One of the more common troubles I run into during my career as a games journalist is that, sometimes, its seems as though developers don’t want me to write about their titles. Every now and then, when I’m looking for something to pitch to an editor, I browse indie sites to see if I can catch a glimpse of something exciting that I might like to big up. Often, I come across one such games, decide I want to write about it, but then run into a thousand barriers that mean I just… can’t.
To begin with, I was baffled by some of these common mistakes. Surely it’s obvious? But after talking with a few people on Twitter, it turns out that maybe it isn’t. Developers: I assume you want people to know about your game, so here are a few suggestions of what you might like to consider doing in the future.
1. Have a website
Yes, I know, that IndieDB page sure is convenient. And your Facebook profile is looking all splendid and white and blue. But it communicates something about the effort you’re prepared to put into this project if that’s all you have. It’s especially problematic if the only way I can contact you is via a Facebook message, or similar, because quite frankly I’m not going to do that. I’m a professional person with an email address; why don’t you have one too?
Which brings me onto…
2. Display your email address somewhere sensible on your website
One of the most astonishing things I’ve discovered is that several games’ websites don’t have an email address on them at all, let alone displayed somewhere prominent. This is especially true when a developer decides their game’s website is going to take the form of a dev blog, but then seems to forget to put all the necessary information such as: What is your game about? and How might I get in touch with you to discuss it? I don’t especially want a contact form, either, because there’s no sure-fire way for me to guarantee that it’s even working, and I’ve had situations in the past where I’ve contacted a developer through a contact form to later find they never received my message. In an absolutely ideal world, you’ll have a dedicated inbox for press requests, named something sensible like email@example.com or something. But really, any way I might get in touch would be nice.
And when I do…
3. Reply to my emails
Seriously, what? I mean, I thought it was safe to assume you’d want the publicity I’m offering you, but let’s pretend for a minute that you don’t. Your game’s at a stage of change at the moment, you’re hoping to keep what you’re working on close to your chest, and you’re planning a bit of a PR campaign to start in a couple of months’ time… so you… just don’t reply to my email? Really? In my world we have a word for that, and it’s called ‘rudeness’. My guess would be that one in five indie devs I email never even bothers to get back to me. Did you forget you set up that pr@ email address, or something?
4. Even better, reply promptly
Even if you are periodically checking your inbox and replying to messages from the press, it might be that you’re not being quick enough. These days, games journalism works at a remarkable speed, and if you’re self-employed, like I am, you need to make sure you’re keeping up and pitching things as quickly and frequently as possible. If I send you an email on Monday, then by the weekend I’ve almost certainly moved onto something else, got a reply from another developer, and starting working on that job, instead of the job I’d planned to pitch in relation to your game. If I’m especially busy at the time, it might be that you just blew your chance of getting me to write anything about your game at all – not because I’m being a dick, but because more work has arrived, more news has broken, and we’ve all moved onto new things.
5. Furnish me with decent screenshots, artwork, information, and so forth
Listen, guys? I know you really, really want to be a supercool games studio that can tease and drip-feed information about their game. I get that. Wouldn’t we all love to be in that position? But if you’re not, you absolutely cannot get away with being vague about what it is you’re actually working on. That single screenshot on your website which is of a mysterious-looking menu screen? It’s not going to cut it. Similarly, I know you’re trying to save on web space, but it’s useful for me to be able to access an image that’s more than 300 pixels wide. As for being vague about what the game even entails (especially if you say something like ‘totally unique’), well, there go your hopes of getting coverage. When I pitch an article, I need to also be able to provide high-res screens, sometimes some separate artwork, and – y’know – information about the game. Not having this stuff on your website is silly. If you still won’t give me it when I email you about it, you’re being ridiculous, and need a reality check.
6. Give me something playable
Your game looks awesome from the screenshots… but don’t they all? And you’ve managed to make it sound effortlessly compelling in your blurb, but then you’ve probably got someone who’s good at writing snappy copy working on your team. That’s all well and good, but the surest way for me to be able to feature your game on a major website is if I can email the editor and say, ‘Listen, I’ve been playing this indie game, and it’s awesome.’ Budgets are tight, and editors need to ensure their pages are being filled with only the most interesting content. Taking a punt on an unknown title that may or may not be good is a risk most aren’t willing to take.
7. Understand lead times
In journalism, even in today’s fast-moving world of web writing, things take time to prepare. So, your game’s all done and dusted and ready to go on-sale this coming Tuesday… where are your review copies? Have you sent them out yet? Of course, reviews may still trickle in over the next couple of months, but they’re far more impactful if you can time them along with release. So, let’s be very clear: in order to get a review on release day, you need to get a copy to online media two weeks before, and print media six weeks before. Things don’t happen instantly. Set an embargo if you like, but allow for the wait.
8. Spoil us
We journalists are people, just like anyone else. When we open an email to find that it’s obviously a mail-merged press release sent out to hundreds of journalists, it’s not very exciting. But if I open an email to find something personally addressed to me, that’s a delight! It’s even more of a delight if you’re – say – offering me the chance to come and play your game in your offices or at your house, or to meet up with me somewhere to show it. Maybe you’re giving me some assets that no one else has, or offering me a quick Skype interview? That’s awesome! Basically: make us feel like it’s us you really want to talk to, and we’ll be more inclined to help you out, because that’s just human nature. Remember, the major players fly us to foreign lands and put us up in five-star hotels. Those of us with an ounce of credibility don’t let it affect our judgement of their products, but that’s still what you’re up against.
9. Don’t, under any circumstances, try to ‘bribe’ us
Two indie developers have tried to get me to behave unscrupulously, which compares nicely to a grand total of zero major studios. People think of the big boys as being the unscrupulous ones, but that hasn’t been my experience. So let’s make this extremely clear: No, I shan’t accept a £20 iTunes voucher in exchange for a review of your game. It doesn’t have to be an outright bribe, either, because also, no, I probably won’t be copy-and-pasting one of the reviews you’ve written and pretending it’s mine just to save time. I have my professional reputation to consider. If you had an ounce of common sense, so would you. (Of course I understand that this is a tiny minority of developers, but I wanted to do ten tips, so put this one in too.)
10. For goodness sake, contact the right publications
I write a column about free games for PC Gamer. So it’s quite astonishing the number of emails I get asking me to cover something that simply doesn’t fit into these categories. Even if the name doesn’t make it clear, is it so difficult to look at what I write? You’re asking me to cover your new Half-Life mod, even though it’s quite obvious I only write about standalone games if you read more than a few of my columns? You’re sending me a bloody Android game? This is probably the most comfortable way to make me think you’re an idiot and never want to cover any of your games again.
Gosh, that ended on an angry note, didn’t it? Anyway, I hope these tips have been useful to some people.