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Today we’re going to show you some of the most classic video game PR mistakes people make and exactly how to avoid them.
These are the same mistakes we see time and time again. As an experienced video game PR agency, we’ve made them and you can be sure as hell that our clients have made them too.
Take a look at these mistakes made by some of the biggest names in the games industry and you’ll see that no matter how big you are or how long you’ve been in the games industry, everyone is capable of making some big PR mistakes along the way.
The great news for you is that by being aware of them you can avoid them and this is going save you a ton of time, money and even tears.
For example, we’ll show you the best time to approach the media and influencers as well as the best time NOT to approach them.
By avoiding these mistakes you’ll also significantly increase your chances of a video game journalist or reviewer actually responding to you and even featuring your game.
Because we’re nice and to make things easier for you, we’ve put the mistakes in chronological order of pre-launch, launch and post-launch.
So, without further ad, let’s dive right in.
Video Game PR Mistake #1: Underestimating the true cost of Video Game PR
Video games PR is never ever free.
Even if you plan to PR your game by yourself, it’s simply not free by any means.
Your time has hidden value, as does the time of your co-workers. This incredibly well written and insightful piece on Gamasutra estimates the cost of marketing your own game to be about $50,000.
Of course, that is a total marketing budget and PR is just one part of it.
Point is, you don’t know what you don’t know. You may think you can do it yourself, but it’s only when you get into it all you realise what an incredible time suck it has turned out to be! Creating media lists, emailing journalists, writing a (likely bad) press release and doing it all at precisely the wrong time.
The other problem we’ve seen is developers simply not giving a PR agency a realistic budget
No kidding, someone once told us that they had $100 so we politely declined.
It’s vital that you give any PR agency you’re engaging with a realistic budget.
Because a good PR agency will keep within the budget you give them or will know if they can work with the budget that you’ve proposed.
The best video games PR agencies will be able to look at the budget you have and work with you to craft a workable campaign.
Without a budget, it is difficult to work out the scope of work and separate what can be achieved with what cannot be achieved. The games PR agency may suggest a project that might not be financially feasible if you haven’t given them lines to work in.
And there’s more
If you give a good (we mean moral or scrupulous) agency a sum of money it doesn’t mean that they’ll magically match that sum. We’ve been given budgets before and have told clients that they won’t need that much money or to spend the extra on something else.
Sadly, We’ve seen it happen too many times. We ask for a budget and get given nothing. We send a proposal and get told ‘Sorry but it’s out of budget.’
Say what the fu*k?
You get the idea.
Worse still, if you keep approaching agencies, then backing out after revealing you don’t have the budget, you could quickly earn a bad reputation for you and your studio. This problem could be made even worse if an agency pitches you a detailed idea that you like. If you then chose to adopt that idea you’re essentially stealing their hard work.
You wouldn’t order a meal knowing you couldn’t pay!
Video Game PR Mistake # 2: Trying to use PR as a ‘quick-fix’ when sales are low after the launch
If your sales are low, then you should think about a new marketing strategy. Putting money into a PR agency just isn’t likely to help sales, especially when the game has been out for a while.
PR is ideally about generating hype and raising the profile of you and your game.
PR aims to build and maintain a positive reputation, getting people interested in it and getting it in the hands of influencers and the media. It can legitimise your game where marketing alone cannot.
It’s also important to understand the way that media and influencers work.
Media and influencers alike want to feel special. They want to feel like they’ve been part of something. You do this by getting them involved long before launch.
If you decide to engage a specialist video game PR agency to reach out to media and influencers after launch to boost flagging sales then you are wasting your time and barking up the wrong tree.
When we get asked we flat out always say in this kind of situation because you’re closing the door after the horse has bolted. We also know that we won’t generate a meaningful result.
If you want to gain a better understanding of how the gaming media thinks then read our FREE in-depth Game reviewer survey right here.
Video Game PR Mistake # 3: Thinking that PR is a direct response tool
Oh, this is a classic one.
“If I pay XXXX then how many downloads can I expect?”
NO, NO NO and NO again!
PR is not a direct response tool. If you want direct response where you can track advertising clicks to downloads then, by all means, pay for Facebook advertising.
