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Intro: Welcome to the Games PR Podcast, your regular dose of video game PR goodness. Sit down and relax as our team of experts and special guests share tips and tricks to help you level up your PR game with media and influencers.
Jack: Jack here for the Games PR Podcast, football season has begun and just like a solid defensive coordinator, we want your game to land deep into coverage. We’re not talking about zone coverage or man coverage, we’re of course talking about media coverage. Today we’re crunching the numbers and steamrolling the stats because our topic is all about our recent games media survey.
I’m joined by my teammates, Tom and Alex, as we discuss the survey, in which over 160 journalists from across the gaming space shared their thoughts on the state of games journalism in 2022, and on what game studios and PR agencies can do to improve their chances of coverage. As the new Broncos quarterback, Russell Wilson says, “Let’s ride.” How are we doing team?
Tom: All of that. I’m just looking at Alex and all of that just goes over my head, all of that just goes straight over–
Alex: Directly over my head.
Tom: There was so much passion in that. That was wonderful.
Alex: Yes, so much. I’m really trying to keep up the pretense that it’s the first time we’ve heard it because the first time it blew my mind, that whole thing came out of nowhere. Jack had been sitting on that bit of a script, what this whole thing scripted as you will no doubt tell in very short order.
Jack: You were blindsided, you could say.
Tom: Oh, no, horrible. I feel like when as a kid, you realize that magic isn’t real, but it was really good, and then now it’s fine. Technical issues aside, it was still impressive, that was a good introduction, but yes, I am back again, and it’s good to be back. I’ve been here for a while, and I’m really looking forward to today’s podcasts because they’re always about PR and different parts of PR, but I think this is quite a unique one because it’s so heavily has relied on other people’s voices and the voices of journalists and what they think about PR and similar related activities. I’m really looking forward to getting into this one today.
Jack: We’re really pleased to be joined by Kate Gray, one of the actual journalists who participated in this. Going to be offering some great insights later on in this episode, and we’re excited to hear all that. Kate, why don’t you introduce yourself? Tell us a little bit about what you do.
Kate: Hi, I’m Kate Gray. I currently work for Nintendo Life and Minecraft.net. I also write games on the side. I’m currently doing journalism, doing some staff writing reviews, features, that kind of thing, and also doing some narrative design and game writing on the side.
Alex: It’s interesting to see how things have changed, because obviously 2018, nothing’s happened in there that might have affected the PR landscape. [laughs] We’re good to go there, all that solid advice about getting to events and showing people your game in person. Nothing shifted in the last four years around that. It certainly shifted things, and we– when did we run this survey?
Tom: It was April.
Tom: It was April 2022. I think what’s interesting, based on what you’ve said though there is so much has changed, but what we’ve seen is while a lot of things have changed, some things haven’t at all, which is really interesting that despite everything, some things that we advise people on and that we see, they’ve stayed the same, whereas some have gone in a completely different direction.
[00:03:45] – Changes from the 2018 Survey
Jack: Before we jump into those changes, let’s quickly just give everyone context, in case they haven’t seen it yet. This survey was run by us, we reached out to journalists and we had 160 responses that went into the survey. This is from the likes of IGN, PCGamesN, all across the gaming landscape in terms of media. The main aim of it was to learn just about how they perceive PR, what improvements can be made, and their viewpoints on certain trends.
We’ll get into that later, but you know certain things like VR and blockchain that are outside the box of normality, as it were. A lot of interesting data that warrants discussion, so we’ve got this special episode all about it. As we alluded to, this is the second one we’ve done, so I think it’s worth briefly just talking about what’s changed from 2018, things that we’ve noticed, and I’m going to say mobile and Alex because that’s your topic of expertise. We’re seeing the media more willing to cover mobile it seems these days.
Alex: We should mention that you can download the whole survey from the site, of course, if you want to read along while we walk you through it [laughs] just couldn’t be like your book at bedtime.
Jack: As we zip on two different directions that– Yes.
Alex: We’ll play a tone when you have to turn the page, or am I the only person old enough to remember those things? [laughs]
Tom: No, I can read along, and then it would be like, you’d have to catch up. You’d hear the tone and be like, “Oh, God, quick catch up.” But no, yes, read along at home, join in.
Alex: It’s all there, but no, absolutely it does seem to be the mobile space is for want of a better word, catching up with PC media, we’re in a different place with a lot of things now. It’s an odd one because when we’re working, we always get the same refrains, which are like, “Oh, but what about Genshin Impact?” We have to sit there and be like, “You’re not Genshin Impact, you’re not Pokémon GO,” they really broke the mold in the way they established themselves and move forward.
That said, the flip side being, of course, that opens the doors, and the more people start to play it, the more those discussions expand and move forward, and the more we can get into things. Then that’s certainly borne out in the results from this, and this plays down to actually post the survey. GameSpot certainly has stepped up, for one example, stepped up its mobile coverage. They’ve just had the Swipe, just called the Swipe Awards, through September, they’ve been voting on the best mobile game in history, I think it was down to Pokémon GO and Snake last time I looked, so really two ends of the scale there. [laughs]
Tom: Wow, I was going to say talk about two ends of the spectrum.
Alex: Absolutely, but I think that that is perhaps indicative of where mobile games are. More places are more likely to cover mobile games. It’s still, obviously, if you’re listening to this, and you’re a developer, obviously, it helps if you’ve got an IP or a publisher behind you that’s well known. Places like Lilith, who we’ve worked with in the past.
Their games have got their own gravity, that pull in interest, but they still, that door is now far more open outside of the traditional mobile gaming press. I haven’t actually got those numbers up in front of me, here we are, but touting our amazing survey, and I don’t have the numbers on how much that’s improved. I think that’s something on our site. They’re both there.
