As Wired pointed out a few days ago, we in the gaming industry have a bit of a problem with our vaporware. While there are a number of reasons for announcing early–ranging from building hype to selling preorders to reassuring skittish investors–the net effect of all these “announcements” followed by very little news is that the gaming press has grown very skeptical of a mere product announcement, unless you happen to be a god-king of the industry like Rockstar or Epic. One of the first questions clients ask us is, “When should we announce?”

The answer is simple and hard, like a Zen koan: “When you have something to show.”

What we’ve found in the past couple years is that media simply aren’t all that interested in a press release saying, “Hey! We have a game that’s coming out soon!” with nothing else. This is especially true in the mobile and social spaces, where the barrier to entry is much lower and writers are skeptical that a game exists until they’re actually playing a build on their device of choice.

In previous years, “something to show” meant screenshots or concept art, and those can still help, especially if they’re visually impressive (without being so visually impressive it’s obvious they’ve been rendered or touched up) or show something very cool in action. However, more and more sites have figured out that early screenshots may not be representative of final gameplay. While still important to show the game exists, the interest in screenshots is also slowing down as sites turn to video and livestreaming for their content, and awareness of the powers of Photoshop continues percolating into the minds of core gamers.

The ideal “something to show” is a video, as most publications are interested in hosting or linking to video content nowadays. A story trailer still generates a lot of interest, but a trailer for a new game from an unknown team may engender skepticism or not get as much coverage. The bar for “This is cool, I must talk about it” is much higher than it would be for one of the AAA publishers, but an intriguing or interesting story trailer can generate a lot of viral traffic.

The Holy Grail is a gameplay video or, at least, a video showing extensive and good-looking gameplay footage. This shows off the quality of your writing and your game right away, proves your game exists, and gives you (or your enterprising PR team) something to talk about when reaching out to sites. A combination of assets such as concept art, a gameplay teaser, and an FAQ where it’s clear you’ve given considerable thought to the game can also be quite effective. An Even-Holier Grail would be to offer a hands-off or playable demo of your game to select media, allowing them to capture their own footage.

One thing we’ve been moving our clients towards is a shorter and more focused campaign that kicks off when the game is in a playable state. This does not necessarily mean completely finished; it could be a few levels that are good enough to get the idea across or a vertical slice of gameplay. Announcing the game exists, it’s coming out, and “oh, by the way, we have a preview build available and you can get your hands on it right now” shows that you are serious, that the game exists, and if writers are intrigued,  they don’t have to wait months or years to check it out. That builds your credibility with a skeptical press and with skeptical players.

This also means the announcement and PR campaign always has something going on, since it kicks off relatively close to launch and you, presumably, can start letting people play, getting screenshots and videos out, and otherwise keep the momentum going. The absolute worst thing to do is announce for the sake of announcing, get people interested, then go dark or have nothing to talk about for months or years.

Announcing too soon or leaving a long period of time between announcements or releases is effectively wiping the slate clean (read about this a bit more in Tom’s blog post about the Hard Reset campaign). Writers have a lot of games on their mind and in their inbox, so vanishing for a significant period of time means they have to remember who you are, which is inviting them to delete the email. Making sure you always have something cool and meaty to talk about keeps you at the top of their minds and gets your game more coverage.

TL;DR Tips

  • Announce when you have something to show
  • Screenshots and concept art = meh
  • Story/Art trailer = okay
  • Gameplay trailer = ideal
  • Showing your game exists helps your credibility with your players and the writers you will be targeting
  • Shorter campaigns with a lot of activity can pay off more than longer campaigns with a lot of dead time

You could also just hire Evolve PR to work with you… we’ll think about this stuff so you don’t have to!

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