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Welcome to the wonderful world of GDC!
There’s no doubt that GDC (Game Developer Conference) is a significant event in the annual PR calendar for indie game developers and publishers alike.
Hundreds of journalists and influencers descend on San Francisco each year to catch up with existing contacts and find some new diamonds in the rough.
While GDC can be a great place to meet with the media and PR your shiny new game, it can also be incredibly loud, busy and intimidating.
It also requires a lot of preparation, and you need to know what you’re doing if you hope to have any chance of success.
You’re likely wondering:
“How the heck can I get myself noticed at such as big event and with so little PR experience? Do I need to hire a video game marketing agency?”
Don’t worry! We’re here to help with indie game PR as much as big publisher PR.
There is little doubt that using a specialist games PR or marketing agency can certainly help you.
But we’ll let you into a secret.
You can do a lot of this yourself. You don’t always need a specialist video game PR agency (I know – sounds odd we are saying this).
This guide from the experienced folks at Big Games Machine Towers is built from our experience of attending GDC. It will tell you everything you need to know if you’re planning to use GDC as a PR springboard for your game or games.
We’ve packed in a ton of information to help companies of any size from an indie game developer to a publisher.
From pre-conference considerations to during and after the conference – we’ve got you covered.
So here goes.
1. Find the right journalists
The cornerstone of any attempt to PR video games at GDC is to find out if the media you want will be there.
The good news is that GDC issues a media list with full details of the media that are going to be there.
Here comes the bad news.
You can only access the list if you are an exhibitor. If you’re an exhibitor at the GDC Play Indie section, then you’ll get access to the list.
But here’s the good news!
Getting hold of the list is not too hard. If you know someone who is exhibiting, then that’s great, or if you ask, you can often obtain a copy.
If you can’t get hold of the media list, then you’ll have to do it the hard way and speculatively email journalists that you find and ask them if they are going to be there and if they would like to meet with you.
Here’s one more essential tip.
If you can’t get hold of a media list then research who has covered your competitors.
If a journalist has written about a competitor’s game, then it stands to reason they may be interested in your game too.
If you want to find a journalists email address and you can’t get it from the website then try the excellent Hunter tool.
Hunter helps you find email addresses through several channels such as social media and publically available profile and will even take an educated guess at the journalists’ email if it cannot find it.
Remember this golden rule.
Make sure you are focused when you’re researching media. If you are launching a game on PC then only approach journalists that cover PC.
This may sound very obvious, but nothing drives the media more nuts than generic un-targeted spam emails.
How do we know?
We know because we surveyed the media to find out what they like and don’t like and relevance was a big factor when it came to them considering a game for review.
The same logic stands for them considering whether they want to meet with you.
You can access the full report ‘Overworked, underpaid and passionate: a survey of games journalists” here.
2. Write a clear, focused pitch
Once you have your target media list, then you need to write a focused pitch. It’s essential that you don’t make it too long or full of stupid buzzwords.
Journalists are continuously bombarded by requests from video game PR agencies as well as indie game developers. You only have seconds to make an impression.
Here’s what we recommend.
- Use a simple header such as ‘Hands-on preview of (game name) at GDC.’
- Embed an enticing screenshot at the top of the email
- Start your email by showing you know something about them ‘Hi – I see that you recently covered (competitor game) and I think you have may be interested in my game (insert game name)
- Give three clear reasons why you think they should look at your game. Make them short bullet points.
- Include a link to a video if you can (uploaded to YouTube and set on private but public view with link)
- Tell them that you would love to tell them more about the game and give them a hands-on play at GDC. Then leave it to them to come back to you.
- Don’t keep chasing them. Perhaps send a reminder a few days later and if you’ve not heard back then leave it alone.
- Write like a human and be calm. Steer clear of hyperbole that makes you sound like an over-excited frat boy/girl- ‘awesome/freakin’ awesome’ ‘amazing’ ‘leading’ ‘best ever’ and ‘world-changing’ type crap that immediately turns a journalist off.
3. Create a Meeting Calendar
If the journalist responds to your outreach then well done! You now need to set up a time to meet them.
We strongly recommend that you create a shared Google Calendar for your journalist meetings.
We generally find that Google Calendar is the best way to keep colleagues informed of what’s going on and it works incredibly well with time zone differences. We know that trying to arrange meetings in a different time zone can be a major headache.
Once you’ve arranged a meeting, then you’ll need to send an invite to the journalist. We recommend 30 minutes max as they will have a very packed schedule.
