Do you seem to have more and more games gathering dust in your digital library because you simply don’t have time to play them all? If it makes you feel any better, we can confirm you’re not the only one.
According to SteamDB, a whopping 14,523 games were released on Steam in 2023 (and an increase of almost 2000 over 2022). That’s around 40 games per day if you divide that over the year!
But it didn’t always used to be this way. Go back ten years ago, and figures show that keeping your backlog under control used to be much more manageable, with just 435 games released on Steam in 2013.
So when did the tidal wave start to hit? Simply put, over the past few years, the tools needed to develop video games have become much more accessible to your average Joe, resulting in a staggering number of games being released on a daily basis.
Case in point are titles like Stardew Valley and Minecraft, which were put together by one-person development teams who ticked away at programming in their spare time and went on to sell millions of copies.
For consumers, it’s hard to argue that lots of choice is anything but a good thing. With all those different titles available, there really is something for everyone!
But what about game journalists – how are they meant to get their way through an evergrowing pile of titles when they are already strapped for time, and more importantly, how are budding developers ever meant to catch their attention and land media coverage?
In the latest episode of our Games PR Podcast, we spoke to Liam Richardson, former Video Editor at Rock Paper Shotgun and current co-host of the Indieventure Podcast, to get to the bottom of it all. Here’s what we learned.
TRIPLE-A AND INDIES ARE EQUALLY VALUABLE TO VIDEO GAME JOURNALISTS
As we found in our 2022 Games Journalist Survey, one of the biggest challenges facing games journalists is time, with 64% of respondents stating that one of the main reasons they pass on pitches is because they’re simply too busy.
It’s something that Richardson can absolutely relate to: “When I worked for RPS, we were a PC-focused publication. If anything, we technically had less to cover because we didn’t have to worry about console exclusives or things like that, and yet, we were still overwhelmed every single week by the amount of stuff that would come out.
“Every single day, I would go on to Steam, look at the new releases, and I would see four or five things that I would have liked to have done something with, but I just did not have the capacity because of all the other things that demanded my attention.”
Richardson also noted that, despite being short on time, most journalists will try to give as much attention to smaller titles as they do AAA goliaths.
Why? Fear of missing out. Most journalists want to keep up with all the moving aspects of the industry, which means they need to play the things people are talking about (or they suspect people will want to talk about).
TIME IS EVERYTHING WHEN IT COMES TO MEDIA COVERAGE
That brings us to our next point: how can you convince a journalist that your game will get people talking? One (relatively simple) tactic that Richardson recommends is to start outreach early.
“If I know about that game way in advance, if I’ve been receiving information about it for a couple of months, if I’ve seen it on Twitter or if I’ve been getting emails from PRs saying, ‘hey, you know, here are some cool gifs, here are some cool screenshots, here’s who’s behind it. This is why I should be excited’ that really helps improve the chances of [your game] being covered.”
This strategy works well because of two different factors. One, you’re keeping in touch with the journalists and showing them all of this incredible stuff in your game that will stick in their minds.
Two, it’s going to enable them to plan their work properly. As we’ve already stated, release slates are stacked these days, particularly in the run-up to December, when it becomes an onslaught of big-budget blockbusters.
If a journalist knows well in advance when your game will be ready for review, they have a better chance of finding a gap in their calendar to give it the attention it deserves.
How far in advance you should begin telling journalists about your game can vary due to numerous factors, such as:
- Platform (mobile games generally don’t need as long as a console title, for example)
- Genre (a 100-hour role-playing epic will warrant a lot more time than a linear survival-horror game)
- The state of your build (no one likes a glitchy mess).
Nevertheless, if you’re unsure when to contact journalists, a good rule of thumb is to start contacting the media around eight weeks before your launch date. We have much more to say about the best time to pitch your video game here, too.
SEO IS VALUABLE, BUT IT WON’T GUARANTEE MEDIA COVERAGE
influencing their content strategy is SEO. This is one of the reasons you see so many listicles and ‘best of’ video game features.
Intricate reviews and imaginative features might sit at the forefront, but the biggest drivers of web traffic (and therefore revenue) tend to be lengthy guides that play well with search engine algorithms as they’re loaded with popular power words.
Of course, we’re not suggesting that you should start sending everyone a line-by-line walkthrough of how to unlock every secret in your upcoming indie. But what you can do is highlight the ways that journalists can talk about your game while bringing in trending topics.
This might sound derivative, but one of the simplest ways to go about that is to draw comparisons to other popular titles.
Is your game set in some sort of futuristic sci-fi dystopian city? Maybe there’s a link to be made to Cyberpunk 2077.
Does your title use characters and creatures from ancient mythology? Talk about God of War and Hades.
Zombies? That’s easy: Resident Evil, Dying Light, or any other survival horror featuring The Walking Dead. You get the idea. As well as boosting SEO for publications, these comparisons create a sense of familiarity with readers, easing them into an IP they might not have checked out otherwise.
Richardson said: “Very rarely do you see a headline about a brand new indie game that doesn’t compare it to another game. ‘Oh, this Hollow Knight-like platformer. If you like Dredge, you’ll probably like X.’
