Episode 2: How to time your game launch successfully

The Games PR Podcast helps you level up your PR skills to get your game noticed by media and influencers. With years of experience working with innovative indies and gaming giants alike, join the Games PR Podcast team and special guests for a wealth of tips and honest advice. From writing pitches and getting Metacritic reviews to avoiding common mistakes and working with influencers, The Games PR Podcast is your personal PR cheat code.

In this episode, the team talks through project timelines from announcement to launch, with everything in-between. Listen in to hear why there is no secret formula for the perfect launch date, the best ways to keep media engaged and the ideal window for sending review codes.

Subscribe and listen to the podcast on all your favourite services including Spotify, Podchaser, Amazon Music and more by searching for it or simply find your service of choice right now on Buzzsprout.

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Here’s the things we will cover in this episode:

  1. Announcing your game
  2. The Review Phase
  3. Embargoes and timezones
  4. SEO

If you’d prefer to read – here is the full transcript below

Introduction

Narrator: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Games PR Podcast, your regular dose of video game PR goodness. Sit down, relax as our team of experts and special guests share tips and tricks to help you level up your PR game with media and influences.

Alex: Alex from the future. Hi, I’m here and I’m from the end of the podcast, but this is to go in at [00:00:30]the beginning of the podcast because what I forgot to mention is that this is going to be PC and console only and getting your game reviewed by media. We’re going to touch on influencers and we were going to touch on mobile games, but we’re going to give them their own podcast, because we want to keep these bite sized so you can get the information you need and not have to go searching through four hours of podcast. We’re going to keep this to 30 minutes I hope. I’ll see you at the end.

Hi and welcome back to the Games PR podcast we [00:01:00] are here to guide you through launching probably your indie game into the games. We’re trying to help you get the most attention from influencers and press. Each show we are going to give you just a little tidbit, a little bit of advice on a specific area of PR. Today, we are going to be looking at timelines for announcements and review cycles. I’m Alex. I’m a senior account manager at Big Games Machine and today I am joined by Jack. Say hello, Jack. Tell everyone what you do.

Jack: Senior account [00:01:30] executive at Big Games Machine and also the unofficial boss when it comes to influencers.

Alex: You say unofficial I think we’ve let you put it on your LinkedIn I think at that point life becomes official perhaps overselling LinkedIn is important in the world, but we certainly feel that about you, it’s not unofficial in my [inaudible 00:01:47] This week, we’re actually– If you’ve listened to the previous few episodes, we’ve had James with us. Today, he’s being subbed out by a new member of the crew and also in some ways a special guest today because we’ve [00:02:00] just pulled him in from the media side.

We’ve pulled him over to help us promote games because obviously before that he was just writing about them and couldn’t guarantee the positivity. Today, we have Tom with us. Tom, would you like to introduce yourself quickly and give us a little bit of your background as well?

Tom: Hi, my name’s Tom. I’m account executive at Big Games Machine. I’m very new. I’ve only been here for five, six weeks at this point, and before that, I’ve been working in games journalism for around four years, freelanced for a year of that [00:02:30] and before, that I ran my own reviewing site. I’ve been on the other side of the position that we’re in here, and I think I’ve got a lot of good insights, so hopefully I’ll be able to help some people out.

Alex: I think not only do you have good insights, it also is going to help us today walk through a bit of this. Maybe you can give a bit of an explanation as to why from the other side it makes sense. Also because you are best will in the world, still learning, you’re going to be perhaps asking a few of the questions that people might want to ask us if we don’t cover them in this podcast, also, [00:03:00] but if you do have a question and you are listening obviously in the reverse order because couldn’t have a question if you haven’t listened. You can contact us at hello@biggamesmachine.com or hit us up on Twitter which is @biggamesmachine.

Announcing your game

As I said, today, we are going to be talking about beats and PR timings for your game. Again, we’re assuming a fairly small size game for this one without any kind of previous awareness around it or at least a new IP essentially so something that you won’t have an inbuilt audience for. [00:03:30] We’re not talking about things that you’ve built up via community work up to the point that you maybe go and engage a PR agency or decide to start announcing things “officially.”

