The passage of time has been a major concept in video games of all shapes and sizes throughout the past few decades, from the ethereal whistles of the Ocarina of Time to the rewinding swordfights of Ubisoft’s Prince of Persia and, more recently, the déjà vu of Arkane’s murderous Deathloop.
It’s perhaps appropriate, then, that timing is everything when delivering PR strategies for video games. Agencies like ourselves sink an immense amount of hours into carefully calculating the right moments for big announcements, whether for game launches or communication strategies.
But things can go wrong even after meticulous planning. What happens if there’s a leak ahead of your big announcement or a major AAA game changes its release window and threatens to drown out the excitement for your game?
It may sound obvious, but releasing your new game right next to a monolith like Grand Theft Auto or announcing your latest technology investment when most journalists are wrapped up at CES probably won’t work in your favour.
Our Game Journalist Survey found that being too busy is one of the primary reasons for rejecting (or outright ignoring) a pitch, making it more important than ever to pick your moment.
Of course, a bit like how an invading player can unexpectedly thwart a perfect run in Elden Ring; there are just some things you can’t control. Nowadays, even the most perfectly planned release date can suddenly become less than ideal.
As we wrote in our last blog, blockbuster titles continue to see significant delays due to various development challenges stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic, making it impossible to be certain of avoiding a clash.
Complicating things even further is the rising popularity of the ‘shadow drop’ – when a major title is released immediately without warning as a way to generate excitement – which both Microsoft and Nintendo already executed to great effect in 2023 with Hi-Fi Rush and Metroid Prime: Remastered.
Thankfully, there is much you can do to help prepare for the unexpected, and we’ve put together some of the most vital things to consider in terms of timing when planning your next PR strategy.
When’s the best time to release your game?
We’re only a few months into 2023, and the game delays are already coming thick and fast. This began with Ubisoft’s Skull & Bones being delayed for the sixth time in January, having been stuck in a state of development chaos since it originally started life as an expansion to Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag in 2013.
Respawn Entertainment’s highly-anticipated sequel, Star Wars: Jedi Survivor, followed shortly after being pushed back one month. Then we have the last-generation iterations of Hogwarts Legacy, which have been pushed back (yet again) to May. Of course, we can’t forget Bethesda’s highly-anticipated Starfield, which now won’t be with us until September.
More are almost guaranteed to follow, which means leading developers from smaller studios are often left asking the same question: is it possible for my game to still land media attention if it ends up going head-to-head with a major AAA title?
Thankfully, the answer is yes. According to an analysis by Simon from GameDiscoveryCo, there’s only one time of the year when sales conversion on Steam seems to dip significantly due to major releases.
If you haven’t already guessed, it’s Q4, which is typically when most of the year’s biggest games release to a swath of hype close to the holiday season.
DEALING WITH RELEASE DATE CLASHES
That’s not to say we’d recommend you go up against major games in the release calendar.
In fact, to be safe, we’d recommend you do everything possible to avoid that situation, which means triple checking that your proposed release date is as free from the competition as possible before anything is set in stone.
It’s unlikely you’ll ever be able to avoid the release of AAA titles altogether as there are simply too many, too far apart, but you should look to avoid games in your respective genre.
You wouldn’t want to release a new survival horror game next to the Resident Evil 4 remake, as all the horror fans will likely be wrapped up in that title. Alternatively, it’s not too bad if your horror game is launching alongside something like Pikmin 4 or Street Fighter 6, as those titles have a different fanbase.
In the unfortunate event that you end up going head-to-head with competitors in your own genre, you need to stand out from the crowd. That means taking an honest look at your game and driving home what makes it unique from your rivals. Does it have a visual style not typically associated with your genre?
Does it take inspiration from an unusual source? For instance, Capcom’s highly-acclaimed Okami is regarded as one of the best ‘Zelda-like’ games ever as it took Nintendo’s template and turned it into an interactive watercolour painting themed around Japanese mythology.
Alternatively, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor was held up as one of the games of the year when released back in 2014, even though its gameplay was heavily influenced by other open-world titles at the time, particularly the Batman Arkhamverse.
It garnered so much attention by focusing on its ‘nemesis system’, which made the enemy Uruks adapt and evolve as you fought against them. This addition helped elevate it far beyond its competition, despite being based around a familiar template.
Whatever the unique hook is to your game, it needs to be both genuine and honest, as the people you’ll be pitching to are experts in their genre (or at least they should be if you’re researching and targeting the right people).
They’re more likely to skip past your email if they’ve seen it all before, so don’t be tempted to use the same buzzwords describing games across the market. We’d also recommend listening to Episode 4 of our Games PR Podcast for further tips on getting your game reviewed.
It’s worth noting that some experts believe that there isn’t really a bad time to release your game (well, other than Christmas and during big Steam sales).
Simon from GameDiscoveryCo is one such individual who did an in-depth analysis of all the big titles released in 2022 by taking a ‘Hype score’ based on their Steam followers, wish lists, and some other concrete metrics and then dividing it by the number of first-week Steam reviews.
The results suggested that launching the same week as a big game doesn’t affect its conversion and, instead, that the pre-release interest is the main arbiter of your success, although this doesn’t factor in how it impacts the likelihood of coverage through influencers and journalists.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO START PITCHING FOR VIDEO GAME COVERAGE?
Once you’ve got your perfect press release (and if that’s something you’re still struggling to assemble, we’ve put together a handy guide), you’ll be just about ready to go out to the media. When deciding when it’s best to hit the send button, there are many internal and external factors to consider.
The most significant factor may be your actual game itself. Generally, when sending out a playable build for review, we’d recommend giving reviewers around three weeks to try out your game.
