Given the massive breadth of media coverage typically afforded to blockbuster triple-A titles from major developers and publishers, you’d be forgiven for thinking that arranging game reviews with the media would be a relatively simple task – a standard procedure based on set dates and activities repeated over time.
You couldn’t be more wrong. It’s all too common these days to see reviews for big-budget games landing well past the release date, and that occurs for all sorts of reasons, such as:
- Writers/reviewers receiving code too late and don’t have enough time to review the game properly
- Online features not being active at the time of review prior to release
- Some publications/outlets not receiving a review code at all and having to buy their own copy of the game
- Some features of the game aren’t working/patched so the publication/outlet has chosen to postpone their review until its patched.
For indie developers, the situation is even more challenging. Indie games don’t get the same amount of coverage as AAA PC and console games, so you have a situation where there are thousands of games competing for the attention of a select few journalists. More than 12000 games were released on Steam alone in 2022!
These factors mean that pitching an indie game is often a difficult, arduous process with so many moving parts that the mind often boggles at the reality of the situation.
You need to convince reviewers that your game is worth their time to play and review over all the other titles you’re competing with. On top of that, you usually need to find a unique angle to position your game and help it stand out from the crowd. Having a ‘new game’ is simply not good enough!
If you’re sitting there thinking this all sounds horribly scary and that this all means you’ve got no hope of ever landing coverage for your game, fear not! The answer to success lies in answering one question: when is the best time to pitch your indie game to reviewers?
While that sounds simple enough, the answer isn’t as easy as it seems.
We could easily give generic, sweeping advice on timeframes, such as “a month before launch to give a journalist enough time to look at the game,” but crunch exists, and having a review-ready build an entire month before shipping is unlikely to be a reality for most studios.
But don’t worry; we’re here to help make your life easier!
We’re going to show you exactly when you should be pitching your game to influencers and media, depending on your situation. Best of all, we’re going to approach the process step-by-step so you can avoid getting yourself into any PR nightmares!
We’ll also look at the core factors determining when you should start pitching your game for review and working our way outwards to handling environmental factors beyond your control.
START WITH THE BASICS: YOUR GAME
It may sound obvious, but the biggest thing affecting your review strategy is your game itself, which can be broken down into three main factors. Each factor impacts both the length of time necessary for a review as well as the overall likelihood of the game achieving coverage.
These three parts are:
- Platform (mobile, console, Steam etc.)
- Game genre (RTS, RPG, sports, strategy etc.)
- Relevance (Is your game of interest to this reviewer or publication?)
- Quality of your game (trash, passable, medium, good, life-changing etc.)
GAME FACTOR 1: PLATFORM
The platform your game is available on has a huge impact on how easy it is to review.
Take, for example, mobile games. Because of their pick-up-and-play nature, it’s a lot easier to find the time to try them out – you can slip in a quick play session on the train, while waiting for the bus, or even sitting on the toilet. Of course, there’s a minimal number of journalists covering mobile games in comparison to PC/console.
Speaking of, reviewing a PC or console title requires you to put the time aside to sit down and play it, which can be a significant commitment – especially for a busy journalist who likely has several other deadlines and projects to contend with.
With all that in mind, we recommend that if you’re launching your game on mobile, you should begin distributing promo codes and builds to media at least two weeks before your agreed launch date.
For console, Steam, PC and Mac titles, that bumps up to (at least) three weeks in advance.
If you’re worried about someone spilling the beans about your title weeks before it launches, you can relax – in our experience, journalists are very compliant when it comes to embargoes. Just be very clear as to when you’d be happy for coverage to appear, and they will almost always follow your wishes.
GAME FACTOR 2: GAME GENRE
It’s often easy to forget that genre can greatly impact when you should start pitching your game to reviewers.
If you’re pitching a 100-hour open-world RPG, you need to factor in additional time so a journalist has a chance to see everything your game has to offer.
You’ve also got to factor in any extra modes available to play, such as cooperative and competitive multiplayer, which any good journalist will want to experience before publishing their review.
So, let’s talk numbers: if you’ve got a game you know takes a long time to complete, or has a lot of different modes to experience, we’d recommend pitching it to reviewers at least four weeks before launch.