Tom: We can touch on that when we go into the platform section, but it’s definitely increased.
Alex: I’ve got the cliff notes in front of me, and that one’s missing.
Tom: So well organized, 39% of our respondents across, none of that was filtered or targeting in specific types of media, 39% of everyone that responded, said they covered mobile.
Alex: To be very clear, we need to go back and look at our media list, because if that’s the response from that, that is a higher rate of respondents than the percentage we pull for mobile off our lists, so just a fun note. That shows that it’s overtaken it.
Tom: Like you were saying, it’s probably likely to increase by then, because from April to now, and it’s only August, that’s only four months, we’ve already seen just in this third of the year between doing the survey and now, there’s definitely been more interest. It seems just to be snowballing now. One of the other things that we’ll touch on later, but I’ll mention it briefly now because it relates to this, is we have responses that were along the lines of we’ll look at what other people are covering, and if they’re covering something we’re not looking at, we’re more inclined to do that.
I think you are seeing that with mobile stuff. If you’ve seen more, now like, Alex, you mentioned GameSpot earlier, if GameSpot starts doing this, and it’s producing lots of content, and it looks as if people are interested, other places will naturally go along with that because everyone wants a slice of that pie. If that pie is more popular, more people want to be offering it.
Jack: It’s an important mention there because technically, the 2018 survey was 39%, this is 40%. What it is, is that a lot of the mobile game sites have stopped existing because the market was small, but it means a lot more of the mainstream media sites now cover mobile where they hadn’t done before. That’s the difference is that the larger games media, like we’ve alluded to GameSpot, they are more likely to cover mobile, whereas before they just wouldn’t touch it, and you’d be forced to go to one of the many Android-related websites, but they are so few now. That’s where I think the mobile landscape has changed.
Alex: Yes, I’m glad you pulled this back because of a 1% increase over four years, you’re quite right, it’s not [laughs] a significant statistic.
Jack: I think it’s actually a decrease, we’ll work on that, but that’s what I’m trying to say is the media have almost, not condensed, but–
Tom: What I’m picking up from what you’re saying is the mobile media itself, that market which only focuses on mobile stuff has shrunk. You’ve got from when we’re doing outreach and coverage and things like that, we see three or four or five really big sites that are the big players in that space, and they’re still there and they’ve– I don’t know if that’s the fact they’re so popular has forced other places to stop, but they’ve sucked in all that traffic.
They’re still there and they’re the big pillars, but there’s more people from the wider stuff who are starting to look at it. I think something else because I don’t want us to get stuck on this forever because we’ve got so much to look at. Something else which has stagnated and we’ve seen it a lot with just the market and how people are approaching it, is the VR stuff. I know you’ve got quite a lot to say on VR, Jack. I know you are quite passionate about the dealings of VR games and how to promote them and–
Jack: Passionately anti-VR. I think stagnation is the key here. Again much like mobile, when VR back in 2018 was on the scene, there was, I guess, a lot more interest in covering VR for a specific platform. That really just hasn’t panned out in the way everyone had thought because much like console exclusives, there just aren’t enough that you can run an entire site solely on Oculus versus someone else solely doing Index. They have to cross over now and for devs as well, it’s meant that, when they have a VR port, they might not even be bringing it to all the VR platforms, they might only be picking one or two because even then the audience is small.
Alex: It’s not even platforms on top of that because if you’ve got an Oculus, that doesn’t even pan across to the quest, it’s like a lot of games are just the Oculus Quest 2 on top of that. Like you say, it’s these fractions of fractions of fractions that you’re talking to. I know stagnation is the word we’ve picked here, but I’m not sure. I think there has been a shift, but it’s gone from optimism and not enough people having it to realizing that not enough people are ever going to have it for it to be a viable media outlet currently. Not ever, but currently. The current price with the options available out there, I know the quest has done very well, but–
Tom: I think accessibility is such a massive thing. That’s what I was thinking of when you two were both talking. I think ultimately, as we are told by people all the time, it’s what we see, it’s what we know. SEO is massive. I guess there’s just not the audience in the consumers for VR still.
That’s not to say there never will be, but if there’s less interest from the general gaming populace, then it’s harder to– Half-Life had an incredible VR release.
As we were talking about earlier, when you’ve got an IP like that attached to a VR game, that’s always going to get reviews in every major publication because it’s a Half-Life game that just happens to be in VR. It’s not a VR game that just happens to be Half-Life. That’s the difficulty of VR is accessibility.
Jack: A big factor within the VR space, we noticed as a result of the pandemic was that a lot of sites either when they left the office, their VR stuff wasn’t with them, or now that everyone’s remote, it means they might not have a VR editor anymore and another member of staff just has the VR set up somewhere and they can’t use it. The ability for media to cover VR from a practical standpoint.
Alex: You’ve hit on some interesting points there because obviously you need space to have a rig set up all the time. The idea of setting up, if two games come in for somebody to review at a site that’s maybe just a PC game site, that comes in, you’re like, “Okay, I can either review this game which I can sit down and play now, or I can get out the Oculus. I can wire it all up. I can plug it all in. I can try and find space in my house, which is a separate challenge. That was always there if you’re playing from home.” That grew as an issue.
Jack: This links to the next part which is where VR media may have become more difficult, but I think that means the VR influencers are in a much stronger place. One of the questions we’ve asked in both surveys was, how do media see themselves coexisting with influencers? In 2018 it was 60% of media said they could see themselves fulfilling coexisting with influencers and that’s gone up to 76%. I think there’s a lot of crossover between the two of these days and some influencers might also be just as well known as members of the media and vice versa.
