PR 101 for Indie Game Developers – Now with Video!

I had the opportunity to give an updated version of my ‘PR for iPhone Games‘ talk to the New York Gaming Meetup on Tuesday. Focusing on indie development publicity for multiple platforms, the presentation walks viewers through the What, Why and How of doing PR – whether budgets are shoestring and you’re running the show yourself, or whether you seek outside help from a company like TriplePoint.

We took a video of the talk – view it below! View it in HD and full-screen if you’d like to have a look at the the slides from the updated presentation.

Chris Heintz, TriplePoint, PR 101 For Indie Game Developers from Ed Zitron on Vimeo.

View the notes-oriented version of the presentation on SlideShare below:

Continue reading PR 101 for Indie Game Developers – Now with Video!

A Blog Post About a Blog Post About a Blog Post

Meta enough for you?

Yesterday, AdGrok, a Silicon Valley startup that optimizes search engine advertising, posted a wonderfully crafted (and somewhat incendiary) blog post about the San Francisco bay area vs. New York City tech scenes. Written by founder Antonio Garcia, a former Goldman Sachs number-cruncher who ditched Wall Street to do his own thing, the post blew up:

Scoble Scobleized it. TechMeme posted it. Twitter exploded.

Anyway, why am I posting about it? This is a little window into the future of PR, folks. It’s easier than ever to publish original content, and it’s easier than ever for that content to get around – if it deserves to.

And Garcia knows exactly what he’s doing. In an earlier post about moving to the left coast and starting up a startup, he described what life’s like on the job, compared to his Goldman Sachs past. One of the daily to-dos? “Writing linkbait blog posts to get us free PR (like the one you’re reading now).”

Time will tell whether or not the extra pageviews will translate into success for AdGrok, but it’s a very tangible example of the power of original content. If you’re looking for exposure, say something that’s worth exposing.

PR 101 for iPhone Game Developers

TriplePoint has the unique opportunity to work with some of the best iPhone (and now iPad!) game developers out there. We’ve helped achieve success for a growing list of games – everything from classics like geoDefense and Real Racing to today’s number one paid app in the US App Store, ZombieSmash!

As a result, we receive a steady stream of inquiries from aspiring developers hoping to get our help launching their next great game. The companies coming to us for assistance are in all sorts of different market positions – one-man teams and expansive ones, microscopic budgets and gigantic ones. We’re ecstatic whenever we have the chance to serve a company with a great product and a great vision – but we do everything we can to help direct fledgling companies that may not have the budget to engage with a PR firm.

I gave a talk last week at 360|iDev (a great conference for iPhone app dev community) called “PR 101 for iPhone Game Developers.” I thought it’d be great to give a broad overview of what exactly this “PR” business is all about, and why it’s important to consider your PR approach well in advance of setting your shiny new iPhone game loose in the wild. It addresses a few big questions iPhone devs might have – what’s PR, why should I do it, and how can I do it (and how much does it cost)?

Here’s the deck – it’s a bit lighthearted, but I hope it’s insightful for anyone in this space who’s considering their marketing options:

TriplePoint Brewnanza: The Hefeweizen and The Brown Ale

Brewnanza (in case you missed the first or second posts) is an end-of-week office gathering intended to expand our collective knowledge and appreciation for craft beer – a market we’re eagerly looking to offer our services to. In fact, since the last post, we’ve added a page detailing the services we’d like to offer to craft brewers!

We’ve also just kicked off a casual blog over at, reporting on industry news we find interesting, and detailing our various beer adventures.

San Francisco Beer Week starts today (not to mention the fact that February is 21st Amendment and Magnolia‘s 8th annual Strong Beer Month), and we’ll be at the SF Brewer’s Guild‘s opening gala event tonight to partake in the delicious wares and meet some of the best brewers in the business.

This time, we report on our San Francisco crew’s thoughts on the Hefeweizen and Brown Ale styles.

The Hefeweizen

The Hefeweizen, often imbibed by Americans with a slice of lemon or orange in it – more on that later – is a wheat ale of German origin. It’s typically an unfiltered ale, often bottle-conditioned, and often extremely refreshing. Because of their unfiltered nature and high carbonation, these golden-amber brews often appear cloudy.

While an orange wedge in your Blue Moon might be advisable, don’t mess with a good thing if you’re trying a proper Hefe. Citrus cuts the wheat flavor and negatively impacts the head retention, which is important for the beer’s scent and flavor.

