When is a good time to start talking about your game?
A few weeks ago I asked on Twitter what questions people had about PR or marketing. One that I was asked a couple of times was when the best time is to start talking about your game publicly and how to do it. This blog post is obviously specifically related to games, but the guidelines in this post could be applicable to almost any start-up, small business, or product launch.
The thing about this question is that there simply is no right answer or generic thing to do. Every game should have a different timeline and strategy. However, there are some general questions you should ask yourself and guidelines to follow:
Be realistic about your timeline
Is your game going to take five years to make? Is it a small mobile game? How soon you should talk about it often depends on the size of your undertaking and the anticipated timeline. It’s almost a running joke in the games industry that things are consistently delayed. Be realistic with yourself about your timeline and goals (and then likely double it.) If your game is going to be in development for a long time, it is important to let people know about it relatively early on. The general rule of thumb is that the longer your game will be in development, the sooner you should talk about it and the more you should say.
I say this with the caveat that if you are working on a game for five years, it’s okay to wait a while before saying anything. Make sure it’s something you want to align yourself with and that you are excited to share with others. Be smart and thoughtful in how you do it. Plan it out. You don’t have to tell the world the day you start on a new project. It’s okay and good to have some suspense and mystery for a while.
Be strategic with your timeline in mind
Gamers love to feel like they are a part of the development process, and like seeing your game being made behind-the-scenes. There’s also no secret that going to conferences and showcasing your game can be a huge help in terms of marketing and visibility. However, I also strongly advise against telling people too much too early until you have realistically thought through the development process and have very real concrete goals in place.
Once you put something out there on the internet (a video, a screenshot, a tweet), it’s out and you can’t take it back. Based on your realistic timeline, start thinking about what aspects of your game to reveal when, how to reveal them, and what to say along the way. Although it may seem like successful game developers just tweet or post whatever is on the mind, many of them have followed a long-term and thought out strategy for what to talk about when. Some developers have had great success doing a daily devblog, being totally transparent throughout their development process. This is a strategy as well that if executed intelligently, can help build a strong loyal following of your game early on.
Generally though, don’t put all your cards out on the table too early. If you release a final launch trailer four months before launch, you better have a really well thought out plan for what you are going to talk about and still have plenty to say leading up to launch coupled with a really innovative way to do it. Remember though that just because you are waiting to show or say certain things doesn’t mean you should be waiting to think about your marketing and PR strategies and tactics.
On the flip side of showcasing too early, don’t finish your game, set a final launch date, and then think that just talking about your game in the two weeks leading up to launch will cut it as a successful strategy.
Not all games are created equal
Some games lend themselves perfectly to being shown at conferences. If you’re working on a large local multiplayer game, getting out there and showcasing at every opportunity you can is probably a good idea. If you’re working on a small mobile puzzle game, the strategy for talking and showcasing your game should be very different and it is often better to hold off until closer to launch. Don’t assume that the strategy that worked for someone else will work for you. Tailor what you do to your game, your goals, and what makes the most sense for you.
Twitter is an amazing tool, but please don’t spam people
I’m not going to delve too deeply into how to talk about your game publicly, because I’ll save that for another post. However, it is worth pointing out that Twitter is an extremely powerful resource. It’s a great way to get quick real-time feedback and to connect with other developers in the indie community. You should use this tool regularly and often. However, there’s no better way to lose friends faster than to only start talking to people shortly before your game comes out and to only talk about your game. Show that you are a human. Build and cultivate real connections with people. If you do that, Twitter is an awesome way to showcase your game as you are working on it and to get real and honest feedback that can be invaluable to the development process.
Don’t announce a release date until your game is finished and approved
Seriously. Don’t do it. Just don’t. There are so many times when something unexpected can come up, delaying the launch date. This is particularly true for mobile, where Apple can often be unpredictable. If you’re launching a PC game, I also strongly recommend finishing your game first before announcing a launch date. Here’s why:
Again, once you say something, it’s out there. I totally understand that games are delayed all the time. But from a marketing perspective, it really dilutes your game, your message, and your brand to say something and have to go back out to everyone with a “we’re delayed” message. It takes the focus away from what you want–the awesomeness of your game–and puts it on “why can’t these people follow through?” Do everything you can in your power to hold off on saying a date until you are as sure as you possibly can be.
When talking to people about launch, it’s okay to be vague, or to say you don’t know yet, or to give a rough estimate (sometime in 2015) about your launch until you know more. It’s better to do this than to say a launch date and then change it three times. If you do say a launch date, work to make it happen.
Finish first. Then wait.
You should be thinking about marketing and PR as well as your strategy the whole time you are in development of your game. This is definitely not something to save until the final stretch. However, a habit I see over and over again is game developers trying to finish their game in conjunction with launch and enacting marketing at the same time. In my opinion, it is much better, less hectic, and often way more strategic to finish your game, submit, and then pause for a moment. Remember that no one else publicly has to know your timeline until you say it out loud. I totally understand that when you’re finished with the game, you are proud of it and can’t wait to get it out there. But often, it’s better to have a finished game so that you aren’t so overwhelmed with working on the game and thinking about everything else at the same time.
In hitting the pause button for a moment, you’re able to think through your next steps, announce a launch date, and then use the time to showcase the game to get people amped up before launch.
Remember that a “buy now” link is very powerful
Building hype before your launch is good and often very important. However, it’s crucial to remember that games press and the games market in general are very inundated and saturated. If an awesome article comes out about your game five months before launch, people simply aren’t checking the App Store everyday in the interim to see if it is now available. You have to make sure to remind them when it’s coming and when it’s officially available. This is another reason I tell people not to show all their cards too early.
Even if you get some amazing hype and excitement leading up to your launch, you have to make it very easy for people to buy the game once it is actually available. Because of this, having a lot of attention surrounding your launch is very, very important. There’s nothing like a link through to your Steam page from a streamer or a huge feature article with a link-through to purchase to motivate people to buy.
I wish I had a magic generic formula for how and when to start talking about your games (actually, I don’t because then I’d be out of a job), but I do think keeping all of these things top-of-mind when planning a game launch is essential. It’s important to remember that although the last five percent of your PR and marketing should likely garner the most results and visibility, it should be something you think about all along the way.