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.
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 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.
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 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 list of media 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 their email 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 will even take an educated guess at the journalists’ email if it cannot find it.
Remember the golden rule.
Also, make sure you are focused. If you have some mobile game PR then only approach people who cover mobile. Same goes for PC and console.
Nothing drives the media more nuts than generic un-targeted spam emails.
Write a 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 be.
- 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 turns people off.
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 journalist meetings.
This is the best way to keep colleagues informed of what’s going on, and Google Calendar works very well with time zone differences that can be a major headache when trying to coordinate meetings in another country.
Once you’ve arranged a meeting, then you will 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 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!)
Work out where you’re going to meet the media
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 or another technology that will have space at GDC.
Speak to a someone to who deals with developer relations – they’ll be looking for innovative games to showcase in their space!
Country-specific trade organisations
If you have a trade body that represents games, then chances are that they will have a stand there and will be offering discounted space.
Taking a table or stand space with a is often the most efficient way to get on the show floor and get yourself a prime position.
And things just get better.
There will often be substantial governmental government tax breaks or subsidies towards the cost of the stand to make it much more affordable. That said, it isn’t always cheap.
Taking space in GDC Play can be great for emerging Indies to showcase their titles.
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 the 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.
It may be OK for a regular Oculus Rift Title, but you’ll also need to look into securing all your valuable equipment 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.
One publication even set up in the lobby 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 PC and 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 meetings in the show itself which means less travel.
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.
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.
Factor in time between meetings
This can be a significant oversight if you have never been to GDC before.
Because some people make the mistake of back-to-back scheduling 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.
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
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.
We also recommend that you develop an FAQ (frequently asked questions) of 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.
Create a GDC-specific press kit
If you send an old kit to media 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).
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
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
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 media.
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 (complimentary if nothing else) for your game!
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.
If you want to record an interview, then do so, but make sure you have the permission of the journalist before you do so.
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 any case, allowing you to plan well ahead of time.
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 straight to the point, avoiding slang or confusing terms
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.
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 event, for instance) so try to attend as many of them as possible to widen your networking group
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.
Maximise co-marketing opportunities
What’s included in your exhibition package? As an example, EGX Rezzed, for example, 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 a branded T-shirts with a memorable picture/quote is PR in itself!
Take some time to walk around the show floor
You’ll likely bump into a few names/faces you recognise, or journalists to potentially mingle with.
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
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.
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.