Talking to Your Visual Novel Players

Whenever you reach out to a company’s support line or interact with their social media, you’re engaging in their public relations personnel. These people are trained in customer relations and depending on their exact job, they’re usually well versed in different aspects of marketing.

But for indie game devs, we don’t have the luxury of having one person to answer emails & Steam support, one person to manage social media, one person to reach out to press, etc…. So how do we end up talking to players?

what is public relations

Public relations are essentially the communication (relations) between an entity and the public. In this case, it’s how you (and your studio) communicate to players.

There’s a lot of venues for this, including but probably not limited to:

  • social media comments
  • direct messages
  • emails
  • fan mail

Press relations are how you “voice” your studio to others. Don’t overthink this- it’s just how you talk to people and how those words come off to them.

For large companies, it’s not often that users can directly talk to employees (you don’t follow grocery store employees on social media and ask them about deals, do you?), but for indie studios it’s something that can happen often. While not every interaction may be with a potential player, there is more room for your teammates to talk to players.

So who on the team will be the designated person to communicate with players and how will they do it?

taking on multiple roles

From my experience, press relations (hereon referred to as PR) is done by 2 people- the studio lead and the social media manager. Not every studio has a person dedicated to social media, but somebody is managing it. If that’s you, then guess what- you’re a social media manager! You’re a marketer! Horray!

The person who runs your social media will de facto be your main PR person. For indie studios your social media is your primary “voice” of the company- it’s how people will perceive your studio. Not only are you opening communication by posting, but you will inevitably get comments / replies back. When you respond to these, you’re engaging further in PR.

I’ve also found that the lead of studios is the 2nd PR person on the team. They usually handle emails, direct messages, and more. For instance, if you’ve ever emailed the Studio ร‰lan main email, you’ve probably talked to our studio lead instead of me (sorry, Melanie isn’t real). We take turns responding to messages on our various platforms.

As a visual novel studio lead, you’re automatically the person wearing a lot of hats. You’re probably the game director of the visual novel(s) the studio is making, the creative director (yes, those are 2 separate roles), possibly a writer, and more. But when you decide to set up a commercial studio, you need to have some business insight, as you’re now running a business. Part of that includes responding to people. People want to hear from you.

Another team member that engages regularly with PR is the community manager. Again, as an indie this will be mainly the team lead / anyone that interacts with your community in your spaces (namely Discord nowadays, though forums are also an example). In larger studios, a community manager is the person who interacts with the community on a regular basis through these channels like Discord via moderating the channels, talking to players, setting up events, and more.

your response is your brand

As you might be realizing, PR has a lot in common with branding. Branding is another means for communicating what your project is about through the use of graphics, logos, fonts, typesetting, colors, aesthetics, and more.

How you present your studio via messages, responses, and more is part of your overall branding. It’s how people will perceive your studio, and in turn, your game.

Do you post casually? Do you capitalize first words and proper nouns? Do you use abbreviations? Do you type formally? Do you use slang? Do you reference memes or jokes? Do you talk about your visual novels in first person or do you say “our visual novels”? Do you use a lot of hashtags and links or do you let the posts talk for themselves?

When someone directly messages you in private, how do you respond to them? Are you more formal in private? Are you casual, like you’re talking to a friend?

However you end up responding, make it consistent and realize that this is your “brand”. Your casualness or your formality or your language choice will all be considered as you.

One good thing to keep in mind- we’re all indies. We’re making niche games for niche markets without million dollar budgets. We don’t have to act like AAA game studios because we’re not. And you’re better for it if you don’t. You’re much, much better off realizing you don’t have an unlimited budget, you don’t have hundreds of people working on your game, and you don’t have all the marketing benefits and advantages that AAA companies have.

We’re indie. We don’t have hundreds of mostly hidden employees on the payroll, we have a small select group of passionate creatives. We don’t have unlimited budgets, we have to rely on crowdfunding or monthly subscriptions or grants to make our games. We don’t have hundreds of people clamoring to get press keys of our games, we have to reach out to press individually and hope they respond (let alone open the email- you’re not the only indie emailing them).

We’re indie, so you should treat your PR like that. If someone shares your game, thank them. If you mess up and forget to reply to someone, apologize to them. Write like a person rather than a corporation.

how will you respond

When someone asks you the release date for you upcoming visual novel, it’s usually not that hard to answer- “next year”, “May 15th”, “we’re still too early in development to decide”. But what about when someone asks for clarification on what your game is about? What if someone questions how you’ve pitched your game, asking if it’s really a psychological horror story or a story with a nonbinary lead or a wholesome game?

