So, that’s exciting! It’s a game I absolutely love, hence the partnership. The Piano is a really different kind of horror game – with traditional survival horror at its core, but a noir-influenced aesthetic and deeply personal story taking centre stage. For an unfunded indie game made primarily by one person, it’s among the most atmospheric and creative games I’ve played in ages.

Anyway – full press release attached, which is going out at 1PM, plus here’s a link to the teaser trailer and here’s a new batch of screenshots. The Steam page is already online too so people can get wishlisting.

What do you reckon? Worth a story on [Website Name]?

Thanks!

-Lewis

Game If You Are partners with Mistaken Visions to launch The Piano this Spring

I’m delighted to be able to announce today that Game If You Are has forged an exciting new partnership with Berlin-based indie studio Mistaken Visions to bring their noir horror adventure The Piano to Steam this Spring.

While the bulk of the work we do is in for-hire PR consultation, we occasionally spot a project or meet a developer that we believe could benefit from a more holistic partnership. In this case, we first started working with creator Jonathan Stemmildt around 18 months ago, helping Mistaken Visions to start spreading the word about their game. But as time went on, and as the game began to take shape, we really started to see how much potential the project had. So we spoke to Jonathan to see if we could help out and, I’m very pleased to say, Jonathan said we could indeed.

We’re still going to be handling The Piano’s public relations moving forward, as well as more broad-strokes marketing. But this partnership also allows us to spread our wings a little and contribute directly to the project itself. Over the past month we’ve already collaborated with Mistaken Visions on a full design sweep, a QA testing phase and, perhaps most excitingly of all, we’ve been able to gather and begin recording a full cast of voice actors, to breathe even more life into the wonderful characters Jonathan and his team have created.

It’s a really exciting project for Game If You Are, and for me personally. As well as PR and marketing, I have a background in production, so it’s been super to step back into a producer role and help to steer the ship toward a May 2018 release.

The Steam page is up now, and we’d all love you a billion if you added it to your Wishlist.

Indie game marketing & PR tips: social media success

It’s often suggested that social media is the secret key to marketing success in the indie game sector. It’s free, it requires relatively little technical knowledge, and it has the ability to reach a nearly endless amount of your target audience. Or so the theory goes.

As with most things in life, the reality of the situation doesn’t quite align with this assumption. I’m glad to say it’s not far off, though: after all, it is free, it doesn’t require a huge amount of technical know-how, and you can reach some of your target audience by following some core principal rules for social media interactions.

So, if you’re part of a development team and have just drawn the short straw of marketing, or PR and marketing for an indie is your full-time job, we’ve put together a top 5 list of our social media best practices for you to peruse.

1. Be natural and authentic – you don’t want to sound corporate or stiff

There’s somewhat of a fine balance to social media interactions – the aim is always to sound human, after all. One of the benefits of being an indie is that you don’t have to be shackled to corporate publicity speak. You want your communications to have personality and relate to your target audience. With this in mind, there are a few fundamental tenets you can follow to make sure you don’t come off as a bot.

First and foremost, don’t be spammy. Nothing will get you unfollowed faster than constantly posting similar content day in day out. Take your time to hone your posts and seek out genuine conversations based on original materials. Reposting the same article about your game every other day is not going to get it more exposure; instead, try to build a rapport with your audience by starting related discussions

This has a lot to do with establishing a tone for your communications, which is not something that’s easy to do, but could help create a unified appeal for your game that the audience can trust.

2. Stick to a schedule

One thing that is often noticeable on social media accounts with little experience is the way in which they post their content. Sporadic posts at 3 am and the odd Monday morning update may fit your development cycle, yet may struggle to reach their intended audience. Setting out a clear and concise schedule for your social media interactions can combat this and help give your audience a sense of consistency.

No doubt, what you’re thinking now is ‘how am I supposed to make the time for that?’ but not to worry, modern technology has you covered. There are plenty of relatively cheap or even free social network management tools out there that can help you schedule a month’s worth of activity in a day. Platforms such as HootSuite, Buffer, and Tweetdeck are great examples of this and most come at a modest price to unlock all the features, as well as offering free packages alongside that. Just don’t forget to schedule your posts at the most optimal times – typically between 9 am and 3 pm in your target time zone – and you should take different time zones into consideration as well.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should rely exclusively on pre-scheduled posts. Direct interaction with your audience is key to successful social media marketing, so the reality is you will need to invest a little time every day to make this work. More on this further down the post.

