THE TABLES HAVE TURNED: Interview with a Journalist

Interview with a Journalist: Chelsea Stark Edition

By Valerie Turpin

Of the many cool things I can do while working at TriplePoint, one of my favorites is interacting with journalists. Talking to intelligent people who are passionate about the same things I enjoy? Don’t mind if I do.

Recently, I had a chance to speak with the lovely Chelsea Stark, games reporter at Mashable, about life and work in the games industry. In the following Q&A, Chelsea discusses the origins of Mashable’s games content, what her average inbox looks like (spoiler alert: it’s not pretty), and tips for those looking to pitch her their next project.

Be sure to check out Chelsea’s work at Mashable, and follow her on Twitter @chelseabot.

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Alright, let’s get your name and occupation.

My name is Chelsea Stark, and I’m the games reporter at Mashable.

What made you get into specifically games journalism?

I kind of fell into games journalism, I guess, because I had always looked at it as “hey, that would be a fun job,” but thought, “that’s not really a job” [laughs]. I already had a background in local news, and I had always been passionate about combining new technology with reporting, so ending up at Mashable was a pretty logical fit. And when they didn’t have a games reporter, of course I jumped on that opportunity.

So did you push to become the games reporter, or were they already looking to build that out?

They were never thinking about it, really. Before I came on, there had been some freelancers covering games, but no single dedicated person. There was also an entertainment editor who covered games as part of his beat, but he left about a month after I started. He was nice enough to give me his contacts, and that’s kinda what started it.

Basically, I kept doing it and doing it, and I had an awesome direct boss who was really supportive of the idea and was also passionate about games. But it took about a year for the whole thing to actually happen. I mean, you have to prove yourself if you’re going to do something like that. It’s a big risk for a company.

You’re still a small games team, correct?

“Team!” It’s me; I have the luxury of being able to tap a couple different freelancers and a couple of really talented interns, and sometimes I get help from people who know something about games here or there.

But you’re the gatekeeper?

I’m the gatekeeper! Anything games-related that happens on Mashable, it generally runs through me.

That’s really cool. What’s something you would love to cover?

I think character-driven stories are the most interesting stories, and I personally love the more human interest stories, whether it’s something like “why do people play games” or “what makes it harder for some people to be gamers.” I’d really love to do a big profile on gamers with disabilities; I think that would be really cool. I think it’s also really interesting how technology is changing our culture, how games have changed our culture, and how games bring people together. I think those are more interesting stories than, hey, look at this cool new trailer. I really want those cool, captivating stories.

Moving toward the line of PR questions, what’s the best pitch you’ve ever had?

I’m a big fan of the personalized, TL;DR pitches. You know, give me the information of why I should care. Make it funny, make it interesting, and tell me why it’s relevant for me, because we’re not exactly the same as other sites, and nobody likes being generalized.

How many pitches do you generally get in a day? I’m sure your inbox is a disaster [laughs].

It’s pretty much a disaster, yeah [laughs]. I feel like I’m getting pitched about 100 times a day, could be a little less, but it’s not just pitches that are over email. It’s on Twitter, Facebook… if people figure out an internet way to reach me, I’ll get pitches through it. Sometimes I get kind of annoyed if I get pitches through LinkedIn, about.me, Facebook, all that stuff. Just funnel it to email! It’s not like my email is that hard to figure out [it’s chelsea@mashable.com, everyone], so I feel like it’s lazy to not just look for it.

Makes sense. Most people seem to be pretty against pitches that aren’t email these days – what about phone calls?

I hate my phone! A phone call is a last ditch, holy sh*t effort, or if we already have a really good relationship. That’s a fine reason to call me. Otherwise, I had a desk phone about a month and a half ago that got replaced with Google Voice, but I think a lot of people still have that phone number, so I imagine my fake desk phone is ringing a lot right now.

I remember last year around E3, I got maybe six calls in one day, and the guy sitting next to me was just cracking up because I was getting madder and madder every time the phone rang. And it was all stuff where I had already not being interested in three earlier emails, and we never had a relationship before.

So what’s the best way for someone to start a relationship with you?

Just be genuine. I can recognize if you’ve done a mail merge or if the email looks like copy text, but if you say “hey, I read this story about this, and this is why I think you would like this,” then I’m up to read it. I got a really good pitch from an indie developer at PAX who said something like, “hey Chelsea, I like you, I think your stuff’s cool, I like this story you wrote, please meet with me, here’s my studio, here’s a couple lines about us.” It was perfect: it was short, it was to the point, but it also showed she made the effort.

