Indie Game MarketingBecoming a #Gamedev

Why No One Wants To Hear About The Game You Just Finished Making

Why No One Wants To Hear About The Game You Just Finished Making? What did you do wrong? Let’s address the elephant in the room here.

Let me state the obvious: It’s tough marketing a game!

To give some background on where I’m at, I just finished publishing my first mobile game, Social Sessions, on iOS and Android, as a solo indie dev. My strategy felt like the right thing to do, but turned out to be naive. My plan was to take my time and build a polished game, test among my friends and colleagues until it was perfect, then release my flawless finished product into the world!

This is basically what I did (not to brag). I’m not saying Social Sessions should be your favorite game, but it’s fun, and  it’ll stimulate a puzzler fan’s brain. But my surprise came when I went to market the game immediately after release.

Tweets, blogs, and Reddit posts of “Get it now for free!” and “Play this thing I spent a couple of years making!” got practically no attention. In fact, my self promotion was mostly met with aversion and annoyance. But then I started noticing something. My tweets might get a few likes, but someone tweeting out a gif that included a very very VERY early stage level of a game they were making would get liked and shared hundreds of times!

I started to realize that the gamer community is much more eager to promote or fund a game that is in development (but that will likely never see completion), than to support a game that already exists. A post that says “hey, here’s the latest alpha version of my game, check it out!” will gain way more interest than “hey, I released my game last week, check it out!”

It’s weird, but I think it comes down to two things.

First, I think we have this mentality that if something comes out that’s absolutely amazing, we’ll hear about it. Our friends will tell us, or we’ll hear about it on the top gaming news sites. And so if you’re telling me about a game that’s already out, well, it obviously isn’t THAT good, or else I’d have heard about it already.

Anyone who pays attention to indie games knows this isn’t really true. We’ve all discovered that hidden gem of a game that has been out for years and that we never knew existed. “How didn’t I know about this game? It’s awesome!” Just like how you can listen to the radio and think “Is this really the only good music that was made this year?”, and I hope that you know enough to say to yourself, “No, it’s not. I need to go hunt down the really good stuff that appeals to me personally”, because what goes mainstream is usually just down to whoever has the most marketing power (with exceptions, thankfully).

The second thing, I think, is just a much deeper human trait: potential is more exciting than reality. The attractive person that walks by you on the street, you imagine, would bring you far more happiness than your current significant other, surely. Or, there’s another planet out there that would be so much better to live on, even though Earth is perfect for humans in every way imaginable. In other words, if the game isn’t out yet, then my imagination is the only limit to how good it MIGHT be. I can still dream. And while I’m dreaming, I’m sharing your post and telling my friends all about your game! But if the game is done and released, well then the result is concrete. It might be pretty good, or even really good, but it’s still only that good, and can’t possibly live up to my imagination.

We don’t want to stop and realize that we’re setting ourselves up to never be content and never enjoy anything in the present.

I think this is a big reason why the “futurist” movement is so huge today. Not to say that I’m not excited about the future, but so many people sit around not appreciating the things they have in their life in favor of the hope that one day we’ll eliminate all diseases, and bring every possible human experience to your living room in your VR/AR headset.

Even within games, we see this mentality taken advantage of. Any player who has played a game with a character building system that requires me to “grind”, or do something NOT fun now, in order to have “more fun” later, has eventually (hopefully) come to the realization that the “more fun” later part probably never really came.

So, what’s the takeaway? You’ll need that lone wolf mentality to develop a game. Even if you take pride in “doing it all yourself”, games are interactive in more ways than just playing them. Gamers are more aware and interested than ever in game development. Your potential fans are extremely interested in the process of the game creation, and that will drive them to your game as much or more than getting their hands on a finished product. Post random stuff here and there, and then get people into some form of early access before launch. Don’t worry, at the end of the day, you’re still the lone wolf. It’s still down to you to make the game, and make it great. You’re still the rock star.

And there’s a takeaway if you’re a consumer as well: enjoy the things around you. The music, the games, the people, the developers. There are more games around us than ever. It’s fun to get involved in games under development, but there are those who have already put in the hard work to make a great game, and we need your support, too. Go try out some games you wouldn’t normally play. It’ll mean a lot to the developers.

And feel free to start with Social Sessions. I think you’ll like it. 😉

Social Sessions on Google Play

Article originally posted here, but reworked and expanded for IndieWatch.

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Nick Hester

Indie game developer. Creator of Social Sessions.


