When looking at the way most journalists drool over the big boys of the games industry – The EA, Nintendo and Blizzard’s of this world, you’d think that pitching your game to reviewers is simple. A standard procedure based on set dates and activities repeated over time.
Pitching your game is a difficult, arduous process. There are so many moving parts that the mind often boggles at the reality of the situation.
Beyond that, there’s the million-dollar question: when to start pitching your game to reviewers?
It’s easy to sugarcoat the issue in typical PR fashion – giving generic, sweeping advice on timeframes, such as “a month before launch to give a journalist enough time to look at the game”.
The thing is, crunch is still a thing, so we know having a review-ready build an entire month before shipping is unlikely to be a reality for most of you reading this.
But don’t worry. We’re here to help make life easier for you!
We’re going to show you exactly when you should be approaching the games to review media depending on your situation.
Best of all we’re going to approach the process of games PR a bit like an onion – and so you can avoid cutting yourself on many of the easiest PR mistakes to make!
We’ll be looking at the core factors that determine when you should start pitching your game for review and working our way outwards to handling environmental factors that may be beyond your control.
Core component: Your game
The very nature of what determines when you should start offering your game to media for review is the game itself. This can be further split into three main parts:
- Platform (mobile, console, Steam etc.)
- Game genre (RTS, RPG, sports, strategy etc.)
- Quality of your game (trash, passable, medium, good, life-changing etc.)
Factor 1: Platform
If you’re launching your game on mobile, it’s recommended you begin distributing promo codes and builds to media at least two weeks in advance of your agreed launch date (This date used to be a Thursday which was the day that the App Store changed round. In an attempt to spread things out a bit more and level the playing field. Apple revamped the App Store in iOS11 and moved to a daily focus.)
Here’s the reason why:
Given the pick-up-and-play nature of mobile games, media have more of a chance of trying the game out in different situations, whether that’s a quick play on the train or the toilet, so there’s less pressure to dedicate time and resources to try your game.
For console, Steam, PC and Mac titles, we would recommend pitching your game out three weeks in advance.
The reason being?
More time, effort, dedication and commitment is required for a journalist even to try the game out (let alone review it) and given everything else they need to cover (more on this below) being as proactive as possible to maximise your chance of being reviewed is vital.
Factor 2: Game Genre
It’s often easy to forget that your game’s genre can have a big impact on when you should start pitching your game to reviewers.
If you’re pitching a 100-hour RPG, you need to factor additional time for completion, as well as additional modes that any good journalist would try before publishing a review, such as multiplayer.
If you’ve got a game you know takes a LOAD of time to complete, pitching your game to reviewers at least four weeks before launch is vital.
Don’t forget one crucial thing ……
The four-week timeframe isn’t just for the game reviewer to play your game. He/she then needs to spend time writing the review, and the complete review will need to be scheduled in to (ideally) appear the day that you’re launching, or even a couple of says to help drive pre-orders.
For anything else, stick to the recommended three weeks for non-mobile platforms and two weeks for mobile platforms.
Factor 3 Quality of Available Build
We sympathise with developers; Getting something out on time that works has to be the priority at launch.
With tight deadlines, budget constraints and the trimming of features/content, the final few weeks is a mad rush.
Time and time again developers prioritise post-launch builds over review/launch builds.
But remember this:
While you would expect to receive feedback (good or bad) from your users, GAMES JOURNALISTS AREN’T GLORIFIED PLAYTESTERS and as such, aren’t likely to play glorified test builds.
Unfortunately, we know this because we’ve pretty much seen it all in launch builds; Placeholder icons, buggy, untested modes, bizarre text placement, grammatical errors and low quality (bordering on comical) translation/localisation.
The simple truth is this:
If you’re developing a game and your review build contains some of these bugs and rough edges then it’s better to spend time ironing them out than to send a rough build to the media. It’s better if you or your PR agency pitch your game to reviewers in a slightly shorter timeframe if it means that it’s going to be as bug-free as possible.
I’m sure you’ll agree that we’d all prefer positive reviews appear post-launch than scathing reviews the first week of launch!
Secondary component: The gaming environment
Moving outside the sphere of the game itself are the following four elements:
- Game Events
- Physical press kits
- Other launches
- Your announcement pipeline
Factor 1: Games Events
If you plan to launch your game in June, August or September, sit in the corner of a dark room and have a good, long think about what you’ve just done.
Launching a game in any month with a big consumer or B2B games event is a wrong choice.
Rather than ramble on with blindingly apparent reasons, we’ve created a simple table to demonstrate this:
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, then somehow has to work his/her write-ups into his/her existing workload. Your game news, which hasn’t featured in this process whatsoever, won’t get a look in|
|Media are only at the show/event/conference 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 the show/event/conference, and at the show, will be distracted by dozens of titles he/she can play there and then – not forgetting the final-day drink-up|
|“They’ll still be checking emails at the conference, and if not, we can drop them a reminder when they get back”||How often do you check email 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 the PAX’s, Paris Games Week’s and EGX’s of this world but what about smaller, perhaps local-to-them, events?|
Factor 2: Physical press kits
When pitching your game to reviewers, you may want to make a splash by sending out physical items to complement your launch.
Let me show you how:
We worked on the launch of mobile game Dear Leader, which had players playing as Kim Jong-un on his quest to thwart the demonic hordes and avert the Rapture (end of the world to you and me). We send 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 stamps and ink stamps. We told the journalists that the toilet paper was from Kim Jong-Un’s special stash.
You can read more about the campaign here.
If you’re expecting to make a similar splash with your game, you’ll need to factor in additional time it takes to source materials, journalists addresses and international postage delivery times. If you’re going to do this, then give yourself an extra 1-2 weeks ahead of the recommended timeframes for your physical press kit, complete with a review key, to make its way to journalists.
