You're writing to the media, right? The name implies what we expect as journalists: we want screenshot packs, videos (either give us a download link to re-host, or a high-quality embeddable source -- i.e., Vimeo or YouTube), and websites. Include compelling title art or an impressive screenshot towards the top of your release, preferably above the fold of standard resolution, and make sure it's something we can easily download and re-host in high-quality. If you're feeling like a completist, attach a zipped screenshot folder as well (only the best images, please!).
A lot of larger companies (Valve, et al) supply FTP login information to snag videos and screenshots; if you're emailing enough of the media to warrant a similar action, do it. We're used to setting up FTP accounts to download everything efficiently, and it prevents us from being too tied-down by your files. Don't be afraid to offer more download options, although three total is probably enough redundancy.
Videos should range anywhere from 30 second promotions (similar to this Duke Nukem video) to full-blown, two-minute teaser-trailers (that's a lot of freakin' hyphens). If you're one of the lucky developers to drum up attention, like the Magicka guys did for their initial announcement, you might even have journos analyzing your video for easter-eggs and potential slip-ups. Not every game is supposed to be funny, but for those that can fit the bill, make sure you don't go full-memetard; yes, they're funny -- no, we don't want to watch the video form of Reddit (well, not all of us).
Example humorous press release:
Aperture Science, doing business as Aperture Laboratories LLC, in partnership with Valve today announced the successful completion of an ethics-review-panel-supervised release date restructuring process. Portal 2, the sequel to the ground-breaking title that earned over 30 Game of the Year awards despite missing its original ship date, is now targeted for a 2011 release.
Representatives from both companies acknowledged that public safety concerns factored into the decision. They went on to say that even though Portal 2 will arrive slightly later than planned, all life on earth won’t instantaneously stop as every molecule in your body explodes at the speed of light, which is what would happen should a rip ever appear in the fabric of Valve Time.
“Also, the game will be even better,” they added, missing an historic opportunity to create the first product delay press release to mention that a product is being delayed to make it worse.
To ask questions about how close we all came to dying, or to ask futile questions about the previously announced E3 ***PORTAL-2-THEMED-FOR-GOD’S SAKE*** surprise or, less futilely, to schedule an appointment to attend a Portal 2 screening at the Valve booth during E3, please contact Valve’s delegate to the EU’s Valve Time Studies Group, [ED. Info redacted]
Professional press releases typically follow very standard formats (unless you're Doug Lombardi, in which case you've got everyone listening regardless). Paradox creates some of the most beautiful looking press releases (example in image) -- they're laid out (nearly) flawlessly, have images in the right spots, and provide us enough text to write our own feature about. Social bookmarks, video, and image links (including box art) are all included at the bottom of the release, all complimented by an all-encompassing descriptor image at the top. The header image used in the release clearly sums up the game: it's funny, it has mages, and it has explosions.
Remember that box art! It makes our job easier; a lot of websites use formats that require box art for reviews, and some of the larger folks will make their own if they are not supplied one (normally a black box with the logo in it). Give us something to work with.
3. Content & Writing
As a continuation of the above, refer back to the Paradox press release. Notice that they succinctly sum up the following features within a few sentences (that first paragraph), but then continue -- if the reader maintains an interest -- with further description and, finally, the all-important features list. Remember that, as journalists, we might want to do more than re-post your press release as is; sometimes it's interesting enough to write a full feature about -- meaning our own, custom content -- but that won't happen unless you've supplied a list of game features (modes, map types, character types, story type - whatever your game has going for it) and/or an extra few sentences about the gameplay.
What happens next, in theory, will be the journalists taking your content and re-processing it as an attractive, well-worded article that draws in recurring userbases. Some people are fans of particular websites or authors, and that means they'll trust what that author or site has to say: if you can get your press-release a full feature from a magazine or website, that almost guarantees that users will check out the post (rather than a typical "THIS CITY, THIS STATE: Anygamecompany releases anygame").
Oh, and please, no typos. Run it through a spell checker. Hopefully there are no typos in this article, that would embarrassing. D'oh.
My final bit of advice, at least for now, is to plan your releases. Don't get discouraged because you didn't get reposted immediately; there is a lot of game news bouncing around, especially this year, so timing is key. Remember that many of the top-dog game media outlets work standard day jobs, so releasing news at night will get filtered through a much smaller staff (IGN or Gamespot might see it, but with limited editors on shift, it is unlikely that a small game press announcement would be reposted).
You don't want your night-time press release to be buried under morning traffic, so the best bet is to aim for between 8AM - 3 PM for maximum visibility (EST). It might sound silly, but it's true - releasing too late means fewer people on shift, and releasing too early risks burial.
Unless you've got the kind of game (or are a big developer) that can get away with it, make sure you don't send out your first major announcement during an event like E3 or TGS. No one is listening to anything but those events, including the journos.
5. Don't announce an announcement
Jon Stewart makes fun of announced announcements quite often, and he is right to do so: posting an announcement that Game Company XYZ will be announcing Game A on Date B is an act in futility. Even if it does get journalist attention, it is unlikely that gamers will remember (especially if Date B is more than a week away) anything about the game or its forthcoming.
Be smart. Announce large features, initial releases, major patches, expansions, and sales milestones.
Hopefully that helped! If you have any questions you'd like us to target in our next GameDev article, email us or comment below!