No matter what platforms they cover, video games journalists are bombarded with requests every day. Game developers and publishers of all sizes – as well as a games PR agency like ourselves – are constantly working to get features, previews and reviews for their game.
Some of the leading gaming sites receive thousands of review requests each year, and often the biggest factor that causes issues getting coverage is simply time, or the lack of it.
9,050. That’s the number of games released on Steam in 2018 alone according to Statista.
The Steam Releases Twitter account showcases all the newest game releases on Steam – and if you take a quick glance down its Twitter feed, you’ll see a whole bunch of games released today alone. Some are good, most are trash.
So if you’re an independent game developer, then I’m sure you’ll agree with us that trying to get your indie game reviewed can be a major challenge. Perhaps you’ve tried messaging game review sites and failed to hear back? Or you simply don’t know where to look?
Games journalists told us that one of their biggest frustrations is the poor quality of the pitches they receive on a daily basis. Often, these pitches are poorly written and are for games that weren’t relevant to their interests or job description. In some cases, they were for platforms that the journalist didn’t even cover!
So it’s essential that you ensure that you give yourself every possible advantage to try and secure that review for your game, avoid the easy mistakes in doing so, and maybe even get that all-important Metacritic badge to display proudly on your Steam page.
This can all be especially tough for independent developers who are up against the big guns who have a large games PR agency or an in-house team running their campaign and competing for the same pool of media.
Don’t worry though, because help is at hand!
As a games PR agency who works alongside the media on a daily basis, we’ve put our heads together (with a little bit of help from over 200 reviewers too) and come up with 7 easy-to-follow, actionable insights and tips that will secure coverage for your game.
Tip 1: Be clear and concise in your pitch and highlight your USP’s
If you’re going to approach a journalist to review your game, then you only have a small amount of time to grab their attention.
More than 70% of the respondents to our questions said they got between 1 to 10 review requests each day. Around 20% of our respondents said they receive more than 10 pitches a day.
You should be able to state clearly what your game is, what it does and what makes it different from all the others. All within a relatively short space.
Coming up with interesting hooks and connecting with the right audience increases the likelihood of getting coverage. Explaining what your game is concisely and clearly gives the media the answers to questions they would have and helps ‘sell’ them reasons to cover the game.
What is different about your game? Does it provide players with something no other game does?
Or perhaps you as the developer are the USP. Are you a one-person team? Do you come from a country not known for developing games? Have you worked on a big-budget title, but decided to strike out on your own? Are you a Hollywood actor making a game with Ubisoft?
There is a template to follow that yields good results for finding your USP. Describing your game for example, as:
For [racing game fans]
Who [need new racing games]
[your racing game here]
Is [the only game to let players experience 90s street racing in Japan in an arcade style]
That [provides the very best 90s street racing experience].
Unlike [other racing games],
[your game] is [the only game that caters specifically to arcade fans looking for that arcade experience on modern machines].
Doing this well is a quick and easy way of selling who you are and what your game is.
A reviewer will likely see hundreds of games and be able to automatically benchmark yours against others that they have seen or played. So don’t be afraid to cite games you were inspired by or share similarities to, as it will help position your game better.
If you can’t explicitly say in a couple of sentences why you think they should give it a look versus all the other ones, then you seriously need to rethink your approach.
Tip 2: If you want to have your game reviewed then you need to be relevant
We can’t stress enough how important it is for you to send the correct pitch to the right journalist.
In our survey, almost 60% of the respondents said that the main reason they reject a review request is simply that it’s not a platform they cover, and for platform specific sites, it’s therefore not relevant for their audience.
Let that sink in.
More than half of the pitches a journalist receives are dead on arrival because the person pitching hasn’t done their research.
You must carefully consider the type of audience your game is intended for, and then put yourself in their shoes. Where are they likely to go to for news about games?
Personalise your pitches. Showing media that you have taken the time to do your research about their interests and tastes will go a long way in helping the effort to make them pay attention to you and your game.
Another route to personalising a pitch is to utilise geographic or regional hooks if possible. If you are a developer from the same country as that media site, make sure to tell them!Sorry Americans – this doesn’t really apply to you! But if you are French – definitely tell JeauxActu! Czech? Try Czechgamer!
Tip 3: Be genuine
Journalists are, more often than not, real people who just want you to approach them in a friendly and straightforward manner.
Don’t be a robot in your approach!
If you’ve taken the time to do your research, reflect that in your messaging. Reference any relevant information such as playable languages if their native tongue is in your game or if they have played a similar game to yours before.
Tip 4: Make sure that your game is polished from store to start menu
High-quality games shine through and do more than anything else. Your game has to look great, work well and do something good or genuinely new.
