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Experiment #2 in game promotion: Press Release Results

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[font=arial]After releasing my Android game [/font]Stupid Human Castles, I quickly realized I have no idea how to market my game. The task of actually getting the world to take notice of it requires a set of skills I don't yet posses. These blog posts will document a series of marketing experiments that I'll be attempting, recording the possibly embarrassing outcomes for all to read.

The Experiment:
In my second experiment I wanted to test the effectiveness of press releases. I figured this would probably be my best bet at getting my game noticed as I had been lucky enough to have a few sites review my game already without me asking. Considering they gave it good reviews, I felt positive that I could get a couple more to respond to my emails.

After sending the emails out, I let them run for a little over a week. A few of the sites I emailed a second time with a follow up email. Of the 15 or so places I emailed I was expecting a pretty low rate of reply. I figured that due to the nature of email I might get lucky with 2 or 3 sites, but that might be enough to drum up a little bit of attention. I felt more positive about the sites that cater to giving indies exposure, but also knew that they must get 50+ submissions per day.

The Result:
The final result of the number of sites that reported on my game are:

Number of places that reviewed my game: 0%.
Number of places that mentioned my game: 0%.
Number of places that looked at the press release: 6%
Number of places that downloaded the free copy of the game I sent: 0%.

Overall result: Level 5 Catastrophic Failure.

But my inbox was flooded:
Now here's the interesting part. While I didn't get any coverage from these sites, I did start getting one very specific type of email: sites started asking for a paid review.

It turns out that there is a large number of sites out there who will charge anywhere from $50-$200 to review your game. In exchange they'll give you a text review for a base price or a video review for a premium price. I don't know how your supposed to have an objective review when someone gave you $200 to do it, but that might be why several of these sites had nearly every game rated 5 stars. All these emails were followed up with very optimistic traffic numbers, the validity of which I don't know.

This seems to me like a pretty terrible industry that is, in my opinion, just exploiting indie devs who want to get their game out into the world. I'd like to think that most people would turn down these sites, but if their huge catalog of reviews is anything to go by that's not the case.

The lessons:
1) Sending out press-releases might be useful, but you really do need contacts first. Mike Rose mentions it fairly often in his article but it only now dawns on me how true that is. I don't really know anyone in the industry and I'm not sure how I would solve this. I see lots of articles online about how to get your game noticed, but not many articles of how to get the developer noticed first. It's a bit of a chicken/egg problem - How does one get their own name out without having a cool game to be noticed, but how does one get their cool game to be noticed without having a name? It sounds like that could be an article in itself.

2) While my press-release experiment was a terrible result, it was still extremely worthwhile process and I highly recommend it. In my case I thought I was ready to go once I had a full version, a demo version and a email to contact me at. It wasn't until I was reading the checklist that I realized how unprepared I was. So while the actual press release submission stage might be a bust, I highly recommend you actually send out at least a few for no other reason that it forces you to get prepared.

3) Without knowing anyone to contact in advance, sending out press-releases comes down to a lot of luck. That being said, there's always a chance you might get lucky! As a form of cold-calls I found press releases less effective, but these sites do cover a lot of games so you might be the lucky one that day.


Next Experiment
For the next experiment I'm going to try taking out some ads on sites like Facebook. I won't be spending much money, but I'll be interested to see what kind of conversion rates happen. I'll be making a blog post starting that experiment in the next few days,
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Ha, very disappointing :)

 

It was interesting going from thinking I had to break through the mountain of emails they get, to finding out some of these sites wont cover you without being paid. It made me realize that the number of actual review sites out there is smaller than it appears, especially for hand-held, and especially for android =/

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Reviewing is still type of work, I'd say they want to be compensated for time they're going to spend on it, besides it also works as advertisement. 5-star rating might be caused by person who's reviewing: lets say they have team of reviewers and whoever likes the game reviews it, no wonder he'll rate it good.

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Those zeroes are sad and speak volumes:/ Keep it up!

 

Will do mate :) 

 

I'm glad people are finding these useful. Hopefully me falling face-first into these issues helps the next person a little bit more than going in blind.

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Wait a minute... I'm not sure I understand. If you sent out 15 emails requesting people to review your game and got no responses from that... How did the people who wanted you to pay for positive reviews get your email address? It sounds like *some* form of marketing & PR got through to them, somehow.