PR for your game is part of the marketing mix. EA, Ubisoft and many others will employ a multi-channel strategy for their game launches – between what we call ‘paid’ such as Facebook and TV advertising and ‘earned’ which is usually PR.
We appreciate that when budgets are tight then this approach isn’t feasible. You may want to bet the farm on PR. That’s kind of fine, as long as you know that you’re only buying some cows and chickens and not all the fields and farmhouse that goes with it.
Right, we can stop the framing analogy now.
The bottom line is this.
You shouldn’t use video game PR alone to try to sell as many copies as possible.
Not sure about hiring a video games PR agency? Here are some questions to ask yourself before hiring one.
Video Game PR Mistake #4: Not understanding what’s actually newsworthy
Before you even think about getting involved in doing PR for your game, you have to sit back and think hard about what you want to say is actually newsworthy.
Journalists get hundreds of emails and requests to cover games every week, and obviously, they can only choose a small number.
These will likely be a small number of games that really grab their attention.
So. Before you mail a journalist or influencer, do make sure that you have a story worth being talked about before throwing money, time and resources at a video game PR campaign.
This also means you have to be realistic.
For example, it’s just not very common for the bigger sites like IGN and GameSpot to cover mobile games unless there is a truly big brand behind them such as Nintendo with Pokemon Go and Mario Kart: Tour.
So if you are a mobile developer, don’t expect these big fish to bite.
Have a new trailer for your game? Use it as marketing material. It is very unlikely that a trailer will provide enough information for a journalist to write an entire piece about it, especially if it is the third or fourth trailer you have put out. Spend some money promoting the trailer as an advert on social media or YouTube rather than time and effort fruitlessly pitching it to the media.
Adding in new features to your game that’s already out? Unless it is a significant amount, it’s probably not worthy of a news story. Keep your Steam page updated with patch notes, change-logs and developer diary pieces instead of trying to convince the media to write about your updates.
Video Game PR Mistake #5: Not clearly identifying your USP (Unique selling point)
Your game – no matter how good – is going to be competing against a load of other games at any given time.
Influencers and reviewers can only check out a few games in any period, meaning that you have to be sure your game is one of those that catches their eye.
So do your market research first.
Find out who your closest competitors are, how they’ve presented themselves, and how media and influencers covered them.
If they weren’t covered – that might be a sign that there’s a gap in the market for you to take advantage of. Or maybe their game was just crap.
Conversely, if you see a lot of similar games being covered, or there’s over-saturation of a genre then you may have an issue.
In the current market, for example, your new battle royale/CCG/RTS title is going to face a lot of competition for media attention when it comes out.
The media and influencer pool can be over-saturated with certain genres of games, which can lead to a general feeling of apathy when they’re being approached with another.
To combat this, you’re going to have to highlight what makes your game unique to help lift it above the noise.
If you’re in contact with a video game PR agency – ask them about who they think you’re up against in the market. If they can’t tell you, either your game is so unique that the field is wide open – or that PR agency doesn’t have a clue about how to handle your game.
Video Game PR Mistake #6: Releasing your trailer too early
The art of the trailer is a tricky one. Of course, you need to allow time for the trailer to excite people and to build up interest and hype about the game.
However, it’s difficult to begin a video game PR campaign if a trailer has already been out for a few months.
Approaching media and influencers with this “old news” will make it unlikely to be covered as they would prefer to create content around something fresh. Older trailers also lose their element of surprise and exclusivity.
So, if possible, hold onto the trailer for as long as you can while you get a concrete launch plan in place.
Ideally, a trailer is what you’ll use to announce your game and ‘hook’ media and influencers.
Once you have a launch plan, by all means, get the trailer out there. This window of time allows for the trailer to spread, while not appearing too ‘old’.
Video Game PR Mistake #7: Failing to properly identify your target media
Having a scatter-shot approach towards media and influencers isn’t a good idea. They can smell it a mile off.
The reality is that it takes a lot of time to gather together your media and influencer targets and communicate with them.
As part of your video game PR campaign, don’t waste time by approaching media who are not relevant to your game, or spend too long trying to get in contact with media who are unlikely to cover your game.
Think carefully about who your game is intended for, and then put yourself in the shoes of your audience. Where are they likely to go to for news about games?
