Indie development is tough, especially when it comes to launching a first game. Time is precious, money is scarce and developers must wear many hats in order to successfully get their game to market. This means taking on responsibilities that may be new or foreign, such as PR and marketing.
Every year PR and marketing gets even tougher for indie developers as thousands of titles release, while media teams stay the same size (or decrease) and influencers limit the number of games they play. It can be hard to stand out, especially when you're doing PR yourself and have no contacts or know little about what works and what doesn't.
While there are countless articles and talks out there providing information on how to gain exposure for indie games, time and time again the team at VIM Global and I have seen DIY developers falling short in terms of effectively promoting their game. We want to see more succeed. The following list of DIY PR tips should be useful when it comes to marketing your game. Much of this is fairly top-line, but it should help to understand the importance of securing awareness for your game.
Solidify Your Messaging
Messaging should be the first aspect to PR you should work on because it is not only used to garner media and influencer attention, but it is also key to differentiating yourself from other games when looking for funding - most publishers and investors have limited time to hear your pitch.
"Properly identifying your target audience and knowing how to connect with them is a huge plus"
This means developing one sentence to clearly describe your game and a handful of key features that show journalists you have something that their audience would want to play. We recommend staying away from general statements, such as "it's a 2D puzzle platformer," and instead focus on what is distinctly different about the game.
For example, when working with Asteroid Base on Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, we heavily promoted the game's frantic co-op gameplay that has you and friends switch between various spaceship stations, as well as the unique art and teamwork features. Sometimes it helps to make comparisons, and in the case of Lovers we compared the gameplay to when Han Solo and Luke Skywalker are manning the Millennium Falcon and yelling at each other during a firefight. This type of comparison was extremely helpful, especially with broader media.
Know Your Audience
One area we see indie developers often fall short is in knowing their target audiences. Properly identifying your target audience and knowing how to connect with them is a huge plus because it will save you time when conducting outreach to media and influencers. We recommend listing any vertical you think your game would fit into and determine which are your core audiences.
"You can't contact everyone and if you are targeting the wrong people, you are wasting efforts"
Since you're making a game, video game outlets and influencers are your No. 1 demographic, but depending on the game you may be able to reach a broader audience. Even within the video game vertical you can focus on going more niche. There are outlets that cover only co-op games, there are fighting game outlets, and much more for you to tap into.
Time may be limited for you when handling PR yourself, but allocating some time to research media and influencers before contacting anyone will result in increased success. You can't contact everyone and if you are targeting the wrong people, you are wasting efforts. Sometimes it makes more sense to focus attention on contacting smaller outlets or influencers with a core audience of people that are more likely to purchase your game - this is especially true for VR.
What you need to do is focus on influential press that will reach your key target audiences. We recommend creating a list of media and influencers that have covered similar types of games and regularly write about certain topics. For instance, Game Informer has a weekly science-fiction column and if sci-fi is one of your target audiences then you want to make certain to specifically target that writer.
Most importantly don't contact someone just because you saw them on a media list. Research that outlet and make sure they even cover your type of game and the platform you're launching on. Don't send a PC-only outlet such as Rock Paper Shotgun a console code because it is both a waste of your time and a code.
Contacting Media and Influencers
"The amount of success you have in generating awareness will depend on how much time and effort you put into the PR "
Journalists and influencers receive hundreds of emails a day and they don't have the time to read every single one. To get them to open your email I recommend a strong subject line that calls out what differentiates your game from others. Try to keep it short and make a comparison (Call of Duty meets Rocket League). If you've done your research you'll know what similar games someone has covered and you can use this information to craft a convincing subject line. Call out any major awards you may have received, such as a GDC Best in Play award, and you can also mention any previous games that the person may have covered.
Timing is important when contacting journalists because emailing or calling someone at night isn't going to get you covered. Contact media during regular work hours and know where that writer is based. Additionally, it's important to be aware of events that may be taking place because an editor's inbox is going to be even more full during the lead up to these shows.
Lastly, don't be afraid to follow up with media and influencers. Maybe they missed your first email, maybe you need to tweak the subject line into something that is a little more eye-appealing. It takes work, but if you're targeting the right people it shouldn't be too cumbersome.
Know When To Launch
We all know that indie developers should avoid fall releases because of the bevy of AAA titles launching during that time, but nowadays there is hardly a "slow" period of time for media. Pick a launch date when there are fewer game releases to compete against and be aware of when shows such as PAX, E3 and GDC are taking place. If you're launching on console, work with your reps because they will help you pick an optimum release date.
Additionally, if your game has a certain theme to it, tie launch into holidays and cultural happenings. When we launched Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime onto PlayStation 4 we decided on a release around Valentine's Day to tie in the game's love themes with the holiday. Not only did this result in a successful port, but it also enabled us to garner specific Valentine's related coverage from both streamers and media.
Overall, the amount of success you have in generating awareness for your game will depend on how much time and effort you put into the PR process. You put in the hours to make a great game, so it only makes sense to put in the work to ensure people know it's available.
Alex Van Lepp is Partner at VIM Global, a PR and marketing consulting service for video games, consumer electronics and technology. The company has worked with indies like DrinkBox Studios (Guacamelee!, Severed), 13AM Games (Runbow), and Asteroid Base (Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime), and recently launched a new service, GameBoost, that offers PR services for indie developers on a limited budget.