Indie games marketing
Since I’ve started to work on Golemizer in 2007 I have learned a lot on creating games but there’s one topic that is still mystery to me (and probably to a lot of indies): marketing.
It’s one of these thing that the more you “know” about the less you’re actually sure you know anything about it seems. So how do you handle marketing for indie games? Here’s some ways I have tried and/or read about in the last few years. Take what’s below with a grain of salt as when it comes to marketing I found that you need a whole salt shaker to go through all the advice you read online.
A press release can’t hurt
It’s one of these things that you might be telling yourself “I have no idea if it will help at all but it’s so easy to do that I’ll do it anyway”. I found this to be true to some extent as some websites I never thought about contacting published some of my press releases and that got me some relatively interesting traffic for very little effort. The problem is that since it wasn’t the kind of websites I thought contacting directly it got me mostly just that: traffic. Conversion is terrible but at least that’s a start.
The problem is that a press release will never beat a personalized email sent to someone you previously established a direct contact with. A press release is really not an interesting way to make contact with people. If your name is Bioware a press release is surely is probably enough to get everyone’s attention but if it’s not it might just hurt your efforts by creating a wall between you and the person you are contacting.
Establish relationships with journalists, bloggers and other devs
That would be the cure for the “we don’t want to read your boring press release problem”. This takes time however and you can’t force it to happen. This means that you might need to be around for quite some time to get to know people, have these people refer you to others and so on. That’s probably where you should include some reference to “go to conventions and stuff”.
This advice is dumb a bit I think unless you’re really the type of hiding in your cave and chasing away anyone approaching. With time, if you make sure to “exist” in some way this will happen naturally. The keyword here is “time”. Why would anyone have any interest in you if you have nothing to show yet and or have nothing to say of interest. So that’s long-term stuff.
I’d add some warning here though. Just because you know people and talk to them it doesn’t mean they will actively promote your games. I had this interesting experience when I released Golemizer and tried to have my “real-life” friends share the news. They didn’t even though they knew I was passionate about that stuff. Why? Oh you know people are so busy these days …
Ads cost money that you don’t have at first. For some once they got some money getting in I read that it worked but yeah… you need money. So what comes first? Ads or money? For an indie what comes first is mostly the house and food and if there’s some money left then you can think about ads. Of course if you’re already making money then sure spend some on ads! See… Ads don’t fix the marketing problems. They only improve the results you can expect.
Get involved in the “community”
Careful with the word “community” here. By “community” you should understand “gamers’ community” and not “devs community”. Devs are busy working on their own project so they won’t promote your own unless you touched them in some way.
I’m having a hard time right now getting feedback for a prototype of mine mostly because the social circles I’m involved have mostly devs in them. Am I doing it wrong? Surely if I didn’t have to fake my way in. I briefly tried to get involved on tigsource but I just can’t do it. I’m way better on indiegamers but this last one is a devs’ community. I just don’t have the time or energy to be a “good” member of gamers’ community. I’m busy working on my own stuff. And when I’m not busy working on my own stuff I’m busy thinking about it. And when I’m not busy thinking about it then I probably had too much to drink and I’m playing some random game that I don’t care talking about. Add some real-life social interaction in there and you get the picture.
A trailer is similar to a press release though it might be more “sharing-friendly”. What I mean is that it’s easier to post a trailer then write a blog post from a press release but then you still need people to post the trailer. Just putting it on YouTube without anyone linking to it or sharing it is useless (well it might still be nice to put on your website).
A trailer can also be tricky to create. A good trailer I mean. First you have to fight against whatever software you use to create this trailer and once you get past this point how do you make it look good? Asking someone with some skills to create it for you might be a good idea.
Development footage might also be a good idea but like I said it’s probably best to care first about who might actually post your videos than putting a lot of energy into this.
Creating a good game is the best marketing advice
That’s something we often hear from players… or successful devs. If a game receives no exposure it must be “because the game is not that good anyway”. If this was true we would never see games with bad review scores yet I see plenty of these badly scored games that still receives plenty of coverage. Surely that on the other hand there must be a few good games out there that don’t receive press coverage…
I was recently reading on indiegamers.com about a game named Great Little War Game that seems to be struggling to sell on the PC while it’s doing well on mobile devices. Indeed when I Google for this game I find plenty of mobile coverage yet very few PC coverage. From the dev itself “It’s the exact same game and the genre is more PC friendly than mobile”. So I’m guessing it IS a good game if it’s doing well on mobile but why no love from the PC market? Eh that’s how it is.
This last example brings me to the next point …
You should target X platform
At some point you had to be on Facebook. Then you had to be on iOS. Then it’s Android… I’ve seen people having success on all platforms (including PC as downloadable) and I’ve seen people complain about how hard it is to get noticed on all platforms as well. If there was 1 true platform that would make marketing easier than a few days later it wouldn’t be true anymore since everyone would rush to it. We all have seen the gold rush for the new best thing and I’m sure we all heard “well it’s too late now it’s saturated”.
Hit it lucky on one product, then exploit that fame for others
I stole that one from Mr. Psychochild Well how do you get lucky to start with you ask? Just keep doing what you do and try to do better each time and one day due to a combination of the previous points you might just get lucky. Simple isn’t it? The tricky part being of course is to never give up which is easier said than done when you really have no idea when you’ll finally get lucky. For some it happens with their first game. For others it takes years.
The best marketing tool for Mojang now is Minecraft. Because of Minecraft every little bit from Mojang or Notch is posted and shared by numerous websites and people. Even when it’s not news at all. Most of us never heard about Rovio before they released Angry Birds (which was their 52nd game…). They kept working and one day for some reason they unlocked their best marketing asset by creating Angry Birds. They had the right platform, a nice level of polishing, they didn’t abandon even after 50 games and it worked even though the concept of the game is nothing new. Of course it’s ridiculous to say that they weren’t successful after 51 games as I bet they would have went bankrupt before that but the collective imagination just remember Angry Birds so that’s why I’m using this as an example.
This advice might be the best one for indie games marketing as it really don’t tell you anything beside “hey time for your next project”. Even by being very lazy at one point you’ll end up doing things better in some way and make people aware that you exist simply because you’ve been around for some time.
They say you have 10 bad games in you before you finally “expulse” something good. That’s not quite true. Maybe it’s more like you need to create “10″ games before you finally “get” what you can make a living out of. I’m now past the 10 games bar and I “think” I’m just getting to somewhere that might be somehow near “good”. “Good” being here being really independent which means not having to rely on someone else to wake up every morning and be able to eat. For me being indie is that. I still feel like I’m clueless about marketing but in a way I feel like I might know what to do to finally be “indie”. I’ll find out in a couple of months I guess.