There’s a lot more crossover, I think, than there was before and almost accepting of both sides that they don’t even have to just coexist, they can fulfill the same roles. They can be the same at once. Sites will have their own podcasts, sites will do livestreams. They will have influencers as staff members, they might have specifically things like that. I think that’s a big trend we’ve seen and something I could see growing further. If we did another four years, I would bet that that trend would increase.
Alex: All the media will just be gone. [laughs]
Jack: The hybridization of–
Alex: With that in mind though, we should note that we did only send this out to games media, not our influencer groups, just as an interesting side note on that. It’s one side of this coin. It would be interesting to see what influencers think about the same question.
Tom: Maybe the influencers will say, “We hate journalists. We will not coexist with them. We want everything.”
Jack: Some may say that, but I think some will be happy to hear this number because that’s what they aspire to be. Some of the channels that are specifically about reviewing games and giving consumers a heads up, the should you buy this, the classic style of video there, they’re fulfilling the same role that a written review has.
I’ve mentioned it on a podcast before, I think, when we talked about reviewing games, but a lot of people will write their games review and then another member of staff will condense that, turn it into script form and then do a video review based on the original written review. Audiences can digest that review content how they wish.
[00:16:15] What platforms are the media covering?
Tom: On the subject of reviews, how about we dive into the first big question which we asked, which was all about what platforms people are reviewing, are producing reviews for, are covering? I don’t think anyone would be surprised that PC is still just about the most popular platform for coverage. 86% of respondents to our survey noted that they covered stuff on PC, Alex.
Alex: I’m making big sighs here simply because I don’t know if that’s indicative of the gaming audience, but maybe, and just not to get ahead of us, maybe that’s because the console is split between two. Maybe I’ll let you finish your sentence and stop making these noises every time you say anything. [laughs]
Tom: I think it does make sense. If you are coming at it from the perspective you mentioned, because we see where I think in the way we deal with review campaigns is we tend to find it easier to have Steam codes to allocate them, to send them out to people as opposed to using other codes, but I guess that PC still remains a general platform. It’s always there and it’s a way to– You can represent 99% of games that are on the switch, the PS5, the Xbox series X, they’re probably going to be on Steam too. I think you see a lot of overlap, which explains why it gets such a heavy degree of coverage still.
Alex: Absolutely. I’m not sure, I don’t recall, maybe you guys will, if this was PlayStation or PS5 specifically, because obviously PS5 and Xbox, this survey went out to the large organizations, small blogs. We’ve got a huge cross-section here. There’s a chance that a good percentage of these reviewers might not have even been lucky enough to get their hands on a PS5 yet, even if their goal is to review on it.
Tom: I think it was PlayStation and Xbox. PC was 86%. The Switch percentage really did surprise me because we had 84% saying that they covered Switch news, Switch reviews, produce coverage on Switch-related things. That really did surprise me because I think as popular as the Switch is, I wouldn’t have it that close to PC in terms of coverage. I guess that raises the question of, if you are making a game that’s coming to lots of platforms, is it going to be useful to focus a bit more on the Switch?
Jack: In 2018, survey Switch was last in terms of the PC and then the big three consoles. It was PC, PlayStation, Xbox, Switch. What we’re seeing now in this year’s is PC, Switch, PlayStation, Xbox. A big jump.
Alex: The Switch was relatively recent release at that point now, am I right?
Tom: Yes. A year. It would’ve been about a year and a half. I feel like maybe the Switch has always sold well, but I can’t help, but feel like having seen what’s gone on the last three years, there’s definitely been, I feel like the Switch has sustained its sales because of everything that’s gone on.
I can imagine there’s definitely a degree that if you are reviewing a game and it’s quite a long game and it’s something you can play on the Switch, there might be more inclination from people to do that on the Switch, as opposed to having to sit at a desk all day. That’s just speculation on my part. I think that’s an interesting point to raise.
Alex: I think it’s just a console that’s had some incredible games on it and just over time, everybody’s got an affinity to Nintendo, I think in some way, shape or form. I think that helps as well because people know it’s around for a while. It’s had multiple revisions, cheaper… Switch Lite, I think that might just be a factor of how long it’s been out and the fact people are still making games. I do wonder within that reviews coverage, how much that’s for everything or just when a big game comes out for Switch, they’ll cover and review that because some people it’s become the Indie machine, but are people waiting to review the Indie game on Switch or they have covered it on PC already?
Tom: I was literally think about that because you see a lot of… The Switch has become in the way that PCs were the home of Indies to me, that has become the Switch, but then if you’re releasing something that’s day in, like launch day is the same across every platform, maybe there is something more in the Switch, but if something’s out on Steam, and then a year later it comes to Switch, never say never but I’d say it’d be quite hard to make people from general media take a look at a game that in their eyes is a year old because they don’t necessarily have the care that is coming out to the Switch that Nintendo specific media do because it’s a year old in their eyes.
I feel like Hollow Knight, when that came out on the Switch, that was a second launch really. It blew up from already being really successful. You very rarely get a game release on a console after PC and there be the same level of attention and coverage for it.
[00:21:35] What areas are the media most focused on?
Jack: We’ve talked a lot there about the type of content, you’ve focused a lot on reviews, but there was a question we did ask that was what areas the media most focused on. Of course, reviews were the largest focus alongside news. It was interesting to hear the percentage come back on tips and guides-based content, which was 34%.
That was in the news recently, because there was a plagiarism controversy about one site had spent ages come up with a guide for the game, and then another site had copy and pasted that and claimed it as their own. There was a couple of pieces debate about the role that guides writers play. They get quite forgotten about but they can be very SEO valuable. It was interesting to hear the percentage come back on guides content because I think it does go under the radar while everyone’s focused on news and reviews.
