The Minimalist Game PR Email: A GIF, A Link, & A Steam Key

Not everyone can hire a PR person, especially indie game devs often working as a one-person-team. That said, I often get a lot of…rough emails from devs.  As an example, here’s a barely edited sample directly from my inbox:

A game PR email containing nothing more than

The obvious issue here is…I know nothing about the game. Sure, I could click that link, but it’s just as easy to click the ‘archive message’ button, and with 50+ emails in my box, that’s probably my first reflex nine times out of ten if you don’t make an impression. I wish I could say this is rare, but I get a lot of these. A few very basic PR services even send out emails that are basically this with better formatting.

And I get it! Almost certainly you’re a gamedev first and a PR person second. Or third. Fifth. Sixteenth. That’s fine! But even solo or hobby game devs still need to do a little homemade PR too.  Let’s take a look at creating a Minimum Viable Product for game PR that gets people to actually look at your game even if we can’t pay someone to just do it for us.

Game PR as a Minimum Viable Product

You’ve probably heard of Minimum Viable Products before; it’s all about making the simplest, easiest, cheapest thing that (you think) will actually solve your/your client’s problem. And hey, there’s something to be said about minimalism in general for PR—I’m no big YouTuber, and even I get 10+ emails a day most days. I’m sure major review sites are getting many, many times more than that. You’re going to need to assume anyone looking at your email is getting dozens of similar pitches.

Here’s what helps me the most, as a gaming YouTuber with far, far more emails than time:

  • A GIF of the game
  • A link to the Steam/itch.io/etc page
  • A review key to actually play the game right now

That’s it. You can and probably should give me a little text snippet describing the game, but really, a good GIF can really sell that on it’s own. Show me just enough of the game to give me a sense of the gameplay, the setting, the mood. Something your target audience will see and think “yep, I want that!”.

You can use a YouTube video instead if you like, especially if music/sound is critical to your game; when I say “GIF” I mean something short, small, and punchy. Even if it’s a video, think Vine, not RedLetterMedia.

GIFs are Magic

What’s so great about a GIF? Let’s use an a (fake) copy example, pretending I’m pitching Assault Android Cactus.

Assault Android Cactus is a score-based Twin-Stick Shooter available on Steam featuring full controller support, multiple game modes, and 9 selectable characters with unique weapons.

If you got that in your email, would you be interested? Maybe you really like Twin Stick shooters, but there’s a lot of those. Let’s try a GIF that takes as about as long to watch as that took to read, this one from FutureBetaGamer:

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Video Games Aren’t Boring, You Just Buy Boring Ones

It’s that time of the year again when Video Games Are Bad, the latest argument being Video Games Are Boring, a piece I won’t critique too hard for fear of sounding rather mean. I don’t really mean this as a response to Brie in particular, but this mindset I keep seeing pop up. This just makes a nice catalyst.

But there’s one thing I have to pull apart here first. In their effort to introduce “non-gaming” friends into “gaming” the started with Journey (reasonable), then when Journey was too violent they eventually turned to suggesting Skyrim (I’m sorry what?!).

I know a lot of gamers can’t really imagine Journey being “violent”, but there are things that attack you. That’s scary. Not everyone wants scary. Not everyone wants adversity, especially for their very first experience. It’s a bit hard to emphasize with that if you started gaming in the 8-16 bit eras like myself, but if you step back, it’s not hard to find games less violent than Journey (AbyssRium, Beglitched, Noby Noby Boy, and those are just games I played literally yesterday).

I really can’t ignore the absurdity of suggesting Skyrim after Journey proved to be too violent, but at the same time I totally understand it. It shows an extremely, shall I say, “Core Gamer” mindset.

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Finer Points: Scripted Losses are Bad Game Design

I’ve ranted on Twitter a couple times about scripted losses in games, and a fair number of people still seem to think they’re pretty decent ideas, so I thought I’d get into the meat of what makes them poor design. The bottom line is they violate too many of player’s expectations in a lot of ways developers probably don’t even realize—like many issues in gaming, it’s really easy to overlook when you know what’s going on, but when you don’t, hoo boy.

Losing Sucks

So this isn’t news. But I think game devs underestimate just how a sudden loss can affect players. Allow me to tell you a story from my youth. From the ancient times, when all games were pixels, and “multiplayer” often meant taking turns in a single-character platformer or just plain ol’ watching a friend play a single player game all day.

I was playing Chrono Trigger with a friend on my Playstation, a bit late to the game. He had beaten the game on SNES before I had even played, but he didn’t want to spoil the game so I was going in fairly blind. The only RPG I had played before this was Super Mario RPG, at that same friend’s house. I never owned a copy.

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