Also, I read elsewhere that email marketing is more effective if you personalize each email to the person you're sending it to. That may be a relevant but missing detail on the effectiveness of your experiment.

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Wait a minute... I'm not sure I understand. If you sent out 15 emails requesting people to review your game and got no responses from that... How did the people who wanted you to pay for positive reviews get your email address?

 

The people who responded asking for paid reviews were some of the 15 people I emailed. 

 

Also, I read elsewhere that email marketing is more effective if you personalize each email to the person you're sending it to. That may be a relevant but missing detail on the effectiveness of your experiment.

 

In the previous post I explained that I tried personalising emails and linked to the article by Mike Rose who talked about it.  Lesson #1 above was a continuation of that, but I probably didn't make that clear. I'll revise the wording of that this afternoon.

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Reviewing is still type of work, I'd say they want to be compensated for time they're going to spend on it, besides it also works as advertisement. 5-star rating might be caused by person who's reviewing: lets say they have team of reviewers and whoever likes the game reviews it, no wonder he'll rate it good.

 

That's nonsense. Some of those same websites probably reviewed Halo 4, and I know Microsoft  didn't send them $200 through paypal. A website's main userbase is its group of readers, who visit it because they respect the views on the website as unbiased. You remain unbiased by making sure your customers aren't the ones you're critiquing. What if the FDA charged pharmaceutical manufacturers to test the safety of their drugs? Don't be a bozo. They're clearly running a scam. They charge the devs, give them a meaningless 5 star review (because all their reviews are 5 stars), and scam readers into visiting their site so they can quote pumped up (equally meaningless) viewership stats to the same devs they're robbing. A simple con.

 

Thanks for the journal post; never expected an outcome like that. Maybe try much smaller sites? Websites like n4g.com and http://gamejournalismjobs.com/ always list work from small websites that are likely willing to do reviews for free.

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Ahh yes the shady world of app reviews sites. It does seem that most app review sites out there are just set up to con developers out of money.  Most of them only seem to have paid reviews with hazy promises of increased traffic to your app.

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Wow, I had no idea that a game review site would charge you to actually review your game... That's syupid, where's the objectivity in that? They could charge you if they are promoting your game, but they are not, they are reviewing.

 

Anyhow, as I said in your announcement thread, I really like your game and I'm sure you'll get exposure somehow if you keep at it!

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Wow, I had no idea that a game review site would charge you to actually review your game... That's syupid, where's the objectivity in that? They could charge you if they are promoting your game, but they are not, they are reviewing.

 

If they were up front and said 'Pay us $50-$200 to promote your game' I doubt anyone would have an issue (outside of the seemingly useless service), but to charge for a review? There's no such thing as a 'paid review'! You can't possibly review a game while in the back of your mind your thinking 'I better give them 5 stars so that they also pay us to review their next game'. The whole thing just strikes me as exploitation of a saturated market.

 

 

Anyhow, as I said in your announcement thread, I really like your game and I'm sure you'll get exposure somehow if you keep at it!

 

Thanks mate! On a scale of 1/100 of how awesome it is to hear that, I rank it 200 :D 

 

I was a little worried going into writing these blogs that the response would be "well of course these experiments are failing, your game is rubbish!", so it's a relief to hear comments like yours :)

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I've been thinking about this a bit lately. My wife ran a book review blog for a while. The small book review blog community is huge. A lot of publishers will send out ARCs to these blogs with traffic for free in hopes of a review. They aren't paid reviews and the bloggers get the books a lot of attention. We eventually shut my wife's blog down because of some unassociated craziness.

 

I could be wrong about this, but I haven't seen this type of community in the indie game world. I've been seeing a lot of articles lately about indie devs working with each other. I haven't seen indie devs promoting and reviewing each others games though. I know it seems counter intuitive, but publicity is never a bad thing. Obviously the politics of it all can get a bit shaky especially while considering the dynamics of creators reviewing each other's work. But none the less, why don't more inde devs start doing this? After being in that book review community for a couple of years and seeing how it worked, it just makes sense.

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In mobile games large companys are spending millions on aquiring users. If your game isnt very different, getting your game up the charts is very hard work.

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Have you thought about promoting your work in-person? I mean, showing up to developer events, getting to know people, talking about your project? It's not very scalable, but the results tend to be extremely high-quality.

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