Even if a journalist doesn’t outright request a Google Calendar invite, send one anyway.
Be sure to keep the headline clear for them (and for you) with a description of the person, developer/game and place so they can see it easily at a glance. Such as:
Joe Bloggs/Uber Games/Booth G31
If you’re in a different timezone to the journalist, then you need to factor that in so things don’t go south as soon as you get there and the time zones change. We’ll all been victim to that before!
Here’s the good news ………..
Google calendar makes this easy for you!
When you create a meeting, there is a ‘Time Zone’ option next to the time.
Click on ‘TIME ZONE’ and set it to Pacific Time.
That’s it! You’re all set!
The meeting will sit in the correct time slot in your calendar, and there won’t be any screw-ups when you get to San Francisco (assuming you don’t come from there in the first place of course!)
Here’s one more really important thing.
As the journalist for their phone number and give yours to them. It is entirely possible that they don’t show up in which case you will need to call them.
A journalist ‘no show’ can happen for a long list of reasons but if they do forget or were delayed then it may well be possible to reschedule another slot at the show.
We have even had to call journalists and go and meet them and walk them to a meeting.
Just before we move on there is one more thing. GDC runs from Monday through Friday with the main expo running from Wednesday. The media will more likely be there for the expo which is when you’ll have access to stands.
We recommend playing it safe and scheduling meetings from the beginning of the expo on Wednesday.
4. Work out where you’re going to meet the media
It’s great that you have secured a media briefing but that’s only a part of the battle. Trying to find a suitable meeting place is one of the trickiest aspects of GDC. If you’ve been before then, you’ll know that meeting space is at a premium.
This is as much a problem for video game PR companies as it is a small indie game developer.
But don’t’ worry.
There are a lot of great options for you to find the right place to meet up with the media at GDC.
Here are a few options with their pros and cons.
Tech/Solutions partner booth space
Getting some space from a tech or solutions partner can be a great option if you’re developing your game using Unity, Unreal, Nvidia, Lumberyard or another technology that will have space at GDC.
If you’re using a specific platform or technology then speak to someone to who deals with developer relations as they’ll be looking for innovative games to showcase in their space!
Country-specific trade organisations
If you have a trade body that represents the games industry in your country, then the chances are that they will have a stand there and will be offering discounted space.
Taking a table or stand space with a representative trade body is often the most efficient way to get on the show floor and get yourself a prime position.
As an example, we’re members of UKIE which means we can pay to have a meeting table in a prime position in the main hall. UKIE also offers demo pods to indie game devs developers along the edge of its stand.
Sometimes, you don’t even need to be a member of the organisation to take some space, but preferential rates will most likely be given to members.
And there’s often a sweetener…….
If you’re interested in taking a meeting space or a demo pod with your national trade body then there may also be substantial governmental government tax breaks or subsidies towards the cost of the stand to make it much more affordable.
There are very few downsides to this approach. If you have a demo pod then as per any stand, two people are recommended to help out with food breaks, toilet breaks etc. You will also need to keep an eye on your valuables as there is unlikely to be a secure storage room to keep them in.
We appreciate that it isn’t always cheap but having space to meet the media in a controlled environment can often make or break a meeting.
The enormous hidden benefit of having some kind of booth presence on the show floor is also the prospect of ‘passing trade’ from a high footfall event such as GDC.
Journalists, fans and even potential partners will often walk past and be interested in your game and you never know where a discussion will lead. If you’re not on the show floor then this won’t happen.
Taking space in GDC Play can be great for emerging Indies to showcase their titles. GDC Play takes places in another hall to the main event which is the South Hall but is no less important.
GDC Play exhibit packages include a standalone tabletop with monitor, keyboard, speakers, internet connection, and access to a networking lounge for meetings.
So what’s the downside?
The downside of this is similar to what we have said above. You’ll need to have people continually manning your stand area, so you’ll need more than one person for toilet breaks, food breaks and media meetings.
Also, if you have a VR title, then it may be the space here isn’t right for you to set up if you have dreams of an optimised HTC Vive area to demo your game in.
You’ll also need to find a way of securing your valuables overnight.
Potentially this can work if there is space.
A nearby hotel such as the Marriott Marquis has a sizeable upstairs lobby that we’ve seen used by a lot of people. Just go into the hotel and take the escalator up to the atrium that’s full of comfy sofas.
One publication we knew even set up base in the atrium of the hotel for all their podcast interviews.
Like anything, space isn’t guaranteed in hotels, and it means taking the media offsite, but it can be an option that works.
