How we created a buzz around a game beta launch leading to 7 913 unique visitors and 28 336 visits

21Feb10

How did we as an unknown company create a buzz around our game’s beta launch without any paid marketing? How did we get featured on the big local mainstream media (Helsingin Sanomat newspaper 27.1.2010, Taloussanomat), big local gaming media (eDome, V2 – here and here, Peliplaneetta), multiple international blogs (google.com listing, for example here, here and here), various newsletters, Twitter feeds and so on? Before this we had been only once mentioned in a Taloussanomat article by Suvi Häkkinen (she’s well tuned into weak signals?) and our game had been mentioned in a few places as part of the recipient list for the Nordic Games Program I/2009 grant. So we really started almost out of nothing.

This was an interesting challenge for me which ended up as a very rewarding learning case. I decided to share the lessons learnt in the form of generic guidelines on how to maximize the publicity of an announcement. For easy writing I refer to companies, products and even games but in my opinion all the guidelines apply as well into any other context. As a disclaimer these are all my personal conclusions based on this one time experience and the extensive talks I was luckily able to have with the experts (thanked in the end of the post).

Reaching out for the press

1. Prepare a press release (FIN, ENG)

The very key thumb rule is that journalists are busy and their time is your most valued asset. So one starting point for making a press release should be to minimize the parsing work of a journalist if he decides to publish an article based on your press release. This can be achieved by aiming to have the press release in as easily publishable format as possible. In other words it should be an interesting stand-alone article aimed at the readers, not at the journalists. You know you have succeeded in this if the press release gets published in at least a couple of places exactly as you sent it out.

The press release format we used was roughly the following:

TITLE: SOME INTERESTING ANGLE TO THE ANNOUNCEMENT

First paragraph: the actual announcement, who released what and when.

“Second paragraph: a juicy comment about the actual announcement”, said by an interesting person behind the release (CEO, game designer or so).

Third paragraph: more details on the announcement.

“Fourth paragraph: a juicy comment reflecting the annoucement from another angle and reflecting also future”, told by yet another interesting person behind the release.

Fifth paragraph: putting the announceent into bigger perspective and commenting the future or next steps.

While writing this I noticed we had left out the 5th chapter from the English press release. I’m quite convinced it was not on purpose and it just shows how quickly in the end we had to execute all this. We did not prioritize English press release too high because we saw our chances getting actually through in the international press very scarce.

A good thing to remember is that getting published is not the only goal of a press release. Another goal for a press release is to increase the awareness of the journalists on your company or product. Even if the journalists don’t open your email, they might remember your company’s name from the subject line next time you send a press release.

A good practice (so I was told) is to include a paragraph about your company in the very end of the email. This is for the journalist to be able to easily check who is this company behind the release. Even if they know you they might have a wrong picture of your business.

The press release overall should be as compact as possible. This is again to serve the journalist as well as possible. If a journalist decides your matter is interesting enough to open the email and invest some seconds on checking it, you should make sure he gets into the core of the things instantly.

In case the journalist then sees the subject possibly worth of writing about, he is willing to invest minutes on it. The next problem he will face is how to get more insight on the subject. That is why your press release should point the sources for more information: contact details for interviews and a press site for more detailed information. Note that from a journalist point of view it is more interesting to get a contact to the CEO instead of a PR agency that is most probably just going to answer questions based on a prepared list of facts.

2. Prepare a press site

Again the main focus is on providing information to the journalist making it as easy as possible for him and saving his time. This can be achieved by an index in the beginning of the press site blurting out all the topics covered.

A FAQ section is a good way to start. Your goal is to be able to guess what questions the journalist has on his mind after reading your press release. This was our best guess:

  • What is Crown of Byzantus?
  • What makes case Crown of Byzantus exceptional?
  • Who are behind the game?
  • When will the game be released?
  • How can I play the game?

The other important part of the press site is to provide needed graphical material for an article. Especially in online releases the journalists are most probably not going to come to your office to get a photo of you. Also having the journalist use your product and take screenshots would most probably require more of their time that they are able to invest. So providing good walkthrough material, illustrations and screenshots to include in the article are essential. Not to forget the logo of the product and your company both in various formats.

In the articles about us all but one used solely graphical assets provided in our press site. So this should not be taken lightly. This was also maybe one of our biggest mistakes. We initially put there only screenshots from the game accompanied by two illustrations that are actually used in half the original size inside the game. The low-detailed illustrations got used in many places. As a result I realized this is yet another important reason to produce concept art on a game. Helsingin Sanomat was the only media that decided produce their own graphical material. They came to the office and took a photo.

As a side remark I’ve been told that journalists can use photoshop for cropping and resizing images. So you shouldn’t be too worried about supplying small enough images to fit a web layout.

3. Identify interested journalists

You should try to identify first the media and then the individual journalists that might be interested in your field. Getting the direct email address to a journalist supposedly increase the chances of your announcement getting read. Also this allows building personal relationships which can be fruitful in the long run. Remember the journalists receive tens of press releases a day. So sending “hello, can we talk?” opening messages most probably won’t get you anywhere.

One mistake I did was that I contacted a CEO of a gaming magazine I knew. I asked if they are interested in writing about us. Of course he gave me contacts to their journalists but going through their boss doesn’t really add value. Journalists are pretty picky on their ethics and most probably they might even feel offended that you try to force yourself in through their seniors.