There are differences involved in that and I think we will address those as we move forward. We’re going to start off with the timeline around announcing the game. That’s an official announcement where obviously you’ll have been developing a game up to a certain point and then you are making that change where you want it to go out to the world. You want to put up the Steam page, start getting those wish lists in, [00:04:00]and letting people know the timeline that it’s going to be delivered on and the work that’s going into it and the game it is.

I think, Jack, you obviously have a lot of experience with the timelines we work to here at Big Games Machine. Do you want to walk people through the announcement and not just the announcement, but let’s also address– Sorry, I should say, if you want to engage a PR agency within that process, the minimum safe distance from announcement that we would ideally like to know about the game to help you PR and launch it?

Jack: A key thing is [00:04:30] ideally you don’t want to have started your own timeline already and then get in touch with a PR agency. What I mean by that is sometimes you might think, “Oh, okay. I’ve got a really cool trailer. I want to put it out there,” and then maybe work stops in your game for a bit or you’re not quite ready. Then a couple months go by and then you get in touch or it could even be a way shorter thing where you release a trailer and then like a week or two later you approach saying, “Hey, I want to do something.”

[00:05:00] Really it’s just losing momentum and the cliché of stealing thunder where if something’s already out there, then you’re not really got anything new to tell people about. You might see some people talking about it or get some pickup but you really lose that chance to boost it by offering something new and under wraps and really giving it the treatment it deserves.

Alex: I feel like it sounds quite petty and maybe Tom can speak to this a little more, but there’s this idea that [00:05:30] people like to feel included, special, like you’re getting a glimpse behind the scenes, and if you’ve gone out and already given that out and it’s just a case if they hadn’t found it to this point, I think that’s the situation we’re walking into there right, Jack.

Jack: The giving media something exclusive is a key part of each element of the timeline really as we’ll explain some more because if you’re going to do an announcement, it’s likely that you’re going to then leave it a couple months until you do the next part, [00:06:00] so it’s not just about retaining interest, but also making sure that you’ve given media something that they feel like they’re going to be invested in for the long run if that makes sense.

Speaker 4: From my experience, it is from having run a website and only focusing on one platform, we only focused on the Nintendo Switch, but people are so busy, there were so many things going on, and if you were to come to me at that time and say, “This [00:06:30] is a game that we’re marketing,” if I look into that game and I see something a long time ago and then this massive drop off where there’s nothing going on, and then you’re engaging an agency it’s probably something that I personally skip on because the chances are if you’re doing something by yourself, there’s probably not the traction on it that you could get if you were to go to an agency.

Then, at that point, you’ve already lost a lot of media interest because, A, it’s already out there, B, if it’s not done particularly well, [00:07:00] I’m looking at that as someone who runs a website and thinking ultimately is that going to give me numbers and it probably won’t. I think, from my perspective, that’s a big thing that you do need to watch out for.

Speaker 2: I think you’ve hit on a few really relevant points there and I think this actually brings into the timeline and that we look into moving up and I think soon in a future podcast we’re going to talk about how PR [unintelligible 00:07:25] your game and things to have taken into account when writing the press release which is obviously the first thing somebody coming to us [00:07:30] will engage us to do and then do initial outreach for announcement.

Making sure you’ve got that news, but also being aware of how long it takes to draw that information together and then how much time people like you would’ve needed, Tom, to, one, see that game, which is to get it out in front of them a few days in advance which we’re going to touch on in a moment, also making sure that you coordinate, making sure that there is a single point, an embargo day, where that muse can go live, so we feel that they have a chance to have the first bite of the apple if they want it.

Perhaps also to your point, [00:08:00] having something that if bigger sites are picking it up, you can then go back and re-engage with that interest in mind because numbers are important and if other sites are getting numbers from it recently, there’s a chance you would’ve also covered it, right, Tom.

Tom: Definitely. The fact is video games as like an industry is huge and nowadays there are so many different places that are trying to get a bite from the same place. There’s not always a lot to go around so if I saw [00:08:30] other places covering something and it was doing well, there’s definitely then the incentive to go and do it yourself because even if you might not manage to get all of that attention your way, anything helps, so that is 100% true.

