Why indie game developers suck at marketing

Indie game developers are a different breed

Web and database developers demand high salaries. Indie devs often work for free or at their own expense.

Web and database developers work nine to five. Indie devs work any time they can.

Database devs work because they want to pay bills. Indies answer to a greater call than the almighty dollar.

Indie game developers work because they love games and they want to create something they can be proud of and enjoy. They want to create art, not generate revenue. That’s why the most popular independently-produced games tend to be either extremely artful and stylish, or extremely deep and nuanced.

Either way, indie devs have a problem on their hands when it comes to marketing and promotion. Unlike so many database developers, indies are inherently right-brain dominant and far more interested in art, stories and ideas than things like accounting and plotting.

Artists as accountants

Game devs are artists, first and foremost. They specialize in concepting, imagining and visualizing their creations into existence. This is why they make great games.

But as nice as it would be for great games to draw players on their own, it just doesn’t work that way. Even the best games need to get the attention of the players, preferably before release.

Many developers resist this idea. They aren’t in it for the money, so why bother promoting?

But as we’ve seen, the demands of creating a great game on one’s own time are great indeed. Most devs work their regular job (perhaps developing databases?) and then come home to hack away at their passionate creation. (Writers have a similar plight, but don’t get me started!) Indies potentially work two full-time jobs — actually, let’s do the math: Two jobs, and only one pays. That’s working four times as many jobs as a regular person for the same amount of money. Right? Well, I’m no accountant either.

My point is this: Indie developers work damned hard to get their creations up and running and out to the public. If their games are great, why shouldn’t they make a living off them?

Selling Out

The concept of selling out probably doesn’t come into play. Most devs would be perfectly pleased to make millions off their games and retire. Some artists may fear the stigma of being a sellout and giving up on your art to create mindless flashy games to make money. Major game producers feel this pain every time they change a tried formula.

EA took sprays of word-shrapnel from frustrated fans when their Origin platform was introduced. In fact, EA is often a scapegoat for frustrated gamers. But EA is such a huge company with so many mouths to feed, it became necessary to consider how to preserve their intellectual property, prevent piracy and market their products to a wider consumer base.

And even though I’m not crazy about Origin either, and my Ghetto PC can scarcely run the majority of their releases, I understand their desire to protect their money and ensure they can continue to pay their people.

What’s sadder? A rich, money-savvy game developer with a varied-enough career that fans have the option to argue about it? Or a talented and artistic game developer stuck in the basement of a corporation babysitting their database, unable to produce games that I could be playing because they gotta pay them bills? If only so I can play them, game developers need to develop games!


Even indies who want to promote their games, may not have the knowledge to do it, and most likely don’t have time to do it well. And many marketing agencies don’t understand the gaming industry and, even still, will charge thousands and thousands of dollars to promote.

These huge price tags are usually untouchable for after-work indies.

Why does marketing even matter?

That’s a stupid question. Are you dumb? Just kidding.

I won’t spend time on this. You’ve read this far, so you must have some idea of the importance of marketing. Even the greatest games won’t sell if nobody knows about them. By spreading the word prior to release, games can gain the momentum and support they need to see developers across the finish line. Presale incentives can tempt players to get on board early, and help devs cover some of the expenses of what they do.

Social media — Twitter and Facebook in particular — are great places to let your constituents know what you’re up to, collect feedback and let the community know you’re involved in their interests.

More than any other type of production, independent games rely on community. Indies may be independently creating a game, but it is the gamers that bring it to life. And if developers want to create more games (and players surely want them to), then they gots ta get paid!

More to follow

There are tons of tips and suggestions for marketing. A lot of it is stuff that devs can do on their own, or with minimal monetary involvement. Depending on the readership of this article, I am prepared to provide further information.

If readers want more, feel free to comment on this article with questions and considerations as I continue writing. IndieWatch is a community-driven site and I want to write articles you want to read.

Comment here or reach out to me on Twitter @longie_long.


The Ghetto Gamer

35 thoughts on “Why indie game developers suck at marketing

  1. I will say that having a dedicated marketing person on our team has been absolutely invaluable to our success so far. While I’m slaving away writing code and managing assets, our marketing director is out there spreading word about our game. If you’re making a game and already know someone that is involved with marketing in some capacity, it’s absolutely worth getting them on your team.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What you’rr really saying is you have a plan to go along with your vision. Marketing isn’t hard and you can make it part of your plan (I know a bunch a folks start itching at the word)

      Here is the kicker.. You don’t need to know a damn thing about marketing to recruit a part time indie marketing dev who does.. All you need to do is sell your vision to that person and they will bring what they know..

