Many indie game developers recognize the importance of marketing their video game. The problem is, most indie game developers only know how to make games. But, indie game marketing is just as important as making the game.
This is a guide that will give you the steps to help you get your indie game noticed.
Indie Game Boom
Around 2008, and with the launch of Steam, some innovative game developers started creating their own games. Games like World of Goo, Super Meat Boy, and Braid were released, and people loved them. Many other independent developers followed in their footsteps, creating wonderful games. But their games weren’t being noticed in their respective marketplaces. The reason was by 2010/2011, the game marketplace for indie games was flooded with all sorts of quality of games.
Today, that problem remains the same, along with fierce competition from better-funded indie devs. Just do a Google search for the keyword “indie games” and you will see the thousands of popular games that exist today. So, how do you stand out in the indie game marketplaces, so that people will play your game?
When Should You Start Marketing Your Game?
There is a myth that has been around for years, that you should start marketing your game after it is released. This is totally false. By that time, your game marketing efforts will be too late. Your sales are the best during the first few weeks after publishing, and a few months if you’re lucky. If your game isn’t already known, you will not likely get many, if any buyers.
You should start your marketing campaign as soon as you have something that illustrates the fundamental mechanics and looks of your game.
Whether you have a completed level, a quality screenshot, or a short video demo that displays the theme of your game, it is important that you start generating hype as soon as there is something, anything, worth showing to the public. From that point forward you should be promoting the progress of your game on a semi-regular basis.
Note: Although it’s imperative to start marketing your game early, you definitely do not want to post early, unpolished screenshots of your game all over the web, especially if you’re still in the programming art placeholder phase of game development. Once it’s on the internet, it’s forever. Even if you remove it from your website, it most likely still exists, somewhere.
What Should You Be Doing During Development?
Now you are ready to launch your game marketing campaign. But where do you start? Here are a few things you need for the start of your indie game marketing plan.
Essentials Starting Your Indie Game Marketing:
- Social Media
- Development Blog
Whether your website hosts all of your games or just the one you’re currently working on, it should be updated frequently and categorized. Your home page should feature an extended overview of your indie game, including amazing screenshots and relevant links. Don’t include your UI or menus since those are not exciting enough to help create hype for your game marketing. You should also have a press page that contains images, videos, and your press releases. You can easily set up a website using many of the templates provided by whichever CMS you decide to use. #YGD uses WordPress.
There’s no avoiding it. At the very least you should have a Facebook page and a Twitter profile. If privacy is your concern, check that your privacy settings are set up to not be public for your personal accounts, but make sure your game or company accounts can be viewed publicly. You should subscribe to as many of social media outlets as you can handle since Facebook and Twitter are the bare minima. Remember, every view is a potential fan.
While development blogs and vlogs are less essential than a website and a strong social media presence, gamers and developers enjoy reading or watching about the personal struggles and triumphs associated with making a game. These articles you write once a week, or every other week, help search engines find your game, making you more likely to be accidentally found by a person browsing the internet for some new games. Keep your dev blog professionally personal, as if you’re speaking directly to your readers. Humanize yourself and viewers will connect with and feel more trust between you and them. Try not to make obscene gestures, as the gaming world is currently evolving into a bully-free and more diverse world. You don’t want a small child reading about how you lost your temper when some code didn’t work the way you expected. Post as frequently as necessary, maybe every week or two, as you complete your project. It’s enough simply to show that your game is coming along.
This comes a little later during your production cycle but is probably the single most important thing you can do to get people excited to play your game. Don’t overload it with cheesy titles, and don’t think you have to be an expert videographer to produce a compelling video. Instead, target each part of your game’s significant gameplay at least once, clearly displaying the game’s title and the name of your game studio. Keep the cutscenes down to a minimum, and try to aim for your trailer to be less than 3 minutes.
You can never have too many trailers. Triple-A (AAA) games and movies release dozens of teasers, spotlight, and full trailers, and for good reason. You can tailor each press release to a specific aspect of gameplay. One gameplay aspect could be a combat demo, another an introduction to the game world and the story, and a third solely dedicated to your protagonist or other characters in your game. Be sure to release them one at a time throughout your production, as it’s the best way to generate hype for your indie game.
Reach Out to the Public
That’s right, networking. You must leave your studio or home and get out there and make some networking friends. People want to know the face of the developer behind the game they are making. Not to mention, your fans will be super psyched to meet you. There are in-person and online ways to reach the public. We’ve listed them below.