We tried a proper German example of the style – Hacker-Pschorr’s Hefe Weisse Natürtrub – and a nice American take on it, Sudwerk’s Hefe-Weizen from Sudwerk Restaurant and Brewery in Davis, CA.

We tried Sudwerk’s entry first, and enjoyed the offering. A bit one-dimensional and light, perhaps, but very drinkable and supremely refreshing. Vice President Eddiemae Jukes thought it had a bit of a tangy character, with a sour finish and aftertaste.

The nod easily went to the German offering, which was complex, refreshing, and incredibly drinkable. A bit darker and more opaque, the consensus was reached almost before downing a drop. The strain of yeast used in the hefeweizen is known for often having the scent and flavor of bananas, and this defining characteristic shone through on the Hacker-Pschorr brew. Account Executive Ryan Morgan thought it was “Very Nice” – and he actually underlined it, so you know it’s serious.

The Brown Ale

Spawned from the Mild Ale, Brown Ales tend to be maltier and sweeter on the palate, with a fuller body. Color can range from reddish brown to dark brown. Some versions will lean towards fruity esters, while others tend to be drier with nutty characters. All seem to have a low hop aroma and bitterness. A derivative of the English Brown Ale, the American version can simply use American ingredients. Many other versions may have additions of coffee or nuts. This style also encompasses “Dark Ales”. The bitterness and hop flavor has a wide range and the alcohol is not limited to the average either.

We tasted Hazelnut Brown Nectar, from Rogue Brewing Co. in Portland, Oregon, and Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale from North Yorkshire, England.

Being marketing people, we were impressed by Rogue’s packaging. They’ve always been a standout brewery in the graphic design department, and the stylized visage of a bearded-man-appearing-to-do-a-Jersey-Shore-style-fistpump on the bottle has an eye-catching aesthetic.

Beyond the logo, Account Supervisor Manny Lopez was a fan of the beer itself, giving it straight 5s in all categories, and labeling it “freaking tasty.” Account Executive Ben Karl thought it had a “mild” character, with “nutty and woody” flavors.

The Sam Smith offering – one of the first high-quality beers I ever tried, oddly enough – was relatively well-received, but most TriplePointers tended to prefer Rogue’s brown ale over the one from across the pond.

TriplePoint Brewnanza! #2: The Porter and Belgian Pale Ale

Brewnanza (in case you missed our first entry) is an end-of-week office gathering intended to expand our collective knowledge and appreciation for craft beer – a market we’re eagerly looking to offer our services to. This time, we report on our experience with the Porter – the grandfather of the stout – and the Belgian Pale Ale.Anchor Porter Image

The TriplePoint beer machine marches on – we’re neck-deep in research on the media landscape, and thus far we’ve established a network of hundreds of journalists who report on the business and pleasure of beer, from mainstream newspaper editors to beer bloggers and influencers. We’re reaching out to craft brewers to make sure we’re on track, and to find out what additional marketing muscles we might need to expand in order to offer top-notch marketing and PR services to beermakers. We look forward to touting a roster of craft breweries on our client list in the near future!

Be on the lookout soon for a dedicated blog (in the spirit of our casual/social gaming blog, Frisky Mongoose) about happenings in the craft beer world, with news from the craft beer industry, tasting reports, and more. Now, without further ado:

The Porter

One of the darkest quintessential beer styles, the Porter gets its name from its original imbibers – Central London transportation workers in the 1700s. Originally a blend of several different styles, the Porter might be considered the world’s first “engineered” beer – appropriate, since it fueled the workers who in turn drove the industrialization of England. Indeed, the Porter is considered the father of the Stout – stronger porters, originally called “Extra Porters,” “Double Porters” or “Stout Porters” evolved into their own category of Stouts.

Last Friday, we sampled two excellent and easy-to-find examples of the Porter – Anchor Porter from Anchor Brewing Company right here in San Francisco (one of the longest-operating craft breweries in the US), and The Famous Taddy Porter, from Samuel Smith Old Brewery in North Yorkshire, England.

The TriplePoint San Francisco team couldn’t agree on which offering was superior – there were a variety of opinions and musings about the look, taste, and other characteristics of both beers.

Intern and Beer Apprentice David Martinez would apparently drink Anchor Porter for breakfast if he could, giving it straight fives in every category and labeling it as “soooo smooth.”