However, if you’re pitching a 200-hour epic RPG spanning multiple galaxies and timelines, it’s likely that three weeks won’t be sufficient against journalists’ other deadlines. Platform has an impact, too; PC and console games will need more time than mobile titles (which may only need two weeks) due to their pick-up and play nature.
If your game needs a final layer of polish close to release you intend to fix with a patch, consider sending it out with less time. After all, it’s better to have more positive reviews post-launch than have complaints about bugs you’ve already addressed on release day.
If your game is shipping the same week as other notable titles, consider providing an additional week to allow extra breathing room. The same applies if you’re aware of significant events (such as Gamescom, GDC, PAX, or E3) when many journalists are likely already preoccupied with previews, interviews, and other content.
We’d also recommend avoiding the week following the event, as journalists will probably be playing catch-up.
You should always aim to send a pitch to a journalist when they’re most likely to read it.
There is much debate around precisely the best time to hit send. Still, most PR professionals agree somewhere between the first thing in the morning, and early in the afternoon on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday is the ideal window.
That’s because on a Monday, you’re getting back into the swing of things after the weekend, and on a Friday (and late afternoons), most people are wrapping up their to-do lists.
That being said, there are a handful of media outlets that have weekend editors who cover content over Saturday and Sunday, who often are in dire need of news to publish as most press releases are sent during weekdays.
Just be conscious that those abroad might not be working when your email lands in their inbox due to different time zones, which may increase the likelihood of your pitch slipping through the cracks.
You can quickly rectify this by scheduling for a specific time, a feature built into Outlook and Gmail. However, be aware that journalists may contact you with queries when you’re not usually checking your inbox.
That neatly brings us to our next point, public holidays. There’s virtually no point in planning any announcements during December (and early January), as most journalists will have lost most of the month to Christmas and New Year Celebrations.
Be especially careful when planning international outreach, as many countries have unique holidays like Thanksgiving and the Chinese New Year, when most offices will close.
Lastly, if you don’t hear anything back after sending your pitch, don’t hesitate to send a follow-up email. It might be that they were simply swamped and just forgot to respond to you, or at the very least, you might get some helpful feedback that you can use to pitch a more appropriate story in the future.
Just be careful not to be too eager; wait at least a week before you start chasing, or you might have the opposite effect to what you intended.
SPEED IS EVERYTHING WHEN IT COMES TO REACTIVE PR (AKA NEWSJACKING)
While careful planning and consideration are no doubt vital, our last point on timing subverts that entirely. By combining quick thinking and a keen eye, it’s possible to ‘hijack’ breaking news stories by putting your spin on them through a concept referred to as reactive PR.
Here are some examples to give you an idea of precisely what this is. We mentioned earlier that Ubisoft recently delayed its troubled pirate adventure game, Skull & Bones, for the sixth time, resulting in many media outlets picking up the news.
This occurred while we worked hard on the media launch of the nautical pirate RPG, Sailing Era. The crossover was too good an opportunity to pass up, so we pushed BiliBili’s pirate game as a fantastic alternative and secured strong coverage in Gamesradar. This substantially boosted the game’s profile during its launch window.
Likewise, when news broke that the highly-acclaimed HBO adaptation of Naughty Dog’s survival-horror classic, The Last of Us, had caused an enormous spike in the sales of the games across PS4 and PS5, this was an opportune moment for our client Layer to provide their thoughts on how lucrative adaptations can be when done correctly.
Our team quickly put together a pitch across the publications that had covered the sales story and landed two different bylines in media outlets, one of which you can read in Beyond Games right here, that showcased Layer’s expertise in the world of licensing.
Both of these wouldn’t have been possible without our team being highly aware of relevant news topics, which can only come through regularly keeping an eye on what’s happening across the industry.
Given the vast number of media outlets out there, this can be a time-consuming task, but there are methods you can use to help make life easier.
These include using free tools such as Google Alerts and Google Trends (or, if you can afford them, more complex ones such as Feedly) to monitor trending stories and keywords relevant to your target audience.
You should also ensure you’re following key media outlets, journalists, and influencers on social media who you think may be interested in your game or specific area of expertise. You can also take this further by setting up relevant hashtags on TweetDeck or investing in a more dedicated monitoring tool like Sprout Social.
Once you have found a breaking news story that you think is relevant to your brand and industry, you need to consider a few key things to execute reactive PR successfully. For one, you need to have a unique angle to pitch to capture the media’s attention, which shouldn’t be too tricky if you leverage your industry knowledge.
Be careful not to take a stance that could be taken the wrong way, especially if the story revolves around sensitive topics. You also need to work quickly and accurately; you might only have a few hours to pitch your angle before the opportunity passes.
WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED ABOUT TIMING AND VIDEO GAME PR?
For one, having the ability to manipulate time would be pretty useful in this field.
Unfortunately, no matter how many hours we sink into Life is Strange, it doesn’t seem like we’ll be gaining any rewinding superpowers anytime soon. Instead, combining industry awareness with careful planning is the key to succeeding where time is concerned.
Suppose you’re about to go out to the media to pitch your latest video game. In that case, you should know exactly what else they’re likely to be covering, whether they’re likely to be working at their desk, and that they’ll have sufficient time to cover what you’re sending them in the timeframe provided.
That’s no easy task, and the market’s instability might mean that even the most carefully planned schedule can fall apart with a few significant game delays (or even a shadow drop).
In those moments, adjusting your timescales and highlighting the most unique aspects of your title can pay dividends.
Plus, delays don’t have to be all bad. As we demonstrated with Sailing Era, these are just one of the many breaking news stories that can be leveraged to achieve coverage through reactive PR.
You just need to have a firm grasp on what’s going on in your industry and be able to identify how you can give it a spin that highlights your expertise.
For more advice on securing PR coverage for your video game, check out our blog on