Games media is constantly changing so you have to keep your media targets up to date. If you have a specific person in mind, check their social media to see where they are listed as working – they may have moved to a different site, or left the industry altogether!
Similarly, just give the name of a target site a search online to check that the site still exists and when their last piece of content was published.
It’s also important not just to find the right publication, but also to find the right person at that outlet. If your game is an RPG, see if there is anyone on staff who specialises in that genre. Some sites, like Videogamer, even list preferred game genres in their staff biographies.
Most websites will have a ‘Contact’ tab where you will find an email address or contact form to use. The general best practice if you are pitching to a site with multiple staff, is to get in touch with the editors first. They will then forward the pitch on to the writers they feel are best suited.
By far the easiest way to identify your target media and influencers is to use your competitors.
Type your competitor’s game into YouTube, Twitch and Google, make a note of who covered it and get in touch with them.
“Hi XXXX – I see that you really liked XXXX game and I thought you might be interested in mine too.”
Easy eh? You score a home run because you know they have an existing interest in your type of game.
The bottom line is this.
Media and influencers like to feel as if you have actually tried to understand them and their tastes. Showing that will go a long way to making them pay attention to you and even taking a look at your game.
Video Game PR Mistake #8: Not identifying the right gaming influencers
Influencers are the new rock and roll stars. Everyone wants a piece of them.
Rightly, influencer relations lie at the heart of any good video game PR campaign.
But where do you begin and who do you want to play your game?
Simply looking at the most subscribed influencers that play games and dumping them all in a list isn’t the way to g about things.
Identifying influencers is an art, and not something that can be done without the application of considerable thought and common sense.
You should identify influencers by:
- searching for similar games to yours and looking at who has played them
- looking on social media to see which relevant influencers are talked about and retweeted the most
- finding influencers who play a variety of games and genres, and are not constrained by one or two exclusive games (e.g channels who only play Fortnite won’t play your battle royale)
- looking at how their views compare to their subscriptions – don’t just aim for the highest amount of subs, if the return on views is very low
- seeing if their language is in your game – if it is not, can they speak another well enough to understand your game?
- always check to see if they have an email address listed so you can actually get in touch with them
First off, give yourself a decent size pool of targets to contact. You should aim for around 100 or so, with a strong level of content output.
Don’t be fooled by the number of subscribers they have. Subscribers don’t translate directly into views, and you’ll often find that video views are much lower than subscribers.
You should also be careful about who you approach once you have some targets in mind. Be prepared to be ignored, rejected or faced with a request for payment.
You may find that many influencers don’t take a risk on playing something new as their channel and community is focused on something already.
Just looks at the insane amount of Roblox, Fortnite and Minecraft specific channels clogging up YouTube right now.
Not that this is anything new. Games like Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Madden and FIFA have all been long-standing choices for influencers to exclusively dedicate their channel’s content to.
It may still be worth identifying these channels if your game is in a similar genre to the one the influencer focuses on.
But don’t be fooled into thinking that, just because your game is in the same genre or has similar mechanics, it will be a surefire bet for the influencer to cover it.
If you want to know more about working with influencers, then check out our gaming influencer mega blog with 30 actionable and practical tips. There’s even a free downloadable ebook version for you to read it all offline.
Video Game PR Mistake #9: Reaching out at completely the wrong time
Once you’ve decided to get your video game PR campaign up and running then timing becomes crucial.
But be warned…..
Attempting to reach media to offer them a review copy during certain times of the year can leave your inbox full of out of office messages.
These times typically include the big tentpole video game events – E3, Gamescom and GDC.
Media will usually be busy the week before and after the event itself too.
Just imagine the sheer amount of people trying to book a time to meet with them before the event. Then, after the event, they’ll need to spend time writing stuff up.
Another no is Q4, the dreaded holiday season- Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Why smaller developers think it’s a good idea to release their game in Q4 is really beyond us. It’s noisy and overcrowded. We generally advise against it.
Unless you’re a AAA then take a break.
Seriously, we’d rather have no money in Q4 than do a bad job for our clients.
During Q4, the media are winding down their activities for the year, many may be on holiday, and the backlog of games they have in their inbox will be heavy.