Alex: They’re a massive undertaking to produce a guide for anything, like if you’re doing a full guide.
Tom: I was going to mention the kind of stuff I used to do was I did some quite in-depth stuff in terms of guides, but a lot of it wasn’t not going to claim that I was spending hundreds of hours in the depths of Ratchet & Clank when that first came out, but I saw when I was on the journalist side, there was a huge push and that was last year.
I was beginning to see such a huge push for guides, tips and tricks because it can be quite easy content to produce on the outlet side. We’ve had some releases this year where we’ve gone to clients and said, “We’ve had people come to us and they’re interested in producing guides and similar style content. If you can give them the resources to be able to do that, it’s a win for everyone,” because that’s the content that as you said, it holds SEO value.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is don’t shy away from spending a little bit of time to try and produce the content that can– You can send out to people and be like, “Look, our games coming out. Here are some tips and tricks for it. Here are a couple of guides,” and you can get some quite good coverage wins from doing something like that.
Alex: The reason it’s so popular is because unlike reviews and news, it’s evergreen in a way that others aren’t, which is something to consider. Especially if you’re sending updates, because on my shelf behind me I’ve got, it is still sealed for some reason. I’m going to have to crack it open now, but the Alan Wake Guide, which obviously was released before the game ever came out and fully written. Somebody had sat down and had all that information. These days live service games, that guide can be updated on a regular basis.
I know some of the things that really drive the best numbers to some of the mobile sites are those code giveaways that are constantly updating and you can do the same. If you’re listing new characters, new tactics, new updates, sending that information directly along with as much information as they need to get their guide for any outlet that has a guide to update that, or to create a new article around it, is only going to help drive those numbers and keep you front of page on the site and high on their rankings.
Tom: I strongly suspect that that 34% as well is only going to keep going up and up, because as you were saying, Alex, on the SEO side, it’s evergreen content, but there’s even more demand from players to have access to that kind of stuff, especially when some people don’t have the most time in the world to play a game. If they can try and find a guide that will help them get into something, when they’re beginning to get into it, I’ll help them out further along, just having that content. If you’re the person who has it, and you’re number one on that page, that’s what sites want and you can help them do that.
Jack: All of that discussion really is taken place from our perspective as a PR agency. Kate, what are your favourite forms of content to write from a media’s point of view?
Kate: When it comes to making content, obviously, I tend to prefer words. Long-form stuff is generally my favourite to write, either if it’s got a lot of research involved with it, or if it’s a topic I know a lot about. I like writing long-form stuff, it is a lot easier than writing short-form stuff. I used to hate doing 250-word reviews because they were so hard, that is not a lot of words to fit in everything you need to say about a game.
I tend to skew more towards 1000 words, at least.
I’m not a very concise writer if I don’t have to be. It’s nice to lean into that. I do like writing features a lot. Reviews are really fun, but they take up a lot of time and often they don’t really pay off in the same way that a feature does because people get really angry about reviews, whereas features you can at least go in being like, “Hey, this is my experience.” Then people are less likely to be like, “You’re wrong.”
News is fine. News keeps things afloat, and it gives you something to do every day that isn’t difficult. Some news stories are a bit difficult, but a lot of the time you’re just saying, “Hey, this game is coming out.” It’s nice to have stuff that feels like a snack chunk of work to do throughout the day. It can fill in pretty much any time that you have free. It was just nice to keep a sense of momentum, I think. Generally, I like doing features most, but I think everybody does. [chuckles]
Tom: Kate makes a really good point there in terms of a lot of it does come down to people and what they enjoy the most obviously, enjoying doing features the most. I think there is more and more guide stuff now because a lot of people really do enjoy writing guides, and then using guides to make other forms of content.
Alex: It’s also where a lot of video content sets as well, for those quick two-minute videos that you can get a lot of up quickly. There’s that to consider as well. Yes, you’re absolutely right. I don’t think guides are going anywhere. They have huge value for getting people onto pages.
Tom: It’s just a shame they’re not paper anymore. Mr. King of physical products over here, where are the paper guides, all these websites?
Jack: You mentioned video just there. We had 40% said they created audio content, and over half of the respondents produce video content. We are seeing a push into those other mediums. Everyone does a podcast these days, including us, media do it as well. It is a legitimate form of coverage. It can be hard to track if you’re not actively listening, but there is a lot of value in approaching, that extends, we’ll talk about interviews later, but people might consider that a piece of coverage if they can be interviewed on a podcast.
It might not be directly someone talking about the game, it might be something else within the space. It might be because you’ve had an interesting career or you’ve got an interesting story, but that’s, media are willing to make that content now as well, which wraps back around to what we talked earlier about influences.
Again, that’s the content influencers make, and media are doing the same. That’s where the overlap is. We’ve talked about the type of content and what the content is focused on. Let’s take that a step back and be like, “How did that content even get in their hands in the first place?” Volume of pitches, the shocking realization about the actual amount people get per day in their inbox.
[00:29:18] How many pitches do media get?
Tom: The realization, the emails and press releases and pitches, we often spend hours poring over are a drop in, not even an ocean, just like infinite pool of gaming water.
Alex: We sent this in April, which was a quiet time of year. I wonder if it would have looked any different had we sent it in October.
Tom: That’s why we got so many responses because in April, these figures that we’re going to tell you about right now, were probably slightly less.
Jack: If we were doing this on the video medium, I can envision a, who wants to be a millionaire style question with the four choices, but we’ll just give you the answer straight away. 42% of respondents received between 11 to 30 pitches a day. 8% received more than 50 a day, every day. [laughs] We’re talking thousands of emails a month.
