Indie Games PR
Indie games need public relations to succeed. Start by watching Thomas Reisenegger’s GDC 2016 talk, The 5 Pillars & Pitfalls of Indie Games PR:
Thomas breaks down the most important things to get right as follows (along with our own commentary):
There’s a lot of competition. Don’t let it discourage you from trying, but let it scare you enough to put some focus into learning how to do indie game PR to stand out from the crowd.
Consider Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture about Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.
Randy’s goals included playing in the NFL (which taught him to work hard at something impossible) and becoming a Disney Imagineer (which he managed to be part time while continuing to teach the pioneering Building Virtual Worlds course at CMU). Both were extremely difficult and he was turned down numerous times. But brick walls are there for a reason. Brick walls are there to stop the other people who don’t want something enough.
So don’t be so intimidated by the number of games out there that you give up. Consider that many games do not have strong positioning to enable them to stand out and dedicate yourself to positioning your game so that your hard work and passion shine through and reach a receptive audience.
Cover the basics first
You first need to build up the basic PR assets every game needs to engage an audience.
- Game Web site
- Game Mailing list
- Game Social media
- Game Press kit
- Game Press releases
You cannot disregard any of these basics with a “do it eventually”. You should build this stuff at the same time as your early game so that it is ready for publishing your developer blogs and engaging early press to build hype about your game before it launches. Unless of course you’re going to go stealth (more on that later.)
Make sure you can explain your game so it sounds awesome to someone outside the game industry in on or two sentences.
For example, Superhot did it right by explaining their whole game in one sentence: SUPERHOT is an FPS game where time moves only when you move. Without even showing what the game looks like, you can visualize it from those words alone.
Manage News beats
You have certain key opportunities to get coverage about your game.
- first screenshots
- first trailer
- beta start / preview possibilities even if press only
- release date announcement
- release announcement + launch trailer
There are ideal times to announce things.
- You generally want to avoid high-news traffic times like E3 (June).
- Press don’t like to cover things on weekends. Choose a day between Tuesday and Thursday.
- Time news during office hours (9-16). Cover US/EU zones (6PST/14GMT is optimal)
- Youtubers and streamers don’t want to hear a lot about your game, they just want a link to your trailer and game download link.
- Most will only cover your game once.
- Try recording your own game and making a let’s play intro to it before you ask Youtubers to try it so you fix issues that come up.
If you had only one asset to put money into, put it into making your trailer. This is what people look at to see what your game looks like.
Your trailer needs to showcase your positioning and strongest qualities like your art, story and gameplay.
You can do things to get headlines. Some guerrilla marketing is risky and can backfire.
Gabe Newell Boss Fight
For example, Crawl is a pixel art dungeon brawler that made Gabe Newell a boss fight:
This got them loads of press and it was risky but Gabe thought it was funny and wrote to them approving of it which journalists reported on. They were lucky and got 2 news beats out of it. Look at the results:
Pirate PR Stunt
The presenter’s game Shooting Stars knew Android version of their game would be heavily pirated so they uploaded a special pirates only version to mock pirates for pirating it. It got press even outside of the traditional games press and almost as much PR as all their other PR combined.
The most common mistakes people make by ignoring these fundamentals:
- Too little too late
- Playing indie card is no longer enough to get noticed
- Poor unfocused trailer
- Not repackaging and improving PR enough
- Push PR instead of pull PR: Not targeting and familiarizing with the press that can best cover you before showing them for something they want to cover
Things for the future
- Focus on compact high quality info for short attention spans
- Visual content is even more important now
- PR & marketing need to be integrated
- No credibility comes from your platform now that there are many games on Steam
- Clever in-game social media sharing: Superhot and Alphabear let you share a non-spoiler funny meme from the game
Follow Thomas and other indie marketing experts
You have a lot to learn from indie PR experts like Thomas Reisenegger.
Follow @olima, learn from his latest ideas and engage him with questions
There have been many cases of games being cloned before they’re released based on marketing preview materials like trailers that show gameplay. This is one reason many early trailers are just teasers.
If your mechanics are novel enough that you think someone might clone it, you may want to keep the real details of your game mysterious until you are nearing launch.
This is all the more reason to have the site and teaser trailer and mailing list since building hype for your game is going to be extra hard this way you need every way of contacting people to announce your eventual launch possible.