Please note, this guide is not about announcing the release of your game, but announcing to the world that you're developing it. If you’ve already announced it and the response was little or nothing, don’t panic, you can still create buzz for your second announcement.
So, you’ve worked on your indie game for quite some time, and not a soul knows about it. But you’re now at a stage where you feel you’re ready to announce it to the world. But have you thought about how to get the most out of it, in terms of visibility? There's quite a lot of preparation, but it's certainly doable. To maximize press/exposure of your first announcement and to increase wishlists, it’s best to plan beforehand. Do not announce your indie game if there’s nobody to announce it to, especially if you haven’t set-up your Steam store page. Posting too early may seem like a wonderful idea, but in reality, it’s not. There are hundreds of games announced each day, most of which go unnoticed. Don’t become a statistic, become a memorable announcement.
What You Need For Your Announcement
I will guide you, step by step, through what I believe to be the essentials for announcing your upcoming Steam indie game for maximum exposure. Let’s make marketing simple.
5. Press List
7. Social Media
Big publishers can get away with announcing their game just months before release simply because of their existing reach. But for indies, it's wise to do this at least one year in advance. You need to give yourself plenty of time to build up wishlists and prepare a quality announcement. The press needs something tangible to write about, so give them content worthy enough to publish. Posting your announcement with mere concept art will not turn heads. I see a lot of indies announce their game far too early and have uninspiring/little content to show off with zero Call to Action. There’s no need to rush in. The stage of development matters when announcing your game. Your first announcement is your most valuable one. Use it wisely.
Wishlists are a fundamental part of telling the Steam algorithm that people care about your game. I know there’s some debate about how late or early you should start building up wishlists, but I think there is a happy medium which depends on the quality of your announcement. Valve do not care about how recent your wishlists are, they just care about how high the number is. The higher you can get this number, the more leverage you have when talking to them about promotional support for your title's launch - it's even beneficial if you're looking for Publishers. People will not forget they added your game to their wishlist if your announcement is memorable and if the marketing you do afterwards is consistent. That’s the difference.
3. Steam Store Page
Your Steam store page is your Call to Action, or to be more precise, Call to Wishlist. It’s important to use your announcement to build as many wishlist additions as possible. If your announcement gains a ton of visibility, it's likely many people will talk about your game. This means there’s a window of opportunity because people will search for it, but it won’t last forever. That’s why it’s crucial to have your Steam store page go live at the same time as your announcement, as opposed to launching it months or years later down the line. Have the following ready:
- Short Gameplay Trailer: Containing exciting gameplay footage.
- Beautiful in-game screenshots: 5 screenshots, each unique.
- Features about the game: What are the best features your game offers?
- Engaging Copy: Choose your wording wisely and don't go overboard with the text.
The primary purpose of your website is to re-direct visitors to your Steam store page and allow journalists to extract info from your press kit. At this stage in development, you only need two pages that serve two purposes: a professional-looking landing page that focuses on your Call to Wishlist and Press kit. As time goes on after your announcement, you can overhaul and add more to it. Keep the following in-mind:
- Responsive: Make sure it's smartphone friendly and very optimised.
- Press Kit: Keep it simple, you can thank Rami Ismail for this: https://dopresskit.com/. Tip: Make sure your Press kit and Call to Wishlist is cleary visible for the reader.
5. Custom Made Press List
First, research which journalists have published articles about games similar to yours. This puts you on the right path to creating a tailor-made press list. If you’re confused by what I mean, here is an example:
Let’s say you’re releasing a Rougelike shooter with gameplay mechanics inspired by Risk of Rain 2. You’ve now identified your target audience and can begin searching for a journalist. Open your preferred search engine and type "Risk of Rain 2 reviews", go through each one and try to get the email address of the author and add them to your press list. As for what information to note down, here are the basics:
I understand the laborious part is finding an email address. Sometimes you won’t be able to, and that’s okay. Here are my tips on how to find them:
- Find Contributors: The editorial team isn't the only one looking for games to write about.
- Twitter: Sometimes they have their DM’s open or place their email address in their bio.