Tom: Over 1000 a month. I think you also have to think that these people work for organizations and they’ll have things to do within the organization too because they don’t just come to work every day and instantly just go, “Ah, pitches.” They’ll have actual in-company work to do and then they’ll get to all the things that we, and you’ll be wanting to tell them about, and they’ve got to wade through so much stuff to try and get to that.
I think that volume is a big reason why it’s really important to even the subject line, it doesn’t define your entire pitch, but if you are dealing with someone who has 50 emails and they’re going through them really quickly, if you can’t grab their attention with that subject line, there’s a good chance it’s gone already. That’s if they even see it.
Jack: You can look on Steam at the sheer amount of games on there because this is even just games that are being pitched. Some media will cover games that they organically find themselves. The pool is even larger with things they’re actively looking out for as well as the stuff they’re being pitched. That makes discoverability really difficult. Kate, how many pitches do you see coming in? We are always aware of other releases in the same window and how they can cause potential clashes, but we never truly know what that journalist is seeing on their end.
Kate: A lot of the pitches and review requests we get are just to the general press email account that we have. I don’t get a lot of pitches that are aimed directly at me, but oh, God, it’s probably like 10 to 15 a day.
Jack: Now, are most of those reviews or more news and announcement based?
Kate: Most of those are pitches rather than review requests and it’s not just like, “Hey, we’ve got a game coming out,” because that kind of news, I think we tend to cover, if a game is announced, that’s news, but a lot of emails that you get are like, “Hey, our game now has this update or patch or new feature,” and there’s a lot of those. I don’t know if any of those tend to get covered as much as just straight-up announcements or review requests.
Jack: That’s interesting, so best to avoid smaller updates then. That lines up with how we see general results for updates, patches, and so on. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of media interest if the news is too small or not related to a new or recent release.
Tom: I think the biggest thing at the end of the whole survey, we had an open section where everyone who responded could basically add their own comments and anything that either they wanted to touch on further from the questions or just unrelated and something brand new. One of the things which came up a lot was people saying that don’t be afraid to follow up multiple times. A lot of the time we might be interested in what you have, we just don’t see it, and going to someone a couple of times, maybe in a two-week period, there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just, do not overdo it, because if you are emailing someone every day or they do see it and they just forget.
Alex: Or they do see it, but they don’t have time that week or that day, and because of this volume, they’re not going to remember. I have the same problem. We have the same problem with emails, right? It’s very easy for one thing to just slip through. Especially, and this is advice going back to the client advice stuff, that when the idea of announcing something and then leaving it until the launch, and leaving that too long, things slip out of people’s minds really easily.
Unless you’ve got information flow, unless you’ve got more updates, things to keep people active in it. It’s easily forgotten in the interim and then not picked up again, because you’ve got to keep the hype alive as it were, and this is a very small version of that. That until they’ve written about it, until it’s out, until they’ve seen it, got to keep the hype going.
[00:34:16] Why are you being ignored…
Jack: It’s time to talk about really how you’re going to get picked up, why you might be being ignored, what makes a good pitch? We’ll start with why you might not be seeing the results you’re expecting because we touched on it earlier. 64% of respondents said the hard truth that they won’t cover if the game looks bad or if they’re too busy.
Alex: I think by too busy, we can take that as being other things they’ve got look better, [laughs] so pure priorities.
Jack: It might not be what you want to hear, but yes, if your game just isn’t up to scratch, then they probably won’t be afraid to tell you. Some media will be nice about it, some will beat around the bush, but that is just a home truth, you will have to go back and deal with, might not be something you could change.
Tom: What really surprised me from this part was the fact that there was still a lot of people saying that they don’t cover stuff because it’s not appropriate to their audience. That doesn’t surprise me, but it surprises me that there’s still so many people receiving stuff that’s either… genre, give or take, that’s an easy mistake to make sometimes, but sending something to Nintendo Life, that’s not Nintendo-related, that’s a very easy thing to not get wrong, and it staggers me that that it’s still something that people in this survey have said still happens a lot.
Alex: If any media we’ve spoken to think that we sent them something that was irrelevant, yes, it might have been a mistake or it might have been a decision internally because we thought Elijah Wood would be more interesting than he was to you, and I’m sorry.
Jack: [laughs] I can think of a few examples in their head of ways that if we were able to discuss at length why we chose to pitch them, this certain story or angle versus I guess the first perception of it, because there are some places you don’t think it would make a lot of sense, but when you have reasoning behind it, anyway, that’s just the numbers.
Alex: Yes, a game crossover, and you’re like, “Well, that game that was doing a crossover with, was a Nintendo game.” Maybe, and then it’s like, “Actually, no, you’re not talking about the Nintendo game and therefore, no,” but in our head, at some point we thought it was a good idea.
Jack: Other factors to just really quickly touch on, 42% if the game is not new, and this is something we really tell clients and prospects, the news has to be fresh.
Tom: The timeline for that as well from the survey itself, and this is why we recommend going and reading it because there’s a level of depth in the survey itself that we can’t touch on in all places. I’m fairly sure the timeline for this as well was if the game has been out for less than a month, a lot of places will just deem that it’s too old, already.
Alex: More than a month.
Tom: Yes, more than a month.
Alex: [laughs] When do we have to tell them?
Jack: You sent mass panic into the development… yesterday, too old.
Tom: If it’s been three weeks, it can already be too late. [chuckles]
Jack: Three hours past my deadline.
Alex: Yes, to your Gmail accounts. No, absolutely. Another huge one is if you’ve got NFTs, Blockchain, Web 3.0, HTML5, we see more and more clients coming through who are developing in this space. As it came out, 75% of journalists said, “Oh, we’re not going to touch it” from our respondents, and I think only 5% said they were likely, and the rest were maybe, which is 20%. It really cuts that pool down and I’m not going to go into the relative merits and what have you, of NFT and Blockchain here.
