I'm gonna start this off by saying that I don't really like dealing with traditional press releases when writing about games. It's important to note, however, that this is a personal preference affected by the fact that I'm writing about indie games and my audience wants to know what makes the games I'm covering special. I do need to know the kinds of basic facts a traditional press release would hit on (as I've written before), but I'm not looking to have my articles largely pre-written for me.
That's really the point of a traditional press release. We, the people with a thing to announce, know that you, a member of the press, are busy. We've taken the thing we're announcing and more or less written an article; feel free to copy our words to save yourself some time.
There's value in these press releases, especially to writers of the big sites that cover everything and put out dozens of articles a day, or to popular YouTubers who have games thrown at them by the hundreds. The bigger the crowd with which you must compete and the more articles/videos your target needs to pump out in a given amount of time, the more likely it is that a traditional press release will be useful to them.
Critics and other people whose audiences expect a more personal touch, however, will probably find a web-based press kit, such as presskit() or differently, with all the details succinctly laid out to be of far more use. I'm in this latter camp.
My advice, in general, is to use both web-based press kits and traditional press releases. Send out an email with a hook (short description to get the reader interested) and the most basic info at the top, a link to a web-based press kit (and maybe a trailer or what-have-you), and a traditional press release in plain text at the bottom of the email (or attached as a PDF at the bottom, but you don't know what the email system of your recipient is like and plain text in the email is guaranteed).
The above advice assumes you can write a good press release in the first place. Judging by the number of not-so-good and downright bad press releases I've seen, though, it seems to be a skill (or perhaps even an art) that most people don't devote enough time to mastering. I haven't spent any time writing press releases, myself, but I've read enough by now that I've noticed some characteristics of both bad and good press releases.
Bad press releases:
- Have grammatical errors. If the grammar is bad, it is harder to read and can't be copy-pasted into an article. This unfortunately puts non-native speakers of English at a disadvantage, but bad grammar is not restricted solely to non-native speakers. Not by a long shot.
- Contain judgments about the game which would sound like the opinion of the writer. "Cathartic Kangaroo Epic, an innovative puzzle game with amazing graphics and mind-blowing kangaroo tail physics, will be available on February 30." These are not objective facts and you can't expect the writer to copy-paste this into an article. Maybe it's true, but you're asking the writer to accept on faith that it's true and have the words come from their digital mouth. Try something more like, "Cathartic Kangaroo Epic, a puzzle game with art-deco kangaroos and tail physics that impact the gameplay, will be available on February 30." You're still hitting all the salient points, but you're doing so in a concrete way that doesn't put judgmental proclamations about the game in the writer's mouth. Bonus: you're giving the reader more information about the game in fewer words. TL;DR: verifiable facts only, please.
- Include too much information. If your press release could be a two page essay, chances are good that it's too long. You can include a bit more information than just the main announcement, but you don't want to bury the important details in fluff. One of the most common sources of fluff is information about the developer. Some information about the developer is good, but unless your personal experiences are absolutely central to the development of the game, it's easy to go overboard. That Dragon, Cancer is one example of a game for which information about the developers is highly relevant, though less extreme situations can also be relevant and/or interesting. Incredipede, for example, was developed while globetrotting.
In addition to avoiding those pitfalls, good press releases:
- Are formatted kinda like newspaper articles. All of the most important information is summarized in the first paragraph, more detail is given in subsequent paragraphs, and any ancillary information goes at the bottom. Start with bare details and expand as you go.
- Clearly state when the information is to be released at the top. Please don't make us search for when the information should go live. All caps is even appropriate, for once. If we can publish the information as soon as we get it, head the thing off with FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE. If you want it restricted not just to a specific day but a specific time, say so. FOR RELEASE ON FEBRUARY 30 AT 10 AM PST.
- Have no other all caps after the release time/date. Remember, copy-paste capability is a good thing. And for love of all that's holy, good, cute, or awesome, don't capitalize the word FREE.
My last piece of advice is this: if you're not sure you can write a good press release, find someone who can to help you or skip it all together.