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Ever since the App Store opened in 2008, the number of indie games has exploded. That has given these a chance to soar to the top of the charts and get noticed alongside triple-A releases. But it has also created a beastly discovery problem, as indies now compete with a million others trying to get noticed.

Public relations and getting covered in the games media is a good solution. But it has to be done right. I’ve been receiving PR pitches from tech companies for 25 years and game companies for 18 years. So here are my suggestions for how to do it right. This is tailored to indies, but any company can use the tips. It starts out generically, and it then focuses on specific tips for pitching GamesBeat. And it also includes tips from our own veteran PR man, Bill Lessard.

I don’t want to appear overly cynical or lazy. I love this job, and I love writing about a great game or someone with a lot of vision. I get enough boring pitches in a day to be able to appreciate the ones that are well done. The volume of pitches is also higher than it has ever been. Keep in mind that it’s not easy to respond to every pitch. But don’t be discouraged, as I remain hopeful that I can get good stories from small companies that don’t have a PR army. If we don’t have time for your story, somebody else might. Remember, though, that other publications may have different guidelines for pitching.

Bullhorn

Above: A bullhorn may not be the best way to pitch your game.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

The basics

You need to make a great game that stands out from the hundreds of other mobile, social, online, console, and PC games coming out that week — or the 1 million games already on the app stores. If you don’t think you’ve got such a game, you might want to start over.

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What I love is finding something unique and interesting to write about. I want to find something magical, and I think most journalists, even the most cynical of the bunch, share the joy of discovering something really cool. Sometimes the real story isn’t the game itself. It’s the person who made it. Theresa Duringer [top] told me that she was the daughter of a game developer, and had made a game herself. “That’s your story,” I told her. Or it’s at least the start of a good tale.

Be prepared ahead of time. PR can be a drag, and it can also be a joy. If you do it last-minute, it shows. And guess what? Game writers aren’t obligated to cover your game. If you send them a lousy pitch, they probably will ignore it. That’s a shame if your game is good.

To build on that, it’s important to remember that I am not an extension of your company. I am an independent journalist. I appreciate getting sources who tell me tips for good stories, and I have relationships with such sources that stretch back for years. I want scoops, or stories that nobody else has and that some people really don’t want others to know about . This is different from traditional PR. You should consider a PR person to be an extension of your company, your brand, your own image, and your game. Choose that person wisely.

If you want good PR, be prepared to pay $5,000 to $20,000 or more a month to a PR person or to an agency. These people hear a lot of pitches and get a lot of pitches. They’re a decent filter. I listen to pitches from PR people who I know, and I’ll even recommend some that I have worked with for years. But I understand that a lot of indie game makers can’t afford PR. You can pitch me directly if you wish. There’s something authentic about hearing a pitch from someone who actually made the game. Here’s an article that talks about your PR choices.

When you are doing PR for a mobile game, study the app store rankings and see where the gaps are in the market. Is your game uniquely positioned to take advantage of gaps in the market or does it combine genres in an interesting way? If so, note this in your pitch.

Point out the innovation in your game. Spend time thinking about what this really is.

Sell your human story. Show your passion. What is your hook? Does your mother make video games, too? Are you homeless? Are you making a game in a youth hostel? Are you only 12 years old? Have you made hit games before? Have you worked on other interesting projects? Do you have good connections? Do you have funding? Do you have insights into the platforms or publishers you’re working with?

Be realistic. If your story is not one of the five best game stories of the day, I probably won’t be able to cover it. Why should a journalist veer off triple-A coverage or breaking news to cover your story or game?

Figure out how to tell your interesting story in 15 seconds. This comes in handy at conferences or trade shows.

If you’ve got a slide deck, keep both a really short version and a long version. Assume most people will want to view the short version.

Deer Hunter 2014

Above: Deer Hunter 2014

Image Credit: Glu

What’s your target?

Figure out the target audience for your game. At VentureBeat and GamesBeat, we like telling stories about the innovation, business, and technology behind games. Sometimes, we write straight game reviews for our GamesBeat readers. If you’ve raised money or hit a business milestones, that’s more interesting to our broader business readers, and we run those stories on both GamesBeat and VentureBeat. If you read our work, you’ll know what kind of articles we like to run. You’ll know if your own pitch is a good fit. Visualize what you want that story to look like and work back from there on how to make it happen.

