Feature

How to get media coverage for your game

How to get media coverage for your game
This article was first presented as a talk at Nordic Game 2015.

Let’s face it, there are a lot of rumours, hearsay, and hushed debates around the campfire on how to get a game featured in the media.

Some people have even asked – whisper it - why you even need media coverage in the first place?

PR and journalists are distasteful, slightly dangerous creatures, right? They should only be handled on the end of tongs.

When you have community building tools like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube at your disposal, you can get your game publicised without the help of the media who are just as likely to give your game a bad review as a good one, true?

On your side

The thing is though, game critics don’t look to criticise – we’re gamers too, and we look to celebrate.

Media coverage, in whatever form, provides valuable free publicity, adds credibility to publishers, hypes new releases, and evangelizes mobile gaming platforms to global audiences.

Our words are used in promotional materials, press releases, UA campaigns and TV ads.

Indeed, app store editors keep a weather eye on sites to see what games they should feature – and developers have told the Pocket Gamer team that they’ve been contacted by Apple after being seen on our site.

Media coverage doesn’t need to break the bank, or your timesheet, and at its best it will get thousands of people quickly talking about your game for free.

So let’s set the record straight: in this article I will blast through your imagination like antibiotics and kill all mystery, uncertainty and doubt on how to get media coverage.


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  • 1 Making a media plan

    Making a media plan logo

    As soon as you’ve decided you’re going to make a game - before you’ve even lifted a finger to develop it - is start thinking about the things that make it stand out from the competition.

    These unique features are going to be how you introduce your game to journalists, and making a list of them now will help when it comes to constructing a pitch later on.

    For instance, does your game have a really unique gameplay mechanic? Has an interesting personal experience prompted you to make this game in the first place? Does the game boast an arsenal of guns so pretty, it’s a wonder they don’t have their own perfume line?

    Get all these things down in a plan, and start thinking about how you’re going to present them.

    It’s not enough to say you have a great game, you have to prove it and you have to give us a story. So work out what that great story is early on in the development process.

    Incidentally, if you’re struggling to come up with any interesting points like these, to put it bluntly, you may want to rethink your game’s concept.

    Once you’ve mapped out your USP, you need to make sure that throughout your entire game development lifecycle you are “doing PR.”

    That is, using YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Google+ to drum up a following.

    This will help journalists understand how well your game resonated with players – and incidentally, you should be reading and commenting regularly on the key sites you want your game to be featured on.

    Join a journalist’s community, and they’ll be more keen to join yours.


  • 2 The PR timeline

    The PR timeline logo

    So as I said, as soon as you decide you’re making a game you need to call up a calendar in your head – like the mid-air screens in Minority Report – and start plotting key dates where you need to pass another PR milestone.

    Things really kick off about 6 weeks until your launch date, so working backwards here’s a rough timeline.

    Two weeks before launch

    You want reviews to be published on or just before the day your game hits the stores, so you need to be pitching journalists two weeks before with promo codes.

    Trouble is, journalists get a lot of these emails. On top of that, budgets are often tight and reviews are time consuming (so expensive to commission.) It means we can’t physically cover every game, even if we like the look of it.

    What will maximise your chances of review, however, is if we’ve covered it on site already.

    Five weeks before launch

    You want news stories about your game being published four to five weeks before launch, so start pitching at the five week mark (I’ll go into further detail on what these sort of stories can include in the next section.)

    Four weeks before launch

    At around three to four weeks before launch you might be lucky enough to wrangle a hands-on preview if your game has generated enough noise on social media, or if a journalist is particularly impressed by the concept or gameplay. Reaching out to journalists at conferences so they can play the game in person is particularly good for this.

    So to round up: At five weeks you want to start pitching news stories, at four weeks you want to start pitching previews, and at two weeks you want to start sending out promo codes for reviews.

    After launch

    Post-game launch coverage is rare, mostly because the game will now be old news.

    If your game has been successful, you might be able to get coverage on a B2B site when you hit 1 million downloads in the first week – but otherwise journalists will be too busy fighting the barrage of emails looking at the next wave of games being introduced to the market to be able to hear about small bits of progress.


  • 3 What journalists look for

    What journalists look for logo

    A recent report by the Big Ideas Machine surveyed journalists from The Guardian, IGN, Pocket Gamer, 148 Apps, Gizmodo, and more to find out what app reviewers really want to see.

    It found that 8 percent of reviewers receive more than 50 pitches a day – which works out as a staggering 13,000 a year. It means that developers have a one in three chance of getting media coverage – in other words, there’s always going to be two other games companies jostling to take your place in the spotlight.

    The report concluded that the top reason that journalists will cover a game is if it’s a good fit for their audience. So you need to know exactly what journalists are looking for in their reviews and news, and construct your pitch accordingly. Research the journalists you’re targeting – look at what sort of stories they write regularly, and see how you can slot in with that.

    Since I’m a news editor, I’ll start with what I look for in a story. Because I write primarily for PocketGamer.biz, which is the B2B arm of Pocket Gamer, I pay attention to pitches with a strong development angle.