      After all. You are a coder/artist.. Why are you trying to do marketing? Make no sense.

      If it’s a truly good idea and you can show that to people. They will come on board.


  2. “Indie game developers work because they love games and they want to create something they can be proud of and enjoy. They want to create art, not generate revenue.”

    Sorry, gotta call “bull” on this – the evidence is all over social media. Yes, at one point being “indie” was about passion and creativity… but over the last five or so years, it has degenerated into a cess-pit driven almost solely by greed. At the top end of the scale, you have the so called “triple-I” studios, usually composed of industry veterans who have all the connections and financial backing they need to be successful, but are still “indie” due to not being tied to a specific publisher. At the other end, cloners, reskinners and rip-off merchants, trying to ride the coat-tails of the success of others and make a few quick bucks out of something they’ve hacked together from asset store components…

    … and somewhere, trapped in the middle of this mire is the true indie – the few who still do want to make something for the enjoyment and pride of it… but who are now forced to expend the vast majority of their efforts marketing as opposed to developing, just to stand a chance of getting noticed in amongst the churn of shovelware and big-budget so-called indie studios who can buy enough downloads to become successful. Another 1983 is due…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You’re not wrong, Ben. There is a ton of poorly slapped-together, half-baked games. But I really think good and thoughtful developers know who they are. Good games with good marketing will sell and spread joy. Bad games with good marketing will create hilarious memes for the gaming community to enjoy. It’s win-win!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. You’ve hit the nail on the head Ben,
      These so called indie developers that are a huge team of wealthy ex ceo’s and veteran programmers need to be named and shamed. And I f’in hate the f’in cloners bunch of brain dead f’in c’nt’s the f’in lot of them, they’re nothing but modern day thieves and bandits.

      You can probably guess I’m an indie dev, and by indie I mean a team of 1, I have no idea how to market and I have no money to pay for marketing because that’s not what I do, and I simply don’t have the time to learn yet another career, so my 10,000 hour masterpiece will never be found. I have a website that’s never had a visitor, a 2 year old Facebook page that has 11 likes and that’s friends and family, blogs that have never been read and so on and so forth.

      I’ve got to be cheeky and mention my website, you never know, maybe it will get a visit this time Android Puzzle Game and maybe my game might get a download or two.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. Use Google translate please:
      Ton commentaire m’a fait mal au cœur. J’ai 15 ans et suis passionné de programmation depuis mes 10 ans. J’ai remarqué que beaucoup de “Studio indépendants” étaient effectivement motivés uniquement par l’argent. Mais moi je créé pour la création! Je n’ai jamais rien gagné et je développe pour le plaisir, et je ne m’arrêterai jamais. Je suis français et je n’ai donc pas bien compris cette histoire de marketing. Je dois dire que le peu que j’ai compris m’a beaucoup déprimé.. D’après vos propos, même si je fais un jeu extraordinaire il y a beaucoup de chances qu’il reste inconnu tout comme moi-même..:/
      Bref, peut-être qu’il n’y a plus beaucoup de vrais développeurs passionnés, mais il y en a encore. Je débute dans ce monde, et je déteste les injustices comme celles que l’on observe dans le monde des jeux vidéos. Je ferai tout mon possible pour réparer ces dernières! Sur ce, au revoir, retenez juste mon pseudo : Devdop


      1. @M.Develop It’s sad but true. To be a successful Indie game developer probably means you’re either rich to begin with or you have good connections. The simple fact is this for most of us, expect to spend the same amount of time developing your game as you do on marketing, in this day and age you need to be proficient in both.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Neat article and all, but I’m not sure what to take from it, honestly.
    I’ve been workin’ hard on trying to push a game of mine, a sci-fi metroidvania that explores the tropes of older games, “retro games,” and metroidvanias in general, Saving Princess, and it honestly doesn’t feel like I’m able to get it anywhere.
    I’ve got it going on itch.io, Google Play, and even have a Greenlight campaign promising an expanded PC release if it gets enough support. Thing is, it’s not gettin’ support, because nobody’s heard of it.
    Taking it to Reddit doesn’t help, since self-promotion isn’t a thing, and at the same time, anywhere that DOES allow self-promotion is gonna be flooded with hundreds of other hopeful devs and their games.
    What I need to do is find the right audience and hope something catches, because right now I try showing it around, and it’ll get a spike in views and downloads for about a day and start to slowly die down and fall into obscurity again.
    How exactly do we accomplish that, what are our options? It’s hard to reach out in the flood of other titles out there and it’s hard to approach audiences without looking like a beggar.
    I’m glad you opened up the discussion with writing this article, at the very least. If you’ve read this far, thanks a ton for your time, everyone!

