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How to make the press notice your indie game Exclusive
How to make the press notice your indie game
September 20, 2012 | By Eric Caoili

For many of us, the biggest challenge in making a game has nothing at all to do with actually making a game, and everything to do with promoting it. You could have a real breakout hit on your hands, but if you can't get anyone to play it, how will anybody know?

Vlambeer's Rami Ismail has plenty of experience making indie games (Super Crate Box, Radical Fishing) and promoting them, even creating marketing tools specifically geared toward independent developers, like an automatic press kit generator.

While taking advantage of available tools and researching guides for marketing games are key, Ismail believes there are also four essential attributes and requirements you should have when promoting your indie titles.

1. Have some guts

"Reaching out to press with your passion project or latest creation can be scary, but the press, contrary to what a lot of developers seem to think, is not your enemy," says Ismail.

He argues that the game enthusiast press is really the closest thing to developers in terms of goals, because both groups want to bring great games to the world. While developers strive to create great games, journalists aim to help those projects reach a larger audience.

That's why you shouldn't be afraid to contact the press about your game, or follow up with them every now and then. If you don't get a reply, don't take it personally, as journalists tend to get dozens of emails about game releases and news tips every day.

2. Employ common sense

When drafting your emails to journalists, what you should and shouldn't include in your messages are self-evident for the most part, provided that you give them a little thought.

For example, simply including your formal press release as an attached PDF won't do the trick; you want to make sure it's as accessible as possible, so it's best to also include it as plain text in the email.

And It's not the best idea to clog journalists' inboxes by including huge asset files either. Instead, attach smaller images, offer links to files you've uploaded to your own server or a file hosting service, and/or direct them to your press kit.

Ismail adds, "Do you clearly indicate that it's a press release by making the subject to your email simply be 'Press Release'? Of course not, because they get dozens of those -- instead, spend time coming up with a subject that summarizes your whole e-mail in a nice, short line."

3. Empathize with the press

"A lot of common pitfalls for indie developers are easily avoided if you consider the way the press works," says Ismail. "They have a sheer endless amount of news to pick from, an extremely limited amount of time to sort out what is interesting, and even less space to actually report the good news."

Just like when designing a game meant to have immediate appeal to a broad audience, you want to make it as easy as possible for journalists to discover what's great or unique about your project, and to find what they need to write about it quick.

Keep that in mind when writing your emails and press releases to ensure your game stands out from the dozens of other titles competing for attention. And to keep the interest of journalists looking for more details about your project, create an online press kit that offers all the assets and studio/game information that can help them flesh out their articles.

4. Take your time, do it right

After you've labored for months or even years to create your game, polishing it as much as possible, it doesn't make sense to rush your marketing with slapdash efforts that don't do your work justice.

Ismail points out, "It takes time to write the perfect subject line to your e-mail. It takes time to write a great press release. It takes time to create a press kit. ... It takes time to create that one screenshot that perfectly conveys your game."

For Vlambeer's upcoming dogfighting game Luftrausers, for example, the team spent hours trying to come up with the perfect screenshots. In the end, the group decided that because the game is all about motion and movement, it should focus on presenting animated GIFs instead.

"It takes time, but spending that time on marketing will make sure that beautiful thing you're working on gets the attention it deserves when it launches," says the developer.

A shift in mentality

Guts, common sense, empathy, and time are all you need to promote a game (provided you've got a great game on your hands), though Ismail adds that one of the biggest improvements to an indie studio's life can come from a shift in mentality.

"As an indie developer, there's no reason to be scared of anything," he explains. "There's no reason to be scared of press, no reason to be scared of pitches, and no reason to be scared of making games. You can send a press release. You can speak at events. You can organize a meetup. You can create a bundle."

Though it's alright to have doubts, you should realize, "You've made it to the point where you're making games as a serious part of your life. So take a deep breath, straighten your back, figure things out, and do it."

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Odira Ononye
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Now this is something I could relate to.

Sean Hogan
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Ah, really relating to this right now. It's a weird feeling to be doing all of it, but you get used to it after a while. Just need to be persistent and kind.

I am curious as to the best way to build a fan base...indiedb and press releases help, but only a little it seems. Any advice, or do you basically have to ship first?

Thomas Happ
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It seems to work just finding them on twitter or in forums and talking with them. They have the same interests and everything, so it works out.

Jeremy Alessi
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A Facebook page and Twitter account go a long way toward helping to build and manage a fan base. Also, if you're making mobile apps the comment/fix/update cycle can help a lot. It's a good feeling when you can turn a negative review around.

Still, at the end of the day it's all about the game. If it's not amongst the top 10% of games either in terms of direction or magnitude then it probably won't get any press. Luckily, you can still make a living without them.

Ron Dippold
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Personalize those messages. Each site has a different 'personality' and obvious shotgun press releases are not very exciting - especially those full of PR-speak.

tony oakden
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On a related subject it would be good to have an article on the best way to set up successful facebook and twitter accounts for a title and more importantly how to get people to subscribe to them and keep coming back. That's something I've never been able to crack. building a fan base seems like a very difficult thing to do.

Justin Sawchuk
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Yeah if your game is not one of the best it might as well be one of the worsts. You dont get any prizes for second place.

Marvin Hawkins
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That last piece of advice is the most powerful ting I've read today. It's tough to remember to operate like that sometimes. Thanks for the reminder. No fear baby. Lets do it!

Wasin Thonkaew
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Thanks for great post. It backs me up, and yeah no fear!

Paul Laroquod
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In the current climate, the best way to make the press notice your indie game is for it to do something intriguing that no other game has done before. I don't think there are really any substitutes for that; if you have it I figure you could tell one gaming enthusiast and that person would tell everyone they know and it would spread. If you don't have something truly new, you could write all the press releases in the world and personally tell 1000 people about your game in a very efficient, communicative way, and a month later, still only about 1000 people would know about it.