Account Executive Ryan Morgan was met with a chorus of “ohhh, yeah, I can taste that too,” when he noted a pleasant hint of roasted coffee from each of the Porter contenders.

TriplePoint’s general manager (and effectively ultimate beer overlord) Rich Kain thought the Anchor offering improved over time, as it breathed and warmed up.

The Belgian Pale Ale (and bonus Saison)

No beer lover’s palate can be considered informed without sampling at least a few of the definitive beer styles from Belgium. A trip to Wikipedia’s Beer in Belgium article should be enough to convince you of the country’s love affair with yeast, malt and hops. Expect more focused samplings from Brewnanzas in the future – this time, we tried a couple of Belgian-style brews that can’t truly be compared apples-to-apples. We didn’t mind, so neither should you.

Just before the holidays, we tasted a couple of Belgian-style Pale Ales – a true Belgian Saison (or Farmhouse Ale) and a tasty American example of the Belgian Blonde style.

From just up the road in Santa Rosa, California, was Redemption – one of Russian River Brewing Co‘s wide range of Belgian-inspired ales. Bubbly and golden with an excessive white head, Redemtion greeted our noses with a fruity, citrus-laden scent. Its nose accurately indicates some of the flavor, which we agreed was sweet, with a slight bitter finish.

Redemption is a great beer with lots of complexity – but “complex” doesn’t come close to cutting it for our second sampling. From Brasserie Dupont in Belgium was Avec Les Bons Voeux, a spicy, complex Saison weighing in at 9.5% ABV. Account Supervisor Kate Pietrelli – our resident Belgian beer expert – alleges that Dupont boils this beer in centuries-old cast iron cauldrons, which over the years have accumulated the very essence of the complex blend of spices used in the Saison. And it shows – we noted strong appearances from coriander and other spices, giving this Belgian brew a unique, lingering flavor that evolves as it opens up.

We concluded that these were two different beers for two different seasons. Redemption is crisp and refreshing – great for a summer evening – while Avec Les Bons Voeux is far more complex, spicy and heavy – better for kicking back by the fire during the winter holidays.

Oddly, this assessment contradicts the history of Saisons, which were traditionally brewed in the winter for consumption in the summer. But tradition is for wine drinkers, so – bottoms up!

TriplePoint Brewnanza! #1: The American IPA and Russian Imperial Stout

One of the things that sets TriplePoint apart is the level of enthusiasm for games and technology that each member of our team brings to the table. We think that having genuine knowledge and interest in the markets we serve is incredibly important. Our enthusiasm doesn’t end with games and tech, though.

As it turns out, we have an unusually large contingent of self-styled beer connoisseurs on staff, and there’s no way we’re letting that go to waste! We’re looking at ways we can bring our PR, marketing and business expertise to craft breweries, helping grow their businesses and tap into the fast-growing market for good beer.

While we look at the best ways to do that, we’re using our collective appreciation for craft beer as an excuse to unwind at the end of the week and expand our beerological horizons – introducing TriplePoint’s Brewnanza!

The idea is simple: get together at the end of the week as a company, drink some beer, discuss the delicious, delicious flavor contained within, and chat about the beer industry. We’re focusing on one specific style of beer each week – for our first two Brewnanzas, we sampled two of the most popular trends in craft beer: the American IPA and Russian Imperial Stout.

The American IPA (India Pale Ale)

The India Pale Ale gets its name from the original English version of the style. British troops stationed in India in the late 1700s had to quench their thirst somehow – but standard Pale Ales could not weather the long sea voyage without spoiling. To combat this, beermakers added an exorbitant amount of hops (as hops are a natural preservative), upped the alcohol content, and produced a heftier brew with a bitter kick. The American version of the IPA is a flavorful, medium-bodied brew, typically with a bite that hits an imbiber’s nose and tounge with citrus, herbal notes, and bitter, bitter hops.

We sampled two California favorites: Stone IPA from Stone Brewing Company in Escondito, and Bear Republic’s Racer 5 IPA from Healdsburg.

Both brews share a lot in common – they’re big, aggressive and fragrant. In the end, the similarity shone through in the ratings. From a sampling of 7 TriplePoint San Francisco employees, Racer 5 juts barely got the nod, with an average overall rating of 4.14/5*. Tasters noted the excellent appearance and drinkability of Bear Republic’s offering, with perfect head, sticky lacing, and refreshing flavor. Stone IPA wasn’t far behind at 3.85/5*.