    Trailer to Saving Princess, with links to the aforementioned campaigns int he description:

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sounds like you got the point. This article is just an entry point to what I hope will be a long discussion. And if you are interested in getting more spotlight on your game, you have come to the right place!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’d love to hear suggestions or conclusions from other indie devs about self marketing, I am also working on an indie game and having trouble getting the word out.




    1. My advise would be to not do it yourself. It’s hard to stay humble while also being shamelessly self-promotional. It really helps to have a separate person tackle all the marketing as they can likely promote you with less hesitation.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes indeed. My admittedly inflamatory (got your attention, though) title was not meant to say devs CAN’T market themselves, sure they can. But time spent marketing and promoting is time stolen from game development. It’s also time spent in the left hemisphere of the brain where creativity and imagination are crushed.

        Indie devs walk a line between art and business. I’d love for them to spend all their hours working on an awesome game. But with no marketing, it’s unlikely I’ll ever hear about it.


      2. Yeah well you’re right from a business point of view, but I guess that’s our biggest problem as indie devs, beside it was an hypothetical statement, I still don’t have the money to invest🙂

        On the other end, people are still playing and buying games from the 80’s, so I guess it’s never too late for marketing😉

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I was talking games in general, indie or not, Ori was one of the best games I played in the last decade, they had the right amount of old vs new to keep it fresh and yet bring back many memories.


  5. I have to agree with Steven & Maxx, because of money restrictions I’m having to do all my own marketing and it IS crushing me, it’s horrible. While I’m marketing I’m not adding more great ideas I have to my game and after a few weeks away from my it when I bring up the code it’s taking me a few hours staring at it to remember what everything does.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. In terms of money, this is always a major concern for a forming dev studio. Assuming you can talk one of your marketing savvy friends into working for a cut of the final product or work out some other deal where you don’t have to pay them unless the game is a success, there are plenty of free or inexpensive avenues they can pursue to get the word out about your project.

      Social media sites like twitter and facebook can be great free promotional tools. Reddit has an insane amount of people on it, so finding an audience there is not going to be a matter of lack of attention. Imgur is a fantastic place to strike gold with a game concept in the works. The key is knowing what to do what all that attention once you get it, and not wasting the opportunity. Hopefully that’s where your marketing savvy friend will really shine with some awesome ideas. Getting people to sign up for early access has worked tremendously well for us so far, so that is one proven tactic I can personally recommend.

      Finally, if you can pull a bit of money together, attend a trade show like PAX or something a little smaller and closer to where you happen to live. Talking to already fascinated people about your project in person has a much higher payoff for getting your name out there than trying to solicit the attention of strangers online.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Maxx, some great tips. I’m finding Facebook a tough nut to crack but that’s another story. Funny you should mention finding a marketing savvy friend, I didn’t know I had one until I cooked dinner for my girlfriends work colleague last night and it turns out she’s a guru and has offered to do it for free after she saw and fell in love with my game, happy days.
        I would love to attend trade shows but I live in a country where nothing like that ever happens unfortunately and I can’t afford to fly to one that does.
        Anyhow thanks for the positive input.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I was hired as at Community Developer and dedicated marketing person for our team, and it allows the rest of our team to focus on what they love doing. No question that some marketing leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths, but it can be done in smart ways that add a lot of value to not only the brand but the community as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The article is explaining why, not asking why. But either way, the title is designed to get clicks and start conversation. These clickbait titles hurt my writer-heart a little, but I can’t argue with results.

      I’m working on a follow up based on these conversations, too. So be on the lookout.


  7. This was one of the main reasons I wrote an Ebook ‘Front Towards Gamer” which is available on Amazon, having served stints at JVC, Atari and Midway in marketing I see the same mistakes being made back then to the ones being made now, alarmingly its not just indies though, mainstream publishers are still not addressing certain aspects of marketing.
    I also blogged about the 5 biggest marketing mistakes that Indies tend to make over at Gamasutra: gamasutra.com/blogs/AidanMinter/20150818/251514/The_5_Biggest_Mistakes_Made_by_Indie_Development_Studios.php

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m looking forward to reading the next posts on marketing. While I understand that marketing is time-consuming and probably boring for indies, I don’t believe that money would solve being discovered. It has to do with the game and actually making something that your target group wants and is interested. The only way to find that out is figuring out who these people are (and no, it’s not every single person in the world) and talking to them via social media by doing user research.


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