The fastest way to grow your fanbase is to get in front of someone else’s audience. Getting featured on Polygon, a decent review on TouchArcade, or even a mention by GiantBomb can have people flock to your game.
Getting the press to pay attention to you is getting increasingly challenging. Over 500 games are released on iTunes every day. The media naturally discovering your game is unlikely, so the next best thing is to bring your game to them.
Below, I’ll share real quotes from journalists on how they prefer to be contacted and pitched.
The tips below on how to pitch requires practice. As a busy game developer, this is a new skill that can easily take hundreds of hours of trial and error. It may be easier to hire an experienced professional to handle the heavy lifting. It’s possible to learn how to do it yourself—like a programmer who has to learn how to make graphics. But a professional can execute at a fraction the time at a higher success rate. Look into the BSM Services area for more information.
The Mindset of a Journalist
“If you got a few hundred/thousand e-mails a day, how would you prefer
e-mails be written? Less is more. Know how to make your pitch in a
sentence or two—if you can’t wrap up your own product in a concise
and interesting way, we probably won’t be able to either.”
—Greg Kumparak, mobile editor, TechCrunch
The press has a lot of work on their hands. One ex-journalist commented on how she was penning five articles a day. Another mentioned that a game magazine has 19 days to generate 65,000 words. Overall, game journalists are short on time and are continuously producing stories.
The benefits of getting in a game publication are enormous. The fastest way to grow your fan-base is by getting in front of someone else’s audience- and game publications have the eyeballs you want.
The press needs you, as much as you need them.
More importantly: the media needs stories that generate eyeballs.
One of the ways publications earns income is through advertising, which uses page views as a metric. During Pokemon Go’s release, you couldn’t go a day without 3-4 stories about Pokemon Go. The reason is that even minor stories about Pokemon Go could produce 10x the average page views.
When you pitch your game, think like a journalist.
- How can they turn your idea into page views?
- What makes your pitch interesting that it gets thousands of eyeballs?
Remember the smaller publications out there. Buzzfeed’s Ryan Broderick shared that it’s a common misconception that journalists only want exclusives. If a small gaming website breaks the news first and gains a lot of traction, then bigger publications will jump on it as well. He shared how he saw an engaging story on Guyism, noticed it was picked up by Gawker, then he reported and shared the story on BuzzFeed.
Many freelancers have gaming blogs where they report on the news they enjoy. Major publications frequently hire freelancers. Connecting with a small gaming blog may lead the journalist to report on the story in a bigger blog.
The Process of Contacting a Journalist
Many journalists share their work email on their website profile or their social media feed. Avoid making your pitch via a social media platform, over the phone, or in person. When journalists need a story, they’ll go into their inbox. Don’t be afraid to contact them directly.
If possible, avoid going only the [email protected] route. Relying on the [email protected] email or website form is like hoping the receptionist lets her boss know. In companies I’ve worked for, interns manage the generic support emails to protect the higher-paid employees from distraction. Of course, every publication is different, and I’ve had some luck with support emails getting picked up by the press.
While I recommend that you make your pitch via email, start connecting with them outside of email, and in a casual way.
Weeks before you even make the pitch, create a list of potential journalists you can contact.
Connecting with journalists on social media will also benefit you in learning about their beat and their writing styles. Focus on building a connection: comment on their articles. Reply to their tweets. Give them a high-five at a convention. Get to know them personally. Get on their radar.
When it’s time to email them, suddenly it doesn’t appear so cold.
There’s no guarantee that they’ll make a story from your pitch, but there’s a bigger chance that they’ll read your email and consider it.
What Journalists Are Looking For in a Pitch
The main elements that journalists look for are knowing what they do, keeping it focused, the point of this email, and a good angle.
We don’t need to be convinced it’s worth buying in a sentence—just that it’s worth investigating further. To that end, apply your brain. Don’t live in a world where you dream your precious game has no antecedents. Show your game to a few of your more knowledgeable friends and get their basic references. Hit Mobygames or Underdogs to discover what these ancestors actually were.
—Kieron Gillen, former editor at PC Gamer UK & Wired
Know what they write about before reaching out. Have a strong subject line, and in the first paragraph, let journalists know that you did your research and who they are.
Talk about how you’ve commented on their articles. Or how you’ve been replying to their tweets. Or share the time you high-fived them at a convention. This mutual respect will let them know you aren’t just using them as a pawn in your marketing game, and will let them know you aren’t a corporate drone sent by PR companies to shove another “flappy-birds” clone their way.
Keeping it Focused
Journalists reach into their inbox when they need a story. While other PR advice will recommend that the length is about two paragraphs, I’ve discovered it not to matter too much. A journalist will read the first two sentences to decide if the rest is worth reading.
