Quality Counts: Why Getting The Gaming Media's Attention Is Only Half The Battle

It's great and all getting the games media to pay attention to your indie title, enough so they'll dedicate a couple of kilobytes of database data to pass the news to their readers, but I feel that's only part of the journey. Someone's writing about your game, that's awesome, but what if the readers don't engage with that news? Is it the writer's fault? Is there something the developer could have done better to improve their chances with the outlets they've targeted?

Update: I've changed the title of this article to better reflect its content — I ended up making a different (but better) point by the time I'd finished writing it.

"Hell, yes!" is the answer to that question and I could actually write quite a bit on targeting media for indie developers, but that's not what interests me at the moment. I want to know what makes you excited about an unreleased game after reading an article or watching a video about it.

There I go, making assumptions. You might find out about a game in a different way altogether. Take the Day Z mod that's doing the rounds and has seen a noticeable spike in sales for Bohemia's ArmA 2, a game that came out three years ago. You may never have heard of ArmA, then you see this mod and bang! A new customer for Bohemia.

That's what I call a long tail.

We have favoured genres we check up on and developers who we watch with keen eyes, sure. The triple-A releases always go out with a teaser trailer or screenshots posed and Photoshopped up the wazoo. I get the function of these tried-and-true marketing methods, but for me, I get really excited when I read a story where the writer has become so engaged with the game, it fundamentally changes the way they write about that game. It busts the usual clichés all news writers rely on and inspires them to quaff scrumptious word juice from their dusty mind-canteens.

Take example one: A dispassionate preview from a barely-interested journo who's been lead by the hand by a producer / PR person thought a specially-crafted build, usually at the publisher's base of operations (this happens a lot).

Or... an engaging, bubbly yet objective chunk of prose clearly written by someone who can barely contain themselves. And I'm not talking the perfunctory platitudes of every game preview ever written — the person is obviously truly excited about what they've experienced. An enlightening play-through or a meaty interview with a designer has opened their eyes and the words you read have an honesty about them.

I've always been of the mind that if a game is even mildly interesting, the specialist press is going to write about it. The quality of what they write is the defining factor. Take Rock, Paper, Shotgun's "Surviving in Day Z" series. How can you not be interesting in checking the mod out?

If they're taking the time to chronicle their experiences completely independent of a publisher's coercion, then it's probably worth your time too.

Because so much gaming news is written on auto-pilot these days, this quality of writing stands up above the rest. It makes me take notice and I'd like to know if it's the same for you. If not, what gets you excited about a game, beyond the typical press releases and videos manufactured by publisher departments dedicated to transmuting the unexciting into something mildly eyebrow-raising?


    See I would love this mod so much more if I weren't so prone to falling off the top of ladders because of a bug that has been in the game for three years.

    Side note any one up for a game?

      If you have your hands free then you shouldn't fall off the ladder. Makes sense really.

      that got fixed in the newest update

    Nice piece.

    I definitely agree that reading genuinely excited previews from gaming media is more compelling, engaging and interesting than a thousand cookie-cutter articles processed through big marketing machines with mandatory references to "visceral" and "immersive" every few sentences. Perhaps it's a phenomenon unique to niche or specialised genres, but positive (unpaid) hype seems to be far more effective than all the money spent on trailers, advertisements, etc.

    Anecdotally, bad impressions of games can do far more to sink sales and attention than breathless multi-million dollar campaigns can do to boost them - I'm thinking of, say, Dragon Age II's plunge in sales once disappointment with it became well circulated, despite the huge interest in its predecessor and even glowing traditional press articles right up until release.

    Sound advice Logan! I've got a few indie friends who I've had go through all kinds of effort to get noticed. Media coverage is certainly great for getting a quick bit of mass attention, but if you don't follow it up with a bit of a more.. personalized approach, interest can fade pretty quickly, til one day a long way down the track, the player re-discovers (usually by word of mouth or sheer accident) that the game is out and playable.
    The ones that connect directly with their users have a much easier time of keeping the interest going, and numbers of dedicated followers up.
    Very nice piece indeed!

      Thus always happens to me. There will be a great bit of news and I will follow the link to find forums full of speculation. Then many years later I see a game that looks interesting. I may not even remember that it is the same game. So what then was the point if the teaser?

        Well, not much really.. which is why they need to follow it up with more direct contact.. twitter feed, facebook page, regular updates etc. If you visit a site on a weekly basis to see what's new, and nothing's been posted, you'll stop coming soon enough. Even just a note to say you're alive and kicking it better than nothing when it comes to keeping people around for the long haul.

    Just noticed a small error in the article too..

    "How can you not be interesting in checking the mod out?"

      Maybe they're saying that if you check this mod out, you will be interesting? Girls will love you, men will want to be you, check this mod out now!! (Or vice versa if you are of the female persuasion)

    Just gotta say, put in 200 hours of ARMA2 over the years in full realism settings with my clan at the time, haven't played in a year and this has brought me kicking and screaming back, but with the friends that i could never convince to give arma a shot

    This dayz has boosted arma2's steam sales massively its really fun and not just killing zombies or Betraying people but with the feelings you get while playing like fear paranoia and the like. Playing this game at night is so scary I love it how BIStudios can work with this mod group for arma3 to make both game and mod even better.

    In other words, never EVER give indie coverage to Luke Plunkett?

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