3. Use hashtags in a way that fits your brand

The use of hashtags is somewhat synonymous with social media these days with even Facebook eventually adopting the trend. Yet, there are still teams out there who are not taking full advantage of the added reach certain hashtags can bring you. Essentially, this is all about helping people find your content by grouping it under the same umbrella of a specific hashtag.

There are plenty of hashtags out there for you to take advantage of, but what we see the most is people failing to leverage the community based, time-sensitive hashtags that can help create the types of two-way conversations you’re looking for. Weekly events such as #indiedevhour, for instance, can be a great way to get your game in front of the right audience and get that all important feedback you need to take your project to the next level. There are also other hashtag events to consider such as #screenshotsaturday and more general gatherings like #mondaymotivation.

4. Push for engagement and try to respond to everything within 24 hours

Community is king when it comes to indie games, but building an engaged and active audience is challenging, even for the triple-A market. Employing some of the other tips on this list, such as adopting authentic communications can help, but ultimately your hard work is going to amount to nothing if you can’t engage your followers.

This is an area where a lot of developers fall short, often posting quality content on a tight schedule only to not answer questions promptly and never engage in the conversation. The key is, don’t be afraid to chime in, this is your game after all and you want people to see your passion and enthusiasm surrounding the project. Understandably, this is not easy when time isn’t exactly on your side, especially if you’re doing this yourself and being an indie dev isn’t your full-time job. In terms of PR, though, engagement is the Holy Grail and this is something every project should strive to obtain. Put yourself out there, talk about your game on community-based forums like Reddit and show people why they should care about your work.

5. Make your posts visual

This should go without saying, but video games are a truly visual medium and benefit from being marketed as such. This isn’t just a theory either: research has proven that posts that contain visual content receive up to 94% more page visits and engagement than those without.

The brain processes visual information at a much faster rate than text, which in today’s society of reportedly shorter attention spans, can only be an advantage. An animated GIF, for instance, can get the primary premise, tone and style of your game over to your target audience in as little as 3 seconds. Text-based posts certainly have their place in a social media campaign, but it’s the visual content that’s going to help you get shares, likes and favourites. Share great looking screenshots, create GIFs and make sure your launch trailer is highly polished, as quality visual content is always going to be a lot more attractive than a text-based post describing how good your game is.

So! There are our top 5 tips to help indie devs master social media and get the most out of their interactions online. There is, of course, a lot more to running a successful campaign than simply the tips posted above – but they should prove as a great launch pad.

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.

The 5 most common indie game PR mistakes (and how to avoid them)

There are a lot of guides on the web that cover how to do good games PR. There are fewer that look at what not to do. As a result, there are some key mistakes that I see otherwise excellent indie studios making, and it’s a shame, because some of these can be real game-changers.

I wanted to look at the five most prominent mistakes I see, and give some advice on how to avoid making them. With the right attitude, proactive planning, and an honest, self-critical eye, every studio – even those without any budget to speak of – should be able to improve their publicity by taking note of these points.

Here we go.

1. Assuming the existence of your game is newsworthy

By far the most common mistake I see. You’re excited that you’re about to release your new game, and so are your friends and family, and all the people who helped out and supported you and fed you over the past 24 months. Alas, there are currently hundreds if not thousands of games being released every month, all of which are in exactly the same position as yours. “Game X released/announced today” is, quite frankly, never a compelling story.

Avoid it by…

…spending time thinking about your PR strategy, what you hope to achieve, and what success looks like to you. Then, put yourself in the position of the media, and figure out what success looks like to them. You’ll probably find the two don’t quite match up. Your job is to find potential links between the two.

A good starting point is to think about how your game might fit into content plans already in place at various publications. Websites and magazines often struggle far more to find interesting content for these regular features – which demand a journalist’s time every week/month/whatever – than news, previews or reviews sections, which are normally full to bursting.

Of course, that holy trinity of sections is where many games will want to end up. To get there, you need to spend time thinking about what makes your game stand out, and what about it will get people clicking on and sharing the story. If you can’t think of anything, it’s time to get creative. If you really can’t think of anything, then it might be appropriate to take a long, hard look at the game itself, and whether it cuts the mustard.

2. Running out of time

We receive a lot of enquiries from studios who begin their emails with words to the effect of: “We’re releasing our first game next month.” Sometimes we can work with this – if the developers in question have already been doing their best to spread the word, and just need some help for the final hurdle. But if you’re a month out from release and no one knows about your game yet, something’s gone wrong. PR takes time: it’s a long-term process, not a quick fix, and those who start too late may find it extremely difficult to recover.