Remember, this four-week timeframe isn’t just for the reviewer to play your game. A journalist needs sufficient time to actually write the review once they’ve completed the game, which will also need to be scheduled for publication ready for launch day (or even a couple of days beforehand to help drive pre-orders for AAA titles).
GAME FACTOR 3: RELEVANCE
Both platform and genre play into another major factor that can influence the review pitching process: relevance.
Journalists typically have their own specific interests or preferences when it comes to video games.
Take, for example, Chris Tapsell, who is currently Deputy Editor at Eurogamer. In his bio, he describes himself as a “most decorated football manager.” He also mentions that he’s particularly fond of Pokemon and League of Legends.
From that, we can take away that Chris would likely be most interested in sports management sims, games that are similar conceptually to Pokemon, and MOBAs.
Let’s take a look at another example; Mark Delany, who is the Guides Editor at Gamespot.
Mark openly states that his favourite genres are battle royale, sports, and horror. Judging from his recent reviews – which include You Will Die Here Tonight, Alan Wake 2, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – the latter seems like a particularly solid bet for pitching.
He also states that he’s not very fond of fighting games, so any attempts to send him a Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter clone wouldn’t likely go down well.
Basically, what we’re saying is that you can drastically increase the chances of your game being reviewed by targeting your pitching efforts toward the journalists who have a vested interest in your genre, and away from those who don’t.
This approach also applies to publications as a whole, particularly where platform is concerned.
It may sound obvious, but a platform-centric publication such as Nintendo Life or Playstation Magazine isn’t going to review your title if it isn’t available on the relevant hardware.
If your game is multiplatform, then ensure that reviewers are sent a code for the most relevant and logical platform available.
Even though your game is likely a very similar experience on, say, Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, an outlet such as Pure Xbox will want to see how it plays on the console that is of interest to their specific audience.
GAME FACTOR 4: QUALITY OF AVAILABLE BUILD
Getting something out on time that works has to be the priority at launch. With tight deadlines, budget constraints, and the trimming of features, the final few weeks before launch can be a mad rush.
But remember, no matter how tight your deadlines might be, it’s never acceptable to treat journalists as glorified playtesters.
A review build must always be of the same high quality as a full-fledged retail build – that means no placeholder icons, untested modes, weird text placement, grammatical errors or low-quality localisation.
If you know your review build has some noticeable bugs and rough edges, don’t leave it until launch to patch these problems up – fix them before pitching out to the media.
While this might mean either you (or your PR agency) will have to pitch your game to reviewers in a shorter timeframe, possibly even less than our recommendations outlined above, it will almost always be the right choice in the long run.
Remember, a reviewer will only judge the build they’ve been supplied with. If you send them a build rife with technical issues, their review will reflect that, which isn’t a great image for your game on its first week of launch!
SECONDARY COMPONENT: THE GAMING ENVIRONMENT
Beyond the game itself, there are numerous other factors that can influence the review pitching process. Some of these you have direct control of, others you have no choice but to work around. These include:
- Industry events
- Physical press kits
- Other video game launches
- Your announcement pipeline
FACTOR 1: INDUSTRY EVENTS
Launching a game alongside any major consumer or B2B games event is a bad decision.
Rather than ramble on with blindingly apparent reasons, we’ve created a simple table to demonstrate why:
|WHAT YOU TELL YOURSELF||WHAT REALLY HAPPENS|
|“We’ll get caught up in the buzz of news even if we’re not at the show. It’s still game news”||A journalist visits an event, plays dozens of games, and then somehow has to work their write-ups into their existing workload. Your game news, which hasn’t been featured in this process, won’t get a look in|
|“Media are only at the event for a few days; they’ll be around beforehand to check emails and work.”||The journalist in our hypothetical scenario will be working frantically to finish existing write-ups before and during the event, while also being distracted by dozens of titles they can play there and then – not forgetting the final-day drink-up.|
|“They’ll still be checking emails at the conference; if not, we can drop them a reminder when they get back.”||How often do you check your emails when you’re hungover? Post-conference will also be a write-off for at least the next week or two, given all the interviews, hands-on previous and news that came out of that event|
|“Not everyone goes to every single event.”||We all know about PAX, Paris Games Week and Gamescom, but what about smaller, more local events?|
FACTOR 2: PHYSICAL PRESS KITS
With the video game industry hurtling towards an all-digital ecosystem, physical merchandise has become something of a rarity.
