In this Ultimate Guide, we will be going over how to market an indie game. The main topics of this article are:
- Understanding a broad, but a fundamental definition of marketing.
- Forming a strategy to begin promoting a game before release.
- Building an understanding of what good promotion is.
- Learning about different channels to promote your game (online and IRL).
- Listing several other sources where you can learn marketing.
What is Marketing?
Marketing is the act of spreading knowledge about a subject through the use of promotional and sometimes advertisement techniques (whether that subject is a brand, product, etc). Through the act of marketing creators, innovators, and entrepreneurs are able to build a following to help support them, their business, and their products.
In this digital age, it would be almost impossible for a developer (of any kind of software) to get their applications downloaded without first gaining publicity. How does one go about gaining publicity?
The easy answer is to make a website and try to rank number one for search terms within Google’s algorithm(s). This isn’t marketing, it’s search engine optimization and yes it may help you gain organic visitors to your site, but it won’t help you build a following, it won’t help you connect with potential followers, and most importantly it won’t help you sell your idea.
Again, how does one go about gaining publicity?
The DVNC team’s core belief is that to gain “true” publicity a brand must: connect with their target audience. We believe this means talking with your potential users and understanding what their needs and wants are. This doesn’t mean posting on Twitter and hoping someone stumbles upon your tweet, however, if you add targeted hashtags in your tweet and mention influencers then you have begun marketing. By first understanding this broad definition of marketing, connecting with your intended target audience, we can then narrow our scope down to what marketing means for your game’s brand.
Digital Marketing in Games
Why is it Important?
“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
Honestly, if the answer was yes that would make everything easy, but game development isn’t easy (some might say that’s what makes it fun!).
People can’t buy your game if they don’t know that it’s been released. Other than going to game jams, conventions, and expos (which are excellent places to market your game in person), you should be promoting it online as much as possible. We don’t mean on just Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram either (these sites are oversaturated and too noisy to do targeted marketing easily).
You’re an Indie Developer so just like everything else you have to get into the trenches.
Find Your First Visitors
This means scouring the internet and finding all of the websites, forums, and blogs that have to do with game development.
Why find game development blogs when you’re trying to market your game?
Because game developers love games too! (or they at least love to hear about games being developed). Game developers want to hear about other games being developed so that they can learn from others’ experiences. This is where having a dev blog will come in handy.
The dev blog for your game combined with targeted promotion will be how you find your initial viewers (people who are interested in your game).
Understanding Your Target Audience
Sure saying “Game Developers” is a start to understanding your target audience, however, that may not be specific enough (games have settings, themes, and general art styles that consumers who aren’t developers may become attached to).
After understanding the core setting and environment that you want for your game you should begin building User Personas to describe the consumer profile most likely to buy your game (at DVNC we use the AIDA[OR] model). Once you have completed your user personas you should have a firmer grasp on your target audience and begin to understand where you can connect with them.
Marketing as an Agile Process
Before starting to build a marketing strategy you must understand that marketing should be treated as an agile process. This means that even though you may come up with a solid strategy, in the beginning, you must continuously update it so that it can stay a good strategy. Your ultimate goal is to build a following of people who love to hear about your game and play it. To do this you must continuously review your following (on marketing channels and on your site) to understand who they are and what their wants/needs are so that you are able to fulfill them.
Building a Strategy
A marketing strategy is essentially your battle plan for how to find your initial visitors and build a following. The below terms are unofficial terms the DVNC team uses:
Broad Marketing Strategy
At first, a broad marketing strategy may be more than enough. A “broad” strategy means that you’ll be approaching marketing from a top-down perspective. You will use your strategy to find the best places to promote (through the use of analytics and seeing engagement) while also promoting your game on public-facing channels such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. It’s important to remember even though you’ll start promoting on major social media sites your ultimate goal is to find lesser known hotspots where your audience meets (switching to a more “specific” marketing strategy).
Specific Marketing Strategy
Once you know where your intended target audience frequents and how to reach them a more specific marketing strategy will be of more use. A “specific” strategy can be used once you understand how to find your audience and create posts that gain their attention. You’ll be able to market to them directly while allowing them to move your content “up the chain” so that others (maybe not directly in your target audience) will begin finding out about your game due to the popularity of the content.
Below are some general tips for making your marketing strategy stronger. Remember that this is a “strategy” which will take place over several weeks or months (maybe even a year). By making small strides consistently over time you’ll achieve more than trying to cram it right before release.
How to Stay Consistent
Consistency is the strongest factor in a marketing strategy. If you can’t stay consistent then the strategy is doomed to fail. This is because people love receiving content consistently. This doesn’t mean that you have to set a super hard schedule you can’t break from, but you should set a schedule that you’ll try your absolute best on.
