Insider Insight: Low-Cost PR Practices for Indie Mobile Game Developers

indie game PR

An indie dev can have the best game in the world, but no one is going to download the game if they don’t know about it. Discoverability in the app stores is already near-impossible and continues to get worse as more mobile games appear. The days of post-and-pray (for a download) are over.

One great way to promote a mobile game in today’s market is to hire a public relations firm to manage strategic planning and branding for a game launch. The services of most well-known PR outfits require some serious cash. So, what should devs do when they create a killer game but don’t have the budget to hire someone for the mobile game PR legwork? Here are a few suggestions from PR professionals themselves:

Devs can do mobile game PR, too

“It’s fine to hire someone if you can afford it and don’t want to do it yourself, but lack of budget shouldn’t stand in the way of promoting,” says PR vet Emily Morganti.

…lack of budget shouldn’t stand in the way of promoting.

For an indie game, PR mainly means finding press to write about the game around launch time. To do this, devs should create a media list of target journalists to reach out to. And don’t feel shy about reaching out. In fact, Morganti says that many members of the press love interacting with developers directly, rather than through a PR person. Outlets like TouchArcade, Pocket Gamer and Slide to Play are always looking for that next big indie hit.

Make it personal

Pitching a journalist should be personal. Take the time to look up other stories the journalist has written or check Twitter or Facebook to see what they’re interested in, suggests Aaron Watkins of PR firm Appency. Use that information to develop the initial pitch, which should show the journalist how the game aligns with their interests.

“A generic promotional message blasted to 500 email addresses downloaded off the Internet is more than obvious, and is the fastest way to a reporter’s email trash bin,” Watkins warns.

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Another way to get in front of a reporter is to look at Help a Reporter Out (HARO). The website is designed to connect journalists with sources. Devs should approach these reporters as a helpful source rather than someone trying to push a game. These are known in the PR industry as relationship-building opportunities. While the conversation may not result in coverage immediately, it can pay off when it’s time for the journalist’s next story.

Focus PR efforts before launch day

People love to download and try cool games when they read about them, so having articles about the game on the day it launches is key to early download success.

Once devs have identified the journalists they want to work with, they can send early review copies to reporters via iOS promo codes or Android packages. Devs should ask journalists to honor an embargo for launch day, which means all the reviews these media outlets write will go live on the same day that people can purchase or download the game. Arrange launch day reviews ahead of time, as there’s only a short window of time after launch before the game becomes old news.

“It’s better to hold off on releasing a game that’s finished to give yourself time to reach out to press than skimping on pre-launch PR,” Morganti adds.

Maximize in-person time at conferences and expos

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Image via Chartboost

When attending professional game conferences like GDC, E3, and PAX, devs should have a beta build of the new game to share with journalists. Even if the game isn’t ready to launch, getting hands-on time with journalists is much easier in person. Ask for the press list from the show ahead of time or watch Twitter to see which journalists are attending and reach out early to set up meetings to demo the game in real time or to talk through the game if shared ahead of time​.

Beware of scammers

Unfortunately, more people are posing as journalists and—more recently—as YouTubers to scam free download keys from indie developers. Don’t send promo codes or preview versions to people just because they ask.

If someone uses a generic Gmail or Yahoo address or anything that doesn’t match the publication they claim to represent, be sure to ask for verification (like writing back from an official email address). If they’re legitimate, they won’t mind. If they can’t verify their status, make a note in the press list and consider setting up a filter to thwart a scam in the future.

Never pay for review coverage—only scammer sites will ask devs to pay them in exchange for a good review. While building up great reviews this way is tempting, for a site to promise anything in exchange for money is unethical.