How will you respond when someone leaves a hateful message, responding to your game in bad faith?

If you make a visual novel that becomes successful, you will eventually get hateful comments or emails. If you make one that is queer-related, you will definitely get hateful comments at some point. Ease of access and a lower barrier for people to interact with anyone has made it all too easy for people to take things in bad faith, assuming the worst of people for no reason other than their own internalized biases.

I’ve seen a wide range of hate, both from bigots and our own queer-identifying fans. Most of these messages (that aren’t outright hate) are people making false assumptions about us and/or our games. Sometimes it’s an obvious “this game was clearly made by a cis white man” (game in question being made by a queer Asian woman), but sometimes it’s a more wild (misogynist) accusation like “your team has a man on it so clearly he’s taking all of the women’s credits” (because us women are helpless, right?).

How will you respond to someone assuming you have no right to tell the story you’re telling? How will you respond to someone expressing (bad faith) concerns about your story? How will you respond to someone making an attack against one of your teammates?

Will you delete the message? Will you respond to them coldly? Will you try to be empathetic and point out how they’re wrong?

There is no “right” approach to this (though the only “wrong” approach would be to attack the person back- there are no winners there), it’s however you feel is best to approach it. I typically ignore comments like these, where they attack our teammates or make false accusations about what we do, and delete them if I can. I don’t show all of these to my teammates as they can be detrimental to their health.

oh no there’s fires

Sometimes, sometimes, there’s an oopsie. Maybe you did it, maybe your social media manager did it, maybe someone you’re working with did it, maybe it’s completely unrelated to you but you got caught in the crossfire regardless. Sometimes you have to put out fires.

I don’t have much experience in this, but always remember this:

you can’t put out fires with a hot head. you need a cool head to extinguish them.

When drama starts about you or your studio or your people, emotions run hot. You’ll be quick to want to do something, to respond a certain way, to lash out or apologize or hide. Step away from the computer, grab some water, walk to the mailbox- take a breather away from drama and reassess the situation, preferably with a friend or family member who can be an outside view point that’s not as emotionally driven about the subject as you.

pr hurts

It hurts to get these kind of comments. It hurts to put yourself out there and for people to spend a few moments of their precious lives to respond with such vitriol. I don’t really have any words of comfort here, but I also don’t want to be so dismissive as to say “that’s just life”.

Sometimes you (or your social media manager) may need to take a breather, to take a step away from responding to people and reading messages. The online landscape is dizzying and nauseating at times. Don’t forget to take care of yourself and your team.


Public relations (PR) is a facet of marketing that focuses on how your engage with players and intersects with branding. Before you establish a social media presence, think about how you want to share your message and respond to potential players.

Some questions to keep in mind:

  • Will I post casually or formally? How will I structure my messages?
  • What wording will best fit the brand I want to convey for my studio?
  • How will I respond to negativity and hate?
  • How will I respond to criticism or critiques?
  • Do I have too many channels for communication (social media platforms, DMs, emails, etc.)? Will I remember to check them all? (Are there any potential pitfalls for missing messages?)
  • Who on my team needs to understand our PR strategy?

wrapping up

98% of the time when I see visual novel devs talk about marketing, it’s about posting on social media, so I wanted to talk about an area that’s, well, not just tweeting. PR encompasses some of that, but it’s also much more (which I hope I’ve highlighted here). Most indie studios won’t need a full guide for their PR strategy, but it is something you should at least talk about and think over.

This month has been pretty hectic for me, mainly planning stuff for the next few months and playing a bit of project manager in some cases. One of the things I’ve been planning is our upcoming Kickstarter for physical copies of Without a Voice, which recently celebrated its 4th anniversary. It’ll be a smaller campaign than our last Kickstarter for physicals since it’s just for one game, but there will still be a lot of nice rewards and exclusives.

We also announced the return of Otome Jam and Josei Jam! They’ll both be running for the full months of May and June with the same rulesets as last year. This year we had a guest illustrator for the banner artwork, Everium, and it came out looking wonderful. If you’re wrapping up NaNoRenO or getting FOMO from missing it, check the jam pages out.

Last but not least, I recently opened up marketing consultations. These are voice chat (or text) sessions where I sit down with developers, going over their marketing strategies and giving feedback. If you’re interested in that, find more info here.

โ€” Arimia

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