Do you get pitched by developers often?

Yeah, sometimes I do. Sometimes it’s stuff that I might not be able to cover; some are great, some are not good, but yeah, they reach out. A lot of times that’ll start through Twitter, and they’ll ask what the best way to contact me is. And that’s actually okay, but Facebook messages really annoy me for some reason.

Along those lines, what’s something you wish all PR people knew?

Don’t pitch me sh*t that’s not games, because that’s just ridiculous! How often do I have to say this? [laughs] I think a lot of it is they’ll see the name Mashable and will just send me whatever pitch, since that’s where I write. Like tech apps, Mother’s Day stuff…I got pitched for a caffeine powder the other day. I just think, we’re people, I’m a person, be on a human level, and don’t email me a zillion times. If you email me once a day, I will just forget that you exist and send you to my spam folder. I once got 9 emails in 10 days from the same PR person, and I didn’t respond to any of them.

Yikes! Noted. Anything else you’d want us to know?

I would like people to understand that it’s not that I don’t care. It’s that, as a small team at Mashable, I’m having to write stories and organize our games coverage, edit our freelancers, do other administrative stuff, respond to all those emails. There’s very few people that I hate, so it’s not that I’m mean and hate you, promise. I would love to cover more indie games, I just literally don’t have enough time.

 

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Have questions about this story or think this is a cool idea for a series? Ping me on Twitter @valeriecturpin, where you’ll also find too many tweets with terrible puns.*

*excellent puns

8 PR Tips for Kickstarter Projects

Over the past year, we’ve been hearing from developers who want PR support not for the launch of their game, but for their Kickstarter projects. Promoting a Kickstarter project bears some similarity to a traditional product PR campaign; however, there are some major differences that will influence the way you approach a PR effort. Like any game, product, or service, it must be of high quality and there must be a demand for it in order for PR to be effective. If you’ve got that covered, then the next step is getting the word out in the right way; here are some tips and best practices we’ve learned through experience and observation.

1) Ask Not for Money

A common complaint we’ve heard from members of the press is that writing about Kickstarter projects puts them in an awkward position, or worse, a conflict of interests. The reporter’s job is to inform their readers, not to help a struggling artist raise money. If one goal accomplishes the other, so be it, but in your outreach to press, you must avoid asking for help or assistance in reaching your fundraising goal. Your objective should be to show and tell about the amazing game you’re developing, not to put the pressure you feel to reach a fundraising goal on other people.

2) Early Access for Media

One of the greatest advantages any game developer has in terms of PR is being new and unannounced. Once you’re live on Kickstarter, you’re not quite as new anymore. So treat your Kickstarter launch as a proper launch and offer a select handful of press some early access to the info, assets, and/or game preview you plan to share when your Kickstarter goes live.

3) Target Wisely

Some journalists have tweeted or written about “Kickstarter fatigue” and not wanting to hear about or write about any more Kickstarters. Avoid these people. Before you contact someone, read their work to make sure they are interested in the type of game you’re making, and that they’ve shown interest in promising Kickstarter projects before.

4) Update Often

We’ve seen a direct correlation between Kickstarter project updates, and the flow of donations, so keep your community informed with lively and regular updates and your chances of success and building a fanbase will increase. You should prepare a schedule of updates before you go live so you can drip-feed them over the course of the campaign. Hasty or hollow updates can actually deter backers.

5) Tap into Nostalgia or Unmet Demand

The projects that fare the best on Kickstarter, for the most part, all have something in common. Some tap into a nostalgia we all have for a long-forgotten game franchise or defunct IP from our childhoods and the collective desire to bring it back. Some play into a sense of unmet demand for a game or product that people clearly want to have but no big company has yet devoted the resources to produce. Others instill a sense of confidence in their backers because the team behind it has an incredible pedigree and a track record of success. Most successful games on Kickstarter will tick one of these three boxes. Note that the successful “nostalgia” projects typically also offer something new and innovative, not just a revival of something old.

6) Get Ready Before Launch

You need to have a working game to show before you launch the Kickstarter. Don’t let Kickstarter be the debut of your concept — you should have a working prototype or more. John Rhee, an indie developer who recently ran a successful Kickstarter for his game Liege, wisely advised, “Your development progress should be inverse to your studio pedigree. Only established studios can expect to get funded off a concept. If you don’t have recognizable IPs under your belt, you’ll need to be well into development and have a lot to show.”

