May 18, 2012 4:15 PM | Cassandra Khaw
While sister site Gamasutra has already touched upon the subtleties of creating a 'kill-it-with-fire!' sort of press release (and, in part, what comprises an enticing press release), we've decided to take a look at the topic yet again in the interest of providing indie developers further insight on what makes a press release 'pop' (and how to avoid having it lost amidst the tidal wave of similar press releases).
I think it goes without saying that an effective press release should be put together with correctly structured sentences and correct spelling. If this isn't your strong point, I can't emphasize enough just how important this is - find someone, anyone, that can do this and get them to read over (and possibly re-write) your press release if you trust them enough.
On a personal level, humour never goes astray for me. If your press release has humour that actually makes me laugh, it increases your chances for the following to happen: continued reading of your press release and an increased chance at taking a look at your game.
Since I have very limited time (I do this on top of a regular full-time job) and have many, many e-mails to wade through, an effective press release shouldn't be too long. Anything longer than 3 decent-sized paragraphs and my interest may start to wane. At the same time, your press release shouldn't be too short either. If it is only consists of a couple of sentences, it doesn't show much effort on the part of the developer / development team and comes across as lazy.
An effective press release is one that makes the reader want to find out more about the game it promotes. It shouldn't be overly long or comprehensive, but it should hit a few key points that lets the reader know why they should care about what it's discussing.
A concise description of the game is a must. In one or two sentences, you should be able to explain what the game is about and why it's special. Include or link to some screenshots that show the game in action. Often they'll say more about the game than a description can.
Bullet-point feature lists are meaningless when they focus on numbers -- I don't care about how many levels your game has because I don't have any idea how long or complex the levels are! Focus on features that define your game and make it stand out.
One important thing you may not consider: list your studio's previous games. This could be the part of your press release that makes the reader think, "Oh, it's from the guys who did THAT game!" If any members of your team have worked on notable games in the past, mention them, too. If you can make a connection with someone the reader knows or something he or she has previously played, you've got their attention.
An effective "indie" press release for me won't look like the standard press release. Skip the formatting and keep it short and timely. Tons of bold, italics, stock quotes, and font sizes are off-putting. I shouldn't have to scroll down to see everything. Lastly, email every website you want to be on at the same time, or wait to see if I pick it up from another site. No one wants to be the late guy to the party.
Give me the hook first, without using inflated adjectives. Rather than telling me your game is innovative, explain how and what you innovate. Similarly, if your game is imitative, be blatant about it. Answer what every gamer wants to know in the first paragraph, too: "I am making an X type of game on Y platforms that does Z amazingly well (releasing on date A for $B)."
Follow this up with how or why the mechanics, graphics, sound, etc. are unique or amazing. Feel free to compare your game to well-known games and explain how they compare. Just be honest. Have some new gamers try your creation. See how and what they compare it to and what the feel are its redeeming qualities.
Accompany this with something to look at-- an effective trailer on YouTube or Vimeo or some photos-- and an easily navigable, informative website. If you are not ready to announce all release details, let me know in the email that these are not available until the next announcement to avoid needless follow-up. However, let me know who is available for interview and have someone monitoring the email account rather vigilantly so I can complete the story.
I'm sure everyone else on the team has provided more than enough good material for how to write a great press release, so I wanted to focus on the supplementary text that accompanies the press release when you email it out, and gives the member of the press the impression that you haven't just fired out a bulk PR to everyone under the sun.
Start the email by introducing yourself (or asking how the reader is if you already know them). Then *very* briefly explain what the press release is about, and why they should be interested in reading it. Finally, sum up key points of the PR to the reader - for example, the platforms your game is coming to, whether it's going to be on specific distribution channels, games you've worked on before, and other such notable points.
Don't forget to tell the press person that they can contact you if they want any more information - it's a small point, but it can sometimes cause the reader to think "actually yeah, I would like to know more." And of course, make sure your writing is friendly and well-written - get it spell checked and grammar checked before you hit send!
Konstantinos Dimopoulos (Gnome)
I know it will sound almost childish, but the very first thing that will catch my eye and thus make for something I'll be inclined to read will be a nice, colorful picture somewhere at the beginning of the press release. If said picture is indicative of the game, platform or service then, well, all the better.
Mind you, having the press-release addressed to myself or the place I'm writing for is pretty mandatory too, as is making sure it's relevant to what I'm usually writing about. Obviously, anything that is either horribly written and/or spammy will get instantly deleted.
Other than that, do make sure you keep your press releases brief and informative and avoid too much teasing. Try to stick to the facts and make sure they are obvious at a glance, while avoiding the standard and rather tiring marketing lingo.
Now, for a couple of handy tips:
1)Try to personalize your press release as much as possible. An email that addresses me by name and shows that has a vague idea of why I should be interested is bound to have my full attention. 2) Try and find out who to actually contact. Not everyone will be interested in your hardcore RPG and contacting IndieGames in order to promote FIFA 13 would be rather silly. To give you an example, an adventure developer would fare much better by contacting either me or Cassandra when trying to get us to write about their new project.
Address your press release to the right people. Seriously. It's a teeny, tiny thing but it can make all the difference in the world. I remember feeling somewhat indignant when a company wrote in a while back. Instead of using a generic salutation, they had the e-mail addressed to a bigger outlet. Now, I totally get the fact you want to hit everyone and everything (Excuse the innuendo!) with your press release but it still feels somewhat disrespectful to make mistakes like this, innocent or not. If you want me to take twenty minutes of my day to write about your trailer, shouldn't you take a few minutes to sculpt your press release?
I'm kinda enamored of personalized press releases but they're not really a necessity. There are only so many developers who are into making quirky adventure games, after all. I'm mostly interested in things that tell the story in a brief, concise fashion. What is your game? What are the key functions? Why does it work? If you can deliver all this with a touch of humor, it'd be a huge bonus. However, I'm more than willing to trade a keen sense of humor in favor of decent screenshots and gameplay videos. As for spelling and grammatical accuracy, I'm actually pretty relaxed about those. English is my third language so I can empathize when mistakes happen. What is important is the game itself. If you've made something interesting and can deliver the idea under three minutes, I'll be largely sold.
Do you have a question that you'd like the IndieGames editors to tackle? Email EIC John Polson at johnpolsonfl at gmail dot com. Be sure to check out last month's "effective trailer" discussion, too! (image source)