The Point of the Email
Each sentence must inspire the journalist to go to the next. Remove anything that does not contribute to your angle, and make your writing visually appealing with bullet points, titles, and spacing. Journalists will ignore your pitch if it’s five huge blocks of text or poorly written and are heavy on screenshots. They are looking for every reason to toss an email that looks like work.
Watch what your top reporters are talking about online. By getting to know them, you learn about what they’d be interested in covering – so in effect, you’re actually helping them when you do contact them with your news.
—Shauna Causey, Board Member of NPR, Former VP of Marketing for Decide (Ebay), Nordstrom & Comcast
Think like a journalist. How can your pitch get them page views? The method I suggest to my clients is to have users play-test it, and ask them, “What is the coolest thing that they experienced?”
If you have to put the word “innovative” into your pitch, then you failed.
Finally, some other elements to include in a pitch email:
• A link to your Press release. (Check out Marketing 101: The Press Release.)
• Link to download/try out/etc
Who hires these PR people that don’t link the app they want you to try?
—Kyle Russell, former reporter at TechCrunch and Business Insider
Your press release should have everything they need.
My job is to cover the news, not to promote your company. If press is your only user acquisition strategy, you have a bigger problem. So please stop acting so entitled and cease the manipulation and attention-getting tactics. Treat us with respect, and you may just get respect back.
—Bekah Grant, VentureBeat
If you didn’t get a response from a pitch email, don’t take it personally. The numbers I’ve heard are 95% of emails to journalists are deleted. With only so many slots for stories in a publication, only the best get chosen.
If your pitch was ignored, problems may be:
• Your subject line wasn’t compelling
• Your angle wasn’t interesting
• You caught them on a busy news day
Don’t be afraid to pitch again a little later in the month with changes.
The Thank You
If you manage to pitch successfully to a journalist, and they write an article about you, thank them. Thank them on Twitter, comment on their article, and send them lots of internet love.
More importantly, thank them for sharing their posts. You get to be in front of their audience; they get more page views. Win-win.
Things to Keep in Mind
Step 1: The Subject Line
The subject line is one of the more important elements of a press email. Keep it to the point, direct, and without fluff. Describe your game briefly and share the key event that you’re writing about (game launch, trailer launch, Greenlight launch, Kickstarter, etc.) so the person receiving the email knows what’s going on right off the bat. If you’re providing a download key (WHICH IS A MUST) mention it briefly if you can do so without rendering the subject too long.
Bad subject line: Hey there editor! I’m Daniel, and I’ve been developing my game for the past year. I’d appreciate any coverage.
Good subject line: After 1 year in development, Awesome Game Title launches on Steam, Desura, and GoG. Download key inside.
Stay direct, clear, and concise. The details come later.
Step 2: The TL;DR
All you need to write a clear, direct press email is this. You need to accomplish a few things here without getting wordy or convoluted. The following block—which I call the TL;DR (Too long; didn’t read) is what’ll get press easy access to cover your game. It’s similar to a mini fact sheet for your game.
<Introductory sentence, i.e. “Awesome Game Title has been in development by Kick Butt Studios for a year, and just launched on Steam on March 14th.”>
- Title of game
- Name of developer(s)/publisher(s)
- Trailer link
- Platforms and MSRP
- Release date
- Links to website, storefront, Greenlight, Kickstarter, etc
- Short description (150 words at most)
Slap on a download key and a small screenshot just after this, and you’re good to go! The press get all the information they need in an easy to read list and can access more if they keep on reading until they get to…
Step 3: The Condensed Press Kit
Put a quick horizontal line or other separator in your message and start this next section. This area is optional but can make life easier for the reviewer. After they read the TL;DR and if they want more information, they can scroll down and should be able to find…
- A slightly longer description (250 words max)
- Features list (bullet points, 3-7 features recommended)
- 2-4 press mentions from other sites
- 3-5 screenshots
- Social media, website, download, campaign links
- Trailer link
- Press kit link
Having this information laid out so the reviewer has as little work as possible to do is key to getting your game reviewed. This way they can read on and cull whatever they need directly from your email instead of having to search for it on your website, online or in a press kit.
If you want a total professional revamp of your email outreach strategy, be sure to contact Raghav at Black Shell Media. He’s written press releases and worked on titles that have been covered by sites like Rock, Paper, Shotgun, PC Gamer, Destructoid, and more. He can be reached at [email protected] and he’ll be happy to get you on the right track!
Mistakes to Avoid
The following is a collection of mistakes that Jon Denton, video game critic and consultant, warned about for our blog readers:
In my eleven years of covering games, consulting on games, and even on occasion helping market games, the sheer volume of noise has amplified exponentially. I literally cannot open up my email without a press release about a new indie project hitting my inbox.