Avoid it by…

…starting to think about your PR plan as soon as you decide you’re going to release a game. Most developers don’t launch into production without giving the process due attention, but PR and marketing tend to be an afterthought to many.

Try to build catchy hooks into the very nature of the game itself, and plot out key milestones when you’ll be able to show something during development. Most successful PC or console developers start publicising their games in earnest at least six months before launch, and there’s a reason for that: PR takes time to build momentum, and games that don’t have existing traction as they head into launch window are less likely to be considered for that all-important week-one coverage.

3. Failing to make a clear proposition

When I was a journalist, I used to receive quite a few emails from indie developers. I would estimate that 90% of them made it inordinately difficult for me to write about them. Journalists are busy people – so an email whose requests are unclear makes for a challenging story. Simply notifying a media figure that your game exists isn’t enough: as with any business relationship (which, make no mistake, this is), you need to be clear on both what you’re offering, and what you’re asking for in return.

Avoid it by…

…writing clear, concise and well-structured emails, which set out exactly what you’re hoping will happen, showcase the value you can bring to their publication or channel, and provide an opportunity for follow-up and next steps.

A good framework is to start your email by saying what action you hope the recipient will take (“I was hoping you might be interested in previewing our upcoming game, Face Melter IV”), detail why you think it’ll be worth their while in the middle (“Face Melter IV features the most advanced face-melting physics in the world, and we’d be happy to give you an exclusive first-look at this physics engine in action”), and end by asking them directly what will happen next (“Is this something you’d be interested in? If so, is there anything else you need from me? If not, is there anything we could show you in the future that would increase your interest in the game?”).

Remember to include everything you think the media might need in that first email. Don’t make them search for screenshots or chase you for Steam keys; bung them in that first message, and emblazon them in bold type.

Don’t be afraid to chase if you don’t hear back, but don’t go overboard: one polite follow-up email, a minimum of three days later, is a good rule of thumb. If you still don’t hear back and you’re feeling bold, a final, straight-to-the-point email can help you understand where you, uh, stand (“If you’re not interested in the game, that’s no problem at all – if you could reply to this email so I know not to bother you again in the future, that’d be super”) but be damn sure your tone is perfect, lest you sound like a dick.

4. Being too broad… and too selective!

A tricky one, this. You’ll often hear about the importance of being selective with your media outreach: focusing on a list of journalists and streamers whom you genuinely believe will love your game, and pitching it to them on their terms. And this advice is correct. Broad, catch-all outreach is rarely effective. But many developers also fall into the trap of not casting their net wide enough – leaving a gap in the middle where a lot of good coverage comes from.

Avoid it by…

…being strategic about who you get in touch with, and how you get in touch with them. We’re fond of employing three types of outreach simultaneously. There’s the careful, bespoke pitching, which is crucial. We also distribute press releases to thousands of journalists at a time. But in the middle, we have a complex and sophisticated mail system that is able to filter through our media list, find appropriate journalists, and send information to them in a format that’s tailored to their publication. Systems like this take time and effort to build, but they can be invaluable in reaching dozens if not hundreds of additional media figures with effective communications that go beyond a basic press release, without having to literally hand-write 476 emails on a single day.

5. Underestimating the competition

There are just so many indie games being released these days. And a fair number of them are really good. Plus, in much of the media space, you’re competing not just with fellow indies but also the big triple-A behemoths, who spend tens of thousands of pounds on every single glimpse of every single game they put out there. They’re diligent, and they’re always showing their products at their very best. That shaky preview build, less-than-perfect trailer, or set of bland screenshots? Unless you get lucky with a very quiet news day, they tend to paint a ‘meh’ enough first impression that you finish in second place. The games media simply doesn’t need to take a punt on indie titles that don’t scream quality.

Avoid it by…

…being bloody brilliant, and being honest with yourself when you’re not. I like to adopt a ‘no excuses’ attitude. Any developer we’ve worked with will probably tell you about an awkward conversation that’s happened between us at some point. But I’ve never regretted holding back a trailer or delaying a preview build to give people the time to perfect those finishing touches. Heck, we had a client once who was a month away from release. They sent us review code to distribute. The next day I called a meeting with the client and told them to delay the entire game by six months. It was a stressful, heated conversation, and no one left the room happy.

The developers went on to write us a glowing testimonial, because we saved them from a disastrous launch.

The games media are experts. They can tell a good game from a bad one; a professional trailer from a bedroom-produced Windows Movie Maker video. There are hundreds if not thousands of developers making great stuff. Be one of them, or get left behind.