I’ve seen at least two posts over the years about what journalists want from indie developers to ensure coverage. That’s fine – it’s actually very useful information, and if you pay attention to it you’re far more likely to be covered by the outlet you’re submitting your stuff to.
However, there are things I’d like to see critics and journalists doing that would genuinely help both the developer sending something over and the writer themselves. I’ve listed them below, so press, I’d appreciate it if you read this and took it on board.
Ask original questions.
I don’t get interviewed on a daily basis, but when there’s existing coverage of your game that answers questions journalists are posing to you in an interview, the interview can feel a little redundant. Opening questions like “what’s your game about” is fine – that benefits everyone – but it’d be great to see someone say “I read an interview with you recently where you said this,” and follow up on that. While it’s our job to submit everything you need to do your job, asking questions that make it clear you’ve not read other coverage of the developer or the game creates two problems.
The first is that you’re forcing the developer to endlessly repeat themselves, to the point where it looks like they’ve got nothing else to say. While I like being interviewed (it’s an honour, each and every time), it engages my brain more when someone comes up with a question that I haven’t heard before.
The second problem a lack of originality in interviews creates is that from a content creator’s perspective, you’ve got nothing new to sell the reader. If there are five new Phil Fish interviews, and only one of them contains any new information the other four never thought to attempt to wrangle out of the Fez developer, that one will be the next interview to get a big hit of traffic and be used as a source for other journalism. Speaking as a journalist and a copywriter, each article you put out with the intent to see it succeed has to have a USP, unless you’re selling the writing on brand alone, and that probably isn’t the aim of any writer with high standards.
Poke around the scene.
While it can be exhausting getting only god knows how many emails from indies, your inbox isn’t the only source of good indie games. There are developers out there who aren’t actively seeking press coverage, but who are working on incredible projects that are often worth covering more than anything you’ve been emailed that morning. Not every talented person is seeking to make money or become famous. The best painter in the world could be casually dabbing oil pants onto a canvas in their shed.
These mythical indie developers aren’t impossible to find, either – dig through the TIGSource forums, poke around on Tumblr, prod indies on Twitter and ATTEND INDIE EVENTS. There are LOADS of these, and I’m personally a fan of taking games journalists to London Indies because there’s so much for them to see, do, and talk to people about. While it’s important that developers come to you through the right channels, journalism isn’t about being spoon-fed article ideas, and it’s cool to think that some of your all-time favourite games might be a few Google searches away.
Don’t ask for a quote and then disappear. Don’t offer coverage and do the same (I did this once, and I still feel bad about it). While it’s important for us to communicate and keep up with you, it’s important for you to meet this standard as well. No, I’m not sure what you should do if you find out the game is terrible and you’re not sure what to say, but realistically you’re a journalist – if the game seems bad to you, say so in your work, or provide the developer with a quick constructive update to explain why their coverage is being withdrawn.
Don’t vanish, because the promise of coverage is a really big deal to a lot of indie developers. You’re not toying with a company – you’re toying with the emotions of people who work very hard, often alone, on big projects that could be made or broken by good content. To be clear – I’m not saying reply to all the emails you get, I’m only referring to a conversation with a developer you’re already a part of. Don’t make yourself look like a waste of time and effort.
Understand that some indie projects are purely commercial.
Not every indie game you cover is going to be the personal tale of a developer who survived a war and is now making an FPS about it. Sometimes, developers who don’t work for studios will make games that are purely about fun and are commercial projects they want to sell on the basis of the game’s merits alone.
But what does this mean? Well, it means that you’re going to be getting an email that attempts to sell the game to you in a similar fashion to the way AAA emails are structured, and please don’t let this put you off. It can be frustrating, yes, to have to sort through all the hyperbolically positive text about a particular title, and on my part I attempt never to do that. But when I’m selling something that has no deeper meaning then “if you shoot the red barrel, it explodes,” appreciate that it’s still a game worth playing. Indies don’t just make personal story games.
Be professional, too.
Use spellcheck. Don’t be unprofessionally hostile towards games or developers, even on your own Twitter feed (we’re following you for a reason). Appear reasonable, approachable and even friendly. A big company isn’t scared of one journalist (although it should be – the journo-PR balance in games, when compared to film, seems unhealthy), but a lone developer who has little industry weight to throw around may find the press process intimidating.
This results in a problematic situation, when journalists are encouraging you to seek out the one writer on a site who will understand your game best, only for you to discover they’re about as warm as Alaska, and they’re your only option. I’m by no means saying journalists can’t express emotions – that’s censorship. But it’s worth analysing how you, as a specific writer, come across to lone developers or small teams who would want to approach you, and that’s something I don’t think everybody does. The Phil Fish thing goes both ways.
Speaking of Phil, he has an incredible mind, but it’s often lost behind the endless amount of chatter about his abrasive personality and view of the gaming press. The reverse exists for journalists, however, so don’t poison your own well.
Thank you for reading.
That’s about all I can think of, for now, but please comment if you’re an indie or journalist and you can think of any more, or hit me up on Twitter. I think it’s important that this “be professional” stuff is a conversation, rather than a lecture. Cheers, all.