The Minimalist Game PR Email: A GIF, A Link, & A Steam Key

Not everyone can hire a PR person, especially indie game devs often working as a one-person-team. That said, I often get a lot of…rough emails from devs.  As an example, here’s a barely edited sample directly from my inbox:

The obvious issue here is…I know nothing about the game. Sure, I could click that link, but it’s just as easy to click the ‘archive message’ button, and with 50+ emails in my box, that’s probably my first reflex nine times out of ten if you don’t make an impression. I wish I could say this is rare, but I get a lot of these. A few very basic PR services even send out emails that are basically this with better formatting.
And I get it! Almost certainly you’re a gamedev first and a PR person second. Or third. Fifth. Sixteenth. That’s fine! But even solo or hobby game devs still need to do a little homemade PR too.  Let’s take a look at creating a Minimum Viable Product for game PR that gets people to actually look at your game even if we can’t pay someone to just do it for us.
Game PR as a Minimum Viable Product
You’ve probably heard of Minimum Viable Products before; it’s all about making the simplest, easiest, cheapest thing that (you think) will actually solve your/your client’s problem. And hey, there’s something to be said about minimalism in general for PR—I’m no big YouTuber, and even I get 10+ emails a day most days. I’m sure major review sites are getting many, many times more than that. You’re going to need to assume anyone looking at your email is getting dozens of similar pitches.
Here’s what helps me the most, as a gaming YouTuber with far, far more emails than time:

HABITAT
Sunday February 02, 2020

A really tiny version of the Civilization game. You have to grow plants to get food, build houses and make …

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A GIF of the game
A link to the Steam/itch.io/etc page
A review key to actually play the game right now

SHOT IN THE DARK
Friday March 13, 2020

A funny oldschool platform game in which you’re a wanted bandit, exploring the dark corners of Wild West. Who lurks …

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That’s it. You can and probably should give me a little text snippet describing the game, but really, a good GIF can really sell that on it’s own. Show me just enough of the game to give me a sense of the gameplay, the setting, the mood. Something your target audience will see and think “yep, I want that!”.
You can use a YouTube video instead if you like, especially if music/sound is critical to your game; when I say “GIF” I mean something short, small, and punchy. Even if it’s a video, think Vine, not RedLetterMedia.
GIFs are Magic
What’s so great about a GIF? Let’s use an a (fake) copy example, pretending I’m pitching Assault Android Cactus.
Assault Android Cactus is a score-based Twin-Stick Shooter available on Steam featuring full controller support, multiple game modes, and 9 selectable characters with unique weapons.
If you got that in your email, would you be interested? Maybe you really like Twin Stick shooters, but there’s a lot of those. Let’s try a GIF that takes as about as long to watch as that took to read, this one from FutureBetaGamer:

LIGHT SPEED RUNNER
Tuesday March 24, 2020

Can a person run with the speed of light? Well, in this game it’s quite possible… only if you have …

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It’s a lot more clear what the game really is now, isn’t it? Which one of those two pitches would make you more likely to download the game? GIFs are also a lot more shareable; GIFs of Assault Android Cactus flooded NeoGAF when the game was in Beta, and I have a feeling the game’s high GIFability added to its success.
GIFs are Micro-Trailers
Think of your GIF as a few seconds long game trailer. For inspiration, check out the @microtrailers Twitter account that slaps together just 6 seconds of trailer for every Steam game. You can learn a surprising amount about a game in 6 seconds!
Even if your game isn’t that animated, like a VN or RPG, a GIF doesn’t have to be unedited gameplay footage; show a few seconds of different interface/art shots. Show the intro. Show whatever will make me think “okay, THAT’S what the game is”.
And remember, it just has to catch the eye, it doesn’t have to be perfect. We’re being minimalist here, and all you really need to do is convince me to slap that code in Steam and launch the game; that’s the goal of our Minimum Viable Product PR email. After that, your game itself will do the work. When reaching out to press and YouTubers, all your email has to do is get them to play it.
GIF is a Concept, Not A File Format
Note I’m not specifically recommending you send a 10 MB actual .gif file attached to every email. Most sites convert GIFs to video files for a reason; the file format is kinda crusty, but the psychological impact is what we’re really after here. Gfycat even has a Gmail extension for this. But to most people they’re still “GIFs”.
Just Send The Steam Key
So hopefully by now you’re as big a fan of GIFs as I am. But what’s this about just sending a Steam Key to people directly? Shouldn’t I make them ask? Shouldn’t I confirm some information?
Basically, it’s about trust. If you already trust me enough to be sending me a PR email for your game offering me a key, you should trust me enough to send me a key, right? If all I have to do is say “yep, gimme a key”, well, that’s not really a security layer is it? A key reseller (or hell, a bot) can say that just as easily as a real journalist, reviewer, or whatever they’re calling us YouTube video makers lately.
Obviously the bigger you are, the more hoops journalists, content creators, etc. will be willing to jump through—but we’re talking minimalist, minimum viable product stuff here. Remember that you’re putting more work on your shoulders if you have to manually vet and reply to each code request too!
Even if your game is free, make sure to include either a direct download link or your Itch.io/etc page. Yes, I get emails without a link to the game, particularly from mobile developers.
Other Ways To Save Time on Game PR
Game PR is a lot of work, fortunately other people have done a lot of the setup for you; particularly Rami Ismail, creator of both Distribute() and Presskit(). Distribute() helps you reach out to creators and verifies them before sending them keys, and Presskit() lets you create a, well, presskit in a matter of minutes that media can find and learn about your game.
There’s of course also people you can pay to do all of this for you; see my review of the major game review key distribution sites. This isn’t a one-size-fits all solution—it’s a minimum viable product! But minimal is good for time crunched developers AND time crunched reviewers. I should know, I’m both!
Have you tried sending ‘minimalist’ PR emails like this? Got other tips for outreach? Let everyone know in the comments below!
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