Ways to Network for Your Game
- Social Media
- Gaming Booths
- Local Meetups
We’ve already mentioned that social media is an integral part of the marketing process. Fair enough, but how do you transition from relative unknown to Internet superstar?
Posting on Twitter
Of all the social media outlets, Twitter is the one that gives developers the easiest access to potential fans, members of the press, and other developers. Use it, learn the science behind it, and master it. Here are some tips:
- Do not use Twitter to approach members of the press that you don’t know. It just seems desperate. Instead, view it as an opportunity to see what they’re plugging and what genres of gaming they feel most passionate about. Reply to their Tweets, but only if you have something engaging to add to the conversation. If you’re lucky they’ll toss you a follow. Then, when you Tweet about your game, there’s a chance they’ll see your tweets.
- If a member of the press favorites or retweets one of your posts, don’t dismiss it. That’s not to say you should immediately request a preview of your half-finished game, but it’s a firm indicator that when your game is ready to be showcased, someone might have a genuine interest in plugging it. Make a note of those that like and comment on your tweets about your game.
- Post your game development updates during peak hours, ideally, somewhere between 11 am and 11 pm EST. It’s best to post them twice; once in the morning and once during the evening hours. The reason is that if you only post updates during the middle of the night, then by the time your followers check their feed your post will have already been long buried. Remember, the Twitter feed is based on real time.
- Don’t become a “Serial Follower.” Only follow those who you are genuinely interested in hearing from. Indie developers that you like are a good starting point. Your favorite indie gaming sites should be included as well. In the beginning, it’s OK to follow more people than people that follow you, but it’s far more desirable to follow 500 people and have 1,000 followers than to follow 2,500 people and have 3,000 followers.
- #gamedev and #ScreenshotSaturday are your friends.
Other Social Media Tips
- The IndieGaming subreddit is a great place to link your YouTube trailers, preview, reviews and game demos. Don’t use fluffy, flashy words to create attention. Just say what it is. Example: “Indie game RPG demo featuring the battle system”.
- Your website should link to your social media accounts. Your Twitter account should have links to your Facebook page and website. Basically, wherever you are posting and socializing, you should have links to your other websites and accounts. If a Twitter follower sees you have a Facebook page, he or she may want to follow you there, too.
- It’s even worse than having no Facebook page at all to have a grossly outdated Facebook page and website than none at all. Keep things current.
The theory that all game developers are basement dwellers is a thing of the past. Game development as an industry and a profession has become a part of the mainstream media as much as any other established industry. Now you need to get out into the light of day and attend public gatherings since this is one of the smartest things you can do to promote your game.
One way to do this and promote your game is through gaming booths for various video game and nerd-themed expos and conventions. One of the bigger conventions like PAX, you’ll need to save a portion of your likely small budget for travel and venue expenses. You need to eat and sleep while you’re there, after all. If you have the money it’s well worth the effort.
If you have a tighter budget, consider submitting to Indie Mega Booth. Through them, qualified game developers can have their game showcased at PAX for as little as $50, which is quite the bargain.
You can also submit your game to IndieCade for just $80 dollars. That won’t guarantee your entry into the festival, but if you are accepted, you’ll gain a slew of additional exposure, the likes of which are a great return for your investment in your game.
You can also host a booth for much smaller fees (some are less the $100 dollars) at smaller venues near you. Columbus, Ohio has an indie game-specific event each fall called GDEx, with small indie booths costing less than $100.
Even if you can’t afford a booth or are rejected from festivals, you should attend the expos and events as much as you can. You can do some guerilla marketing and talk with other developers and fans while you’re there. Maybe even share tips on marketing with other game developers.
Crowdsourcing is generally a way to get a starting production budget for your game, but it’s also useful as a marketing device.
The best marketing thing about crowdsourcing is that a lot of smaller indie game journalists keep up with the new campaigns. Many journalists write articles without asking first, which is a good thing.
All you need to do is follow the directions when launching your crowdsourcing campaign, and fill in the detail field as best you can.
Meetup.com is a website dedicated to helping like-minded people get together to discuss like-minded ideas. There are plenty of Meetups all over the place that has something to do with video games or video game development. Just browse for some in your area on their website.
