At its core, public relations is largely about creating consistency. Anyone who has been in a PR meeting has heard the word ‘drumbeat’ more than once- create a steady pulse of news to stay in front of your audience. Silence equals a slow painful descent into anonymity. This is inconsistent with the world of gaming which, for better or worse, has long development cycles followed by extravagant launches then silent voids. If PR strives to be John Bonham keeping time on the drums, gaming is Jimmy Page wowing audiences with wild crescendos of shock-and-awe guitar solos. Connecting these two can be tricky.
The newsworthiness lifespan of a game is debatable, but you should be able to keep your game in the discussion for at least a year by breaking it up into three phases: pre-launch, launch, and post-launch.
*For the sake of this article, I will be speaking to small to mid sized developers as the rules are different for established and public developers.
The pre-launch portion of your PR program should start about three months before launch. The main goal of this period is to build up buzz for your impending launch and, if possible, let players know when the game will be available. You don’t need to be making announcements or hire outside help for this whole period, but you should be thinking about which news beats you want to hit and when.
In this phase, you’ll need to give people reasons why they can’t ignore your game. You should think of this like a missile- the payloads you want to deliver are details about the game, some slick screenshots, and hopefully a cool pre-launch trailer. The actual missile you’ll need to deliver these are news items. The news items here are usually launch dates, studio formations, key hires, and asset distribution.
Announcing your game’s launch date is an obvious touch point for press, but most people won’t actually care about this unless your studio has a strong track record, you’re working with a known IP, or there’s some established talent behind your game. If you don’t check those boxes, it’s fine to leave a vague launch window and focus on other components in the pre-launch phase. If you do have those, you’ll want to announce the launch date in conjunction with a game trailer, some assets, and offer at least one spokesperson to share some details about the game.
Outside of a launch date, there are other beats that fall into the pre-launch phase. If you’re forming a new studio around the game launch, press might care about that. The studio announcement should have a distinct mission statement which clearly telegraphs your game. General statements like “making really fun mobile games” won’t turn any heads. A studio announcement works even better if you can announce that established talent will be joining the studio. If anybody on your team has worked on cool games before, ideally in a leadership role, you should be screaming that from the mountain tops.
Partnership news also works in this phase- let people know if you’re partnering with another company to bring an IP or known brand to mobile.
The game launch is the most important, and simplest, phase of your game’s PR lifecycle. Your goal here is to get a lot of people talking about and reviewing your game. Generally, this phase takes place a month ahead of launch and a few weeks after launch in two concurrent cycles- news and reviews.
The news portion of your game’s launch entails letting people know that your game is live and giving your main pitch about why people should play it. This is where you roll out of all your best assets- a trailer with gameplay and cinematics, carefully crafted screengrabs that draw players in, and an intriguing press release that gives media everything they need to cover your game. These stories to cover the basics of your game and possibly include some editorial about its gameplay. However, the majority of your reviews will probably arrive after the game has launched.
Game review embargos are one of the most contentious aspects of games PR. They’re usually reserved for big-name AAA games and even then, they come with plenty of issues that we don’t need to cover here. However, in conjunction with your launch materials, you should definitely offer press early review builds of your game starting two to three weeks ahead of launch. For mobile games, it’s more common for reviews to publish in the weeks and months following your launch. For reviews, it’s your job to be totally available to reporters and quickly answer any questions and get them whatever they need to fully understand your game.
At this point in your game’s PR cycle, you’ve been chugging along with that drumbeat for a couple of months. Ideally, you’ve built some pre-buzz, had a successful launch, and your game is thriving in the app stores. At this point a game enters my personal favorite phase: post-launch. Depending on your game’s success, the post-launch phase can continue indefinitely, but for most games it will last three to six months.
During the post-launch phase, the things you should be talking about are the game’s success, how your players are interacting with the game, and lessons you learned creating the game. A product update may also be newsworthy if it significantly impacts gameplay.
Momentum is a natural news beat for a successful game. The trick is figuring out what momentum you want to share and when. If you can share any large figures about downloads or revenue, those are typically the crown jewels worth covering. Beyond that, you could try talking about more granular stats like DAU, ARPDAU, and LTV. If sharing something that proprietary makes you nervous, there are plenty of in-game metrics you can dig up like cumulative levels passed, enemies killed, lives lost, etc. Those are less interesting to press, but if you package them well and catch somebody on a slow news day you’ve still got a shot.
This phase is also a great time to share your development wisdom with the world. Think about what interesting problems you solved while creating your game, what compelling tech you created, or weird player habits you observed. Package these into post-mortems and you’ll keep your game in the conversation.
Finally, you should look into interesting things your community is doing. This one is tricky because it’s rare and harder to identify. Is your game connecting people (either in your own ecosystem or on other platforms like Instagram) in interesting ways? If you’ve got a sizable player base the answer is probably yes. Find the people who have formed crazy guilds, seek out your game’s cosplayers, find the couple who got engaged after meeting on your message boards. Game communities are full of interesting stories for those who are looking for them.
Creating order in something as hectic as a game’s development cycle is not easy, but thinking about your game’s strengths in each of these three phases will help you control your game’s narrative and give it the best chance of prolonged success.