It's November. You're frustratingly aware you can't grow a moustache for charity and you're wondering if it's too soon to eat your first mince pie of the year. You're also an indie developer, trying hard to spread the news that you've just been Greenlit or you've finally been nominated for the "Best Indie Game 2015" by your mother-in-law.
First of all, congratulations! You've accomplished something great and you deserve to get noticed. Only, you probably won't, because it's November and AAA's are taking over the world. In a month that's renowned for the release of some of the biggest games of the year, it's harder than ever for your game to be noticed and easier than ever to be intimidated into PR hibernation.
My name is Ben Tester, a developer and PR guy for Wales Interactive. We're an independent studio developing the first-person adventure puzzle game, Soul Axiom, and we recently announced our first console publishing deal for the upcoming dark comedic kart racer, Coffin Dodgers. We were really excited to share this news with everyone but were worried the news wouldn't get picked up due to the high volume of AAA game releases this time of year. We needed to plan this one right in order for our news to be heard and to use the same principles for all our future announcements, big or small.
On the morning of the announcement, the embargo lifted and we had a really good response, with the news being picked up by a decent amount of media sites. So, I thought I'd share how I went about the process of sending out the news. I’m not winning any awards for marketing on this one, just a bit of research and a decent strategy was used. Hopefully some of these tips will be helpful for when you next release some news on your own game, whether it's November, December or any other time of year.
So here goes...
1. Planning is key, so do your research.
This might sound like an obvious one, because it is. When preparing the Coffin Dodgers news mid-October, I researched which games were coming out and when. Assassin's Creed Syndicate, Halo 5: Guardians, Call of Duty: Black Ops III, Fallout 4, Rise of the Tomb Raider and the list went on. Alright, so they are AAA and we are an independent studio, that doesn't mean we aren't competing with them because we are. We are still fighting for coverage on media sites whether they are small-timers or the big players in the industry. So, we had little choice on what day we wanted to announce the news and so I decided on Monday October 26th, the day before the Halo 5 release. Why? Halo 5 is an Xbox exclusive so not all the media sites will be swamped with news and reviews. It was three days after the release of Assassins Creed: Syndicate, not ideal but at least the majority of reviews were out of the way for that too. Planning the news any later than this date could have been a bad move, with so many games on multiple platforms coming out it just increased the likelihood the media wouldn't pick up on our news. This one is more common sense than anything, head over to sites like Metacritic for a list of upcoming releases or if you have a good relationship with a journalist, you could always ask for a recommendation when they’ll get some downtime in the period you’re looking at. Planning is key but it’s not much use without the next point…
2. Write a press release and make it interesting!
Put yourselves in the journalist’s shoes, they have a pile of unfinished articles backlogged and you send them a few lines of news with no links, no personal quotes, and no interesting hook for them to use. OK, so we weren't releasing breaking news that would stun the world but it was interesting enough for journalists to pick up on. Take our studio partnership for example, we made it a bit more interesting by pushing the "indies helping indies to take on AAA studios" tagline. We even tried a bit of humour with the "English teaming up with the Welsh" angle which caught the attention of the local press, albeit more mainstream than games industry (this was just after the Wales V England Rugby World Cup match). Writing a press release is boring, we all know that, but if you put the time in making it as clear and interesting as possible it will absolutely increase your chances of coverage simply because the journalist has more to work with which in turn makes their job easier. Speaking of making their job easier…
3. Give plenty of notice and build up relationships.
Sometimes it’s necessary to send out your news immediately but if you know you have a decent amount of time before you can send it out then do it. Set an embargo date/time and contact a few journalists in advanced to give them a heads up. I like to contact a select few who I already have a good relationship with, I’m also willing to offer those people extra quotes or exclusive media as a way of saying thank you for covering our news before. If you can get a few people on board before your news has even been announced then there’s less pressure on the day to be heard. The last thing you want to do is fall into that trap of sending generic, impersonal emails to your whole press list because you’ve run out of time. I remember one journalist thanking me for reaching out ahead of time and he sounded almost shocked as if it’s an uncommon thing to do. Maybe it is, but I’m glad I did it as not only was he able to fit me into his busy schedule, this journalist offered more coverage in a special feature further down the line. I’ve learnt not to be greedy when it comes to PR, if I know my story will be covered on a few different media sites, I tend not to keep pushing for more and more results unless it’s absolutely necessary. If I keep going, I start falling into the trap of a soulless PR guy with no personality to show for it. Some may put this down to a lack of experience but I don’t like being that annoying PR guy and it’s certainly no way of building any relationships in the industry. So who are the people to talk to? Insert final point…
4. Find the right journalist for your news.
It’s hard work knowing who’s who in the industry. There are publications closing, opening, changing names, changing staff, changing policies and rebranding all the time and there’s nothing worse than contacting someone’s newly appointed “PC Reviews Editor” about your upcoming console announcement. I like to use Twitter to keep in touch with the industry and often most of my relationships have started from here. Although I’m not a huge fan of the all-in-one social media tools, I do highly recommend the TweetDeck app. It’s a great way to set up lists and specific feeds to keep up to date with all that’s going on in the games industry. I always have this app open and docked to one side so I get live updates which I can react to immediately. It’s a good method to talk to individual journalists and it’s very easy to meet new people and find out where they publish their work and what they like writing about, whether it’s news/reviews, indie/AAA or Console/PC specific. This isn’t about stalking the press for information, it’s about meeting people, getting your name out there and having a bit of fun talking about what we all love, games!
I wanted to avoid turning this into a generic tips and tricks tutorial and instead I wanted to share how I go about sending out news and increasing my chances of getting coverage. I also thought it would be great to hear how other people like me are going about sharing their news. So, please feel free to introduce yourselves and leave some comments below with your experiences.
To find out more about Wales Interactive, head over to our Website, Facebook or Twitter or check out Soul Axiom over on Steam.
Thanks for reading!