What are the basic terms I need to understand as I start out promoting my game?
A number of marketing terms are thrown around quite loosely when it comes to promoting video games, and being clear you and the potential partners you’re speaking to are talking about the same thing can really help prevent headaches down the road. So when you mention “marketing,” “influencers,” “PR,” “social media,” etc., think about and state what those terms mean to you and the scope of work you feel they entail. Then make sure the people on the other side of the conversation agree!
On the PR side, we make a basic distinction between “paid” media (broadly speaking, advertising or content you buy directly) and “earned” media (media or influencers covering your game without paying them). The two key elements of earned media for games are publicity (public relations/PR) and influencers (aka “content creators”). “User acquisition”, “content marketing,” and “performance marketing” falls within paid media. “Community,” a term most often used in reference to social media efforts, is harder to categorize, given that these services are sometimes made available by both earned media and paid media firms.
Generally, most core video games for PC, Xbox, PlayStation and Switch are heavily reliant on earned media, while mobile and casual titles typically emphasize paid media. Those old rules are increasingly blurring in the hardcore scene and today it’s not uncommon for a game launch to involve some combination of paid and earned media, especially for “bigger” titles with appropriate budgets. Sandbox generally works in earned media, though we often consult with clients on intelligent use of paid influencer campaigns and offer services to support the role they can play in getting your game seen.
How do I know if I need a PR campaign/agency?
It’s common for video game makers to feel like they need publicity without being sure of why. They read the games press, see other video games get coverage, and instinctively desire it for themselves. And that’s a reasonable instinct! But doing PR without a clear objective can often be pointless – don’t spend money and time on publicity for no reason or for your ego. Engage an agency when you have a purpose or tangible objective to achieve, whether it’s building awareness, generating sign-ups, driving sales, pushing pre-orders, or even helping to recruit talent for your studio.
And make sure you’ve thought through the kind of ammunition you have to give to a PR agency to fuel that campaign (exclusive news reveals, access to talent, video assets, etc.), as well as a sense of when playable code will be available. Do you have a good spokesperson who can be the face of your studio/game? Have you thought about what makes you and your game unusual? Do you have a general sense of the story your want to share, how to share it, and what makes it worth sharing?
Video game PR campaigns are shorter than they used to be – even AAA games from big publishers are sometimes only six months long (where they used to go on for sometimes two years or more). Today indies, even “triple I” games, will sometimes start talking to media only three months before the first publicly playable code (whether by early access, closed/open beta, or a full launch) is available. Some titles even do a “Beyonce,” waiting to announce themselves until the very day they’re released.
What about influencers?
“Influencers” has become a buzzword you’ll hear everywhere, and they often mean different things entirely for different industries. In video games, influencers (aka “content creators”) are personalities that create pre-recorded and/or live-streamed content on any number of platforms, including Twitch, YouTube, Mixer, Caffeine, Facebook, etc.
So how to get their attention? Beyond paying to be featured by specific influencers (a growing trend, but one that demands care and planning if you don’t want to see your investment go to waste), engaging influencers organically (or “earning” them) is very dependent on your game’s genre and platform(s), as well as the timing of the campaign. Once again, broadly speaking, core titles on PC and consoles (but especially PC) with an emphasis on online multiplayer are more likely to be a fit for streamers. Titles that that let players create humorous content, ones with a narrative emphasis, and/or kid-focused games tend to do better on YouTube. Some games are simply monsters in both worlds when they launch – 2018’s Spider-Man PS4 game comes to mind – while others explode and sustain interest from influencers of all stripes for months or even years (for example, Fortnite, League of Legends, GTA V, Dead by Daylight, etc.). Mobile games very rarely see any traction on Twitch, although a healthy ecosystem of mobile gaming YouTubers has evolved that are fantastic to work with… if you have a premium game (casual/free-to-play games are a hard sell).
We could go on for days about the subtleties of strategy for certain genres and platforms, but long story short, you should know that no agency can simply flip a switch and make Ninja or Markiplier play their game for free. The key in working with influencers is matching the game to an influencer’s tastes, then doing what you can to help them use that game to create content that will keep their viewers happy, or even better, increase their viewership. Influencers primarily care about two things: 1.) their viewers/followers/subscribers/community, and 2.) the money they earn. What do you have to offer them that appeals to their motivations? If you’re making games in 2018, that’s a question you’re hopefully already considering as you design your game, but it’s also something a good agency partner should help you figure out.
Do I need to do both a PR and influencer push?
Not necessarily! The approach we recommended often varies based on a game’s genre and platform(s). Usually a campaign will have a primary emphasis on either earned media or influencer PR, but you still want to make sure all your bases are covered. It’s not uncommon we recommend a studio spend nothing on earned media at all, perhaps most often when the game is a free-to-play mobile title designed for a specific audience, in which case we advise devoting resources to a targeted user acquisition campaign (in other words, focus on the most effective paid media).
My video game is launching globally. What should I do about media and influencers outside North America?
Agencies generally have experience, expertise and relationships within the specific regions/languages in which they do business, so if you have the resources, we advise a coordinated global campaign, hiring one lead agency to organize PR efforts with more specialized partners around the world. Sandbox, for example, has partner agencies in every major games market, including South America, Asia, and Europe, which we work with when a client wants to be covered and/or make connections in those specific markets.
It’s worth noting that doing, for instance, PR in France or influencer outreach in Germany can be as expensive as it is in North America, so costs can add up quickly. The reality is that the key games media are based in North America and the UK, and outlets/markets in the EU and South America largely follow their lead. Asia is another story – Japan, China, and Korea are wildly different in their own right, but the process for promoting games in those regions is nearly totally distinct from the rest of the world. Many game campaigns simply rely on North American media and influencer outreach only due to the size of its audience, hoping the investment here will be enough to gain attention overseas and in Latin/South America.
What kind of budget do I need to use earned media to promote my video game?
There are a lot of variables that go into an agency’s pricing, including (but not limited to) length of campaign, presence at events, number of platforms, and targeted regions. You could spend anywhere from $2,500-$25,000 a month for PR and influencer outreach. That’s obviously a wide range, which is why it’s important to know and be clear about what you want to get out of the investment.
Whether you’re a large publisher or an indie studio, we know budgets are often tight, and ROI is a factor both you and your partners should have in mind. How much you spend, which services you purchase… Ultimately, these are things you can only really find out by having the conversation with your potential agency/freelance partners. But a tight, well-executed PR/earned media campaign of even a couple/handful of months, combined with a coordinated influencer outreach effort at launch, has the power to deliver that ROI for less money than you might think.
I still have questions and/or don’t fully know yet what path to take. Should I reach out to Sandbox?
Definitely! We’re always happy to chat. Just fire us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. Maybe we’ll become BFFs!