How important is the gaming press for indies really?
Before you read that I suggest you take a look at this post from Ryan Henson Creighton about the marketing push for Spellirium. I always find it fascinating when indies share some stats as it helps a bit to paint a more accurate picture of what it really means to be indie.
So you’re back? So do you think press coverage is overrated and possibly even not needed/required for indies? Well even if the stats posted about Spellirium seem to point to this conclusion I still think press coverage is very important piece of the puzzle when you’re trying to get on the gaming scene. Once you’re there it then becomes a bit less important.
Direct communication with players
In a perfect world that’s what you want and should aim for. It’s never been easier to set up such environment may it be with a blog, Twitter, G+, Facebook, etc. You don’t need the press for that and you don’t want to have too many people between you and players.
What isn’t easy though is to add a crowd to make these tools useful and relevant. And that’s when the press gain it’s importance. You need a starting point and even though press coverage is not all there is to become successful it do provide an opportunity for people to discover you. It provides some form of credibility to what you do. I can post tweets all day long but if people don’t know I have a Twitter account it won’t do much good.
Press coverage is a way to tell people “hey I exist” and then they can start getting news directly from you.
So I said it gives you some form of credibility and I recently had a pretty good experience showing this. I submitted Bret Airborne to Indie Royale (provided a review copy and the usual stuff a reviewer might need) and the reply I received was “do you have any reviews from main stream sites” …
So even if they could actually check the game themselves it’s still important to have received some kind of recognition from the press. Maybe they use this fairly easy barrier to set up as a way to eliminate a bunch of games out of possibly hundreds of submission. Maybe there’s another reason, I don’t know. All I know is that I really wish some “main stream” website would review the game. The game received good reviews so far but nothing that appeared on “big websites” sadly.
Again there’s nothing stopping you from contacting directly people who could spread words about your games and it might actually work but if your name sounds somewhat familiar it might helpful.
Getting the ball rolling
This is really why you want press coverage at first. If you’re lucky some people with access to a large crowd will find interest in getting news directly from you and will then share it.
The way I see marketing it’s like a big control panel with way too many buttons on it. At least that’s how it looks like when you start or have yet to find your “breakthrough game”. The more you release games the less buttons there is on the control panel if you’re trying just a bit to reach out to others. The goal is to get to that point where the “press” button disappear from the control panel. You can still put it back but it’s not required.
If you’re really lucky you might even get rid of the control panel and just get some attention by sneezing. Very few get to that point however so it’d be silly to put that as an objective. Just get the control panel to an understandable state and it should be fine.
Yes there are other ways but then it depends on who you are, where you come from, what have you done in the past, who you already know. When you have no previous link with games when you start you do want the press.
For example if you’ve been writing about games for some time you probably already know a bunch of people that will help to get the word spread so press coverage is less important. If you’re a french Canadian web developer for example you might know slightly fewer people related to the world of gaming. Just an example
Another example that might show that press coverage is less important is the game RedShirt. They are backed by Positech who already has a track record about releasing successful indie games and is helping to get the game some attention. Last I checked @cliffski had almost 5,000 followers on Twitter so when you immediately get access to this kind of crowd I’m guessing that it’s quite helpful.
So while press coverage doesn’t seem to provide impressive results as seen on the Spellirium post just denying it’s usefulness is just taking a huge shortcut that’s inaccurate.
I’d say the best thing would be to get some help from already successful indie devs but failing that the press is still relevant (and might help to get the attention of these indie devs you seek help from). And keeping in mind my Indie Royale example I can only say I’m about right about this.
I haven’t talked about what kind of game one release here as of course I think we all agree that you first need a “good game” whatever this is. I don’t believe in the “if you build it they will come” thing as it would be like saying that all games that didn’t sell are all bad and again it seems like quite some thinking shortcut.