As we all know, cutting through that noise and getting coverage (be it in press, on video, through influencers, on blogs, or even on social) is vital to the life of these indie games. Occasionally, something catches and spreads through the influencer circles like wildfire, the creators retire early, and new genres are born. More likely, though, is that every sale matters, every line of good coverage makes a difference, and every mistake avoided is another chance for your game to begin the process of finding an audience.
Here are five mistakes I see all too often:
1. You’re Not Telling Stories
In an inbox world where promotional and social mails are automatically filtered away from people’s attentions, the days of blanket press releases mattering are long, long gone. Instead, you need to figure out the story of your game. It could be the story of the studio. The story of a single creator. The inspiration for the game. That crazy time you bumped in Hideo Kojima and he gave you a secret password to the Developer Free Mason’s club and you stole the source code to Half Life 3. Whatever it is, it needs to resonate with people, with journalists, with influencers, and with the community.
It’s more effective to tell a great story about your game and target the five, ten, or fifteen people who you think will get your game than it is to blast out a generic press release to hundreds of people. Video game coverage is moving away from a breadth game into a depth game. It’s time to get on board.
2. Showing Too Much Too Soon
Yes, the indie dev Facebook groups and Reddit subs may be great places to show off that little AI routine you’ve been working on or the new skeletal rig that will eventually be your end boss, but the second you start firing all of that stuff out on your branded studio social channels, you’re expecting consumers to care about stuff they more than likely don’t even understand.
By all means, have that stuff documented and use it to tell the story of your game where appropriate, but the outward face of your company needs to have a bit of mystique and needs to only talk publicly when it is ready to show something that normal people—people who don’t know what Unity even is—will care about.
3. Hiring the Wrong PR
If you’re in a fortunate enough position to have a bit of a marketing and PR budget, it’s typically a good idea to hire a specialized PR/marketing company to get the message of your game out to the world. (Editor’s Note: Hi guys!)
However, many of these PRs are still operating as if it’s 2009. There are easy ways to guarantee coverage these days—blasting out press releases to a mammoth list of press contacts will get you on some blogs . . . because those blogs need to churn content to rank in search, and their writers often have daily targets to hit, so they’ll put anything up on the site—but it’s largely just noise.
Yes, that PR will be able to come back to you with a report documenting all the coverage they got you, but if it’s not smartly targeted then it is largely worthless. Do some research and figure out the PRs who know the audience that would suit your game. Are you making something that will appeal to a young female demo? Then find the PR that is interacting with those influencers online, or even better, find those influencers yourself.
4. Thinking Too Far Inside the Box
OK, those words have become meaningless, but this is a piece about cutting through the noise, and you need to do something more interesting than a tweet, a trailer, and a press release if you’re going to jump ahead of the indie sequels and the games whose cool developers are now onto their second projects.
Say your game has a particularly cool iconic item, or ships, or anything really. How about producing 20 or 30 unique 3D models of those guys, and make each one in the colors of the top 20 influencers in the space you’re trying to hit. Send them to these people. You won’t get every reaction you want, but if one or two people with large followings happen to tweet it out, then that’s a massive win.
If you can’t afford that, or you and your team are introverted by nature, why not hire a cheap young actor from Craigslist to go and make noise on the show floor of a trade show. There are so many ways to get noticed. You just have to adapt to the way the world works in 2017.
5 . . .
This is the most important tip, and something that can be applied to any artistic endeavor. And I don’t preclude myself from this one—I’ve made this mistake plenty of times in my own writing career.
Your game (project/work/whatever) does not DESERVE coverage.
This can be hard to wrap your head around. After all, you’ve worked for years, crushing fourteen hour days, spent all your money, alienated friends and family. But guess what? The market doesn’t care. It’s a harsh truth, but if you use it in the way it’s intended, it’s a massive motivator.
It’s something I call “should culture.” “My game is good so it ‘should’ get coverage and sell. I’m better than this guy so I ‘should’ be making more money . . . . ” We’ve all done it. And where has it gotten us? Absolutely nowhere.
You have to make it happen. Take ownership! Hustle. Try, fail, and try again. If you want to win in this ridiculous game, it’s on you and no one else.
I wish you nothing but the best of luck!
Jon Denton has been in the industry for eleven years working as a games journalist and consultant. He has worked for such publications as gamesTM, Eurogamer, OXM, PC Gamer, and The Telegraph, to name a few. Check out his YouTube channel, chat him up on Twitter, or ogle his pretty pictures on Instagram!
H/T to Raghav Mathur and Rocky Kev for supplying all of the content for this post!
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