There’s a lot of words wrote about how to contact the press, lots of good words, lots of bad words, lots of dense words (Mike’s post is great info but super, super dense to wade through, do click through the links at the bottom too) and The Bible.
I’ve done words about press things myself in the past too (1), (2) but there’s a few things it’s probably worth adding given some stuff I’ve read recently and from the state of my own inbox. Let's start with the most important first.
You send review codes to the press for them to review your game.
I can’t stress this hard enough, if you want someone to review your game, enable that.
Make as few steps between “I’d like you to review this game” and “hey, we can review this game for you” as possible. The easiest way to do this is to provide them with a code or review copy off the bat.
I want you to review the game, here is the game. Ta da.
This is the single most obvious thing to do, yet in my experience it’s the single most overlooked one too.
Put yourself in the shoes of your average everyday hard hitting games journalist. You have ten minutes spare to look at something else. You have two emails sitting in your inbox. The first is a blurb for a game out today, "contact me for a review code" it says. The second is a blurb for a different game out today, "here's how you can download the game right now" it says.
Be the one with the download details because that'll be the one that gets looked at. Yes, it'll mean not just sitting there and mailing out a generic press release to the people you want to review the game. That's OK, press releases are probably best going out to press release dumps not real people most of the time anyway.
Review codes aren’t always available so have another plan.
There’s scenarios where handing out review codes isn’t quite so easy. Launching on iOS? You’re going to have 50 codes and 50 codes alone initially so spend them wisely. Launching on XBLIG? You’re going to have I don’t know, I stopped counting or caring a while back but that’s your lot sunshine when you’re done anyway. Launching on Google Play? What’s a code again?
If you don’t have a code, try and have another way for someone to try your game at hand. Maybe that’s through Testflight (fiddly but doable), maybe it’s through having a build for another platform to hand (where it won’t really matter what platform because pffft, they’re all the same or close enough), maybe it’s in person or whatever.
Be resourceful, have some way for people to play your game if you can't rely on review codes to get the work out there. Hoping that games journalists will be so enamoured with your press release or preview page that they'll nip off and buy your game isn't really smart thinking. Expecting them to take time out to mail you is, well, it's an idea. That's what it is. It's your job (or the PR you hire) to make them having access to your work as easy as it can be.
Offering a review code is fairly simple exchange all told and one that should be as respectful as possible. When you throw out your game to someone because you want it reviewing, you’re offering a key which is an essential item not the chance of winning the lottery. It’s not a special treat, get it whilst it’s hot, first come first served special offer. It’s a bit of a matter of fact “I have something I’d like you to look at, can you look at it?” sort of thing.
You might not get a yes (you probably won't get a yes), you might not get a reply at all (I know I’m bogged down enough to just file things away and I don’t write for any major publications so…) but whatever, you’ve not got a nice pile of tasty cakes (unless you're Andrew of Spilt Milk), you’ve got a review code so someone else can review your game.
Hand it over. No dancing!
If you’re on Steam or any other system that doesn’t have a super tight amount of codes, DO NOT EVER TRY AND PRETEND THEY ARE SUPER HARD TO COME BY.
Every journalist you’ll speak to who does videogame words for a living knows that they will not be. They know you don’t just generate 6 and then you can never ever ever have any codes ever ever ever again. They do this every day, everyone else is sending them codes except you. Even those that don’t quite know how Steam codes work can happily work out that 99% of the bundle market would have collapsed long ago if keys were super limited so just save all that hassle and don’t be a fibber.
If everyone else can get thousands of codes generated for a bundle, you can get the amount you’ll need for review outlets with ease. If you want someone to review your game, just give them the code.
If you're on a console or any device with a limited amount of codes, the game journalist will be aware of the limitations of that device also so just have a little chat about what the best way is.
The worst of this isn’t that you’re trying to be all smart and big company and come and get it (assuming you’re not a big company, natch), it’s that you’re lying and taking someone for a complete fool and you want them to review your game. If I wanted you to review my game and I opened up our relationship with a great big fat lie, we’re not going to get off to the best of starts. If you want the help of journalists in getting the word out about your game, don’t be a noddy to them as your first move. This is pretty simple BE NICE stuff. So BE NICE.
Yes. Do that.