So, if you’re looking for a way for your game to stand out from the competition, pitching it alongside an imaginative, physical press kit can be an excellent solution.
For example, we worked on the launch of the mobile game Dear Leader, which had players playing as Kim Jong-un on his quest to thwart the demonic hordes and avert the end of the world.
We sent a gift box of Donald Trump toilet paper on behalf of the Dear Leader himself, along with an official-looking letter complete with North Korean postage and ink stamps. We told the journalists that the toilet paper was from Kim Jong-un’s special stash.
However, there are a few caveats to keep in mind when taking this approach:
- Some journalists really dislike being sent physical media kits as they feel they can have a negative impact on the environment, so be sure to check their stance as best you can before sending anything their way. It also goes without saying that you should aim for your kit to be as environmentally sustainable as possible.
- As a result of the pandemic, many journalists are now working remotely, which can make it exceptionally difficult to figure out where to send your package. If this is the case, you may have to reach out to the journalist first and arrange to send it to their personal address – but you must ensure that this is kept strictly confidential, or you risk being swept up in a litany of privacy issues.
- Physical press kits can be very time-consuming. If you expect to make a strong impact with your game, you’ll need to factor in the additional time it takes to source materials, addresses, and post parcels internationally.
If you do decide physical press kits are the right strategy for you, give yourself an extra one to two weeks ahead of the recommended time frames for your physical press kit, complete with a review key, to reach journalists.
FACTOR 3: OTHER GAME LAUNCHES
If your game is shipping the same week as many other titles, AAA or otherwise, consider pitching your game one week ahead of our recommended timeframes.
Is another mobile puzzle game from a well-known publisher or developer releasing in the same week as yours? Get in touch with reviewers three weeks in advance instead of the recommended two to poke your head out of the crowd sooner.
Remember that you may also want to avoid specific titles or franchises if they’re really significant, regardless of how similar they are to your title – no one wants to compete with Grand Theft Auto or The Legend of Zelda, for example.
If you follow this rule and don’t get a response immediately, don’t panic: it’s likely that the media probably won’t look at your email straight away. It’s a process that may take two or three attempts, especially if you’re coming at this cold and are an unknown quantity to the journalists you’re targeting.
FACTOR 4: ANNOUNCEMENT PIPELINE
It’s not rocket science, but developers are notorious for announcing their games way too early. While this might not seem that problematic at first glance, it leads to significant gaps of nothingness.
Take the first part of the Final Fantasy 7 Remake as an example. It was announced at E3 in 2015 with a reveal trailer but didn’t end up being actually released until five years later, with very little to show in between – resulting in an army of hyped-up fans and media wondering what was going on.
Indie developers are just as guilty of making similar mistakes. We’ve turned down many great-looking projects where the developers announced the game 12 months ago but left all the pitching and marketing to the last minute, making it almost impossible to land any results or build up hype.
What we’re trying to say is that you need to carefully plan and space out your announcements so that you’re a recognisable name when you finally send your indie game out to the media.
That means rather than spamming journalists at the last minute; you’ve mapped out the most logical time to announce your game, show off screenshots, unveil gameplay and pitch out review copies.
Done correctly, your pipeline should look something like this:
GAME ANNOUNCEMENT: 8 WEEKS FROM LAUNCH
GAMEPLAY/CONTENT ANNOUNCEMENT: 6 WEEKS
LAUNCH TRAILER REVEAL: 4 WEEKS
OFFER FOR REVIEW: 3 WEEKS
THIRD COMPONENT: THE WIDER WORLD
While they don’t directly concern the games industry, there’s another key factor that will affect when you should start pitching games to reviewers:
Time and time again, we encounter a lot of developers, publishers and other businesses who insist on PR activity on (or around) public holidays, who we almost always tell the exact same thing – it’s an absolutely terrible idea.
Why? Because even if you’re pitching the most exciting thing in the entire world, it won’t matter as nobody is going to be around to actually take an interest in it.