It’s not always biting off of other people, but it’s more that as a smaller site if someone else is doing something and they’re getting numbers from it, people are going to engage because, as I said, again, ultimately, numbers are number one and that’s just the way it is.

Alex: Perfect and I think obviously [00:09:00] if you haven’t listened to the last show, that will address the times of year that it’s good to launch so we’re not going to touch on that today. If I say the Christmastime’s always going to be harder to announce something because you’re up against a lot more competition. That’s something to bear in mind when considering the timeline of beats we’re going to jump into.

We’ve alluded to it already, we’d like to have the press release and things showed up like a week before the date of the announcement. Then really what we like to do is two or three working days before and I say working days [00:09:30] because generally media won’t be around on the weekends and often Fridays are a day they will already got the things lined up they’re going to cover, they’re not big news days. We like to announce on a Thursday or rather do embargoed outreach on a Thursday, Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday but get that out to them and then have under embargo and then have two to three days before the actual embargo lift.

That is to give people time to see the news and for them to also have time to write about it to be there [00:10:00] day one and obviously I mentioned that before, but that’s the timeline that we usually work to make sure we’ve got everything prepped, make sure everybody’s ready and aware of what is going to be announced be that just the announcement that the game is coming, be the announcement of a release date, and then just being ready to have all that go on the embargo day.

Then as mentioned before the following week, maybe five working days later, just be there to drop another bit of news or a reminder that the announcement has happened because we see it time and time again, [00:10:30] either initial email is missed or the interest around a game has picked up from the other outreach and that brings more coverage in so having those multiple beats or those multiple rounds of outreach is often incredibly valuable to the process of getting a game noticed.

I should say, we’re only talking about media at this point and that’s because generally at this point we tend to work primarily with media while there are times inferences would be included, that tends to come more towards a time of the actual release. I think Jack’s going to have something [00:11:00] to say on that when we come to that in a minute.

Now just to jump over to the other big thing that we are regularly engaged for, and that’s reviews. Now, obviously you can have announcements around release dates, just the release is coming, and sometimes we will get people will come to us to do previews and interview outreach and we are happy to answer any questions you may have on that. If you want to hit us up at Big Games Machine, here there’s a longer timeline involved and that’s a lot to do with ensuring media have enough time to, one, [00:11:30] see the game, two, get it installed, get them code, finalize code, so they have time to review it for the release date embargo lift. Jack, do you want to walk through the timeline on that? I know you’ve been doing a lot of this recently for various games.

Jack: As soon as we can get codes, the better. We’d ideally like to give people at least three weeks, that isn’t always possible, but it will affect when you can expect coverage. There’s also the fact that if the game is particularly big, [00:12:00] it might be a few weeks that that reviewer is going to need and you have to keep in mind, they’re also probably reviewing a few other games at the same time.

You have to be careful about expecting coverage and knowing when to check in as Tom can allude, people can get very pushy with asking where their reviews are, and if you are trying to review like five games at the same time, you have to try and balance that, so it is always worth keeping in mind, just the amount of games we’re up against [00:12:30] sharing the space with, but two to three weeks to get code into their hand.

As Alex said with follow-ups, just reminding them that it’s there and if they need anything else, we’ve had it before where we’ve had some like gameplay questions come through that they need answering or some technical issues that we need to then hit the devs up with and get that solved, as well as managing code, it’s also being there to manage the reviewer so you need that time before launch to sort those [00:13:00]wrinkles out.

Alex: We regularly follow up if we are lucky enough to get that game three weeks before, we’ll obviously get outreach, we’ll have already generated some interest. You generally generate some interest in people so have an idea of who would review code from the initial announcement outreach, but I think in that initial three weeks, you’ve got to think if we’re going to get it three weeks before and saying, we’ve got code now, you’re already a day later generally before they start getting codes and can install it.