*Results scientific as heck. Don’t question our methods.

The Russian Imperial Stout

The King of Stouts. Easily confused with espresso. It’s that dark. Possibly the darkest style of beer brewed today, the Russian Imperial Stout is not for the weak-willed. It’s not uncommon to find RISs with 13% alcohol by volume – and what’s more astonishing, it’s not that uncommon to find ones that don’t taste like alcohol at all. The strength of the malt character in the RIS is astounding, and the variety of flavors offered by this robust style is hard to beat. These dark-as-night stouts typically feature notes of chocolate, coffee, roasted and burnt malt flavors, with nearly all hop character masked easily by the strength and complexity of the malts.

This was our first Brewnanza, and we sampled a much larger array of offerings – some, we admit, fall somewhere outside the ‘Imperial Stout’ family. We’re not sorry. As a result, we don’t have a clear consensus. They’re all winners in our book. Here’s what we tried – links point to these brews’ profiles on our favorite beer community resource and central hub for reviews,

For upcoming Brewnanzas, we’re going to stick to one or two offerings within a specific style, instead of a multitude of different beers. Next up, we’re ringing in the holidays right with a couple of the best beers in the Belgian Tripel style. Cheers!

Taming the Wild West: How the iPhone App Store Should – and Probably Will – Change

Faux App Store Walmart Logo

The iPhone has been the biggest boon for independent game and app developers in recent memory, but the surge of devs looking to cash in has overwhelmed the current format of the App Store as an e-commerce platform.

It’s a good problem to have, certainly, but it means there’s a huge opportunity for Apple to push the needle even more by improving the way products are presented to consumers on the platform.

Apple’s brick and mortar stores are hip, sparse environments with big aisles and a dearth of shelf space – they can pull this off because they have only a few product lines, and they’ve achieved premium brand positioning akin to high-end fashion and jewelry retailers.

But if Apple’s retail outlets are Prada and Tiffany’s, then the App Store is Walmart.

There are currently upwards of 115,000 third-party apps available for iPhone owners to choose from, and like it or not, most of these aren’t exactly premium products. There’s a glut of amazing software out there, but most of it’s small, simple and cheap.

And while the variety and value found in the App Store is similar, the presentation of products is nothing like Walmart. It isn’t even like Amazon or other big online retailers. To service those 115,000 products, the App Store actually has surprisingly limited options for product visibility.

The App Store’s shelf space consists of just a few sought after promotional slots, determined by Apple’s editorial team (presumably a group of cloaked and hooded masterminds, convening in an ominous-looking cave somewhere deep beneath Cupertino). Besides the limited promotional space, product presentation is nothing more than a few lists of top-selling products.

And for the majority of that shelf space – even apps lucky enough to show up in the ‘What’s Hot’ spotlight and similar sections – only the app title and icon are visible. There’s a wealth of information that could be added – an app’s rating, a brief description, rotating screenshots, etc. – by slightly increasing the real estate given to promoted apps.

Product presentation in a big-box retailer is carefully controlled. Shelf space is rationed out to specific products based on an overwhelming amount of research (not to mention plenty of deals and partnerships), and endcap promotions are constantly cycling. Similarly, online retail behemoths like Amazon and Newegg have a constant stream of promotions and complete control over the placement of products.

Online retailers are getting even better about customizing product placement based on each user’s viewing and purchasing habits. Apple has dipped its toes in the water with the ‘Genius’ feature, but there’s surely an opportunity to deliver a more personalized user experience for every iPhone owner. If the App Store was as good at suggesting products as Amazon and Netflix, it would mean more overall app sales (good for Apple) – and probably far less of a top-heavy market (good for developers).

There are signs Apple is learning lessons from online and offline retailers. Seasonal and demographically targeted banner promotions (“Apps for Toddlers”) inside the App Store have become more commonplace, and the ‘Apps for iPhone’ promotion on recently saw a revamp.

Apple is undoubtedly cognizant of the App Store’s deficiencies – major changes could be just around the corner. Whatever these changes end up being, they could mean a whole new game for iPhone app marketing. Developers need to stay on their toes, as those who are able to adjust when the landscape shifts will be ahead of the game.

geoDefense Swarm…Swarming the App Store!

