Know your game:
Look at the type of game you’re making, and adapt your PR plan to it. If you’re making a story-based game such as To The Moon or Gone Home you might not want to have a completely open development process as that could spoil the ending to the players before they’ve even tried the game out. Keeping things secret has other advantages as well - you get to plan when and how to release information about your game and generally gives you more control over the information flow between your game company and the public.
However, if you’re developing something with emphasis on replayability, you might want to make the development process open as to encourage word of mouth-spread from your fans while the game is still in development. Chucklefish for instance, has had a very open development process where they’ve updated their work on their game Starbound every single day. Once the game launches on Steam, they’ll already have an army of fans that will be playing it on day one. Vlambeer, the awesome peeps behind Nuclear Throne, livestream development of the game a couple of days a week.
Regardless if you choose to keep your development process open or secret, you should always do your best to facilitate communication between your fans. For example, setting up a forum for your fans to meet and talk is a good place to start. If you’re using digital distribution like Steam or Desura, word of mouth between your fans will be your biggest asset, so be sure to do everything you can to empower this as much as possible.
Have a PR-plan:
When it comes to communicating with the press it’s really important to be clear and concise in what you want to get out there. You should also know in what order you want the information to go out in. A big mistake is to just push out information about your game and hope it’ll go viral. You might want to start off by releasing basic information about your core gameplay features and what makes your game unique, coupled with some concept art and early screenshots. Then as the game draws closer to completion, send out bigger and bigger information such as gameplay videos and livestreams.
Remember that it’s important to always have leverage, especially for the big sites. Have something exciting and exclusive to show them! This can include things such as previously unseen game footage, a new trailer, or a developer diary explaining one of your core gameplay features. It’s always easier to land an article with a bigger site if you have something unique that no other site has posted about yet. Instead of just throwing up your new trailer on Youtube, send it to a bigger gaming press site and give them exclusivity for 48 hours, then upload the video on your own channel once the exclusivity has ran out.
That being said, never underestimate small gaming media sites as an indie company. A big site with 1m DAU might only have 1% that are your target audience, while a small site niched towards indie games with 10k DAU might have 50% that are your target audience. Make friends with indie journalists, you'll have a lot in common with them!
Write good press releases! Keep in mind that you’re an indie company, and use that to your advantage. Don’t be afraid to be informal, people who work in the press are drowned in long, corporate-sounding press releases – make your press release stand out. If you’re a small company that’s releasing your first game, don’t start your press release with “A stunning masterpiece is being released from a renown game studio” Instead, get to the point fast and don’t waste your reader’s time. Well-known companies such as Blizzard can write as long and cool press releases as they want and they can always be sure that the media will read every single word of their text – you can’t. Have the first sentence of your press release provide a concise summary of what you want to get across (a TL;DR version, if you may), and provide further info later in later paragraphs. Stay away from unnecessary buzzwords and keep it short and relevant. It's more important to let your enthusiasm about your game shine through than to sound as cool and as academic as possible.
You know that excitement when you had just got a new video game for Christmas and you were describing it to your friends in elementary school the first day after the holiday break? Channel that feeling and enthusiasm when describing your game to video game journalists, and you'll be golden.
Store page optimization
When it comes to releasing your game (whether it is Steam or any other platform), make sure to write a very, very good store page description. It’s the first thing players will see and your best way of convincing players to buy your game. Sadly, a lot of companies (not only indie ones!) tend to overlook this. Many companies spend years developing their games and only 15 minutes writing the store page description, when the game’s description may affect the sales of the game more than any feature in it. Similar rules to store page descriptions apply as when writing a press release – keep it concise, informative and without unnecessary fluff. Do NOT use your store page description to describe your game content! Many game developers line up the amount of levels, weapons, enemy types, power-ups, etc. This might sound cool to you as a developer, but a new player who knows nothing about your game won’t be impressed with how many levels there are in your game, as they have absolutely no idea what a level in your game contains, or how long it takes to complete it.
Instead, base your game description on what you DO in the game. “Start off as a small spaceship, gain cash from shooting down enemy ships and use it to upgrade and customize your ship’s hull & weapons! describes what you DO in a game much better than “10 campaign maps, 8 weapons, 12 ship upgrades, 1 boss and 14 hours of gameplay!”. It doesn’t matter to a player how many hours of gameplay your game has if they don’t understand what the gameplay consists of.
When it comes to screenshots, plan in a couple of days in one of your sprints and make sure the screenshots are top-notch. Ask your artist co-workers with a good eye for aesthetics to help you, and make sure the screenshots accurately describe gameplay. There are so many games on Steam these days that have five screenshots showing only environment shots, or special effects, which says nothing about what you actually do in your game. Make sure your game description describes you gameplay in a couple of words, and make sure your screenshots describe your gameplay in a couple of pictures. For example, Sanctum 2 is an FPS/Tower Defense hybrid game, we have 2 pictures showing the TD aspect of the game, 1 picture showing the FPS aspect of the game, one picture showing the fact that you can customize your own loadout of weapons, towers and perks, and one environment shot. Capturing the essence of your game in a couple of screenshots can help drive up sales immensely.
If you have an existing community, (be it before or after release), make sure to give your most dedicated players a lot of love. In the fast-moving world of PR, cool graphs and big sales numbers, it is easy to prioritize reaching out to thousands of potential new players instead of talking to dozens of fans of your game that have already bought and paid for it. However, it’s very important not to forget already existing fans – talking to them might not make you sell units directly, but having a good dialogue with them can earn you a dozen very, very dedicated evangelists that will help spread your game across other game communities you might not reach very easily yourself, such as other online forums, gaming conventions, and general word of mouth. People who post a lot on your game’s forums, whether it’s the Steam forums or your own company’s forums also tend to be very sociable players that like to discuss games wherever they go. These players are very valuable, do not overlook them.