If you’ve not sought independent feedback on your game before launching it, then we recommend that you do.
All aspects of your brand – not just the game itself – must be up to scratch.
This includes making the store pages of your game are free of spelling mistakes and are formatted properly. Remember to keep a close eye on the word-limit of your description. Keep it short and to the point.
Ensure you’ve supplied enough high quality art and screenshots for your store page too.
Tip 5: Provide excellent visuals in a well crafted press kit
Because journalists have a tiny amount of time to make a decision, the best chance you have of helping them out is to ensure your games visuals are up to scratch.
Creating a solid press kit filled with high-quality screenshots, logos and artwork will give the media all they need to embed images within their articles and get a good sense of what your game is all about. These should all be in labelled folders, to make it clear where everything is, saving the journalist time.
Because as we’ve said in nearly every other sentence, journalists don’t have a lot of time!
The screenshots shouldn’t be too dark, and they must be a high-quality resolution. Select a variety of screenshots, showcasing the best that your game has to offer.
If they are from a particular build, add the build name onto the image somewhere at the top or the bottom.
Exclusive images not seen on the store page of the game are a recommended addition. It’s a great way of helping the media feel as if they have something genuinely meant for them, as it won’t have been seen by audiences before, but it also serves as an effective preview for audiences who will see them for the first time in any resulting coverage.
Here at Big Games Machine, we’re a games PR agency who uses Google Drive to host our press kits. It gives us storage options, it can play video files we’ve put in folders and generally looks clean and concise.
Check the sharing permissions when using Drive, as it should be set to ‘View Only’.
But if you’d rather something else, there are alternatives available such as hosting it on your own site in a dedicated ‘Press Kit’ or ‘Media Kit’ section. Specialist third-party tools can also meet your requirements such as Press Kit Hero or Do Press Kit.
Whatever you choose, just make sure it is easily accessible and filled with great content.
If you have hired a games PR agency, they can recommend and give feedback on what assets work best.
Creating a video can also be a massive help in securing a review for your game. A 30-60 second video minimum on YouTube can really assist audiences and reviewers to see what your game is about.
Remember to highlight key features on the screen to guide the viewer as to the game’s unique selling points. You must not forget to clearly differentiate what footage is cinematic, and which is gameplay. Do not mislead the media and your audience!
Check out this informative video from The Game Makers Toolkit channel on how to make an indie game trailer.
Tip 6: Pitch at the optimum time
Attempting to reach media to offer them a review copy during certain times of the year can leave your inbox full of out of office messages. Traditionally, this was during events such as GDC, E3 and Gamescom.
Given that all events will likely be virtual for the foreseeable future, it remains to be seen what impact this will have on the number of media readily available at the time.
It’s sensible to keep an eye on your calendar. Don’t reach out to media on holidays such as 4th of July in the USA, or on a Bank Holiday in the UK.
On a more general scale Monday and Friday should be avoided. They are not regarded as good or convenient days to put news up, especially the latter where most people will only be able to pick it up the week after.
Once you’ve decided a good time that doesn’t clash with any events or holidays, you’ll need to work out where that fits within your launch timeline.
Almost 60% of those we spoke to said they like to receive a review build 3 weeks before launch.
For a more in-depth dive into the best times to be pitching, keep this tab open for later, and check out our advice on when the best times are to begin pitching your game.
Tip 7: You need to be patient to secure a review of your game
Journalists don’t like to be bugged, badgered or chased.
Technology journalist Seth Porges said in his Forbes piece about follow-ups:
“…there’s nothing more irritating to a journalist than seeing the same pushy name pop up in their inbox over and over again… Such behaviour may even prevent journalists who might otherwise want to cover you in the future from doing so.”
Some media may reply back if the game isn’t for them to let you know. Others may want to cover your game but not be able to reply straight away.
The sensible strategy would be to do a follow-up a few days later from your original message, without being too forceful, and not falling into the trap of doing too many follow ups in a short space of time.
As well as being patient, you must also be confident that you’ve met all the considerations they take into account, and then just hope for the best!
Wrapping Things Up
So there you have it. There’s no secret sauce to succeeding with the media when it comes to getting your game reviewed.
As long as you have something that is genuinely unique that you can explain clearly and sensibly to the journalist, accompanied by some great visuals, then you should give yourself the best possible chance of getting your game reviewed.
Whether you get a good review or score after that is an entirely different matter!
Download your free copy of the Games Media Survey here. We hope this report, and these tips, give you insight into what reviewers are looking for so that you give yourself the best possible chance to secure that elusive piece of coverage.
If you love data and insights, then you’ll love our free Gaming Influencers Survey as well.