Wow, what a couple of days for David Whatley of Critical Thought Games.

Earlier this year, Whatley launched geoDefense, a retro-styled tower defense game for the iPhone. Due to its brilliantly challenging level design, unassailable game balance, and long-lasting gameplay, geoDefense established a dedicating following and achieved sleeper hit status. His follow-up, geoDefense Swarm, is anything but a sleeper:

As of 11 AM on Thursday the 17th – not three days since it launched – Swarm is sitting pretty at #7 in Top Paid Apps in the US App Store, and #4 in All Games. What does that look like in comparison to the original? Well, here’s a handy chart David just posted on his blog:

Both games are excellent – the early consensus seems to indicate that both Swarm and the original stand on their own as equally excellent titles. So what’s the difference?

It’s critical mass. Swarm had a tidal wave of well-deserved hype and anticipation that created a massive crowd of day-one customers: the engine behind Swarm‘s explosive out-of-the-gate showing.

The original geoDefense launched like most indie games: with little fanfare, few to no previews and a slow trickle of reviews. It was a phenomenal game – it achieved a very respectable level of success entirely on its own merits, and then really took off once a series of glowing reviews gave it a substantial bump.

Swarm, on the other hand, has a built-in audience of dedicated geoDefense fans ready to buy on day one – as long as they knew it was coming. Thanks to an extensive preview campaign, ongoing interaction with the community, and calculated launch publicity, those folks definitely knew it was coming!

This level of success in the App Store depends on hitting the sweet spot ‘above the fold’ – that is, in the Top Paid Apps list. Once you’re there, if you’ve developed a great game, you’re  golden. And while there’s no secret formula for getting there, it’s irrefutable that carrying out a deliberate publicity push surrounding your game’s launch – previews shortly before, and reviews immediately at launch – is one of the most important things you can do to prepare that critical mass of buyers to push you above the fold.

Congrats to David on an excellent launch, and an even more excellent game. Go buy it! iTunes Link

PR, Whatever That Means

My Twitter bio reads, “I’m a PR guy, whatever that means.”

It might sound cynical at first (and it probably is, a bit), but I like to think it has another meaning – it’s simply a statement of fact. PR is, has always been, and always will be an evolving practice.

The changing landscape of journalism, the uptake of social media, and the worst aspects of capitalism coming to a head at the same time are all factors that affect the way we communicate about products and brands.

For TriplePoint, there’s another layer of complexity: we live in the games industry, a sector that’s defined by constant change. And the latest upheaval has been a fierce one.

In part due to the factors I mentioned above, and in part due to a number of new technologies, the barriers to entry for new gaming products have been smashed to the ground.

As EA’s Paul Barnett (who once bragged to a journalist during an interview about his uncanny ability to keep PR handlers on their toes – truthfully, might I add) says, we’ve entered a new golden age of gaming – one where two folks in a garage can come up with something brilliant, and make a boatload of dollars doing it.

That’s a glorious thing. But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.

See, the problem is this: there are a million people, with a million great ideas, in a million garages.

While the risks might be lower for these microscopic teams, the competition is brutal. And they’re all on Twitter. You still need to build a brand.

For brands in their infancy, communications decisions go far deeper than timing and rhetoric. We’re talking about product pricing. Features. Funding. Web development. Community building. Advertising. And yeah, all that social media stuff.

Larger organizations wouldn’t even hint at core strategic decisions to a third party, but small teams are flexible. They’re often more comfortable accepting the advice of an agency on the big choices.

But only if we know what we’re talking about.

As PR folks, it’s more important than ever to break free from the stereotype of ‘smile & dial media list generators.’ In short, we can’t just be PR people anymore. We have to do more. For an organization like TriplePoint, that’s easy – because we already have a keen understanding of every aspect of the games industry. The big agencies, though, are bound to be spread too thin, without that laser-sharp understanding of a specific market.

I’m not just a PR guy, whatever that means.

Follow Backbreaker on Twitter

Sports gamers looking forward to NaturalMotion’s upcoming football title, Backbreaker, are eagerly anticipating the title’s bone-crunching tackles, powered by the euphoria animation engine. The most dedicated Backbreaker fans have been interacting on the game’s official forums for almost a year – and now, gamers have another way to keep apprised of the latest in all things Backbreaker, by following the game and its developers on Twitter: