Ask Gamasutra: How to annoy a games journalist with a press release
Whether you're in a big company or you're a small indie, game makers need to know a few of the dos and don'ts of using an age-old tool: the press release. Gamasutra editors cover the good, bad and ugly.
March 30, 2012
Ask Gamasutra is a monthly column that takes issues from within the video game industry, and poses them as a question to the editorial staff.
In contributing to this article, none of the editors read each other's responses. This is not about collaboration, but about the unique perspective that each individual Gamasutra editor offers.
For this, our second edition of Ask Gamasutra, we addressed an issue that's important to big game companies, and small indie developers: the dos and don'ts of reaching out to media using press releases.
What indie dev Cipher Prime (Auditorium) recently said is true for many developers: Publicity is the hardest part of game development. With social media, press releases might seem like an outdated notion, but they can still be one of many effective tools in getting word out about your game, especially if you handle them right.
If you handle them poorly, as illustrated in the responses below, there's a good chance that the product you're trying to promote will languish in obscurity.
So in light of that, Gamasutra and Game Developer magazine editors answer the question: What is your biggest video game press release annoyance, and on the other hand, what kind of press release do you find to be most effective?Brandon Sheffield
Sr. Editor Gamasutra; EIC, Game Developer
I dislike anonymous, impersonal, or pointless emails. I realize there's the impression that these have to be blasted out to many people, and in the case of larger games, that may be true. But for smaller titles like iOS, social, or indie games, a more personal approach is appropriate. Craft individual emails to writers that might actually be interested based on their past coverage. Send review codes. Engage your reader on a more personal level, as might an author of an editorial.
Care and know about your product. For indies this should be fine - you made it, you love it, you should share it. But if you're trying to promote something you don't fully understand or believe in, it shows when you write about it, or when you do cold calls. Game writers are a savvy bunch, and when we have a firmer impression of your new peripheral or gaming league than you do, that is an uphill battle that you are not going to win.
I don't want to say the era of traditional PR is over for games, but it's getting close. As indies and smaller more agile teams get more and more prominent, you have to take a more personal approach. Most indie game news is disseminated through blogs and twitter nowadays, and there's a more personal interaction between journalists and developers. Traditional PR is increasingly becoming a middleman that slows the process rather than facilitating communication. In the case of companies like Sony and Microsoft, I understand that - there's a message to disseminate, and the truth needs to be obscured until the plan can be put forth. But for indies and smaller teams - communication, truth, honesty - those are the key factors.
My biggest annoyance when it comes to press releases is poor targeting. If a public relations person is going to write "I thought your readers would love...", it'd be nice if they knew who my readers were! Sometimes it's interesting announcements crunched into info-sparse releases clearly meant only for investors; other times, it's frenetic, fake-excited litanies of guns and maps and the kind of information that would feel more at home on a fan wiki than on a news site, even if it is entertainment industry news of a fashion.
I understand it's not possible to custom-tailor information to every outlet -- that'd just be inefficient! But carpet-bombing people indiscriminately just leads to outlets mentally (or literally!) filtering anything with your firm's name on it.
I'm also rankled by releases that have made every effort to write the story for us and to choose our angle. There are even times when I don't take interest in a certain release, and the representative follows up to ask why I did not "post their news." Writers and reporters shouldn't be thought of as wire services; the release should be nothing more and nothing less than the basic information that makes us want to connect with a company for the details that pique us.
And there's nothing I like more than clear, specific info on who's available for interviews and what qualified insights they can add!
For me, the most obnoxious kind of press release doesn't necessarily have to do with the press release itself, but the immediate follow-up call. Follow-up calls are fine, but when I hear the *ding* of new mail in my inbox, then receive a phone call 30 seconds later with a rep on the line asking, "Did you get my email?", it makes for an awkward moment.
Just as journalists need to know who their audience is, PR reps (whether representing a big company or wearing the PR hat as part of a small studio) need to know their media outlets and the journalists who write for them. For me, the most effective press releases are ones that incorporate humor or some semblance of personality, or appeal directly to my sensibilities as not only a journalist, but as a real person who is a fan of video games and the industry. That approach more often gets me to seriously evaluate whether or not an announcement has news value, and from there, I can build an actual relationship with the real person who is sending me those PR materials.
Editor, Game Developer magazine
Writing an effective, useful press release isn't easy, I know. But at the risk of sounding callous: If your press release assumes that A) I know what your game is, B) I know anything about your game, or C) I care about your game for reasons not present in the subject line of your PR email, I'm probably not going to pay attention to it.
Unless you're one of a very few major players in your industry, it doesn't really matter to me (as a reporter/editor) that your title has grown its subscriber base to X million, or gotten a new VP of whatever, or landed some sweet partnership that saturates your game with Pepsi products because you're not inherently newsworthy.
