Bainespal asked me about promoting an IF game via a press release. I have some PR experience in relation to the music I produce, but putting out a press release for a video game was a first for me when I did it for Leadlight, and I found it to be a positive experience that worked to attract attention to the game. So I will share in this topic some information about press releases in general, and some advice I hope will help anyone who might be interested in trying to promote their interactive fiction game this way.
Putting out a press release will usually cost you a little bit of money and be a one-time event for an IF game (‘Here’s my game!’ - as opposed to a series of press releases building hype, announcing the game and then giving updates on it - that’s more the style of million unit-shifting games for consoles) - therefore it’s not something you should do until your game is extremely polished. In the world of IF, this might mean the game has gone through a revision release or two first. Your game has to be ready to stand up to any publicity received as a result of the press release, and to make a good impression. You don’t want any showstopping bugs in the game at the time that it attracts a lot of attention; au contraire, you want zero bugs, or close to zero. So don’t be impatient. After you’ve finished your game, there’s no immediate rush to publicise it widely. Wait till you are completely ready.
In general, gaming media sites collect press releases for new games by a couple of methods:
1. By scanning press release aggregator websites and lists / RSS feeds
2. By having press releases sent directly to them.
The staff at each site scan incoming press releases and pick out the ones they think are likely to be of interest to the audience for their site/magazine. Sometimes they will reproduce press releases verbatim, sometimes they will make a few personal tweaks (to make it more of a story rather than a straight press release). If the game is big, or appeals particularly to someone on the staff, someone might review or write about the game.
I wrote my own press release for Leadlight after studying the style and manner of a lot of other PRs. If you make IF, you probably have some of the writerly about you, and therefore writing your own release after studying others is likely to be a good idea. There are services which will write your release for you as well as distribute it, but given how nichey IF is to begin with, and how niche your particular game may seem to yourself on top of that, it may be difficult for third parties to succinctly capture what it is that you imagine is appealing (and to whom) about the game. Even though (or because) the release is not a particularly long document, the exact wording is important. You want to make sure it will catch the attention of the kind of person you think falls into the game’s audience. An accurate and engaging headline is also important, as the headline can determine whether website staff browsing your PR on an aggregator read more of it or skip over it.
And of course, having others write your release can add to the expense.
So once you have a press release, how do you get it out there? You use one of the press release distribution services that exist.
Most press release distribution services cost money to use. What you are paying for in these cases is the particular service’s ability to distribute your release to all of their gaming media contacts, to other aggregators and to RSS feeds.
This may prompt the question - could you do these things yourself? Unless you already work in PR and/or have extensive contacts, the answer is mostly, ‘No, it’s not worth it’. The time and effort of trying to replicate what a PR service does will cost you way more (in time/money, stress, work and learning - whatever ways you want to measure it) than what you will pay to a PR service in dollars, assuming you were in any position to assemble particular gaming media contacts in the first place.
This doesn’t mean you can’t supplement a service’s release of your PR by making sure you send it yourself to any sites you personally know or use where you think people potentially interested in your game may hang out. In fact this is a good idea, because it’s often smaller or more niche sites which are missed by the services (or because folks at such sites may not scan PR aggregators as aggressively or consistently). The thing about using a distribution service is that it is covering you for a wide range of sites, including lots of medium and large scale ones, and of course a ton you would never have been aware of yourself without sitting around googling and note-taking for months on end.
How can you tell what the reach of any particular distribution service is like?.. This is a bit of a black area, because each service keeps its full contact list close to its chest. The major release services are reputable (blitzkriegy) and accordingly expensive to use. As such, they are probably overkill for most IF games.
Some smaller PR services are run by indie game developers who have amassed their own contact list over time. These services can be pretty good for IF purposes, because they can include a more diverse range of indie sites, and of course they’re cheaper. But the catch is, you can’t tell how good a smaller service is except by word of mouth, or until you try it, and then use Google to see all the places your PR showed up. You can also just ask people who run such services how they see their own service. They should have a decent idea of the nature of their own reach, or what they think the suitability of your game may be to their service. (Note - folks who don’t know anything about IF may not be able to make any kind of estimation in this area, but part of my motivation in writing this topic you’re reading is my sense that basically, potential interest in IF is currently underestimated.)… and be able to talk about it without being cagey.
Are there any free press release distribution services? One free option which is pretty good is UK-based GamesPress (note that their reach is international, not just the UK). They post submitted press releases which can then be browsed on their site or received via e-mail digests by folks in the trade. They will also allow you to have screenshots or artwork accompany the release, though there are size/number restrictions for non-premium users, restrictions of a kind that will hardly bother IF authors. The catch here is that just writing GamesPress and saying ‘I’m Joe Duder and I have a game to publicise,’ does not qualify you to register in their eyes. You need to show you are ‘in the trade’. If you’re involved in games journalism, they will want to see your site. If you’re a developer, which you are, they will ask for your developer (company) name and a website for your company or game (probably with its own domain).
So if you have access to web space, can present your game on it in some fashion, and are prepared to present your game under the auspices of a developer entity (come up with a good name for your army-of-you development body), you can make free use of GamesPress’s PR service. It’s not as reachy as targeted services but it’s infinitely better than a poke in the eye, and you can go on using it in future.
Coming up are a bunch of links to gaming-only PR distribution services I know of. Note that it’s possible to use more general PR distribution businesses who also work in areas other than gaming, but I have no personal experience of them. You can google around to seek out others’ experiences with these and other services. Indie developers often write about their experiences in their development blogs.
softpressrelease.com/services/games.php (commercial, very expensive - probably overkill for IF)
gamerelease.net/ (indie, paid - a very good service - even if you don’t use them for a release, a good place to read other press releases)
mitorahgames.com/Submit-Game … lease.html (indie, paid - have a good reputation generally, unsure of their contact suitability re: IF)
games-pr.com/ (looks to be pretty new, and currently free - I don’t know anything about them at all)
prmac.com/ (paid, mac-only (which therefore includes all modern IF) - very cheap way to ensure your release goes before the eyes of tons of Mac sites.)
gamespress.com/ (well-established free service, though to use it you must first demonstrate that you are ‘trade’)
While a press release is a form of advertising, it’s worth remembering that even when you pay to release one, that – unlike with television or magazine or web ads, for instance – there is no guaranteeing that your release will appear on such-and-such a site, or even A site – though it’s also extraordinarily unlikely that your release would show up nowhere, unless you wrote it abysmally!.. but the point is, press releases are vetted by gaming press, who then reproduce, personalise or follow up any they are interested in. A release needs to be both engaging and accurate so that it (a) will speak to target audiences for the game and (b) get folks who scan through tons of press releases every day on side, to the extent that that is controllable.
So if you think your new IF game has sufficient polish, quality and appeal that it could be enjoyed by a wider audience than word-of-mouth is going to get you, and you would like to promote it, it’s worth considering doing a press release, as it will definitely improve your reach. The mantra on many indie game development forums is - ‘if you do nothing else, do a press release’.
With IF’s relative nicheness, you would expect your release to appear on fewer gaming sites than if it were for an indie action game, etc., but that’s still a ton more sites than zero. And within that range, the better the quality of the press release itself is, which is entirely a function of how well it is written, the further its reach can be.