Hiring a hotel room
There are plenty of hotels in the vicinity, and some developers and publishers will hire a hotel room offsite.
Booking a hotel room can be an excellent way to have a lower cost presence than if you were on the show floor itself, but you still need to pay for a good-sized room to set up a demo area as well as some branding.
But you need to bear this in mind
You need to spend money on a decent sized room. You don’t want a small place where you end up sitting on the bed to demo a game as it can all end up being a bit unprofessional and awkward …ahem.
The only negative is that the media have to leave the main show floor to come and meet you so it may be less attractive than if they had a meeting space in the show itself which means far less travel for them.
If journalists are on a tight schedule then spending 15 minutes just to get to your hotel and then another 15 minutes walking back may put them off.
If you do have an offsite room, then you need to be sure that you’re meeting the media you have appointments with and getting them to where you are in the hotel.
This is the most common option but can be fraught with risk.
For starters, there are no power points to plug into if you’re running out of juice
These places can also be hideously overcrowded and likely very noisy if you’re on site which is not always conducive to a media briefing.
If you have a PC game, then you’ll need to be lugging a giant ninja power-hungry Alienware laptop around with you to show your game in its best possible light, and these can often die during a cafe demo.
So what are the positives?
If you go slightly off-site to somewhere in Yerba Buena like the Samovar Tea Lounge, then things quiet down a bit.
But expect to pay top dollar for a simple cup of tea or coffee, and it’s outside so the bright California sunshine will be glaring on your screen.
So what’s the best option then?
If you can get a space on the show floor, then we recommend that as the best option to meet the media. Sure, it may cost more but it will save you a lot of hassle overall, and you’ll be thankful for it.
5. Remember the best times to start pitching for meetings
We recommend beginning 3-4 weeks ahead of the event.
Because the media will start receiving requests a few weeks ahead of the show. The earlier you approach them, the better.
But remember this
DO NOT drive them nuts if you don’t hear back from them. Meeting the media at GDC is pretty crazy, and they will be inundated with requests. If you have not heard back them perhaps ask once more and then leave it be.
6. Factor in time between meetings
This can be a significant oversight if you’ve never been to GDC before.
Because some people make the mistake of scheduling back-to-back meetings and they’re not even in the same place.
Trust us on this one ……
GDC is enormous, and meetings can be anywhere. You need to carefully look at where your meetings are and if you have enough time to get to them. Even going from one hall to the next can take ten minutes as you may not automatically know where each stand is.
7. Be prepared – know the key things you want to get across to journalists BEFORE you sit down with them
Never forget the 7 P’s
Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance
What it comes to the media you can never be too prepared.
Before you show your game, we strongly recommend that you create a demo script to maximise your time and be sure you show your game in its best light.
Make sure your demo showcase the game’s best strengths and that you state the game’s unique selling points. The chances are that the journalist you’re speaking to will also have excellent knowledge of your competition.
It also means that if there are a few of you meeting with different media, then all people doing a demo are aligned.
It could also be that you have a meeting with a regular journalist where you control the flow of the demo and then you have streaming ‘let’s play’ style session live from the show with one of the big streamers or sites.
In this case, it’s good to know what you’re going to be saying. Some journalists may even turn up with a camera to record you which makes it extra important to be as polished as possible.
We also recommend that you develop an FAQ (frequently asked questions) for all possible questions you might be asked by the media – including potential negatives.
And remember this golden rule of meeting the media……
Say nothing that you do not want to appear in the press! If in doubt then don’t say it.
It’s entirely OK to tell a journalist that you don’t know something and note it down to send them more information afterwards.
Get the contact number of the person that you’re meeting
Get contact numbers for all media – they must be called, emailed and even shepherded to the meeting by someone – see our section ‘During the show’ for this one.
8. Create a GDC-specific press kit
If you send an old kit to journalists when trying to pitch for a meeting at a show, then you’re not showcasing the best version of your game.
Also, you need to physically show media where you’ll be at the show, so a floor plan with your booth circled is required (and something that won’t be in any existing press kit).
9. Entice media with select terms/phrases
When pitching for meeting slows, don’t just say that you’re at the show and to come along if they have the capacity. Create a sense of urgency by using words such as “last chance” and “almost fully booked” in your email text or subject lines.
During the show
1o. Define your roles/duties
If you have a stand, then you need at least two people.
The reason for this is pretty simple.
Make sure to share demo duties with someone else if you have a packed schedule – you need lunch, and a toilet break.
