The indie scene has matured to a point where Leigh Alexander writes an excellent list of tips for any indie looking to do their own PR. Upset at the lack of tips indies really shouldn’t read, I’ve decided to take it upon myself to create a list of the five most horrible misunderstandings in PR. Here is a list of five pieces of absolutely terrible advice for your PR strategy.
1. A good game sells itself
More than anything, realize that a good game sells itself. Contrary to what many successful indie developer want you to believe, they’re not actually spending effort on marketing – they spent their full efforts on making a good game and not telling anybody about it. When their game was finally ready to release, they released it without further marketing effort and earned ridiculous amounts of money.
Don’t have assets available online – that just stops press from having to reach out to you. If you have screenshots, trailers and information about your game online, there’s no reason for any writer to get in touch with you and that lack of interaction will without a doubt damage your exposure.
Of course, the pretense of a marketing effort is optional. Copy some of those debug screenshots from when you were hunting for that crash bug in the second level and hand those to press that do bother you, asking for screenshots. Explain the game as thoroughly as possible, preferably with a full exposition of the game’s team (see Double Fine, Assassins Creed) or the game’s fiction (see Rockstar Games, Skyrim for good examples of this) but never make the mistake of going in-depth as to what the game actually is: cloners may be abound to steal your ideas. Nobody would in good conscience claim that the press is above selling your ideas to the highest bidder.
2. Play ‘Hard to Get’
Nothing is as enticing as a good mystery. In the indie scene the use of mystery is well-documented with games like Sword & Sworcery (400,000+ units sold), more recent releases like Ridiculous Fishing and the current hype of titles like Team Meat’s Mewgenics. Outside of it, one just has to look at the likes of Thomas Bangalter’s and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo’s Daft Punk to see how these strategies are truly the Swiss utility knives of marketing.
The main trick behind successful campaigns is to remain unreachable until a few days before the actual release. Any piece of information that gets out without your full and conscious consent is a problem – and the press are accustomed to receiving quick and succinct replies. You want to stand out, and as such always avoid responding in a direct fashion. The press are trained to take quotes or single lines from your responses and use them out of context to infer untruths about your game for the sake of reader hits, so avoid replying or being active on public media like Twitter or Facebook to keep the ruse of mystery intact.
When you do want a piece of information published, send a quick e-mail with said information and confirm that the e-mail was sent by placing a phone-call to the recipient. Keep in mind that you should already have their phone number programmed into your phone to be able to avoid answering a call from the press in the first place. Use the phone-call to reiterate the message of the e-mail in exactly the same wording to avoid slipping up and revealing key information about your game that could be used when your marketing campaign really kicks off in the final days before and after release.
3. Attachments create attachment
The people of the press likes eye-candy as much as any other person, so making your press-release look good is important. A common mistake to avoid is to send your release as plain text. Plain text is not only easier scanned and disposed of by the spam filters that the press uses to filter out any news that isn’t AAA news from established PR companies, it’s also plain boring to look at.
Instead, always make sure to send a blank e-mail to avoid the filters and attach your full press release as a PNG or PDF. Open standards like ODT are also recommended, since it’s a small effort for writers to install OpenOffice or LibreOffice. Make gratuitous use of custom fonts and large images to convey your message and don’t forget to add a background image to each individual page of the file.
Since you’ve taken care that no assets are available online, you can now leverage that to send these over. Archive high-quality concept art and the high-quality trailer and send those over, ideally protected by a password the press needs to requires from you. That way you can gauge interest at all times.
As a general rule of thumb, if the attached file is sufficiently large, press will automatically be interested in downloading said file to check out what’s in there. File sizes of over 250MB tend to do remarkably better.
4. It’s just a job and you’re the salary
Of course writers and journalists maintain a persona of genuine interest and sincere care about the state of the medium and the games released in it. It is important to realize that these people are the media and portraying such an image while controlling the media is a painfully trivial task. In reality, the press knows just as well as you do that it’s just a job they have to do to pay the rent.
That’s a good thing for you as aspiring marketing expert, because that basically turned you into their ability to pay for food. As such, it’s definitely acceptable to feel entitled to your article being written the way you want it. In fact, it’s one of those situations in which the sort of confidence many pickup artists can tell you about will do you a lot of good. If you feel sufficiently confident, one trick that always work is to not send (p)review builds to any website but one. Not only will this establish to the press that you feel your game is worth paying for, it will also net you some extra sales.
Another thing to note is that occasionally, you’ll run into writers that do write for free. Always ask whether someone from the press is getting paid for their job. If they’re not getting paid, they’re not worth your time: these self-proclaimed ‘passion’ writers are unpredictable and less likely to follow your intentions, as they’re not being held responsible by the economies that govern quality writing. Think of it this way: if they were any good at writing, they’d have a paid job.
5. Control your messaging
There’s nothing as important as to create a consistently positive narrative for your game. If a single website writes negatively about your game, it’s more likely that other websites will be influenced by that: the press often doesn’t have time to come up with opinions of their own and will refer to one another to find out what opinion is popular to have. Most websites will follow the more accepted opinion while some are known to intentionally chose an opposing statement.
As such, it is important to control your messaging. One of the best commonly known ways to achieve this is by imposing embargoes – dates before which certain news cannot be published. Embargoes are commonly implemented by superimposing a big, red stamp over each individual page diagonally. Less known but more effective measures include a threat to sue the journalist for only using part of the press release or using it in context of a negative article.
If a website posts negatively about your work, consider spending some money on a lawyer to sue the website for copyright infringement or slander. As soon as a single asset from your game is used, whether it is a screenshot, a trailer or a sentence from either the in-game text or your press release, threatening with legal action will often result in settling out of court.
Knowing about this common practice should also tell you everything you need to know about leaks: if they were truly leaks, they wouldn’t be on the large gaming blogs but on conspiracy websites instead.
If you made it to this point in the article without realizing all the above is absolutely terrible advice, please read Leigh’s post linked at the top, read everything here and read this post again while continuously wondering ‘why is this bad advice?’. Feel free to send me a tweet if you get stuck.
Please #ff this post on Twitter.