THE ART OF THE SCREEN SHOT: Video Game PR Needs to Step Up



More than anything else, screen shots are the ubiquitous calling cards of a video game.  Typically, hundreds are released for each upcoming title through general screen shot “updates” or targeted shot releases that focus on specific features and help a writer illustrate a story.

We all use them.  We all rely on them… and heavily.  But the truth is, quite often, PR isn’t stepping up and fulfilling their responsibilities.

Here’s the thing — many PR people mistakenly look at screens as simply an “asset” or a means to an end — an item that  shows what the game looks like.  But screen shots can — and should — be so much more than that!  And it’s on PR’s shoulders to make it happen.


Think about it like this:  a great screen can excite and empower a fan base, pushing them to action while also drawing the attention of players who didn’t even know they cared.  A terrible screen can instantly anger and alienate core fans while inciting mockery and distaste from players who now KNOW they don’t care.  And the most troubling — mediocre screens — don’t really do anything but slowly dull the edge of your PR outreach until nobody – fans or otherwise – cares about your product.

And don’t think that I don’t know that attaining even one great screen can be extremely difficult.  It is.

I mean, a great screen has to look fantastic while not being faked; it has to reinforce key messages; it should show why and how gameplay is fun; and it should usually demonstrate an important character.  All of this has to be in one shot.  It’s difficult, time-consuming, frustrating work, but once you find this gem, you can use it over and over further establish your title’s identity.  This one screen’s look and feel will become instantly associated with your title; gamers will know just by looking at an image that the story is about, your game, whether they read it or not.  That’s the power of a great screen.

while obviously faked/touched up, this is a fantastic piece of art that conveys messaging, setting, attitude and excites existing fans and non-fans alike.

Recent Random Example: while obviously faked/touched up, this is GREAT art that conveys messaging, setting, and attitude while exciting fans and non-fans alike.

As some producers who have worked with me in the past can tell you, I’m especially finicky about screens and focused on getting the one great shot.  I torture producers and developers by rejecting more than I accept, a level of standards I picked up from some folks in N.C.

I’ve even sat in a tiny un-air conditioned room for hours and hours on a Sunday searching for  the “just one great shot” from a game.  And after 500 or 600 shots, poor French (the PD trooper) and I eventually found it.

Interestingly enough, that shot was JUST used again THIS WEEK, in a GamesRadar story about movie-based games.  In the image below it’s the shot of Tony Montana, on South Beach, with an explosion and his defining outfit and sunglasses.  That shot was taken sometime in 2006 and it’s still instantly recognizable today.

Recent GamesRadar article showed this collection of shots from movie-based games; two of them are my "One Great Shot" from Scarface: The World is Yours and Ghostbusters, respectively.  They are still iconic and STILL being used for instant recognition.  That's a good screen.

Two of these shots used on GamesRader are my "One Great Shot" from previous projects (SF and GBusters) and they are STILL iconic today.

I am constantly surprised and disappointed at the poor quality of screen shot selection and the failed execution of screen shot updates.  I see bad screens in cover stories, on web sites, in previews and even reviews.  I see sites posting updates containing 20, 30 even 50 screens at a time!  I see screen shots displaying lovely engine tech and always a lot of armor or fancy electrical explosions, but not at all conveying messages about what the game is about, why I should care, and what is exciting about the product.

Oh sure, putting screens out and getting them posted online — that’s great.  Hey,  I know!  It’s a “hit” with a link that you can email to your boss to prove you’re “sustaining momentum,” after all.  But if those screens aren’t up to snuff and doing more than looking good, all they really represent is failed PR.

I’d rather be short a few screen shots for a story and lose a page of coverage than deliver off-message or below-par screen shots. Adding a page of mediocre art that’s off-message isn’t adding anything that helps you.

If you’re a PR person, you have to have the guts to stick to your guns on quality artwork and messaging and sacrifice that page. If you don’t – and bad art runs – it’s YOUR fault.


This cover story, sadly, sports a couple BAD screens...

This cover story, sadly, sports a couple BAD screens...

But the issue with failed screen shot execution isn’t that they come from “bad PR people” — because even people who are recognized as good PR people have put out bad screen shots.  (And some do it quite often, which is hilarious). The screens come in.  The screens go out.  Someone must’ve approved them, right?

PR people in our industry have never seized control of screen shots from inception to distribution as their responsibility and THEIR activity. Even “good PR people”  have neglected to take this and put it on their own shoulders.

Instead, this responsibility has been dumped at the developer’s or a producer’s feet with the following lame request from PR people: “I need 15-20 great-looking shots, with some action in them, by Friday.”  This common, but flawed, general request is totally unfair to everyone, including YOU and the game.

A developer, as we all know, has very little time to take screen shots.  Typically, because of this, they are going to take the prettiest shots of whatever level is furthest along or whatever looks the best at any given time or whatever happens to be on the screen when the email comes in.   That does not always fit with the strategy PR is really trying to execute with a set of screens.

It is PR’s responsibility to make sure the shots not only look pretty, but are created for a purpose, and that they work hard to showcase the game in the best light. If the screen shots fail to deliver, it is on PR’s shoulders  — not PD’s, not Marketing, not the Dev Team — but PR’s.

The PR professional is the first person to request assets, and they are the last stop in the approval and delivery chain.  Therefore, the burden for the failure of the art and/or the activity fall on PR and only on PR.  If the screens don’t excite and empower, PR needs to own it.


Not everyone seems to realize that EVERY SCREEN SHOT MATTERSEvery screenshot says something about your game.  Every screen shot has an opportunity to excite the fan base, to draw new fans or to turn away even the most hardcore fanatic.  If you become lazy when selecting the 19th and 20th screen shot of a batch, you’ve just ruined the other 18 shots.  Every screen shot matters.

what, exactly, does this screen show you other than a mastery of the grey color palette and messenger bags?

Recent Random Example: what, exactly, does this screen show you other than a mastery of the grey color palette and a penchant for messenger bags? Boo!

And if that’s not clear enough – every screen shot matters.

Only by focusing on screen shots with this kind of singular intensity can PR improve the results .  Only by owning every single screenshot and eliminating the thought process that allows “throw -way” or “filler” screens, can great PR be executed.

And developers should be worried here too.  I don’t need to tell you developers how much a game’s impression and final score can mean to your next project and your reputation.

Unfortunately, you can be the best developer with the best art team and the best graphics engine; and you might even be able to take really “neat-looking” screen shots, but the bottom line is that if your PR person is unable to ask for and get screens that WORK TOWARDS something and fit a need, your talents are going to waste.


Well, now that I’ve railed on me and my fellow PR people to cowboy up, we’ll take a journey in coming installments to take a look at how it’s supposed to be done.  We’ll cover off screen shot theory and how to insert messaging into your shots.  We’ll cover the best and most effective ways to ask your developer for screen shots that can help ensuresyou receive what you need.  And we’ll talk about basic screen shot etiquette and execution, from how many to when and why.  A screen shot is not just an asset.

I DEFY you to get excited about this screen shot.  So WHY was it released?

Recent Random Example: I DEFY you to get excited about this screen shot or game. Will you ever read about it again? So WHY was this art released?

I can’t say it enough:  A screen shot does not just show what the game looks like.

A screen shot is an opportunity to reinforce or even introduce messaging; to reach out to a fan community; to leak new information or confirm rumors; to define for all gamers what your game is about; and ultimately, to attract the gamer that never even thought your game would be appealling.

If your screen shots aren’t doing more than just looking good, they’re not doing anything at all.

– PR_Flak

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