    Every day I get emails asking me to cover the launch of a new game, or a consumer feature. These developers haven’t done their research, they haven’t realised that PocketGamer.biz doesn’t cover game launches, and they’ve wasted their time and mine.

    If they were launching a new game, they should have pitched me a story on a particularly interesting approach they used. Perhaps they leveraged some interesting middleware, or worked with former executives from Rovio, Supercell and King. Maybe they trained monkeys from the zoo to do the coding. Either way, I’m looking for news for a B2B audience – so know who you’re pitching to.

    Consumer journalists will be looking for game pitches that pull out some really interesting facts from the game – and most importantly, be honest. If you say “Hey! Want to check out my brand new game? It’s totally unique! It’s called Furious Birds,” or “Sweet Crush Saga!” I’ll be honest, you might not get a lot of interest.

    For example, I received a pitch from a new company called Zig Zag Zoom. I’d never heard of them and had no reason to cover them, but in the first line of their email they said they’d been founded by the former president of Disney Interactive. Ok, sounds great. From a B2B angle, I immediately have a hook.

    They also forwarded me a pitch to pass on to the consumer journalists to find out about their upcoming games. They centred the entire pitch around a unique mechanic of their game Tree Story, where growing a tree in the mobile game means a real-life tree is planted by charities in over 10 countries around the world.

    There you have it, two hooks for two different journalists. Two news stories on two websites, a lot of promotion for the game.


  • 4 Think beyond news and reviews

    Think beyond news and reviews logo

    A quick side note, you should really be thinking about the type of editorial content that can be pulled from your game.

    Media needn’t be just be previews, news and reviews. Journalism is also about weaving together cultural threads, and we work in a fantastic industry that has its finger on the pulse of some of the biggest trends in the world.

    Last year saw the release of a game called This War of Mine on many platforms including iPad. In basic terms, it was looking at civilians surviving in war zones and telling their stories.

    The game was a very different way of exploring how war is usually depicted in video games, and it was a really interesting story that we could use to examine how bloodshed is depicted in video games.

    So think about where your game sits culturally and whether a really thought provoking article can be written about it – that in itself is fantastic advertising.


  • 5 Construct a memorable pitch: Part 1

    Construct a memorable pitch: Part 1 logo

    Really, journalists are a little bit stupid. We like simplicity, and the crux of the message should be immediately obvious in the first few sentences – otherwise we switch off and go back to picking fluff out of our bellybuttons.

    First up, I want to say a quick word on social media. It can be a real faff finding out which emails to fire off press releases to – even a Google search of the journalist won’t necessarily show up their address, but what it often will show is their Twitter handle.

    It means that an increasing number of people are using Twitter to try and reach out to journalists. Now speaking personally, I really hate being pitched at on Twitter. It’s impossible for you guys to sum up your game in 140 characters, and therefore impossible for me to understand what it is I’m meant to be writing about.

    And I’m not alone – only 8.5 percent of journalists in that survey I mentioned earlier were willing to be pitched at by social media. Instead, email was the preferred option. So for me, if you genuinely can’t find a journalist’s email online, send them a tweet saying “Hey, is there an email I can contact you on? I have a great story for you.”

    Most journalists would be quite happy to send you their professional email in response, where you can pitch in more detail.

    The same thing goes for LinkedIn, but don’t ever try to contact a journalist on Facebook unless you know them personally or have forged a relationship with them in person – it’s a much more personal platform, and can feel particularly invasive.


  • 6 Construct a memorable pitch: Part 2

    Construct a memorable pitch: Part 2 logo

    Pitches should be served up in great steaming bowls of carefully placed juicy tidbits.

    Let’s say you’re writing a press release saying your game has just launched. The first place to start is with the email subject line. As I said before, journalists get hundreds of pitches every month, and a whole other truckload of email debris on top of that, so you need to stand out.

    Make sure the subject line is snappy.

    Writiing in capital letters won’t do anything except terrify the journalist, as they feel like you’re yelling at them. If you want to catch their attention directly, use their name in the subject line. Something like “Do you like dinosaurs Alysia? You’ll love our new MMORPG.”

    The tried and tested way of writing an email subject header though, is including all the key information. Remember thinking of what makes your game unique earlier? Now is a great time to use that morsel of information. Something like “Dino Kingdom packs the largest collection of dinosaurs on mobile.”

    Then there’s the press release itself – and if you take away one piece of advice from this, if you’re launching a game, be as visual as possible. Include 3 screenshots of gameplay and a video as soon as the journalist opens your email.

    A picture is worth a thousand words, and it’ll be the first thing we look at, so we don’t want to scroll down the page searching for videos and pictures. Include them in the body text at the beginning.


  • 7 Construct a memorable pitch: Part 3

    Construct a memorable pitch: Part 3 logo

    Below the pictures is your press release.

    Explain in the first paragraph the unique nugget that makes your game interesting or different from the others, and work out from there in a pyramid.