That time is starting to tick [00:13:30] from the moment that first email goes out on how much less time they’re getting on a game and we follow up weekly and you’d be stunned by how many times, like we follow up the week after that first one and people be like, “Oh, I hadn’t seen it.” Sometimes that will go through because we generally follow up on reviews until three weeks after the launch as well.

Again, coming back to that idea that people might not have seen the game previously from your previous outreach and now reviews are there. They’ll recognize the name on the subject line and suddenly be more interested or they just won’t have seen the email. You’d be [00:14:00] amazed how on my seventh email people will be like, “Oh my life- Sorry, I hadn’t seen any of these. Of course I love a code.” It’s like, “Okay, “that’s going to be quite a long time after we’d normally see it up, but we’ll absolutely still be there to get the code into people’s hands the whole way through that.

Tom: I’ve got a few things to say, but first in regards to what you just said there, as someone who ran not a big site by any means, we had decent numbers and we were very much like a niche thing [00:14:30] so we were doing quite well in the space we were in, but I would be getting myself alone as just one part of a larger team running things, probably like 40 emails a day, which won’t be as many as other people, which is something else to bear in mind because 40 seems like a lot, but that’s probably nowhere near what other, but–

Alex: That’s only Switch.

Tom: Yes, and that’s literally only on Indie games on the Switch, so that’s a slice of even smaller slice. See, I’d be getting 30, 40 emails a day and not all of them would be [00:15:00] necessarily about review copies for games and things like that, but there were lots of cases I can recall where even a game that I was actually interested in and keeping an eye on and looking for the release of, I’d be getting emails about that and completely missing it until maybe the second or third time that they came through at which point I would then be one to that person going, like, “If you’ve spoke to me before, I didn’t even see any of this,” and that’s even the games that I am like, that I was very interested in and ones that I know about.

If it’s [00:15:30] stuff that people don’t necessarily know about, it is so important to not be discouraged if you don’t get responses right away because a lot of the people who you’re going to be contacting are dealing with– So that’s four emails a day. That’s not even actually running the website and playing things and writing and so on, so that’s what I’d say on that, and in regards to the timeline, I think I can probably add something here from the perspective of having ran a site with about when we were, at most [00:16:00] there was probably about 12 writers that I was working with.

The Review Phase 

Say I get a review code come in. If it’s a game that I’m interested in and I pull my like boss power and I’m like, “That’s what I’m taking,” obviously that’s really easy because the code comes in whenever it comes in, two weeks before, one week before, and then I can redeem that straight away and get play in it.

Then the process of the content being produced is much more streamlined, but if it’s something smaller or something that I think, [00:16:30] “Oh, might throw it out to the team,” that can be a two or three-day process just to actually get that into someone’s hands. If you are sending a game out a week before it launches, or a week before the embargo for reviews, you could have places where you send a code out on a Monday that might not even get redeemed till the Wednesday. It might not even be getting played until the Friday, then you’ve already lost a week.

Alex: That’s already quite a quick timeline as well.

Tom: Well, exactly and [00:17:00] sometimes things do just sit there and sometimes I’d have codes for really good games that would just lie there for a while, without people playing them because we tried to have a policy of we’d only allow writers to be reviewing two games at once. Obviously I can’t comment on what other websites had in regards to that kind of policy, but we try to stick to that to maintain the quality of the writing.

So oftentimes we’d have [00:17:30] codes sat there waiting for someone, but again, if you can get them out weeks before launch, that becomes a bit more of a non-issue because eventually people can pick things up so it might not seem important that you’re getting games out a while before the launch, but it could be the difference between an embargo lifting and there’s 50 reviews or however many reviews popping up straight away at 2:00 PM or whenever the embargo is, or if you are sending codes out a week before, the next two weeks, you get a couple [00:18:00] show up, other sites that are busier and busy periods just won’t cover it because they didn’t have the time when you sent it. To me, having been a journalist that is– That might be the most important part of the whole process, getting the game into people’s hands.

Jack: I think another vitally important part and something that some people generally just do mess up and it can be a mistake, but just make sure the codes work and are for the right region.

Alex: Or even the right game?

Jack: [00:18:30] Yes–

Alex: This happened to me one time.