The best press releases, on the other hand, spell the news hook out for me; your game has surpassed X million subscribers which is a first for that platform, gotten a new VP of whatever who was the guy that made that awesome game back in the day, or landed some sweet partnership that lets you make the game free on Steam forever. Without that hook, it just sounds like you're bragging via email blast.
The biggest annoyance is burying the actual, useful information in a maze of obviously fabricated quotes and puffery about the company.
You and I both know which element of your press release is the relevant bit, so please stop obfuscating it. When you have an announcement to make, make it like a news story.
That isn't to say you should be doing my job for me -- my job is to contextualize that for the reader and offer insight that goes beyond the announcement -- but state clearly and quickly what the big deal is.
"Hey guys, do you know how awesome my product is? It is the best product. There is no other better product than it. If my product was a horse, it would be a stallion. If my product was a firefighter, it would be saving babies from burning buildings all over the shop. Do you want to touch it? Go on, touch it. See how silky smooth it is? Feels like excellence in the field of 'Holy crap that's incredible', amirite?"
Press releases that feature quotes -- supposedly -- from company executives who cannot think of anything better to say than spew pure unadulterated buzzword-ridden crap make me Luc Picard facepalm. Do you really think we're going to print you talking about how insanely wonderful your company is?
Nintendo President Reggie Fils-Aime is a prime example. Here's a taster: "Nintendo 3DS closes its first year with a lengthy list of accomplishments but we're still just scratching the surface... With a massive lineup of games and more on the way, a budding library of entertainment options and an engaged and growing installed base, Nintendo 3DS has an incredibly bright future. We’re just getting started but this platform is built for the long haul."
Bleeeeh. The only thing worse is the websites that print this crap.
My biggest annoyance in video game press releases is useless quotes -- predictable statements from company heads and producers gushing about their products or emphasizing how excited they are about the news their announcing.
We get that you're excited about your announcement, but that portion of text would be better spent on telling us what's meaningful about your news, what makes it stand out from similar items in the past and from all the other press releases that have come out today, what needs you've identified and are trying to fulfill, and what audience you're targeting.
Those quotes are way more likely to appear in our articles than a CEO pattering on about "We are really happy to announce this. It is awesome. We look forward to being awesome." A more effective statement would be, "This is useful for this industry or audience because x. There might be previous solutions that fulfilled this need, but we feel this is better because x."
I think it's about time press releases stop calling their products "game-changers." I see this pop up practically every day, and at this point, I'm not sure the phrase even means anything. If the "game" is changing as often as these press releases would have me believe, then the next "game changer" I see presumably won't matter that much in the long run.
It's hyperbolic and at this point, a bit silly. If you write press releases, can we just agree to keep whatever game we're playing the way it is?
Personally, I like to see press releases that keep things simple. It's always refreshing to see a press release that isn't pointing out how "revolutionary" or "ground-breaking" a product or company is. If a release gets right to the point, I'll be more likely to keep reading, since I know the writers aren't trying to confuse readers with pleasant adjectives and silly puns.
I think most of us here could probably write an entire book on bad video game PR. But if I were to whittle things down to just one major no-no, it would be an assumption that I will blindly post whatever you send me.
This is the body of an actual email I got three days ago.
Can we get this online today please.
Pretty much all of this particular professional's emails read exactly like this, followed by either a press release or a link to a trailer. The assumption here being that the role of an online video game reporter is to reproduce whatever content is sent to them, as if we are an extension of PR.
For the record, I've been on this person's email distribution list for at least seven years now, and I have never written a story about any of this individual's clients. Partially this is because I ignore the emails now, but mostly this is because this person has never bothered to personalize a pitch to me or my publication.
Your client could be a fascinating story, and we could work together to tell that story in a mutually respectful and beneficial way. But unless you take the time to learn who I am and who my website serves, I won't know that unless I do your job for you and figure it out on my own. And frankly, I often have better things to do with my day.
There's nothing worse than being spammed by a PR firm. There's a lot of news that happens in this industry, but some companies (and some PR pros) tend to go overboard. One small shop sends me 4-5 releases a day, which almost never say anything of substance. This reeks of desperation (or the need for a PR firm to justify its fees) and while this shop could put out a release about the best game in the world, I'd never know it since I now just autodelete emails I see with that person's name.
An effective press release is one that gets to the point, makes an announcement that's relevant to a decently-sized audience and is timely – not something we've covered hours (or days) ago.
And since I have a little space left, allow me to rant about my least favorite phrase in a press release: "Hope you are well" and its many variants. When I've never talked to a person before or it's slapped into an email that obviously went out to hundreds of people, it's hollow sounding and makes me see red. I'm big on sincerity. It's one of the quirks that comes with being a geezer.
Do you have a question that you'd like the Gamasutra editors to tackle? Email EIC Kris Graft at kgraft at gamasutra dot com