iPhone Game PR – A Case Study

IGN Real Racing

Australian mobile developer Firemint came to us a few months ago with one goal in mind: to make their new iPhone game stand out among the crowd. Of course, this is no small task given the extraordinary rate of proliferation of iPhone games appearing on the App Store since the beginning of the year. But Firemint had something unique: a car racing simulator called Real Racing that had been in development for more than a year and specifically designed with the unique feature set of the iPhone and iPod touch in mind.

Firemint’s unique challenge was that they had a little over two months to officially announce, promote, and differentiate Real Racing from the competition before it launched. And the main competitor in this instance was EA’s Need for Speed iPhone title, a game launching in the same period that had enjoyed months of marketing and PR support from the industry’s biggest game publisher.

Talk about an underdog situation.

When we engaged with Firemint, we strategized a number of different methods for promoting Real Racing, but we settled on an approach that shied away from blitzing the press with a constant stream of new info and assets. Instead we developed a plan that focused on targeted and impactful coverage opportunities that would build awareness and anticipation among the iPhone gaming community and end users.

It was essential for the studio to find a cost-effective way to compete for user mindshare in the increasingly competitive iPhone game space. What the majority of titles on the App Store lack in quality, they make up for in abundance. A major Firemint goal was to prove that they are committed to iPhone gaming, and not just doing a one off project for a quick buck.

Our first step was to identify Real Racing’s iPhone-specific capabilities and build an overall strategy around the strongest features of the product. Those features included:

  • Unique Controls – Players use the iPhone itself as a steering wheel to navigate their cars
  • Cloudcell Technology – Firemint’s proprietary tech that enables users to post YouTube videos, Tweet best times, and upload scores directly from the app
  • Online Community Support – Players can create personal leaderboards on their Cloudcell profiles and compete in league play with other users all over the world

In our messaging, we wanted to show that Real Racing was more than just a racing simulator; the game integrated features unique to the iPhone platform that enabled users to share the experience with others in a truly revolutionary way. By designing games around the device’s unique technologies, the studio demonstrated their conviction that the iPhone is a viable mobile gaming platform, and not just a passing trend.

The next step was to identify influencers in the press most likely to appreciate Real Racing and the Firemint story. The 2009 Game Developers Conference provided an excellent venue for establishing those relationships, demonstrating the product, and setting up future coverage opportunities as the game headed for launch. We targeted three different press categories and built messaging appropriate for each.

  • Core iPhone Gaming Press – Developing a foundation of support among your core audience is essential. And thus demonstrations were scheduled with iPhone gaming focused outlets such as Slide to Play, Touch Gamer and Pocket Gamer.
  • General Gaming Enthusiast Press – We wanted to make sure general gaming enthusiasts were aware of the product, so we reached out and scheduled appointments with IGN, UGO and Destructoid (a popular gaming blog) among others.
  • General Consumer Tech – We set up an meeting with MacWorld to discuss the overall trend of iPhone gaming

Following GDC, our strategy was to foster those new relationships and offer exclusive coverage opportunities to those outlets that would give the most bang for Firemint’s buck. IGN and PocketGamer, in particular, were two of our top targets because of their impressive site traffic and serious coverage of the iPhone gaming space. First look previews, exclusive interviews with Firemint team members and trailer debuts were a few of the press initiatives we set up with the sites.

In addition to the exclusives, we occasionally distributed art and video assets to all appropriate press outlets, giving potential users a peek at the game’s impressive visuals and 3D environments. Also, to establish Firemint as a leader in the iPhone development space, we set up interviews that focused on the unique development capabilities offered by the iPhone.

When it came time for review outreach, we collected UDIDs (iPhone identifier codes) from select press and provided them with early builds of Real Racing. Delivering review builds early gave press the opportunity to play the game and prepare their story, which could be posted on the same day of the game’s launch. Following launch, we provided redeemable iTunes download codes to a list of journalists pre-determined to have an interest in covering the game (Apple usually only provides developers with 50 codes per game).

Highlights from the campaign include:

  • Previews from demonstrations during GDC appeared on MacWorld.com, IGN, and UGO, along with stories appearing among top iPhone-dedicated sites 148 Apps, TouchArcade, and Pocket Gamer.
  • The New York Times covered Firemint in a story about the proliferation of innovative games on the iPhone http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/29/technology/29iphone.html
  • US News and World Report recently included Real Racing on their list of the top 10 apps every college student should have on their iPhone http://www.usnews.com/blogs/professors-guide/2009/07/15/10-best-iphone-apps-for-college-students.html
  • Levi Buchanan of IGN said of Real Racing, “If you have a friend that thinks your iPhone is no gaming platform, shove this game down their throat.” Brian Crecente of top gaming blog Kotaku said, “It seems like the best racer on the platform.”
  • More than 20 reviews have been posted online, with an average score of 9/10.
  • The game appeared on the App Store’s Top 25 list within days of premiering, and sales are still strong after six weeks. More than 750 users have reviewed the game, which is now rated at 4.5 stars on the App Store.
  • According to Compete.com, Firemint’s official site traffic tripled more than tripled at its peak in June during the period they engaged PR, though the popularity of Firemint’s other iPhone game, Flight Control, almost certainly contributed to this

Of course, Firemint’s dedication and commitment to quality made Real Racing a critical and commercial success. But with a little PR help, they were able to share their creation with a bigger and more receptive audience. Vast marketing and advertising budgets are impressive, but for an independent developer a little targeted buzz can go a long way … and it’s affordable!

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