Tom: I’ve had the wrong platform before, which was fun being told, won’t say the game, no this is a Switch code and I’m like, “This is not even the lay out of a Switch code,” and yes so not to delete [unintelligible 00:18:43] but with that, that’s days of communication back and forth, that again, you’ve lost. It’s such a small, it’s such an easy mistake to make, but that again can cost you so much time. Like these are the things that you do have to just check.

Embargoes and timezones

Alex: Yes, [crosstalk] [00:19:00] that easier than working out that it’s the wrong region as well. There’s a lot in there and you just going through that, got a springboard onto a few things, and I’m really bad with this because– So while I’m had with numbers than Jack, here’s a glimpse behind the scenes, I’m really bad with time zones and you’re better at picking the time zone stuff, but generally we go around two, three o’clock in the UK and that’s to get everyone in Europe and everyone in the US, it doesn’t quite work for the West Coast [00:19:30] is it? It’s still a bit early?

Jack: No, it’s East Coast when they get into the office and then obviously West Coast Pacific Time will come in later and the tricky part of that is we’re not ignoring Asia as a time zone, and Australia, but the vast majority of the media we’re trying to contact are in Europe and US and South America so that’s generally when [00:20:00] the best kind of time to pitch and have an embargo as well, we had a project recently where the embargo was going to be– We usually try and line it up with the launch of the game, but the game was launching in the evening Europe time, which made it really difficult for media to be around for that because it was on a Friday evening. Sometimes timing the embargo means possibly shifting the launch of the game to a more appeal-

Alex: Palatable. [00:20:30]

Jack: Yes, palatable, yes, more European time. I think it’s just worth talking about quickly why we do embargoes because we’ve had some people before ask, A, what an embargo is, if we’re not quite sure, or B, just need to understand why we want to stop news coming out beforehand and wait for one day where all goes ahead.

Alex: There’s actually two bits there as well, aren’t they? Because there’s one, there’s this concept of embargo and ensuring that– What was the thing [00:21:00] they used to do, thunderclap where all they made, it was a social media thing where we went once to create as much noise as possible and we’re essentially trying to do the same thing with media and influencers. The more noise you get at one time, the more people might be interested and might pick it up and Tom might go into his emails and have noticed that, “Oh, that’s the game that I just saw on whichever website, so I’ll make sure to see if we had enough to get code for that,” and then that might happen.

There’s the kind of logic on an embargo in itself [00:21:30] and we normally work with indie titles, and that drives a lot of our proposed timelines for people, but in the PC games, what we really want is for it to be that day one, the day the game comes out just because if you’re a small title while you can drive people to wish list something, ultimately, you’re then engaging them in a two-step process to purchasing your game.

If you have the embargo the week before, and everyone’s like, “Oh, that looks really exciting,” they go to the page, they see the reviews up, [00:22:00] it’s got good score, they’ll hit wish list, but then they’ve got to remember to come back and buy it, so it’s a two-stage process. What we’d like to do is do it the day of launch, so all of that interest, all of that noise comes at a time that the buyer can follow through to the final purchase which is the game.

Tom: That can affect your ranking on the Steam store as well, and put you up on trending as well.

Alex: Exactly. There’s a lot of good reasons for it to be this kind of like, all-in-one moment and [00:22:30] I do appreciate and then this is the mobile element is like there are wider marketing campaigns and wider marketing concerns often strong user acquisition campaigns that will run alongside a mobile game with a lot of titles we work with that means what we think would be best as PR isn’t necessarily the best thing for them their overall release. Sometimes we can and do edit our PR strategies to resolve issues as they come up.

For example, if there is only two weeks, [00:23:00] we know that we’ve got only one week to get the game reviewed, we know how much harder we’ve got to push and to keep media excited for the game and let them know it’s coming and keep them informed that the code is coming, it’s just that there’s a hiccup because making games is hard as I’m sure everyone who’s got this far in the podcast is far more aware of than me.