You learn the nuances over time. But you have to pick the right publications for your pitch. Develop a unique pitch or angle for each one. Think long and hard about exclusives. Figure out what kind of games each journalist likes. I like exclusives. So does every other journalist. That kind of story will be more enticing to a reporter. But does giving an exclusive serve your interests?

Understand the journalists’ time. I get 500 emails a day. The actual number of pitches is a lot fewer than that, but I usually don’t have time to read them all. I don’t like getting calls on my phone about a pitch for a game that I have not heard about yet via email. When I get such calls, I tell them to send me an email. They tell me they already sent an email. I say send it again. I have this conversation several times a day.

Know the lead time that is appropriate for the publication. I could use two weeks notice and then 48 hours for final materials. That’s because I write as many as 10 stories in a day. If everyone sends me stuff at the last minute, I stay up too late and get cranky while writing. It means I don’t play games myself that night, and I’ll be in a bad mood while writing your story.

Leverage your partners. Publishers? Platform owners? Territorial partners? And your friends.

Talk to fellow indies about sharing PR tips and contacts. Talk to veteran game makers about your game, getting contacts for PR, or people who should see your game.

Create your media kit, with a press release, fact sheet, images, and a trailer. Make sure you have a video that shows actual gameplay.

As for GamesBeat, we’ve got a small core team of five writers and editors. I write a lot tech, startup, funding, business, mobile, and preview coverage. I like strategy, shooter, and military games in particular. Dale North, our senior editor, is interested in different things like handheld games, core game coverage, mobile gaming, online games, and a lot of reviews. Jeff Grubb writes a lot of news and reviews of all types. Mike Minotti plays a ton of console games and runs our GamesBeat Community. Managing editor Jason Wilson loves role-playing games, sports, and copyediting. (Imagine that). And we’ve got a good crew of veteran freelance writers as well, with a lot of diverse interests.

Doing interviews properly

In an interview, talk about everything that matters. Leave time for questions. Answer questions honestly. Try to be transparent. Don’t oversell. You don’t have to tell me everything there is to know about your game.

Be clear about what is on the record and what is off the record. You can’t say something crazy and then decide you want to pull it off the record. The journalist has to agree that something being talked about is on or off the record. “On background” means that it’s OK for the journalist to use something you said, but not with your name attached to it.

It’s nice to actually play the game while you’re doing an interview, or just before you do it. Make it easy for journalists to play your game. Send out codes or Testflight versions to anyone who is willing to preview an unfinished game. Of course, don’t send codes or previews to your direct competitors.

Dean Takahashi's opening remarks at GamesBeat 2014.

Above: Dean Takahashi’s opening remarks at GamesBeat 2014.

Image Credit: Michael O'Donnell/GamesBeat

More things to know

Lock in your launch date or launch week as early as you can and try not to change it. But be prepared to communicate swiftly to a journalist if you have to delay it.

Give the information under embargo ahead of time. Be precise about the publication time (Pacific time or Eastern time, etc.). Be careful about targeting journalists who have a habit of breaking embargo agreements. If they break an embargo, ask them if it was an accident and if they will take it down. If they don’t, cross them off your list.

Try not to play favorites unless you’ve got a rock-solid relationship in place.

Go places where the journalists are, such as game conferences. Show your game in lots of places. Enter contests. That includes game jams, game conferences, developer events, and anywhere else you can. Just remember that you have to put a ton of time into making your game great as well as spending time doing all this other stuff.

Get your players to do your publicity. That speaks the loudest.

Write guest posts about the insights you have about making games. Write your own blog posts. Livestream your game.

Share more than you need to. After the launch, give out stats and data that is useful to the whole industry.

After launch, talk about review scores, social virality, and downloads.