Whether it’s Christmas, Thanksgiving or even your standard British rainy Bank Holiday Monday – if you’re attempting to contact journalists on (or just before) a public holiday, you’ll likely find you will get a raft of “out-of-office” auto-replies.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can contact them as soon as it’s over, either. Journalists will come back from holiday to an inbox filled with hundreds of unread emails, meaning that only the most important ones will likely see the light of day.
So, do yourself a favour: assume that the weeks running up to and after a public holiday are a write-off and a complete no-pitching zone.
CONSIDER THE MEDIA’S CONTENT PIPELINE
So you’ve pitched out your game to reviewers following all our advice; well done! You’re probably now wondering, what should I do next?
Honestly, the best thing to do is sit back, relax and be patient – there’s very little more you can do at this point other than wait.
You (or your PR agency) have sold the journalist on the pitch, and they’ve been impressed by your shiny new trailer. Now, they finally get the chance to play it, and maybe, just maybe, like it enough to write an actual review.
Yes, you must understand that just because a journalist promises to try your game out doesn’t mean they’ll publish a review.
They’ll only do that if it’s interesting; if the outlet feels your game isn’t even worthy of a scathing review, they just won’t write about it at all! Believe it or not, a negative review of an AAA title means more to the journalist than a positive review of your little indie gem.
If you are lucky enough to make the cut, you’re not going to magically become the journalist’s sole priority. They have a review pipeline you’ve been added to, alongside a massive breadth of other content they produce – such as guides, features and even sponsored content.
What we’re saying is don’t start spamming the journalist asking for updates, as it’ll just annoy them. Of course, do respond to any queries they might have as they make their way through your game.
They have to play a significant portion of the game to get a realistic sense of what it’s like, whether it’s going through an entire 20-hour single-player campaign mode or a considerable amount of time in multiplayer – so leave them to it and keep your fingers crossed for a positive outcome.
WHAT ABOUT INFLUENCERS?
Being an influencer must be great; you get to play whatever games you want whenever it suits you without any obligations.
Well, that’s true for the most part, anyway. Most influencers have a “theme” for their channel – some may focus on triple-A console games, others on mobile, or perhaps even just a specific genre, such as horror.
If your game looks appealing enough, an influencer might like to try it out to see whether they enjoy it. If they do, and it fits into the overall theme of their channel, then fantastic – you’ve got a good shot at getting them to cover your game.
Remember that if you’re working with the average independent YouTuber or Twitch streamer, they might not respect an embargo the same way a traditional journalist would.
You can control this to a certain extent by using influencer outreach tools such as Keymailer, Lurkit and Indie Boost, which will allow you to set an embargo date and time you would want coverage to appear.
However, an influencer has no legal obligation to abide by that date, so the best practice is to only send them what you’re happy to be released into the public sphere.
Give influencers keys one week before launch so that by the time they see your email or platform request, they have something playable to begin covering immediately. Even if they do break the embargo, at that point, it’ll be so close to launch that the impact will be negligible.
If you do want to use Keymailer’s platform, we recommend paying the additional, nominal fee that will allow your game to appear front centre for five full days in a similar manner to Steam’s Featured and Recommended section on the homepage. This maximises your inbound key requests and chances of review.
If you’d like to know more about influencers, look at our extensive blog post here.
THE FUTURE OF GAME PITCHING
The landscape has changed drastically over the last few years, and it’ll continue to do so with each passing year. With influencers able to produce content straight from their consoles, reviews now come in various forms.
That’s not to say that the value of traditional game reviews should be discounted! Despite the impression that traditional games journalism is becoming irrelevant, this couldn’t be further from the truth – at least according to our comprehensive study on the games media.
From obliged content (sponsored pieces, event coverage etc) to stuff that a journalist wants to write about, like the challenges surrounding long-term video game preservation, the role of the traditional games media is more critical now than ever.
Content creators and influencers of all channel sizes also use these game sites to figure out what games they should cover, so there is a surprising amount of crossover.
We’ve provided the framework for when you should start pitching your game to reviewers, along with variants of those suggested time-frames based on multiple facets in ways that you may not have even thought of.
But remember: When you’re pitching your game to reviewers, quality is king; putting a crappy game out there won’t get you that all-important game review.
Still looking for more guidance on landing coverage? We’ve got you covered with 13 additional tips on pitching to the media and influencers.