As mentioned above, AAA titles tend to dominate this sector in the hope of securing that holiday season frenzy.
Also, don’t assume that a game released in Q4 means the media will be busy in December.
AAA Game’s need to be ‘in channel’ and in retail by late October. I know this because my birthday is in mid-November and all the big titles are out by then so there is always a lot of juicy stuff to put on my gift list!
Working backwards, a game that’s out in mid-November will have likely been given for review in early October, maybe earlier. a typical 30-hour game requires time and a reviewer will need to play it, write a review, increasingly record a video review and then schedule it to appear in time for the release.
This means that most AAA games will be trying to grab media attention for the final launch date well ahead of the launch itself.
Speaking of the holiday season, it is often book-ended with Halloween and New Year sales, with Black Friday and Christmas sales in between.
This can obviously encourage sales due to the lower price points, but it means you risk not achieving fair value for your game.
Avoid releasing games, or sending out a review copy on national holidays too in important target areas.
This is especially the case in the US. Media won’t see your email on July 4 or even the 5th if that’s a Friday and they decided to take a long weekend.
Bear in mind that a lot of people will also be travelling ahead of key dates such as Thanksgiving, so even the days beforehand may be a no-go for your emails to be seen on time.
For public holidays, there’s a useful feed in Google Calendar to help you see the public holidays for the target countries that you’re going after.
Try and align your outreach to avoid these busy periods, ensuring you get a better chance of someone picking up your game.
Video Game PR Mistake #10. Not doing events properly
So you’ve decided to go to E3, maybe PAX or Gamescom.
You’re going there to try and grab some time with the media. Maybe bump into a journalist or two? Leave things to chance.
No bueno, mi amigo.
First off, do you have your own stand or table? This is vital if you want to meet the press and showcase your game.
Having your own space is a clear signpost for people walking past to see who you are and what your game is. Without a clear space, it can be difficult to arrange meetings.
Sure, you may opt to use a nearby cafe or a corridor seat as a base, but this doesn’t guarantee simple things like peace and quite, a plug socket or even that your place will still be there if you go to the toilet.
Also, as we’re speaking hypothetically, we’re assuming that you’re taking a laptop. There’s no way you could cart around a full gaming PC, keyboard, mouse and monitor into a nearby Starbucks and ask media to meet you there for a caramel frappuccino and game demo. Make sure if you are on-the-go, your game can run on a laptop without any issues.
Wherever you go at shows, it’s also likely to be busy, very cramped and very noisy. So try and stick to the show floor, where the footfall is highest and the visibility is the best.
If you’re arranging meetings with journalists, start a few weeks before and set-up a calendar invite so everyone knows when and where to meet.
If you’re somewhere that’s not in your local time-zone, you have to set the meeting up to reflect the timezone of the place where the event is taking place.
All too often, media have to double-check meeting times if it doesn’t seem right, and this makes you look unprepared and unprofessional.
We’ve put together a handy guide to help you maximise the impact of your video game PR campaigns at any event It’s even in downloadable ebook form so you can have something to read on the plane.
Video Game PR Mistake #11: Getting your timings all wrong
You should never leave it too late to promote your game. But conversely, promoting it too early can be equally disastrous.
This ties into our earlier point about when you release your trailer.
We’ve seen this one happen a LOT.
Developer A approaches us and they’ve already given their news to a small number of sites. This can then have the effect of putting other sites off your game because it appears to be old news.
Remember what we said about making the media and influencers feel special?
This is the same thing. If the genie is out of the bottle and they Google your game and see it has been covered then you can likely kiss extra coverage goodbye.
If you try and get a campaign underway when the game is already out, it’ll very likely be a mess. There will be no plan or direction. Even more problematically, the opportunity to execute on complex plans like getting out review code and gaining hype for release day will have been missed.
Also, the closer to launch you begin outreach, the shorter the opportunity reviewers will have to get their reviews up on day one.
Most review outlets, especially the big ones, tend to need a copy of the game before release day.
So when is the best time to begin pitching your game?
Handily for you, we’ve created a whole blog on the subject right here.
Video Game PR Mistake #12: Producing a crappy press kit
If you’re going to do games PR yourself, then you should take the time to put together a decent press kit to send to the media.