Factor 3: Other game launches
Despite the close-knit gaming community, especially on the indie scene via various forums and Discord groups, you’re all in competition against one another to get the media’s attention.
If your game is shipping the same week as a ton of other titles, AAA or otherwise, give some thought to 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 2 to poke your head out from the crowd a little sooner.
Media probably won’t look at your email straight away. It’s a process which may take 2 or 3 attempts if you’re coming at this cold and are unknown to the journalists that you’re targeting.
Factor 4: Announcement Pipeline
This is the flow diagram you plan if you’re doing PR all on your own:
Game announcement: -8 weeks from launch
Gameplay/content announcement: -6 weeks
Launch trailer reveal: – 4 weeks
Offer for review: – 3 weeks
But this is what happens:
Game announcement: -12 months from launch because “the earlier we do it, the better!”
[sea of nothingness while you work hard on the game]
Offer for review: – 2 weeks
Hey, some screens for ya: – 2 weeks (you’re in panic stations at this point because you realise just how much work you have to do when pitching your game to reviewers)
Oh wait, that trailer we’ve pieced together is finally ready: -1 weeks
Launch! :/ (by this point, media are fed-up by your email bombardment. Good work…)
It’s not science, but we find developers often make their announcement way too early, leading to significant gaps of nothingness before a rush-job for reviews.
This is why we’ve had to turn down working on some great projects because devs are panicking that launch is only days away, with no buzz behind the game, and they then expect us to perform miracles.
If you’re stacking announcements one on top of the other in a short timeframe, then don’t expect a response from the media.
Space out your announcements so that by the time you seed your game to media you’re at least a partly recognisable name.
If nothing else, it means journalists aren’t pissed off by your constant emails.
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:
This is easy.
Christmas/Holidays, Thanksgiving or even your standard British rainy Bank Holiday Monday; if you’re doing the bulk of your review pitching just before, during or just after a public holiday, you’ll likely get a raft of “out of office” auto-replies.
And guess what?
When they get back from holiday/vacation, then they’ll look at their inbox of 200+ emails and only look at the ones that are most important. Your pitch will be sandwiched in between newsletters they forgot to unsubscribe from and emails from Prince’s requiring money to secure their freedom.
Do yourself a favour:
Assume that month to be a write-off.
If you want to get in on the App Store Christmas rush– fantastic, everyone does – launch in November; anything from mid-December to min-January is an utter write-off.
We can’t stress how many developers and publishers we’ve worked with who still insist on PR activity on/around public holidays!
We’re brutally honest in telling them that this is not the time to start pitching their game to reviews because nobody is physically around to try it out.
….And the “influencers?”
Being an influencer must be great. You play whatever games you want whenever it suits you – obligations notwithstanding.
The golden rule with influencers is this…
Your game may be interesting to them if there’s something they can try out there and then.
If they like it and it fits the content of their channel, then great, you’ve got a shot at getting them to cover your game.
If you’re working with the average independent YouTuber or Twitch streamer, there’s a significant possibility they won’t respect the embargo date you would have set out in your email – unlike a traditional games journalist who would.
But what if you could control this…?
Using influencer outreach tools such as Keymailer will allow you to set an embargo date and time that you would want coverage to appear from.
There’s no legal obligation for a YouTuber to abide by that date.
The bottom line is this:
You should be giving influencers keys one week before launch so that by the time they see your email or Keymailer request, they have something playable that they can begin covering ASAP.
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 want to go the old-fashioned way and email influencers, please don’t option them with the choice of whether or not they would like a key; drop it in the darn pitch!
Be sure to check out our big piece on influencers here for more information.
Hello from the other side
Journalists aren’t sitting there waiting for your game; they have a review pipeline you’re added to, and that’s assuming media look at your email, answer your calls, and want to look at your game as soon as possible.
You then have to factor in that journalists have so much content to cover even beyond reviews.
This includes content from AAA developers and publishers that the average human being wouldn’t even consider newsworthy as well as sponsored pieces, including PCGamesN’s showcase of games made in the Unreal Engine.
So, once you’ve figured out that your game isn’t universally loved, at first sight, you then have to remember what a journalist has to physically do during the review stage…
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 a full 20-hour single-player campaign mode or a significant amount of hours in multiplayer.
The fact is…
If you’re a console/PC dev, there’s little more you can do at this point.
The PR guy has sold them on the pitch, and the trailer is shiny enough to get them to look at the game. Now, they have actually to play it and maybe, just maybe, like it enough to create an actual review.
But wait, there’s more.
You have to understand that “trying the game out” doesn’t mean they’ll review it.
If your game isn’t even scathing-review worthy, 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.
It’s just the way it is.
If the majority of your mobile game’s missions are trapped behind a horrible F2P monetisation-mania-gem-filled paywall, don’t expect a journalist to have to wait five days to unlock a level. Do yourself a favour and prepare a review build that doesn’t require excess waiting.
I’ve got my lead-time, I’ve got my journalist insight, but what’s the future looking like?
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 a variety of different forms.
But that’s not to say that the value of the traditional games reviewer should be discounted!
Despite the impression that traditional games journalism is becoming more and more irrelevant, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
From obliged content (sponsored pieces, event coverage etc.) to stuff that a journalist wants to write about, like this delightful game about a mischevious sandwich-stealing goose, the role of the traditional games media is more critical now than it’s ever been.
But there is an irony in all of this…
Your shouty, purple-haired YouTuber with 500,000 subscribers uses these game sites to figure out what sort of games he/she should cover on his/her channel.
Astonishing, isn’t it?
We’ve provided the framework for when you should start pitching your game to reviewers, along with variants of those suggested timeframes 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.