Last week I did a talk at the Launch Conference in Birmingham about how developers should deal with the gaming press. In this exciting electronical age, one of the hardest things for a young studio to do is get some attention amid the torrent of smartphone, Steam and digital console releases. So I tried to provide a few tips.
Anyway, as part of my ‘preparations’ for the talk, I emailed lots of really great games writers and asked them for their own advice. A lot of them got back to me in lots of detail – too much to use in the speech. I know we have a lot of smaller studios reading Hookshot so I thought it might be useful to provide all their responses here, so you can get a good idea of how you should approach games journalists in the wild. Here’s what they had to say…
Rich Stanton, freelance writer, The Guardian, Edge, Eurogamer
What should a new studio do to get my attention?
First of all, look me up. I have a twitter, a blog with my email address, and I’m online every day – yet an indie probably contacts me direct once a month, if that. Tell me why you think your game’s different. If I’m going to look at it and just think ‘it’s an endless runner’ I’m probably not interested, UNLESS you explain how your time-rewinding mechanic brings a new dimension to the genre.
Send me a preview build, or a download code. I’m a professional critic with hundreds of games on my to-do list, make it as easy as possible for me to give you my time.
Think about the future, and be nice. I had a guy who got in touch with me about an iOS game which was unremarkable, and in an oversaturated genre. I politely explained I couldn’t pitch it to Eurogamer, and let me know about what you do in the future. I got a strident email back about how it was my job to get his game coverage. I won’t be wasting my time on his games in future.
Guy Cocker, editor, Gamespot
Pick up the phone and talk to us. It’s usually easy to find our number, and is more personal than a mass email that we’ll inevitably ignore. And use social media.
Jon Jordan, editor-at-large, Pocket Gamer
There are no silver bullets.
You will already be using YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc., to build a community around your game and studio, and PR is just one element of this. Think about what makes your game different to the 100 other games being released this week and talk about those differences. Include a short description of what your game is about, include screenshots and a link to a video of gameplay footage.
Start emailing people 6-8 weeks before you plan to launch. Don’t hassle people. Be professional but demonstrate your passion. Use your spellcheck. Don’t say your game is better/more popular than Angry Birds unless you can prove it.
Alex Wiltshire, editor, Edge Magazine
Tell me a really short story about yourselves. Perhaps you’ve woven your life experiences into your game, or you’ve conquered adversity in making it. Surprise me, and show me how I can get our audience interested in your game.
Describe your game well. Not simply accurately, but also in perhaps two sentences. Boil it down to its essentials – good games really stand out even when the details are stripped away.
Talk to me at an event. Show me the game and tell me about it; even if it doesn’t immediately lead to anything, if I should hear about you or your game again, I’ll remember you.
This might sound obvious, but make a great game. Good games – beautiful, clever, original, fun – really do stand out from the rest. Concentrate on making your game genuinely great, and I’ll notice it.
Ben Maxwell, online writer, Edge Magazine
Make a good game…
Press releases are all very well, but if you’re a smaller indie or “indievidual” (yeah, you can have that one for free), then try to personalise your emails rather than ape what you think a developer should be sending out. Journalists get many PRs, and respond much better to something that hasn’t been BCC’d to everyone.
Further to the above, try to identify a specific writer or editor you’d like to contact, don’t just fire your email to the generic inbox. If bylines are available, have a look at which writer/s have written about games similar to yours in the past, and are more likely to respond well to yours.
Include screenshots in your email, not just a link to your some password-protected zip file on an obscure FTP
Don’t contact journalists through their personal Soundcloud account (or any other such unrelated network) with news of your game. It’s sure to piss them off.
DON’T DESCRIBE YOUR GAME AS “AMAZING”, “MIND-BLOWING”, “UNIQUE” OR ANY OTHER SUCH POSTURING. THIS JUST SQUEEZES A JOURNALIST’S CYNICISM GLAND.
Don’t use all caps.
Dan Dawkins, editor, PSM3 Magazine
Do something interesting that you believe in, and have a story to tell – that should go without saying. What does need saying, however, is how you plan to communicate that message to journalists and editors. Every editor has a jammed in-box, is probably inundated with administrative nonsense and doesn’t have the time they’d like to unearth something new.
So: make your pitch clear, and explain what you’re planning to do – and why folk should care. A considered email is a great start, but a polite phone call is even better. Don’t be pushy, just ask politely if they’ve received your mail and – better – be willing to offer something a journalist wants: like an exclusive interview, technical insight on development/hardware or your opinion on a broader video games industry issue.
A great example is Hello Games, who actively courted the press, and played to our ridiculous egos by asking for help since they weren’t sure what they were doing – or rather, knew what they were doing, and were appealing to our better nature. Hello Games also arrived with a pre-packaged ‘story’, that sort of thing journalists love: three blokes leave a big company, to risk it all for something they love. That’s a great narrative. Or, ignore all this advice entirely, and make something utterly, utterly brilliant that’s sure to go viral – but that process has to start somewhere. Above all: are you interested in what you’re doing? That’s a good start.
Keza MacDonald, features editor, IGN
Three rules for press communication: Keep it short, keep it interesting, and don’t try to show a game before you’ve actually got anything to show. Most important of all, make a trailer. Even if it’s only 30 seconds long. If you’re talking about a game that people don’t know about yet, they want to be able to see it in action to determine quickly whether they’re interested in reading more.
Jim Rossignol, co-founder, Rock Paper Shotgun
I’m very shallow, so I like to see action-packed (no empty space) screenshots that are illustrative of the game’s style. Beyond that, it’s good to see studios coming up with interesting names for their games…
Stuart Dredge, freelance writer, The Guardian, Music Ally, more
First, never apologise for contacting a journalist directly. Quite a few independent developers do, as if I’d mind people wanting to tell me about their new games. I never mind!
Second, I get mountains of press releases and pitches a day, and while I do try to read all of them, time is very limited. So how can you boil your game down into a punchy paragraph explaining why it’s great/innovative? Rather than a page-or-more of text explaining it at length. If that paragraph is good, journalists will come back asking for the extra info.
Third, I find a YouTube video is often helpful, just to see a game running. Always include it if you have one, and if the game isn’t out yet, you can make the video only accessible to people who have the direct link.
Fourth: I’d suggest it’s fine to do one follow-up email saying, “I sent this, did you get it?” because things do slip through the net. Perhaps not more than one follow-up though – I would never get the arse about that, but some journalists would I suspect.
Dan Griliopoulos, freelance writer and PR, RPS, Eurogamer and more
Communicate directly with me on Twitter about something not about your game – and from your personal account. Do it a few times. Don’t ever mention your game. I’ll probably end up following you anyway, if you’re nice to me like that, and that’ll subliminally affect my judgement. You’re terribly cynical, you know.
Jon Hicks, Editor, Official Xbox Magazine
Pitch via email. It means I can consider it at my own pace, when I’ve got time.
Open with a brief praecis of what the game is, why it’s interesting to me and my readers, and ideally some images and video.
Don’t pitch games that don’t actually exist yet (people have tried this, even pre-Kickstarter. Although I’m not a big fan of Kickstarter pitches either, because there are so many of them and it’s hard to identify the most worthy or the most plausible)
Don’t nag for coverage. If it hasn’t happened, there’ll be a reason – not necessarily due to the worthiness of the game – and repeated bugging will not endear you. A few polite follow-up emails, sent over a couple of weeks, should be enough to keep you on the radar.
Approach us when we aren’t snowed under with the big blockbuster titles that our readers are really interested in. Indie pitches during E3 are likely to be overlooked. Those in August, or January, less so.