    Don’t flesh it out with bells and whistles, news editors especially are short on time and we will spend about 10 seconds scanning a release before deciding whether to write a story in more detail. Straight up facts (even in bullet point form) are your best bet.

    The rest of the press release should be around 500 words. Go through the facts: pricing, release date, platforms, the devices and operating systems it will work on.

    If I’m a consumer journalist, don’t tell me about the game’s backstory and development process unless it’s vital to my understanding of the game – save that for the B2B journalists, and don't just paste your app store description.

    Basically, throughout the whole press release the point you’re trying to get across should be as slow-moving and obvious as that giant boulder in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.

    A final, perhaps pedantic point, but a really important one nonetheless. If someone was applying to your company, would you give them an interview if their CV was full of grammatical errors and spelling mistakes?

    A lot of journalists are exactly the same. So spell check your press releases, and if you’re writing in a language that isn’t your Mother tongue, get someone else to check it for you.


  • 8 Inside a journo’s score sheet

    Inside a journo’s score sheet logo

    Right, so this is the bit when I get excommunicated for sharing top secret journalist manuals.

    Well, I say that, it’s only the Pocket Gamer manual. I can’t speak for every website and publication on the planet, but by giving you an insight into what criteria we measure games against in our reviews, it might help you when pitching to other sites.

    Our score sheet is divided into five individual score categories: Audio / visual. Gameplay, innovation, value and overall.

    Audio and visual

    To get a top grade for your game, you’re going to have to make sure your audio and visual design is spot on. That doesn’t necessarily mean console quality graphics and heavenly sound quality – but you should have a strong aesthetic that makes sense in relation to the gameplay and separates your game from others on the market.

    Take Thomas Was Alone, for example. Mike Bithell has said himself that he was not a designer by trade, so he built a game around simplistic rectangles – and made the audio top notch to compensate by working with an external composer. The simplistic graphics actually worked really well, the soundtrack was stunning, and the game was reviewed well across the board.

    Gameplay

    Then there’s gameplay. This category basically means is there a compelling mechanic that keeps you hooked, and does the game run smoothly with no bugs? When you submit a game for review it will usually be two weeks before your launch date and you might not have ironed all the kinks.

    That’s totally fine, journalists will take that into account in their pre-release reviews, but if there are gapingly obvious glitches that mean your game is buggier than a bed bug bugging out on a dune buggy, you need to sort that out before sending it to a journalist. If we can’t play it properly, we can’t review it.

    Innovation

    Innovation basically means “have we seen this before?” A match-three puzzler is unlikely to score highly in this category, unless it has a completely unique mechanic that flips the expected. Take risks and push the boundaries of creativity in your game, and you’re bound to get journalists excited.

    Value

    Value basically is us working out whether the player is getting bang for their buck. If you’re making a F2P game and are implementing clunky monetization mechanics that make no sense in relation to the gameplay, or have gone pay to win, you’ll score low here. Likewise, if you’ve gone for the paid model option and are charging $8 for 10 levels of a game, you won’t do well.

    Overall score

    Overall is the final score slapped on a game, and is a mix of the overall scores of all the above, and the journalists’ own opinion. A lot of people forget that a review is, at the end of the day, one person’s opinion about how a game performs.

    There will be some journalists who hate your game, and fans that love it, and vice versa. But journalists play hundreds of games across all genres and platforms – if you want a cultural bellwether of what’s going on in the industry, they’re an excellent benchmark.


  • 9 That's all folks

    That's all folks logo

    That’s the long and short of it, but really I’ve been slightly misleading in my title for this presentation.

    There is no one way to get coverage for your game. I have met developers who say they’ve honed the pitch, created the videos, hired a PR agency, made the introductions, and still didn’t get covered by any media.

    And this is where I get really honest. If you genuinely feel there’s nothing more you can do to be getting coverage, you need to stop and take a long look at your game. Is it really, actually, any good? It’s not enough for family and friends to tell you whether it’s fun – they’re obliged to say that.

    Be really critical – are you being original and giving the journalists’ a story to tell? At the end of the day, our profession is all about narrative and weaving stories. If you’re giving us a game we’ve seen ten times before, no matter how polished and shiny it is, there’s not much we can do with it.

    Making a clone won’t just do you no favours in terms of getting coverage, but it strikes me as a bit of a waste. Kind of like hiring Gandalf to read the minutes of last week’s book club meeting.

    You can even be original in how you pitch to journalists. Make a press release in video form, filled with gameplay footage and the key points written in the video description. Go to events and make a point of meeting journalists and handing them succinct information packs on your game.

    Above all, have fun. That is, after all, what this entire entertainment industry is about. If you’re not enthusiastic and jazz hands about your game, how can the media be?


News Editor

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John Ozimek Director and co-founder at Big Ideas Machine
Thanks for using our charts from the 2015 app reviewer report (which is free to download in full from our website. Just saying ;-) )
Laia Eguren Audio Director and Co-founder at Pincer Games Studio
Awesome, thank you Alysia :)