Also, think about the skill set of your booth staff – if something goes wrong (which invariably it seems to!) then you’ll need a technical person to fix a crashed game, for instance. There is no greater shame than a demo freezing up or crashing.
11. Have some seating at your stand (if you can)
If you have a stand, then think about a place to sit down if possible – a table and two chairs work a treat. Have some drinks on the stand for yourselves and to offer any thirsty journalists.
12. Produce some realistic takeaway items
By all means, give the media a cool takeaway but make it limited or exclusive.
General swag won’t make them feel special and also make sure that they can carry it. As a minimum, you need to give media a key/code (complimentary if nothing else) for your game!
13. Make notes
Sorry for sounding obvious, but you can’t beat taking really good notes of what journalists want. You can’t expect to answer 100% of what they will be asking you and will invariably have some follow-up actions.
Some will have more questions that you need to get back to them on. Voice recordings can also be a great way to remember everything that was covered, although the show is noisy so this may not be a viable route.
If you want to record an interview, then do so, but make sure you have the permission of the journalist before you do so.
14. Expect the unexpected
Don’t panic if media turn up with a camera or microphone! If you screw up then they’ll be able to edit parts out if you fumble your lines.
If nothing else, that’s usually an indicated that coverage is expected – likely on YouTube – so it’s a bonus!
There’s also a good chance that you will be forewarned of any recording, in allowing you to plan well ahead of time.
15. Don’t assume everyone speaks perfect English.
If a journalist can’t understand you, then you likely won’t get any post-event coverage.
If you know that a journalist isn’t a native English speaker, speak slower and be straight to the point. Try to avoid using slang or confusing terms
16. Don’t put out news (such as a press release) unless you’ve got something extraordinary to say!
As a general rule of thumb, trying to put out press releases around shows when you’re a small developer is a no-no.
Most of the show will be focused on findings/data provided by speakers or reveal’s from big companies, so you’ll likely be lost in the mix if you’re trying to launch a new game at GDC.
Journalist will then be filing copy up to a week after the show and so we recommend not trying to send news to them a week after GDC a well.
17. Join in the parties
GDC is awash with parties, and they’re great for networking. If you like shouting.
Some parties will carry more prestige than others and be near impossible to get into.
Parties are often sponsored/hosted by platform holders (Unreal/Unity etc.) or media themselves (Gamesindustry.biz notably holds quizzes/parties during the days/weeks of significant gaming evenst, for instance) so try to attend as many of them as possible to widen your networking group
Check out resources such as @GDCPartylist on Twitter
18. Make your space look nice
Nobody’s going to take any photos of your game if space doesn’t look nice. Make it look as attractive as possible with a few props if need be.
19.Maximise co-marketing opportunities
What’s included in your exhibition package? As an example, EGX Rezzed will send a targeted mail blast to partners and attendees if you’re exhibiting at the show. Use their PR team to boost eyes on YOUR game, especially if it’s a free service!
Think about what you’re wearing at the conference
Don’t give over valuable T-shirt space to your favourite stoner movie. That’s some crucial branding space right there, and you’re the human billboard that’s going to deliver it. Make branded T-shirts with a memorable picture/quote is PR in itself!
20. Take some time to walk around the show floor
It’s always work walking around the who if you can. You’ll likely bump into a few names/faces you recognise, or journalists to potentially mingle with.
21. Be sure to follow-up on your meetings
You should follow-up with a journalist no later than two weeks after the conference (while also bearing in mind that a journalist has a lot of post-conference work too).
This should include supplementary material for a piece (screenshots, artwork, video) and any additional info that might have come from the meeting including a thank-you.
A complimentary key for review/preview/ to try the game should have been given to that journalist at the conference
22. Set-up news alerts
You won’t always be informed of post-event coverage, so be sure to set-up Google Alerts and our free service of choice Talkwalker Alerts, as well as scanning social media every so often. Use the excellent and free Hootsuite to scan for your game mentions. If you’re happy to pay for a monitoring tool, then it’s well worth looking at Mention.
23. Have your in-game footage or trailers ready
Ensure this is prepared ahead of time so that you minimise on keeping journalists waiting for post-event material
We hope that you’ve found this guide useful and that it will give a boost to your video games PR efforts at GDC.
Not matter whether you’re an indie developer or publisher, good preparation for GDC can yield good returns if done properly.
We appreciate GDC is a big old show but if you follow some of these tips, then you’ll be halfway to getting it right.
Have we forgotten anything? We hope not. If we have then feel free to mail us and we’ll happily add it in.