“SEO has to be front and centre all the time because that’s how sites get people in; that’s how sites make money. Anything to assist with that is taking a small amount of burden off the writer. If you’ve already made that comparison, that probably will get bumped up the list.”
BUT MY GAME ISN’T LIKE ANYTHING ELSE, WHAT SHOULD I DO?
Most games take inspiration from elsewhere in the industry, from putting a unique spin on an existing popular game mechanic to using similar themes. Just take a look at Palworld, which has achieved record-breaking numbers on Steam by putting guns and survival mechanics into an open world full of Pokémon-inspired creatures.
This is especially true in the world of AAA games, which are generally less experimental these days owing to the incredibly high budgets that are involved (excluding anything developed by Hideo Kojima, of course).
Even with indies, you can usually draw comparisons with other famous titles; look at something like Rollerdrome, which mixed Max Payne’s slow-motion gunplay with the traversal and art style of Jet Set Radio.
But sometimes, you get the rare examples of a video game unlike anything else on the market, even though it might still fit into a genre. What do you do then?
We had a similar experience working on an unusual rhythm game called Rytmos. If you’ve got images of Rock Band in your head, forget it; Rytmos is based on planets themed around albums from worldwide musical genres.
We landed tremendous coverage for this one – from the likes of Eurogamer, The Guardian, Pocket Tactics, and Rock Paper Shotgun (reviewed by Liam Richardson himself, no less!) – by leaning into those weird and wonderful elements in our pitching.
Richardson said: “If you can try and get into that one thing that’s punchy, interesting, cool, and where the heart of the thing lies, that’s always going to get people’s attention. For me personally, my favorite types of games are ones that take a bold swing. Even if you don’t quite pull it off, there is a hook to that game.”
BUILDING UP A STRONG RELATIONSHIP CAN PAY DIVIDENDS
Have you ever considered buying a new game but didn’t follow through with the purchase because you weren’t confident it was the right game for you? If you’re anything like us, what often tips the scales toward the purchase button is getting a recommendation from someone you know and trust.
That same logic applies to how journalists approach coverage. If a journalist receives a pitch from someone they’ve worked with several times before who is friendly, reliable and always sends them things that are relevant to their personal tastes, they’re likely going to take the time to open it up and look.
Conversely, if a journalist is contacted by someone they’ve never encountered, they will likely approach them with scepticism. How reliable is this person? Will they help me when I’ve got questions? I’m busy and have deadlines; what if this game they’ve sent me ends up being a waste of time?
The point is that the more a journalist becomes familiar with you, the better your chances of landing coverage with them will be – as long as the reason they’re familiar with you isn’t that you’re annoying them with bad pitches!
Richardson noted that he almost always notes the games he receives that interest him and who sent them, even if he doesn’t always get the time to respond or cover them.
While that might not sound very notable, he’d pay much more attention if that name crops up again – whether that is through another email about something else down the line or just a follow on social media.
Keep at it repeatedly, and eventually, you will get a response, especially if you’re constantly sending across pitches that put the games front and centre while highlighting all the unique selling points.
It’s also worth remembering that this also works in reverse. If a journalist keeps being contacted by someone who sends them pitches unrelated to their interests or has proven unreliable, they will just let their emails pass them by.
RECAPPING THE BIGGEST LESSONS
There are an unbelievable number of video games out there on the market, and there are only so many journalists available to cover them. Sometimes, landing coverage can just be the luck of the draw, but Richardson has highlighted quite a few different steps you can take to improve your chances of standing out from the rest of the pack.
So the next time you’re preparing to let the media know about your exciting new video game, keep these five important tips in mind:
- Journalists don’t necessarily view AAA titles as more important Indies; it’s more that they want to be covering whatever they feel is trending and the most likely to get people talking. So, as long as you’ve got something interesting to bring to the table, you’ve got every chance of landing coverage. Even so, we probably would still advise to avoid going toe to toe with something like Grand Theft Auto.
- Timing can make all the difference when it comes to coverage. Have a clear plan in mind for when you will start reaching out to the media ahead of your launch date that gives ample opportunity for follow-ups, allows the journalists to properly map out their own schedules, and, most importantly, shows everything your game has to offer.
- No matter how you want to spin it, there’s no denying that SEO is really important to media outlets. Simply put, higher-ranked content generates more traffic, which results in more revenue that will help keep the lights on. Anything you can do to boost the SEO potential of your title will likely boost your chances of coverage, such as by drawing attention to similarities with other popular games or trending topics.
- At the same time, journalists are inundated with game after game coming into their inboxes demanding their attention – often to the point where they can feel like they’ve seen it all. If your game is doing something genuinely unique that nobody has done before, make that your main selling point.
- A journalist will be much more likely to respond once they’ve become familiar with you. Take the time to personalise everything you send them to match their interests, and even consider following them on social media. It’ll likely take time, but as long as you’re always sending relevant content their way, they will eventually take notice and come back to you.
And that’s a wrap! However, that was far from everything that Richardson had to say about his time at Rock Paper Shotgun and the state of the indie games market. Get the full lowdown by listening to the latest episode of our Games PR Podcast.