7) Time Your Project Deliberately

Think carefully about the launch, middle and end of your project. Be ready to wow people at launch, but sustain the flow of info and updates over the course of the campaign. Prepare for the “middle dip”, knowing support for projects tends to slump around the halfway mark. Know where your final 48, 24 and 8 hours will land. Like any other online business, purchases tend to increase on Sunday evenings. You’d be wise to end your campaign near standard paydays, when people have more disposable income handy. Likewise, avoid launching during major holidays, particularly shopping holidays like Christmas or Thanksgiving (Black Friday).

8) Leverage Kickstarter for PR

Use Kickstarter as the powerful marketing tool it can be. Around 50% of your backers will originate from within Kickstarter, as opposed to referrals from external sites. Pay close attention to your project blurb and how it appears on Kickstarter and in search results. Also, look for opportunities to cross-promote your project with other Kickstarter projects. Many successful Kickstarters got a huge bump in backers from working with fellow projects in similar genres. You’re reaching an ideal demographic of existing backers who’ve already linked their accounts to Kickstarter and have shown interest in similar projects.

Just like the App Store, Kickstarter is a crowded marketplace full of many different products for sale. Both marketplaces share a common problem: discovery. It’s hard for users to find the content they want, and the platform owners struggle to surface the right content for the right people. Until this problem is solved, you must take it upon yourself to promote your Kickstarter and use PR to your advantage. Follow these tips and you will improve your chances of success on Kickstarter.

 

Keeping Promises: How to Have a Successful E3

E3 2013 was arguably the biggest gaming event in the last five years. The dawn of a new generation of consoles brought with it a bevy of games to every publisher’s booth. With big competition for media attention, you need to be seizing every opportunity you can to stand out and get your game the attention it deserves. Here are a few tips I’ve found useful to help make every moment your finest at E3, based on working at the show the last few years and on the successes of working with the indie horror game Outlast this year.

Have faith. Make promises. When you truly believe in the game you’re representing, you exude confidence. When you’re confident, you start making promises — promises you can keep — such as, “Outlast will scare the s*** out of you.” A lofty statement like that will almost always lead to skepticism, and the natural reaction will be for a journalist to find out for themselves if you’re spewing PR rainbows or the de facto truth. Promises, when kept, have a domino effect. After someone has a positive experience with your demo, your claim can be amplified as they discuss their experience with friends and coworkers, driving more traffic and attention to your booth. By the end of the week, some publications had sent their entire staff to experience the Outlast demo!

Come armed with different stories. A good game will shine on its own – but that doesn’t matter unless the right people see it. Help this happen by painting a bigger picture around the game. Come prepared to suggest and discuss larger stories that will amplify the experience. Consider having discussions about the background of the development team, media or pop culture that influenced the developers, interesting research conducted by the team to offer a realistic or factually accurate experience, etc — many attendees have very little insight into the research that goes into creating a game. Sharing these stories offers an interesting perspective about the developer’s creative process. Some examples of stories we helped to tell this year include:

**The fainting actually happened! An attendee fainted while playing Outlast, and after making sure they were okay, we told one person who told another, who told another, until the story began to spread all throughout the show.

Be aware. Capture reactions as they happen… And share them! If you’re not speaking with someone in any given second, there’s probably someone you should be speaking to. During half-seconds, your eyes and ears should be peeled to what’s happening inside and outside of your booth. New opportunities may present themselves that you want your game to be a part of. For example, one of the bigger stories at this year’s E3 was the concentration of high-quality indie games appearing on next-gen consoles. Email editors you see talking about this or use Twitter to make sure your game is a part of the conversation!

What are people saying about your game after they play? How are people reacting? Capture these using tools like Vine for reactions or Tweet out quotes, tagging the appropriate person. Keeping promises is easy when you’re creating content to prove it.


Timely reminders and follow-ups. Did you speak to a journalist about a story idea that piqued their interest while at the show? No matter how interesting it is, words are easily lost in the hustle and bustle of this hectic show every year. Send a follow-up thanking people for coming by and playing if you haven’t already and rekindle the discussion of any story ideas shared during your E3 meeting the week following E3, or sooner, depending on deadlines.

PR Tips for App Developers

Which icon stands out in this sea of apps?

The secret to a successful app is a combination of factors, some of which you can control, others you can’t. In order to do well in the oversaturated app marketplace it’s essential to put yourself in the best possible position for success. App success starts with a great idea, it hinges on execution during development, and it is largely influenced by PR, marketing, timing, and luck.

Of those factors, PR is one that you can control. PR for apps is about how you present the product to the public, garner media coverage, and build users and awareness through proactive outreach. Here are 5 tips to help your PR effort.

Continue reading PR Tips for App Developers