- Linked In: If they do not list their email address, add them to your connection.
- Email Finder: Use something like voilanorbert.com.
- If all that fails: Contact the editorial team by using their basic contact form.
Tip: Take your time with your research and don’t get too stressed out. A bigger press list doesn’t always mean a better one.
6. Writing to the Press
It's so important to reach out personally to journalists. It’s time consuming, but totally worth it. I recommend this method because it gives you the chance to develop and maintain genuine relationships with them after you've announced your game. It's just way more personal. I realise there are PR agencies out there that can do all the heavy lifting, distributing news to literally thousands of journalists at a time. But this is an indie guide, so I'm assuming you have a zero budget for that stuff, and ultimately, I want to teach you the fundamentals of doing it on your own.
It's wise to write to the press at least four weeks before your announcement goes live to give them enough notice. If you don't receive a response, write a follow-up email two weeks after that because it's likely they didn't receive the original. If worse comes to worst, send a final email on the day of your announcement. That makes three emails in four weeks with a sizeable gap between each one. Just make sure to be kind, respectful and slightly revise your follow up email so it doesn’t come across as a copy and paste job.
Before emailing, ask yourself this; why should my game be covered? Your message should be concise and clear, avoiding unnecessary chunks of text and media content. Most indie developers stick to the standard press release format because they think it's the only way that works. But think about it; if you copy everyone else, then you're not doing anything different. You're not standing out from the crowd, your email just blends in with dozens of other developers who want their game to be covered. Journalists are actual people with unique personalities, they're not robots designed to respond in only one way, they're just very busy. Speak to them like a person and you might find you can have a constructive conversation.
With all that in-mind, here's a made-up example of what has worked for well for me:
"Press Release - Hi John, grab your sword, seek vengeance, and try to survive in our upcoming Roguelike, announced on Steam, May 30, 2021!"
Your subject should be your hook, the line that attracts the readers' attention. Notice that I began the email with Press Release? Since using this method, I have seen a much higher response rate. I think it’s mainly because it’s exactly what journalists are looking for, and perhaps they have some type of filter enabled that prioritises subjects with the word press release. I’m not sure, I just know it’s been working! Under no circumstances should you ever address the journalist as your mate, pal or buddy. It’s absolutely crucial to mention their first name. It comes across as less spam, more personal, and shows you’ve put in some research about them. As for the rest of the subject, I like to make it sound exciting, avoiding any boring corporate jargon that they’re probably used to hearing. Try your best to make it sound professional, intriguing, and personal.
"Back in 2019, you wrote an article about Risk of Rain 2 and you were not impressed with the instant death mechanic."
Within your introduction, it’s wise to remind the journalist they have written an article in the past about a game similar to yours. This isn’t because you should compliment them about it, it’s because you have an opportunity to quote them on something they didn’t like it about it and then mention in the feature below, why your game does it better. Do not ask the journalist that you “hope they’re doing well” because let’s be real, you only hope they’ll write an article about your game. I know I keep stating that you should be kind and personal, but you are being thoughtful by making your email as readable as possible by getting straight to the point. You’re showing consideration for their time.
"Sword of Vengeance gives death a whole new meaning because it's not permanent. Should you fail to survive, your soul will be carried back to Hell where you’ll face Dagan's Champion. Be warned, each failed attempt to defeat him means your teammates will pay the price. No pressure."
Think of this section as your second hook. Try to convey the fundamental premise of your game in as few words as possible. There's no need to make a complete list of every single feature your game offers because it'll only clog up the email. All further information should be included in your press kit because that's exactly what it's for.
"I was hoping you might be interested in covering it on the day we're announcing it? We’d be more than happy to give you an exclusive first-look at what it entails."
This is one of the most important parts of the email because you're giving the journalist something meaningful to work with, something newsworthy. You're showing them that there is an opportunity to be had. Many indie developers make it difficult for journalists to write about them because they're unclear and generic with their message. Stating "hey my game exists" isn't exactly intriguing. Be very clear about what it is you're asking.
