Making noise: How Thomas Was Alone creator Mike Bithell put Volume on so many gaming sites
A note from Ben: Mike Bithell found success with Thomas Was Alone, and recently launched a successful PR campaign for his new game, Volume. Sony just featured the title during their press event at Gamescom, and many people are wondering how Bithell was able to convince so many gaming sites to cover this announcement. His answer is interesting, and filled with no-bullshit advice for publicizing your game. Enjoy!
So. You may have heard about my game. It's called Volume, and it's a stealth game. You are more than welcome to visit the site for more info. But I'm not here to plug my game. Well, I am, a little, but mainly I'm here because a lot of my indie dev friends asked me a question on Tuesday:
“How are you on every website?”
PR is a dirty word. It's often sneered at by indies as a waste of time, a distraction from making a game. Worse, promoting yourself is way of hyping, a dishonest grab for attention when your game isn't worth it. If you're game is really really good, then it'll find an audience on merit, and you'll gain the respect you need.
Unfortunately, that's a myth indies with successful games have kind of encouraged through our silence on the topic. Sure, the odd weird little game is so good it spreads like wildfire, but the vast majority of indie games you've heard of have been marketed with some thought. I wanted to lay out the process I went through to get Volume as many places as possible on the day of the announcement.
Disclaimer: I'm lucky enough to have a good network of contacts in the press, primarily from my last game, Thomas Was Alone. While this gives me a degree of access unavailable to people starting out, I still hope this is relevant and useful.
It began about three weeks ago. It looked like we were on course to have a trailer ready within the week, and David [Housden] was nearly there with the music. The game was pretty bug free, definitely good enough for the trailer, and to demo it on livestreams. It was time to announce.
Off the record, I went to some journalists and asked them for advice on a day to do it. Common wisdom says Tuesday (early enough in working week that not a lot has happened, late enough that the weekend's breaking news has been covered) but August 13th was especially attractive because there were no major embargoes lifting. Saint's Row was known to be a fun game that'd make some noise, but Tuesday was just before that would get started. I had my date.
Knowing this, me and the team worked hard and pulled a lot of late nights to get the game ready, and actually finished earlier than we expected. It was tempting to go out with the news a week early, but I decided to stick to the plan. The Thursday before the announcement, I began talking openly about an announcement happening, and was approached by a number of the outlets who had the longer form articles and pieces ready, Eurogamer and Rock Paper Shotgun for example.
I also gave a brief exclusive to The Guardian, because they're awesome and were amongst the first to cover Thomas. These were all done behind closed doors early, to ease the pressure on the day for me as well as for the people having to write the articles.
On the announcement date, I had a new site hidden and ready to go, along with a short YouTube trailer and longer form explanation video. These were hidden from prying eyes, but accessible if you knew the URL, meaning all I had to do was mention the link on twitter to get the ball rolling. I simultaneously sent an email to roughly 120 journalists, all of whom had covered my stuff before or asked to be included in my mailing list.
Subject: I made Thomas Was Alone, I'm now making VOLUME
Body: Volume is a game about a clever man, in a little room.
A trailer, and more information, can be found at the site below.
Combining retro flavoured top down stealth with player generated environments, Volume is designed as a fast paced, smart action game. The player cannot kill, so must use their Ricochet to control enemies, steal loot and complete levels created by friends. It is designed, coded and written by the award winning creator of Thomas Was Alone, Mike Bithell (me) and scored by the epically talented and still annoyingly young David Housden.
I'm available for any interviews you might fancy doing, and to provide any additional information needed. I'm available over Skype or email, and will be attending GDC Europe next week. Please don't hesitate to get in touch.
I am not announcing platforms for the game just yet, but that info will be available shortly.
There is no embargo on this news.. HAVE AT IT!
A few upcoming events to do with the game:
I'll be streaming the game tonight at 9pm UK time (Tuesday) for the first time, and answering viewer questions, watch my twitter (@mikebithell) for final details.
The game will be playable first at Eurogamer Expo 2013 (I'll also be in attendance, if you'd like to schedule an interview and live demo)
The game's story and cast will be announced as part of GameCity in Nottingham, I will not be able to answer any story questions until that time.
So, it was not a normally dry press release, but it clearly and briefly got through all the information neccesary. I then tweeted out the news. And, that was it. I've been dealing with the fallout of emails since then, doing Skype interviews, text emails and podcast recordings. Balancing everything and trying to be prompt with everyone is hard, but possible.
And it worked. The trailer has hit 42k views, which is nice, and every major game site, and many smaller ones, seem to have done coverage. I hope that by talking about the process openly, I've demystified it a little.
Oh, and one last thing. The only major site which didn't cover the original announcement? Penny Arcade Report. So when I decided to write this post I ran the idea to post it up on Penny Arcade by the guys here. Perhaps a bit cynical, but if this blog post was going to exist anywhere online, why not put it somewhere where new folks will see it. [You clever bastard. -Ben] I guess that'd be my last tip, seek out opportunities, and never be afraid to be a bit cheeky.
Getting the word out is tricky, but if you're friendly, honest and aren't afraid to put yourself out there, it can work.