This means scheduling everything with a deadline, but not being afraid to go slightly past the deadline (by a day or two) in order to achieve higher quality content or posts. There are also several techniques you can use to make creating content and promoting it a more routine process.
Here is a list of different techniques and tools you can use to consistently create and promote content:
- Decide on what kind of content (gifs, blog posts, dev logs, videos, etc) you want to release and plan out what quantity you would need on a monthly basis
- Schedule your content out in advance using Google Calendar
- Before creating the content join communities (like those on Reddit or Facebook) that would like the content and tell them your plan.
- Let the community hold you responsible for creating content (as well as your team if you’re developing with a team)
- Begin creating content at your own pace (don’t spend 20 hours on a single video, try to make it as good as you can as quickly as you can [assuming this is just for promoting your game and isn’t a trailer or anything more formal]).
- Release your content according to your schedule.
- Use tools like Buffer to schedule your Tweets ahead of time.
- After promoting content don’t forget to use analytics tools like Google Analytics and Twitter Analytics.
If possible you should also try to schedule your content release. Most modern blogging platforms let you schedule when your post is released. This gives you time to review the content before it’s released and helps you stay firm on the release date.
Context is Your Best Friend
When making and promoting the content you should always try to give readers context. You shouldn’t assume they know everything about your game. This means adding a few extra lines or words on posts in marketing channels so that readers (new and old) understand what you’re trying to show them and why it has value to them. The more context you give readers and viewers the more likely they are to find value in what you are showing them.
Creating a Dev Log
There are several different ways to create a dev blog (WordPress.org, WordPress.com, Tumblr, Ghost, etc). Our strategy is to get the blog up and running as fast as possible with all of the base pages we need (minimum viable product). We think that WordPress.com is best for this as for around $50 it comes with hosting and easy to use blogging features. If you’ve never created a website before then WordPress.com or even Tumblr are your best bets.
Once you’ve decided on which platform to use it’s important to understand what kind of content you want for your game’s website. Below is a list of pages we believe are essential to helping visitors understand more about your game:
- Home: Gives an overview of what the game is and what makes it unique
- About: Goes into detail on what players can expect
- Blog: Where you’ll post articles
If you aren’t able to fill out the Home and About page then you should take a look at your GDD and take some lines from there.
To make sure you understand how to use the blog’s features try making an announcement post (you can make it something about your team or your game). Once this post is published, send it to friends and family while also using an analytics solution (WordPress.com and Tumblr each have their own or use Google Analytics) to see how many people view it. After understanding how to use your analytics software you can move onto promoting your post.
Promoting Your Dev Log
No Promotion vs Spamming vs Smart Promotion
There are in essence three types of promotion (or at least at this point there are only three types of promotion that you need to be worrying about).
This happens when someone releases a piece of content and then they just let it sit on their website (or wherever it was originally posted). Often time people think that “If you build it they will come”, but this actually couldn’t be more wrong. How do people know where to go if they don’t know their destination? Without telling people that you’ve built something (and what you’ve built) they won’t be interested in it or worse, they won’t even know that it exists.
It’s always best to try to avoid being a spammer. Once your name becomes known in the community as a spammer you risk tainting your brand’s name and hurting your relationship with the community. To avoid spamming try not to post too often in the same location (switch between multiple subreddits, join different facebook groups, and try to separate posts on the same thread by a few days).
Smart Promotion only happens after you’ve done hours of research before making your promotional post. To begin promoting in the best manner possible you should plan out how you’re going to reach your target audience and how you’re going to provide value to them.
Realize that people seeing you on Twitter or Facebook (general Facebook, not groups) are liking your posts because they found them momentarily interesting it doesn’t mean they’re going to read you’re dev logs or continue to follow your brand. However, by going to sites made for game development, indie games, and general art and programming you’ll know your audience already has an innate interest in your work. From here you apply your content release strategy to the different channels and websites (again, timing it so that you don’t seem like a spammer).
Where to Promote Content
Arguably the best channel to get the highest amount of impressions. Impressions mean that somebody saw your content, they didn’t interact with it, but they did see it. For DVNC’s marketing strategy we don’t count impressions as overly important. We like them (and try to keep the number high) because it means that people saw our content, but at the same time, it means they didn’t find it interesting enough to interact with it.
To view how many impressions you get versus types of interactions you should check out the analytics page for your Twitter account. Here you’ll be able to see how engaging your tweets were. You’ll also be able to gain insight into your Twitter followers’ general user profile (age, interests, etc).
Everyone on the DVNC team loves Reddit, it’s definitely by far our favorite channel to promote content on. The important thing to remember with Reddit is that the communities all want content that will be thought-provoking and promote discussion. Try to not only promote your content but to also spark interest in the community by informing them about the processes you went through to update your game.