Tom: Just from my perspective, I feel like embargoes are just for a media perspective, it’s just I always found it very useful and easy. It takes [00:23:30] the headache out of deciding when the best time to publish content is and if I can get an email and there’s an embargo, I got all the information that I need, it’s such a small process to go in, get the information, write out a piece or put a press release out, you can schedule it, and then it’s just something that you don’t ever need to worry about again, maybe– [crosstalk]

Alex: [inaudible 00:23:53]

Tom: Yes, that is another thing, the amount of– It’s all it’s always a headache from the media side to make sure [00:24:00] that you’re correlating your time zones right, but embargoes are just– It was always so easy to just get the content out because you know the embargo because if I ever got an email about an announcement with a review code, again, it’s the communication, if I wouldn’t see an embargo, but for me, and to protect where my site is, I’d always be going back and saying, “Okay, where are the embargoes?” [00:24:30]

If you don’t have an embargo, if you decide not to set one, you have to at least clarify that because then you save in more time, it’s more communication that isn’t having to take place, that might only be 20 minutes, it might be a very quick response, I’m saying, “Oh, is there an embargo?” “No, there isn’t.” It’s another way that you can just save a bit more time is by just clarifying and letting people know.

Alex: I think one of the reasons I didn’t touch on although, this comes back to that kind of like, of course, because [00:25:00] it’s so ingrained in us this idea, the embargo. The other thing is it’s a great leveler because the odd thing is, if you go to one of the biggest sites, places people really want to get, then they’re going to have a bigger infrastructure which means chances are it’s going to take them even longer to get that code into the reviewer’s hand and getting back up the editorial processing onto a page.

SEO

What that means is that all the smaller sites, all of the blogs, it’s like you get it, and it’s like, “Oh, we want to play that,” they play it, they put the review out as quickly as they possibly can. [00:25:30] There you then beat all these big sites to it and going back to the earlier point, the big sites look and be like, “Oh, it’s already been covered by this place. No, we need the freshness for it to be valuable to us in SEO.”

That’s not always the case. Obviously, there are sites that they do take the time to actually review it fully or putting even more time on a live service game, but there’s the logic behind why having that leveler an embargo is important.

Tom: It makes and to kind of take what you’ve just said, and then flip it the other way to relate it to the smaller sites again, [00:26:00] it really is a leveler knowing that. I reviewed one of the quite big Microsoft published game and it was great as a smaller site to see that we were on that same embargo as everyone else and to see our stuff going out at the same time as everyone else. In another sense, it’s a good way to maintain good relationships with smaller sites which can be incredibly valuable, it allows them to have a good chance of competing with everyone else. I think there’s a lot of [00:26:30] value to outside of just what you would say on the tin, per se.

Alex: Absolutely, and I think that’s kind of probably brings us to kind of a wrap on this topic as a whole. Obviously, we’ve talked in here about both announcements and review cycles, the two-week kind of period, you’re reaching out for an announcement and that kind of ongoing five to six-week period that we put into and we would recommend anybody if they choose to PR their own game or come to us to do it, we’d recommend that kind of elongated [00:27:00] three weeks before and then multiple follow-ups in the weeks after launch to try and continue wanting to get closer to people’s hands but also ensure those reviews come in for the people you’ve given codes too.

Again, if you want to hit us up @biggamesmachine on Twitter, or hello@biggamesmachine.com. If you’ve got this far and have any questions about things you might like to follow up on or get a bit more of an idea about regarding these timelines. While these are recommendations, there is no absolute in PR. There’s absolutely things that could be discussed [00:27:30] in terms of maybe you want to build hype early, maybe there’s different timelines, but this is kind of general best practice for launching a game that you just want to get the name out there, get those reviews in, and ensure that everyone involved has the best opportunity to create the best content for you and release it at the best times.

Thank you very much for joining me today, Tom and Jack.

Jack: Thank you for hosting.

Alex: My pleasure [00:28:00] and I look forward to having another bite sized bit of games PR tutorial, what we calling these games beyond-

Tom: Intellectual discussion.

Alex: -intellectual discussions, I like it, on the next games PR podcast, which theoretically if all things go according to plan will be in a month. Thanks very much for listening everyone. Bye.