Tom: I feel like in journalism when someone says, “Maybe,” that’s a 99%, no, as well. It’s like a polite, maybe, you get from someone, “Eh, maybe.”
Alex: Well, yes, because it comes down to if you are already saying that we are rejecting things because we’re too busy, and then you consider that it’s a, maybe, that maybe just goes down in that selection, that triage process. With that in mind, the flip side of that is that also you can’t just hide the fact it’s in there. We’ve seen a lot of coverage to speak of things coming out of Gamescom of people that were like, “Oh, why didn’t you mention this when doing the reveal? People are already excited about the game,” is going to turn a community against you. Is the overriding belief from media at the moment.
[00:38:25] How to write a good pitch?
Jack: You said it there with the Blockchain-related stuff, you’ve got to be clear about things, Blockchain or not. We’re just talking about when is the game coming out? What platform is it on? Again, make sure you’ve done your research so you’re pitching them the correct one. I think on this point, it’s worth discussing exactly what makes a good pitch. Before we do that from our point of view, I wonder how you decide what’s worth covering Kate. What thought process goes into deciding why you would, or wouldn’t write about a game that you’ve been pitched?
Kate: I tend to cover pretty much only announcements, usually release dates. A game has a few marketing beats that it can rely on. You’ve got the announcement of the game, which comes usually with a reveal trailer. You’ve got other announcements which tend to cover things like release dates and platforms. Maybe not at the same time. Those also usually come with trailers and then you’ve got it’s out the launch. Pretty much every game has those three, at least.
Then there are a bunch in between that like, “Oh, we’ve just signed with a publisher,” or, “Oh, we’ve decided to actually come to this platform as well,” or, “Oh, this particular platform is going to be delayed.” A lot of those things I wouldn’t cover. Don’t tend to cover the launch unless it’s a triple A game, we don’t tend to cover launches, just because it doesn’t really feel like as much you are going to need to come here to get this news. If you are going on the eShop and you see a new game, it’s not because you’ve gone to a site that said, “Hey, this game is out today.”
We don’t tend to cover launches, but announcements of dates, announcements of delays and the initial reveal announcement. Those are all really good news beats. Smaller ones like, “Oh, we’ve signed with a publisher, or, “Oh, we just got funding,” those aren’t going to get covered. It’s just not in the players interest, players don’t really care about publishers and funding. That’s very biz devvy. It’s cool to know about, like, “Oh, Raw Fury just signed this. Oh, Devolver just signed that,” but it’s not consumer interest basically.
Jack: It is useful for you to know then a lot of the smaller bits, even if you won’t publish them due to consumer interest. That’s certainly interesting, and it shows the value, I guess, in sending news over, even if it doesn’t generate or guarantee coverage right away, or at that stage. It might just be helpful in the future. 94% said clear dates were important. 84% of people said that it was very important to include resources and media kit or screenshots, et cetera.
Even if writing isn’t your strong point, there are just very, we say basic, but we appreciate it could be someone’s first time doing it, but very basic easy things that will make the media’s job way easier and boost your chances of getting coverage. Mentioning the media, obviously we should start with you, Kate. What do you look for in a good pitch and the flip side of that what should absolutely not be in that pitch?
Kate: A lot of my requirements or soft requirements, really, when it comes to pitching me, are more on the, don’t do this side than the, here are some good things to do. Generally like the biggest one is to make your email pitch look professional, which sounds really obvious, but we get so many requests that are just sent to our help email address and so they don’t come with any formatting.
They don’t come with any images, and those are less likely to get picked up, because we don’t have any of the information, we have to reach out to that person to say, “Hey, can we have the information in that?” Isn’t something we have a lot of time to do. First of all, try to find the right email so that you can actually send a proper press release.
Jack: Classic rookie error, sending to the wrong email, easy trap to fall into. It happens. Once you have the right address, what is important to include in that press release?
Kate: Well, include images, include a YouTube link, include a press kit. Please always do those things. I don’t particularly love being forced to download an entire zip file of press assets, I will likely only need a lead image and a couple of screenshots and maybe a logo. If you force me to download the entire thing, that’s just going to clog up my computer and I don’t tend to appreciate that. I think that every place that is trying to pitch a game should try and pitch it to people who do actually care about that genre or that art style or whatever it is.
I know that that’s really hard, but if you’re going for bigger outlets, if you’re trying to pitch Polygon, Kotaku, GameSpot, IGN, it really will benefit you to try to find the person on staff that actually would be interested in your game. Do a little bit of research and it will pay off because I like heavy narrative games. If you come to me with a shooter, I’m going to be like, “Eh.” [laughs] We do have personal biases at the end of the day and it does benefit you to work into that a little bit.
Jack: That’s a great point. We make an effort to keep an idea of who on our media list may have certain genres or specific interests compared to other journalists so they might be the best point of contact first and that can be a really great during pitching. Turn to Tom on this one, any insight you have?
Tom: Efficiency is such a huge thing. Key feature list, we tend to do that most of the time, it can be four or five. The key features, the USPs of the game, and that is something that people, in this survey and also in feedback to us have said, “This is really useful.” Again, these people do not have time. If they can open an email and it’s two not huge paragraphs and then a feature list and a little picture of an in-game screenshot or something like that, they can very quickly ascertain, is this of interest.