Interacting with the community and being an active member of subreddits (more than just promoting your content) will help you build a positive and engaged following.
As one of the oldest game development communities, Gamedev.net should be a high priority when promoting your dev log. The moderators on Gamedev.net don’t allow people who join to immediately promote their game/blog. This is why it’s good to join early and re-publish your dev logs onto their forums so when you’re ready to promote your content you’ll be allowed to post onto their promotional channels.
IndieDB is one of the largest databases of Indie games. IndieDB also has an annual award called Indie of the Year where the site releases a list of the best indie games and lets the community vote for the best one. Getting your game onto the site is as easy as filling out a form and waiting a few minutes to hours. By being on Indiedb your game (and the dev log) will also benefit from the site’s slightly social network like features.
- Understand a brand must: connect with their target audience
- Be ready to find multiple channels to promote content
- The dev log for your game along with images/videos will be how you build your initial visitors.
- Release dev logs (or submit links) onto channels such as:
- Don’t Spam
- Release content on a consistent basis (>= 3 days apart)
After Finding Your Initial Visitors
Follow Your Market Strategy
Again, your marketing strategy is really battle your plan. You need to stick to it while at the same time making sure that it is serving its purpose.
Set and Achieve Goals
Once you understand how to find your initial visitors you should start setting S.M.A.R.T. goals. These goals should be focused and detailed so that they are achievable (such as getting a set number of visitors to your site by a certain date). Setting these goals for yourself will help keep you focused and tell you if your strategy is working or if you need to pivot a bit to make your strategy stronger.
Even after you reach your goals you should remember to stay focused on improving your strategy more. You want to constantly be improving your strategy so that your goals can become tougher and tougher (aka more and more viewers, readers, and supporters). If you don’t reach your goals when expected you should take a look at your marketing strategy to find the main causes.
Keep Releasing Dev Logs (Consistency!)
It’s important to consistently release dev logs. We suggest releasing a dev log on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. This will allow members of your team to get work done in between each release. When writing the dev logs make sure to not only write about different features you added to the game or about when you expect to release the game. Also, focus on the techniques that you used to accomplish the features you added. This lets readers gain value from reading your dev logs and allows you to promote your game.
Poll/Survey Communities for Feedback
By interacting with members of different promotional channels you gain the ability to engage with their communities. This means that after a time you can go beyond adding value through posts and comments and can begin polling communities to get feedback on ideas or builds (if you’re able to publicly release test builds). Polling your target audience is an easy way for you to get feedback on different ideas before going into full implementation.
Find Supporters Among Your Visitors
Once you understand how to interact with the different channels and have gained somewhat of a reputation you can begin finding your supporters among your followers and your visitors. The key difference between a supporter and visitor is that a supporter allows you to constantly contact them about information related to your game. The simplest form of this means that you have their email (the easiest semi-formal way of getting in contact).
To begin collecting emails from among your visitors and followers you can include an email section in your polls. Make sure to make this optional so that people don’t feel forced into giving you their emails (if it isn’t optional fewer people will probably answer your polls/surveys). Another way to collect emails is to include an email list service such as MailChimp into your website.
IRL Ways to Market Your Game
Swag: Business Cards, Stickers, No Shirts
When making a game you can be tempted to buy shirts or hats, but instead of buying these more expensive promotional materials it’s better to buy stickers or business cards to hand out. Both of these items can be given out for free when you attend events and can lead to people not on your team promoting your game (everyone loves stickers).
Game Jams are not only an opportunity to network and promote your team. Their also a great way for your dev team to begin testing new project ideas or to begin testing game mechanic ideas that you didn’t have time to work on during scheduled hours. Depending on the location of the Game Jam they may or may not allows too much self-promotion (under table sticker dealing?). It’s important to find a representative of the Game Jam and see what their rules are for promotion before handing things out.
Usually, you have to apply to showcase your game at a convention or expo. These can be somewhat hard to get into so it’s usually best if your game is closer to a polished state before showing it a convention/expo (unless you get accepted and want to test the game).
Before attending a convention or expo remember that you will need supplies (such as power cord, water, and TVs) to efficiently run your booth.
How to Find Supporters IRL
Email signups are a great way to turn IRL visitors into subscribers. This signup could be on a computer wherever you’re hosting your game at or it could be as simple as a 2-column spreadsheet list. Whatever form it takes it’s important that you have a way to keep people who play your game at events invested in the state of the game. This way when your game comes out they’ll be more likely to buy it because they have played it before.
After reading this Ultimate Guide from DVNC you should understand how to begin marketing before releasing your game. In case you want to continue reading or need more information on some of the topics discussed we have included a list of awesome blog posts and youtube videos you can watch to gain a firmer understanding on marketing concepts and techniques.
Thank you for reading and for everyone supporting us for their awesome comments and engagement!