"If there's anything you need from me, please let me know. Kind regards, Joe"
There's no need to write a lengthy wall of text about how thankful you are for the journalist reading your email. Ironically, by doing so, you're only taking up more of their precious time. By asking an open question, you're yet again clarifying that you're all ears should the journalist need something from you. It's a sign of encouragement, at the very least.
"IndieGameJoe Managing Director email@example.com"
Okay, let's make this very clear. A terrible signature includes giant social media icons, lots of hyperlinks, too many images, and a large disclaimer. It's not professional and potentially affects the performance of the actual email. Keep it simple, guys! I also highly recommend adding your email address at the end, just in case the journalist cannot reply to your original email.
Call to Action
The reason I like to add direct links rather than embedding content to the email is because I want to make sure it loads properly. One click is all it takes for the journalist to access everything they need should you spark their interest.
Overall, remember that there isn't an exact science when reaching out to journalists. Don't get bogged down with trying only one method of communication. Mix it up and never be afraid to experiment, because that's exactly how I found a method that works for me.
Tip: Use a professional email address, not your personal one.
7. Social Media
Hashtags are your friend and can help push the visibility of your announcement, especially if used correctly. For example, Twitter has #indiedevhour, which is every Wednesday. Indie devs are not the only people interacting with this hashtag. Many consumers will also see it, and even publishers are monitoring it. The point I’m making is that it’s better to take advantage of popular hashtags for your announcement, as opposed to not using any at all.
- Twitter (Other popular hashtags include #screenshotsaturday and #pitchyagame)
- Facebook (There are so many popular indie dev groups to announce your game on)
- Instagram (Don’t be afraid to use many hashtags)
- Linked In (Great for announcements if you're connected with journalists)
- Discord (I recommend using this as your main HQ for your community)
- Reddit (Popular subreddits include; r/indiegame, r/indiegaming /rpcgaming, r/games)
- YouTube (Make sure your video thumbnail is appealing and headline striking)
Streamers (Some YouTubers like to cover the announcement itself if they're interested enough)
Tip: Make sure to pin your announcement and include your Steam store and Press Kit.
Avoid Rush hour
What time and day should you post your announcement? Well, you’ll likely receive a lot of different answers to this question. But research points towards publishers launching their game between 6am and 10am West Coast time, which means it’s likely the press will be very busy during that time frame. And as for what day, well, I like to use gamespress.com as a good example. It’s one of the biggest PR resources for games journalists worldwide, updated with the latest press releases from games publishers and developers. Their main email digest goes live each day at 2:30pm UK time, and Thursday is usually their busiest day. So, what does this mean for you? Well, I would try to avoid posting your announcement based on the time and day mentioned above. It may work well for large publishers, but for small, not yet recognized indies, it's best to avoid competing with them so that your announcement is not overlooked.
Find your Route
Overall, I believe it mainly boils down to your custom-made press list and personal schedule. What I’m saying is, perhaps you’re working a full-time job and cannot commit to certain days. If so, it’s not a major problem. With all that being said, let’s say Saturday works best for you. Don’t be put off by this day, contrary to popular belief, it can be very effective. Here’s why:
- Many contributors work on the weekend and they’re looking for games to write about. This goes back to point #4. If you’ve found contributors who have covered games similar to yours, then it’s an even bigger bonus.
- Posting your announcement on Facebook groups, Twitter and Instagram whilst taking advantage of an extremely popular hashtag such as #screenshotsaturday will help boost your announcement's visibility.
Announcing your game for the first time is an adventure that’s full of uncertainty and 'what ifs?' There’s no concrete answer that guarantees results. But what you can do is give yourself a better chance of a successful announcement, especially if you follow my advice. Are there different ways to announce your upcoming game? Absolutely. All the information I provided above is my experience that I feel worked well for me. I’m just passing it on to you, hoping it helps you on your journey. I encourage you to be creative, bold, and try out other methods. Perhaps you might find the perfect formula?
Thank you for reading and good luck with your indie game. You’ve got this!
If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below or drop me a tweet.