If it is, then they can know that straight away without having to dive into watching a two hour gameplay video. It’s useful to have trailers and gameplay, but in that pitch, if you can, for someone like me, I love strategy games, so if I’m reading something and I see real-time strategy is a key feature, that’s me like, “That’s what I want.” It can be as simple as that, and that is something that people are saying to us, “Yes, we want to easily digest pictures. We don’t want a 2000 word essay about the in-game lore of your Roguelike, blah, blah, blah.
Jack: Save that for the media kit. Extra details like that, if you have them, great, it shows passion and detail, but have that as an optional extra, don’t include that with your first message, don’t make that the required reading.
Alex: It’s like when I was going to write an entire press release as a War Boy from Games Workshop, and I was X’d on that because most people wouldn’t understand what I’d written, let alone [laughs] what the bullet points were. Be clear unless you know you’re talking to somebody that’s very relevant to the space and you can pitch it in a way that’s interesting. I know when you do those conceptual pitches that are more entertaining and funny for a specific few people who will get it, but if you’re doing a broader mail blast outreach, you need to keep it to the point, concise.
Tom: You have a bit of fun with pitching though, definitely, and still keep it thematic as long as you don’t lose the clarity and the important things by doing that. It’s just about, I feel like we can write a press release and things are a bit more serious and to the point, and everything’s a bit easier to understand. Then the pitch is where you can have a bit more fun and be creative, but you still have to maintain the professionalism and the ease of reading in a pitch without going too off the board, but you still can have fun doing that.
[00:46:27] How to give the media a helping hand with coverage production
Jack: Giving media news hooks, USPs, great way to generate coverage. How can people do more to help you in producing content, then, Kate?
Kate: I tend to decide what news is worth covering by whether or not it is actually news, whether it has a hook or a spin that I can put on it in a title. Titles are really hard, you have to sum up an entire article, which is usually 250 to 500 words, in something that’s snappy that people will click on, and several of those words have to be the title of the game.
We’re already like, I don’t know how many words it is, like 10 to 15, and some of those are the game titles, so we’ve got like 10 words to work with. We need to find a really strong hook or otherwise, all we are saying is this game is coming to Switch and that takes up pretty much 10 to 15 words. If we can maybe take the title of the game out of the headline, and we can say this game, for example, is like Hollow Knight meets Kirby.
That was a recent pitch I got. Then already that is going to catch the eye of the reader much more. They’re going to go, “I love Hollow Knight, I love Kirby.” Or they’re going to go, “How can you fuse those two things?” “I don’t know, I’m going to click on this story and find out.” That’s a strong hook and that is the hook that the pitch gave us. They came to us saying this game is these two things.
They put that in the subject line, I clicked on it and then we went from there. What you are trying to do is, is basically my job, you have to come up with a headline that is the subject line of your email that makes me want to click it and makes me want to write about it and will make other people want to click on it. I know that’s really hard.
I know you’re not a journalist, people listening to this, you are a game developer, but if you have a hook and often that hook can be something as simple as, “My game is like these two games combined,” or, “I made this game, I don’t know, on a flight,” or something like that. If you’ve got a really good hook, run with that, lead with that. It’ll make the journalist’s job a lot easier because you’ve done part of their job for them and it will make them more likely to want to write about it. It benefits everybody.
Jack: I’m really happy you mentioned SEO there. We see SEO as a massive factor nowadays from media. We’ve talked to some and they have said they used it to filter through what is going to be worth covering and what isn’t, so definitely plays into this next stat. 83% of respondents said the most important factor in whether they covered a game, was knowing that it was a good fit for their audience.
77% was liking the look of it. 66% assets included, 63% having a code and build. The top one there, as long as they know it’s a good fit for their audience, because you’ve been clear in your pitch, because you’ve made it obvious what it is without having a 20-page essay on the background, the characters and the setting, that is what’s going to give you the chances of getting covered. It’s as simple as that.
Tom: I think on 63% saying that being able to have access, we tend to operate when we are working on a review campaign, we will pick out certain people that we will allocate codes to straight away and send them out to, but the majority of our– when we’re working on review stuff works on. If you’re interested, let us know, those people get back to us.
It’s about making sure that if you are offering codes out to people, make sure you have them and make sure that you can get them out to people as soon as possible, because saying that you have them when you don’t is going to– I’m not going to say that there’s going to be a degree of mistrust, but it’s definitely going to make that process a lot less smooth than saying, “Oh, we will have codes, if you want one, let me know.” Rather than saying, “Oh, if you want a code, we’ve got them right now.” Then a week later you’re going, “Oh, we haven’t quite got them yet.”
Alex: Not going to give examples about this. We’ve been burnt by it too many times. It’s fine. It’s fine. Sometimes people are just too optimistic about when codes will be coming, be aware. [laughs]
[00:50:24] When to send media review codes? How much lead time is enough?
Jack: Again, I feel like it should be an obvious thing, but there was a very big example of a certain futuristic game set in an interpretation of California, that their review codes were sent out the day of launch or the night before, I think it was for consoles, because again, they were trying to mitigate the negativity they knew was coming from reviewers because the game wasn’t in a fit state. Regardless of anything, just make sure you are happy with the build before you send out review codes. It’s absolutely fine to tell media, “Still making changes, this is what you can expect. We’re fixing.” Just be transparent.
Kate: The games press understands that bugs exist. We are not monsters. A lot of us also have worked in games for a long time. We’ve seen a lot of what there is to see, and we have a good idea of what it is like to make games. Some of us have also worked in making games ourselves. If you are going to find anyone in this world who is going to be understanding about the bugs that your game has, pre-launch, it’s games journalists.