Another organization that has regular meetings is the IGDA and Student IGDA. This is a group specifically dedicated to game development and industry standards for the workplace. There are membership fees for the perks, but many of the gatherings are free to all developers.
Getting Press and Media Attention
Encountering and dealing with the press and media is a whole article on its own, but let’s touch on some of the basics, here.
Tips on Contacting Press and Media:
- Be Realistic
- Target Websites
- Be Yourself
- What to Send
Be Realistic with Yourself
Before contacting the big names in the gaming community, figure out what you want to achieve with your marketing campaigns. You’re will most likely not get IGN to write a feature piece on your Match-3 game, but you might get a smaller indie-focused outlet to give you a review. Once your game gains enough press from smaller sources, you should start taking more chances with requests from the bigger sources. There’s no harm to requesting Kotaku or Joystiq to write about your upcoming game.
Note: #YGD is a smaller outlet that would love to take the time to review your game. Submit a request to #YGD!
Target Website for Your PR
This may be obvious to some, but maybe not others. If you send your mobile game to be reviewed by a PC-only media outlet, you are just wasting your time, and theirs. So, do a little bit of research on the media outlet you send your game to, before sending it. Make sure it’s the type of game they will review, and on a console, they review for.
Be Yourself in Your Press Emails
Writing your emails to the press can be tricky. The best advice to give is to be yourself. You aren’t writing a cover letter for your next job, but you’re also not writing an emoji tweet to your friend. Try to hit it somewhere in between, and for Pete’s sake, use Grammarly or something similar to check your email for typos and grammar issues.
What to Send to the Press and Media
With your email, you will need to send the press and media a Press Kit. Here, we have a list of items that you should include in your press kit.
Note: You should send your press kit as a link. Your website should have a page dedicated to your press kit, and it should be updated as often as possible.
A Few of Tips for Your Press Kit
- Working Copy of Your Game
- Your Opinion is Irrelevant
Working Copy of Your Game
If you are sending a press kit out during production, the earliest you should send one is when you have a working part of your game and have made it into a dem of sorts. Whether a limited demo based on time or number of levels available to complete is up to you. About a week before you publish your title, you should send a full working copy of your game to the press for a full review.
Your Opinion of Your Own Game is Irrelevant
When writing your press release and game info sheet, don’t include fluff words about how awesome your game is or how unique the game mechanics are. The journalists tend to shy away from these press releases because they sound like a 1950s car salesman trying to sell you the best lemon of your life. Instead, stick to the facts about your game. What type of mechanics are included? What type of game is it? Is it online? Multiplayer? Write the details of your game, not your opinion of it.
Working Game Demo Marketing
Once you have a functional section of your game completed, make it a playable game demo for the press to review and others to try. At this point in your development, you should have enough finished in your development cycle to have some artwork, gameplay screenshots, and other items to help market your game.
Now it’s time to do some Post Game Demo Marketing.
- More Press Releases
- Other Marketing
More Press Releases
It’s that time again! Make sure you update your press release page on your website and start sending out emails to some journalists. Let them know your game is close to being published, and if you can, give them an approximate date.
There’s Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, and some others. Choose one to launch a crowdfunding campaign with. Launching these campaigns can be time-consuming. But it’s definitely worth it. Many journalists are watching for new games, and they give you another outlet to present your game to. Just remember you need to put some effort into these campaigns.
There are lots of people attempting to launch crowdfunding campaigns, but not all of them succeed. The specific details are for another post, but let’s give you a quick overview for now. Research what successful campaigns have done. Follow the top campaigns and research how they interact with their funders. What kind of offers did successful campaigns list as gifts for funders? What kind of exclusive items were offered to funders? How did the successful campaigns market the campaign on social media? Questions like that are the ones you should be asking yourself and answering within your descriptions.
Now You Are Ready
That’s right. Now you are ready to get started on your indie game marketing strategy. Follow these guidelines, and don’t forget to check out the other related articles listed throughout the post to help you get your game ready to show off to the public.
Of course, you may not need to do all of these things. It will depend on your needs and the needs of your game. Any questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave a comment below and we will respond ASAP!
- Indie Game Developer Marketing Checklist
- 7 Tips for Marketing & Promoting Your Game
- Being an Indie Game Developer
- Monthly Meetup: Ludum Dare & Demo Night
- Monthly Meetup: Lessons for Releasing on Mobile, a Disjoint Postmoterm