We recommend either setting up a Google Drive folder to host the press kit, or to use ‘presskit()‘ which can create a nice-looking and efficient press page in a short amount of time.
Regardless of what tool you decide to use for your press kit, there are some basic ingredients that make a good one.
First off, You’ll need a press release with a concise overview of what your game is about and communicate effectively why people will want to play it.
Double and triple-check for any spelling errors, grammatical mistakes and formatting issues.
Include the relevant store links on the release, taking care to give them the region-free URL if possible, or conversely making sure they get the right link for their region.
If you’re focused on reaching particular markets, it is important to localise the press release into the target markets language for extra effect. There are some really affordable and professional game translation companies out there like Universally Speaking. A localised press release can avoid any ‘lost in translation’ errors and sends a signal to local media there that you are going the extra mile for them and their audience.
Your press kit should also have a good selection of graphical assets such as the game logo, key art, well-lit screenshots, maybe some video content and even some GIFs.
Make sure that your press kit contains a decent selection of screenshots that show the depth and expanse of your game – don’t just show the first two levels when there are 20!
Having a sparse press kit doesn’t leave much for the media to work with, and can lead them to think that your game doesn’t have much substance to it.
Video Game PR Mistake #13: Sending review copies out too early
If you send out review copies of your game, but then realise that there are still lots of bugs and issues, it can be a real pain to re-contact everyone you’ve given a key to, and warn them about the unfit state of the build.
It sounds like common sense, but sometimes in the rush and excitement to get your game out the door, bugs and glitches can sneak in. Additionally, some reviewers will only review day one builds of the game – they don’t want to review a game that’s likely to change dramatically by the time it releases, leaving their review outdated.
So when is the best time to offer your game for review?
The good news is that you don’t have to guess that one.
Our survey says that around 3 weeks is best.
You may be able to get away with 2 weeks, but anything less than 2 weeks is a bad idea.
Video game media and influencers need a lot of lead time to review your game, as they have to work around their schedule of reviewing other games and creating news pieces too.
If your game is particularly complex or has a lengthy campaign such as a 40 hour RPG, then the chances are that media and influencers need some extra time to get to grips with it and get the most out of it.
You should also factor in that your email may not be seen straight away, and so there may be some gap between hearing back from whoever you are sending the review to.
From bitter experience, we know that this can be as much as a month after launch!
Make sure to set an embargo date when you are in contact with potential reviewers.
What’s an embargo we hear you ask?
We’ll leave this onto Wikipedia which says it far better than we can:
“In journalism and public relations, a news embargo or press embargo is a request or requirement by a source that the information or news provided by that source not be published until a certain date or certain conditions have been met.”
This could be any date around launch that you want. The most common embargo date is the day of launch. This is best as it synchronises a player reading a review and then being able to purchase or download the game — no waiting for the next day.
Be sure to make the embargo date clear on your email and press release, maybe in big red capital letters. Put it at the top of your message, so it can’t be missed!
Video Game PR Mistake #14: Narrowcasting your game’s PR message
It’s not uncommon for people we’ve met to be a bit blinkered in their approach to video games PR.
It’s a big old world out there and the USA isn’t necessarily the one place you should obsess over.
Some games have a regional bias. Take strategy games for example.
Germans apparently love strategy games. They can’t get enough of them. So if you have a strategy game, it may be that some of the top German sites will have more relevant readers than US ones.
The same goes for genre-specific websites. Sure you want your RPG on Gamespot, but there are some really big specialist RPG sites out there.
The bottom line is, don’t restrict yourself too much in who you’re targeting. This means that you should cast your net wide across blogs and sites of all sizes. And you shouldn’t neglect media in other countries, especially non-English speaking regions.
Video Game PR Mistake #15: Spamming
As the saying goes – “If at first, you don’t succeed, try again.”
But don’t try too many times.
Messaging the media, and influencers, one too many times is a bad look. It just annoys them and clogs up their inbox – and you could end up in the spam and junk folder, nullifying any future communication.