Don’t be afraid to send out a buggy beta code and say, “Listen, we’re going to fix these bugs, please don’t worry.” I know that there can be this horrible fear that people are going to see those bugs and be like, “Oh, I’m going to write about these in my review.” If you mention them in the email, if you say, “Listen, these bugs, these bugs, these bugs, will be fixed in a day one patch,” we’re not going to mention it, or we are going to mention it with the day one patch, and be like, “Well, you shouldn’t have this problem.”
Tom: That’s a really good point. I can count, probably I’ve had about three or four Switch reviews that I did where a PR agency or a publisher, or a developer would come to me and say, “Okay, this is the code. The plan is there’s going to be a slightly different version on this date and then maybe a day one patch and things like that.” There’s nothing wrong with saying that, just be transparent about it. I think transparency is really important.
This leads on quite nicely to, I guess, wrapping things up with the last major thing that we’re going to talk about and that’s reviews and lead times. It was quite obvious that writing review for a game takes more than three days to the embargo from when you’re giving out the codes, but from the responses we’ve got, there’s still a lot of frustration from media over really short lead times in terms of– and that’s them from getting a review code of a game to the embargo expiring.
We normally like to say about three weeks prior to launch for most games gives the media enough time to– there’s the process of getting the code over to them, activating it, downloading the game, having the time to sit down, play it and write about it and then edit and publish. However, the simple thing is, the longer the lead time, the more likely you are to get the coverage.
Jack: There is the risk of course, about your game being buried underneath everything else. As we always say, there’s no definite answer on when to release a game and there’s no definite answer on when you should be sending it out for review, but use it as a guidance. The three week is a good guidance for the minimum lead time you should be giving them.
Tom: Over 50% said at least three weeks. Maybe some of them would like six months. Unfortunately we don’t have six months because game development takes a lot of time and bills have to be submitted.
Kate: I’ve been offered review codes at a lot of different times. I love it when I get offered a review code that’s a month before the game comes out. Especially if it’s a long game, that usually goes for a long game. It gives me time to not rush through the game, but play it as I would actually play it, which makes for a much better review.
If you can afford to send out codes a month before, that’s fantastic. However, I know that that is not the reality for probably 99% of game devs. I know that up until that release date, you’re going to be going through cert, fixing bugs, having to deal with things that have cropped up like a week before release, and you have to stay up until 3:00 AM to fix them. I know that that is the case.
Alex: There are the factors that lead into and have an impact on this obviously, and a larger game, smaller games rather generally don’t have a month where they can sit around with a final build, waiting to go up. Then some games don’t need it as well. For the larger sites, especially when you got to consider, it’s got to go from editor to reviewer through the process, it can take a long time without even factoring in the playing the game.
Tom: Sometimes even code allocation could take a week because someone might accept a code on someone else’s behalf, but sometimes they haven’t quite found that someone just yet, and they still need to locate that someone who’s actually going to play the game. As long as you can get for lead time is more likely to help with the– when you set your embargo for– we normally say a launch day, but whenever you set the embargo, if you want that punch from that, in that time you lift the embargo, then just make sure that you’re not giving media two days to put all that together.
Then, as soon as the embargo lifts, don’t hound them and say, “Where is the review that you promised us two days ago?” Because things take time, always takes time. I feel like 99% of the words that we say is just to do with time. Touching on embargo’s again real quick, as a journalist, how do you perceive embargo, and how do you think they can be most effective in terms of creating a maximal impact, especially when we’re dealing with smaller scale games?
Kate: In terms of like, when you want the review to go up, generally the only games that benefit from having reviews go up way ahead of the release are the triple A games. Your Xenoblade’s and your Kirby’s, people are going to be already hyped for those. They’re going to already know about them and they just want to know it’s good.
Reviews go out for those usually like a day or two in advance. For every other game, just set the embargo to the launch date. That’s fine. That’s enough. A couple of hours before, sure, but it probably won’t make much of a difference. Your mileage may vary on that one. I’m not sure, but I’m pretty sure that you don’t need to worry about like in advance in embargoes.
Jack: It is the end of regulation time here on this week’s episode of the Games PR Podcast. Remember give us a follow-on Twitter at Big Games Machine. You could leave us a review on your preferred podcast platform of choice. If you found it helpful, feel free to share it. If it didn’t help you, share it with someone you think it will help.
Tom: No, no it will. Let’s be optimistic, it will help everyone. Everyone will be helped. Of course go to our website to see the full survey published in all its written glory, because there is so much in there that we’ve been unable to really go in-depth into. I’d highly recommend brewing a preferred hot drink of your choice or maybe something cold and sitting back, kicking back and reading our lovely, lovely survey.
Jack: That is biggamesmachine.com for those who don’t have it. Big thanks to Kate for joining us today. Kind enough to share some great insights with us and you. We look forward to hopefully hearing from her again, she was the first guest on the Games PR Podcast. If we had a little trophy, I would hand it over, alas we don’t yet, hopefully one day we’ll talk to the budget team and see if we can get it.
Tom: Yes, it’s been a bumper episode, but there’s been so much to look at. Thank you, Jack, for hosting today, from the kickoff with that brilliant introduction that blew me and Alex away the first time, the second time and the third time we heard it. I think this was the third one.
Jack: That was false starts. We finally got there. No, I already said it. It was a sequel to 2018 survey, aiming for the trilogy. We’ll see everyone bookmark, get ready for 2024.
Jack: There we are. See, I was testing you. I was making sure your brains are still–
Tom: That’s four plus four, that one’s–
Alex: In Jack’s defense, it’s 2022 plus four, which [laughs] does sound like a bit more of a challenge.
Jack: Just testing you guys. You passed the test. Congrats. See us then at the allotted time for the next edition of the games media survey.
Tom: Yes. I will say goodbye to everyone. Thank you for listening and look forward to seeing you next time.
[00:59:24] [END OF AUDIO]