Schedule your announcement for an unusual time. Most pitches are timed for stories that will appear Monday through Wednesday. It tails off on Thursday, and then very few announcements are made on Friday through Sunday. I may be more likely to have time on a Friday to listen to a pitch. Likewise, be careful about pitching during a huge event like the Game Developers Conference. You could get lost in the noise among the 25,000 attendees. I might be able to make it to 20 interviews or events during GDC, and I’ll run out of time fast. But at other times of the year, I won’t be nearly as busy.

If one publication covers your game first, don’t assume that another publication will rush to cover it. Publications want exclusives. You want wide distribution. We want exclusives, and when we can’t get them, we don’t want to publish our story hours and hours behind someone else who has already published. We’re competitive, and we want to provide our readers with fresh stuff they haven’t read elsewhere.

Keep your game in the news. Do updates and publicize the big ones.

Be friendly even if you don’t get coverage. Send follow-up emails.

Figure out a way to go direct to consumers. Livestream your game and try to get subscribers to watch you regularly.

My biggest pet peeve? I hate nondisclosure agreements. They may be necessary between businesses. But they have no business in an agreement between journalists and PR people. This applies to embargoes where a game maker will show a journalist something if the journalist agrees not to publish until a certain time. I don’t break embargoes. I honor agreements. If you’re the CEO and you’ve got a lawyer saying a journalist has to sign an NDA, just say no. If you must, simply get the journalist to agree to an embargo via email. That’s perfectly adequate, without the unnecessary paperwork of an NDA.

Pros and cons

More tips from a PR pro

Bill Lessard, our publicist at PRWithBrains, has his own suggestions:

  • Launch your game like you’re launching an album: lots of trailers, teasers, fun stuff. Be consistent. Always have new assets and new updates coming out.
  • Get game developers who’ve done well-known games to give testimonials about your games.
  • Pick the two-three successful games that are most similar to yours. Reverse-engineer which reporters at which outlets reviewed them, which competitions they won, and which PR agencies represented them.
  • Don’t limit your outreach to reporters, developers, and other industry folks. Go to PAX; go to MagFest; go to the thousands of games and comic book conventions out there so you can get your game in front of gamers.
  • Save money on distributing press releases by using GamesPress, a free press release distribution service that targets the games industry.

Game journalism ethics

We’ve seen a lot about game journalism ethics, or the lack of it, in the past year. We’ve got an ethics policy, and most publications do. We’re professionals, and we act that way. We’ve got our opinions, but we strive to be fair. If you haven’t been treated fairly, you have recourse to go up the chain of command. You don’t have to pay us or feed us or give us a bunch of gifts. Just show us your game and tell us a good story.

Our usual questions

If you really want to look prepared for GamesBeat, I usually ask pitchers to fill out answers to these questions via email in advance. You need only fill out what’s relevant, and this isn’t meant to stall you. We have reasons for every question, and it’s worth thinking about the answers well ahead of time.

  • Are you briefing publications that do not honor embargoes?
  • What can we write that is exclusive?
  • What is the embargo time, date, and time of any news you may have? (If you don’t know, that’s OK).
  • Please get us all materials for release/art 48 hours ahead of that time.
  • What are you announcing?
  • Who cares about this and why? (Why is it significant beyond just one company?)
  • Number of employees?
  • Year founded?
  • Competitors by name?
  • Briefly explain why it’s better than what rivals offer?
  • How does the technology work?
  • Who are the investors?
  • Funding amount raised to date?
  • Where is the headquarters?
  • Copy of press release?
  • An image that illustrates the story. We need a good-looking piece of art.
  • We can use screenshots of your games in action and headshots for funding stories? No logos, please. (We prefer images that are 1,000 pixels wide)
  • Why was the company founded?
  • What’s the founding story?
  • Do you have some good quotes, not canned quotes?
  • What’s the evidence of traction?
  • Background of founders?’
  • Give us a two-sentence description in plain English of what the company is trying to do?
  • What are the risks and challenges this project faces, and what qualifies you to overcome them?

Online PR resources

Do Presskit
The Big List of Indie Game Marketing
VentureBeat’s Guest Post process
How to pitch tech bloggers
Evolve PR’s blog
5 PR tips for indie developers without a marketing budget

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