What can a PR do for your indie game?

Welcome everyone to JALEO’s blog! We are a brand new agency that offers PR services, consultancy and content creation, specialized in independent video games, and we are willing to make a buzz! We feel lucky to work with very talented studios and creators to help them to make known their fantastic projects. JALEO is a “we” because it has an extensive network of skilled collaborators in a wide array of areas, but the visible face (and the guy who signs the emails) is me: journalist, writer and musician in my spare time and a few more things that you will find here if you’re curious.

From time to time we will talk here about the games in our catalogue as well as about topics of interest to the indie scene, but above all we want this blog to be a repository of useful resources not only for our clients but for indie devs in general. We will explain some work methods and useful communication ideas; we will try to give journalists, bloggers and other specialists a full picture of how indies work, but also to make indies understand how the communicators of this industry think. We will try generally to offer useful and interesting information for professionals as well as fans willing to know more about the innards of games development and promotion. That’s why in this inaugural post I want to answer a question I’ve been asked many times – a question with an answer just key for any indie developer: what exactly is PR work for?

We will talk here about the games in our catalogue want this blog to be a repository of useful resources not only for our clients but for indie devs in general

It’s been a while since I noticed that most indie studios doesn’t have any communication specialists in the team, and it’s very common that they don’t give a prominent place to make his game known… until release day arrives and they too often realize that their game just gets swamped under the ton of games that get published on a daily basis. Maybe you can’t afford an in-house PR and hiring a third-party firm such as JALEO or any other – obviously we are not the only agency out there! – would suppose an economical effort for your company. It’s evident that no indie can compete against those huge triple A games in marketing. But in such a competitive environment as games are, if you want to have a future at all as a dev making a good game is not enough: you have to sell it, you need to make it known.

Ignoring this side of business tends to lead to failure. Many people learn from their first mistakes, but sadly not everyone gets a second chance. This said, there is another point that you should really, really understand: if someone promises that just by hiring him or her as PR you will increase dramatically your sales, just leg it. That’s bullshit. No one, absolutely no one can guarantee an increase in sales just by putting you on the press or in a blog or shooting a fancy video of you. Maybe in the past getting featured on press could improve your sales, but that’s not how it works today – and it’s also very difficult to compete for attention and space against all the huge games this industry releases every single month.

There are other things you can do that generate direct sales: a banner during Steam Sales is usually a good inversion, for instance – but that’s not exactly PR (even though your specialist can help you to decide how to do that best). Then again, why the hell is a PR important if he can’t promise you better sales? Here’s the key: you should remember that PR stands for Public Relations, not for Salesman. A PR should be able to understand the product he’s working for (in this case, your game), identify his strenghts, build an appealing speech around them and find the best possible way to make it known. Can this “speech”, a review or feature in a magazine make you sell more? It might, it might not – but even if it does in the short term with a one-off spike, there’s no reliable way to quantify its effect in the mid and long term. That’s why I say that a serious profesional shouldn’t promise something that he can’t take credit for – even if he or she actually achieves it at some point!

A PR should be able to identify his strenghts, build an appealing speech around them and find the best possible way to make it known

But don’t get me wrong, of course a good “speech” is useful: it creates a positive buzz around your game that can tip the scales when a potential user is considering if spending his money or not. Let’s suppose you put a banner on Steam front page, someone clicks on it and goes to your store page. That user is just two or three clicks away from buying your game. Maybe the teaser grabs his attention, maybe he loves the genre – anyway, he starts having a look around to decide if he is interested or not… but you haven’t promoted it in any way. He googles it – nothing. No web site, no talk in social media, no user reviews. It’s not on Metacritic or Giantbomb either. You don’t need to be a PR specialist to know what happens then: unless he really, really loved the game in the first place, he will suspect there’s something fishy and he won’t buy it.

However, if you did a good PR job, even the name of the game in the Steam store might ring a bell. He will be sure he had read about it somewhere and look for it. Even if it doesn’t, when your potential buyer googles the name he will find some results – some positive previews and reviews in many websites in different languages. “OK”, he will think, “this looks right. I love the genre and the features of this game look fun enough. This reviewer liked it and I tend to agree with him…”. Then he goes to Youtube, looks for the game and finds some gameplays. He thinks that the visuals are pretty and he definitely likes the gameplay. He might buy it, he might not, he might just put the game on his wishlist and wait for Steam sales… but at least he will have enough information to make a decision!

That’s what your PR specialist is for – to help you create a buzz which can potentially tip the scales and convince potential users. A good PR needs to understand what you want to achieve with your game, what users enjoy and what works for communicators (press, youtubers, streamers, etc.) in terms of audience – and then he has to be able to connect with all of them, in innovative and funny ways if possible. A good PR specialist not only needs to know a lot about games – he has to know a lot about your game. You can’t communicate a shooter and a platformer for children with the same attitude. A good PR also has to know very well this industry to be able to adapt the message in form and content: traditional media are not the only ones out there – just sending a press release from time to time doesn’t work anymore. Oh, and a good PR definitely can help you to better understand your audience, to decide the best release window… but that’s a topic for another day!

A good PR specialist not only needs to know a lot about games – he has to know a lot about your game

Do you really need to hire an specialist for that? Weeell, that depends. If you or someone from your studio are very good at all this, go ahead! But you have to know that it is a task that takes a lot of time, resources and energy. In my experience, in the end most developers find that they prefer to leave that to others and focus on what they really love: making games. Besides, for obvious reason a specialist has more experience, contacts and ability than an indie developer for this job (at least in theory!), so he should be more effective and get better results. If a little company just don’t have the means to hire an in-house PR guy, well, that’s another thing – not many start ups have the resources to that… But that’s where JALEO steps in – we can offer a service tailored for the means and necessities of any indie studio, no matter how little it is.

The recipe for success has many ingredients: it takes a good game, a funny and honest communication, a reasonable price… but there is as well a stroke of luck, a whim of the users’ collective mind that no one can explain. Let’s be honest – we all can think of great games that didn’t sell and money makers that are total craps. In the end no one knows how to guarantee a hit unless you invest tons of money (and sometimes not even that!). There’s only two things you can do: making the best game possible and make it as known as you can. From there, it is on the unpredictable and unruly hands of the audience. Anything can happen – but it’s always easier to sail with favorable winds!



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