Technology journalist Seth Porges said in his Forbes piece about follow-ups:
“…there’s nothing more irritating to a journalist than seeing the same pushy name pop up in their inbox over and over again…Such behaviour may even prevent journalists who might otherwise want to cover you in the future from doing so.”
Some media will reply back and let you know the game isn’t for them, but don’t expect this from everyone. Others may want to cover your game but not be able to reply straight away.
A sensible strategy would be to do a follow-up a few days later from your original message.
We’ve seen it happen time and time again that the follow-up gets noticed because the first one simply got lost in email noise.
This should give you enough time to possibly get a reply, as well as give the media room to sort through the many other emails they have vying for attention in their inbox.
Keep the header short and to the point, don’t try and be too clever or resort to clickbait.
Video Game PR Mistake #16: Getting too defensive about feedback and reviews
You can’t force people to like your game. But many people do try and force the issue.
As we discussed in our list of 15 PR fails, even big developers have tried to control the narrative of how their game was received – and it never ends well.
Try and use the feedback you receive to improve your game if you can. But of course, prioritise this feedback. Not every point someone makes will be relevant, or even feasible. Strike a balance.
At the very least, be communicative.
You can reply to reviews on Steam with some feedback of your own. Keep it civil, and concise, but do let the audience know that you’re listening and working on fixes if there are bugs.
It will show up as “A developer has responded to this review”.
If it didn’t turn out how you wanted, there’s always next time!
Video Game PR Mistake #17: Not doing social media
Never underestimate the importance of social media as an extra tool in your PR campaign arsenal.
Having a presence on, at the very minimum, Twitter and Facebook can go a long way in helping your campaign.
Not having one can make your game hard to find for people looking to find out more. Also, as pretty much everyone has a social media account these days, you don’t want to be left behind
Use social media to drip-feed new features and graphics in the lead-up to launch.
Once the game is out, be sure to share and retweet coverage. Let your audience know which influencers have been playing and give them a shoutout and a thank you.
Having an active social media channel also helps the media keep up to date with the progress of the game, and they can embed your social posts in their articles where relevant.
Community development and management is also an essential aspect of making your game a success.
If you’d like to read up on it some more and get up to speed, here are our thoughts on building a great community for your game.
Video Game PR Mistake #18: Getting someone else to do your social media
Hopefully, we haven’t had to convince you too much of the value of social media.
Now it’s a question of getting things up and running.
But, if you don’t have a lot of time to manage it, you can always outsource it. Right?
Not so fast.
Often, outsourcing your social media management can lead to negative results.
Sure, you might save yourself some time, but you’ll lose the experience of interacting with your community and organically creating something special.
You may not have enough content to justify paying for a full social media campaign.
There probably isn’t enough material to justify paying for an entire social campaign. Coming up with new posts every day or every few days across the various social channels that you’re on can be difficult. You will end up having repeated content which can be a bad look.
Another reason not to outsource is that your personality and voice on social media may not be easily replicated. Having another party come in and take control of the messaging can lead to a change in style. The community may not be ready for this change and it can look strange to suddenly change style, tone and levels of content output overnight.
By doing it yourself, you can always be in control of the messaging if you’re the one posting, rather than trying to create content to meet the needed quotas.
Why should you have to pay for someone else to come up with posts when you can do it yourself?
If you do want to go into more depth, but still do it yourself, there are tools like Buffer and Tweet Deck that can help with the scheduling of content. There are also platforms like Canva to help you quickly create eye-catching graphics for your posts.
As long as you keep your channels fairly active – a few posts a week, with a mix of content, you will be carrying out a good (and more importantly free), social media strategy.
We have an upcoming piece about how to get to grips with social media for you and your game so keep your eyes peeled.
NOW ITS YOUR TURN
Taking all of these tips into account, you should be able to draw up a solid PR plan for your game launch. This should include who you want to communicate with, the timeframe that you plan to do it within, and what your message is.
Not having a PR plan for your game could result in all the worst parts of these listed mistakes combining to create one giant hot mess.
How will you react if there is a game-breaking bug that only rears its head once review copies have been sent out?
If nobody is responding to your emails and calls, how will you switch up your pitch to get them interested without spamming them?
By putting together a great plan and taking into account these tips, you can be sure that your games PR strategy is in pole position to get exactly the results you want.