4. Double check all the online material on you, the company and the product

If you get your release through, there will be tens of thousands of people reading it and thousands of people investigating further. Some will no doubt google everything out. Even 1% of the crowd is tens of people.

As an example in the follow-up comments of an online article someone analyzed my Master’s Thesis after reading it. My Master’s Thesis is not really hidden so I can’t blame on finding it but that just shows how much some people are willing to spend time on digging you out.

At this point it’s definitely positive if your company’s website is in a good shape. Ours isn’t. We got 410 unique visits there. But even more important is to spend a moment thinking on what the people will find when wanting to further know your product. Perhaps the best way to do this is to produce one centralized home page that features clearly information and pictures on your product. You should try to get this page as the first result in the google for your product’s name and all the misspellings (we got misspelled a lot thanks to our cumbersome product name). This requires some SEO (Search Engine Optimization) work but having [what people google for].com domain is a good starting point. We have byzantus.com and crownofbyzantus.com. Overall though this is one of the things where we failed. We were too busy to really work on a proper home page and in the end it didn’t even feature any screenshots from the actual product. This lead to some of the articles linking to our blog and some even to our press site since it contained the most information.

5. Send the press release out

Goes without saying that the press release should be sent out to everyone at the same time.

There’s no other magic about it apart from the analytics. I got a tip that it’s important but I thought “I can always analyze the traffic we get to our press site”. But that didn’t work out because we got hundreds of visits there. So in the end I didn’t have a clue what part of the tens of press members I sent the release out to checked our press site.

The easiest way that I’ve found out to handle this is using a mailing service such as MailChimp. They provide tracking automatically by adding Javascript tracking elements to your (HTML) email and the links in it. It also forces you to allow people to unsubscribe from the list. This is of course good as well since you want to keep the journalists happy.

This is our English press release for the launch sent 18.2. It basically says that I sent the email out to 27 people, 3 opened the email and one clicked the link to press site. So even getting the international press to open a random email is a very slight chance.

Contacting the blogosphere

One important reason for reaching the blogs is to start the buzz. You can get much more easily through to small blogs and the more noise there’s about you the better the chances for you to also get covered by the big blogs and the press.

Overall contacting the blogosphere works pretty much the same way as contacting the press. Bloggers in the end are pretty much like small scale journalists. They also get spammed a lot and they also have limited time. Especially since it’s often a hobby.

However I regard bloggers a bit more tech-oriented and liberal. There is no practice of sending “blog releases” for one. I guess press releases could work ok’ish for bloggers as well. I was advised though to be a bit more personal. Based on my experience the modified guidelines for reaching bloggers could be:

  • Instead of a full scale press release send a shorter email announcement.
  • Don’t ask to blog. If your subject is interesting the blogger will blog about it. That’s what bloggers do, blog about interesting things.
  • Pictures can and should be used as attachments to increase the interest on your matter.
  • Giving the blogger something exclusive they can give to their readers is a win-win trade. For example closed beta invitation tokens are good.
  • Journalists are used to getting treated well, bloggers aren’t. So treating bloggers as well as you treat journalists can make them happy.
  • Being as personal as possible is important. So aim for discussion with the bloggers instead of one way corporate announcement.
  • Emails are cheap so why only reach for the top blogs? Actually you might get much better coverage with less time spent from 100 top 1000 blogs instead of 3 top 10 blogs.

Thanks

The biggest part of our successful campaign and the lessons learnt are thanks to a handful of experts I had the pleasure to get advised by.

Annakaisa Vääräniemi – a highly regarded journalist – told me how to contact her kind.

Antti Vilpponen – a famous ArcticStartup blogger – gave me advice on reaching bloggers.

Asmo Halinen – an experienced serial entrepreneur – discussed the matter of press releases and how to manage company PR in the long run.

Vili Lehdonvirta – someone who has been featured in all the major media including TV and radio in Finland – gave good tips on press releases and advised who to contact in both Finnish and international press.

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7 Responses to “How we created a buzz around a game beta launch leading to 7 913 unique visitors and 28 336 visits”

  1. 1 jussi Vanhanen

    Good stuff Antti. Pretty good checklist and too often marketers (including me) just makes press release and use some PR-wire service. Then thumps up that it works.

    Do you have any tips or comments how to create distribution list for bloggers? I think that was interesting point of view that haven’t thought.

  2. 2 Diana

    Great post! Thanks for the insights! It is always essential to have a strategy for marketing your product or service. Your post helped me to rethink and refine my PR strategy 🙂

  3. 3 Pyry

    Thanks! Jussi, at least what we did was collecting a list based on plain old googling for keywords related to us: “MMO blog” “online games blog”.

    But of course it’s on the borderlines of spam if you start sending occasional list-emails to all your identified bloggers without their confirmation.

    This guy here happened to blog about my approach from blogger point of view: http://tagn.wordpress.com/2010/02/17/crown-of-byzantus-beta-ends-friday/

  4. I don’t see any mention of social media (aside from blogs). Hmm? :->

  5. 5 Pyry

    Don’t know is it just bad execution but in our case social networks were a really marginal traffic driver.

  6. I believe they should work very well for driving traffic in a context like this. Chances are either the social campaigning wasn’t done optimally – or it just didn’t take off for some unknown reason. People aren’t 100% predictable and sometimes marketing that should work just doesn’t. IMO.


  1. 1 How To Create Buzz With Your Company : antti.vilpponen.net

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