  1. Hi, it’s a very interesting post, thanks for sharing your experience!

    We’re are a small studio and we’ve made an Early Access and, as you said, I confirm by experience that it’s a good way to get attention to your game. The community is small but very happy to help and to give constructive feedbacks. Their support is really helpful to get the game released.

    But there are some drawbacks, for example, as we’re in early access we have some missing features and we can’t launch a marketing/communication campaign to reach a larger audience before we’ve implemented those features, if we want to reach our conversion rate objective.
    Early Access is a great way to start building your community, but don’t forget that managing the growing community is almost a full time job!

    I would give two advices based on my experience: Try to find the good balance between game development and community management, and tell everybody about your game as soon as you’ve a fun and playable prototype 😉

    As you said, there are so many games released every day so, the ones you’ve heard about – released or in early stage – worth to be tested, both for players and dev experience!
    Feel free to give a try to our early access Beyond the Void, it’s F2P on Steam, we’ll be happy to read your feedback 🙂

  2. Good article Nick!

    I think that many of the comments here should be taken together with the article and combined to get a more complete picture of what really goes on when we try to market our games.

    I think many of the comments have hit on important points. Marketing anything is not an easily quantifiable process. Marketing at any given time in any given way can, and does, have varying results. Not to mention that marketing for each specific title is different. Some of the factors involved can even be somewhat ephemeral. I agree that we should keep at it, and not get discouraged. We also need to give ourselves every advantage we can by researching and applying what we learn.

    Having said that, if we really intend to turn our games into profit, whether to pay ourselves, or to grow a team or company, we should at least consult with someone who has real experience in marketing and execute at least some of what they suggest. Better yet, we should have someone on the team dedicated at some level to just marketing, or get someone to at least give our campaigns a bit of polish, if not a full go over. The main reason large titles do so well and get noticed the way they do is mainly because they are professionally marketed, we should keep that fact in mind while we are trying to get exposure for our titles.

    Again, thanks for the great article. It has encouraged some great discussion, all of which has only served to make it better. Marketing is indeed a difficult area for indies to tackle. I hope we can all take some insight from what has been said here, and perhaps impart some wisdom to others.

    1. Absolutely. People have their expertise, and that expertise should be valued. The problem is that nowadays so many people are trying to make a go of game dev with absolutely no budget (guilty). Which means you’re stuck doing everything on your own. It’s not a good situation, and only a very small amount succeed.

  3. I agree with mostly everything, but there’s a part of your post that sounded like a preconception: ” fund a game that is in development (but that will likely never see completion)”.
    It is true that many games funded during early stages never get finished. It is also true that many “finished” games are crap or clones, or even “crappy clones”, many times with not so polished game mechanics and so on.
    Every stage of the development has its risks for the monetization part of the equation (aka funders, publishers, parents, whatever ).
    To market a game is hard no matter how finished or prototype it is. Writing bad things about any of this stages will do us developers no good. We are not enemies, gamedevs should be allies.
    Of course that’s only my opinion :). Best of luck promoting Social Sessions!

  4. Hello
    This is my little experience.
    I’ve never gotten retweets from other developers, even some criticize your work.
    The indie developer to is by definition a lonely person. It requires hard work many hours a day. When you have already published several games, family and friends will not help you, you’ve become a “bored boy”. Get the early days over 100 downloads becomes a very difficult task. You must pay for it and make an advertising campaign, and the cost is very high, about $2 per installation.
    I have been fortunate to have more than 2.5 million downloads int 2 years and sometimes the market behaves strangely. Some games with just 20-50 downloads per day, suddenly, after a few months approach daily 800-1000. There is no explanation, no changes in titles or images, it just happens. In other apps, it does not happen and end up being unpublished.
    Here some of my work:
    Regards and good luck.

  5. Interesting read,
    But i want to challenge your deduction.

    First, on a scale of 1 to 10, how good would you say you are at marketing?

    Is it okay that I assume that you probably did a lot more than what you summarized after you launched, in trying to market your game?

    But, say you had marketing guru like Gary Vee or Seth Godin behind you during your campaign… would you have arrived to the same outcome in terms of ROI?

    (I’m also a game developer, by the way.)

    Even if you consider the fact that most indies do not have the budget to hire gurus… I feel like sometimes we give up way to early to let things pick up. Either we post way to frequently… to the point it’s annoying to some. Or maybe we post at times that aren’t that effective. After all, how much time do we take in assessing just how effective each individual effort was?

    Bear with me Nick, I’m just someone who has been in that same exact situation. I just want to challenge you (me and other indies) to consider stepping outside your project… and maybe getting into the shoes of pro marketer. That’s hard. And maybe that’s the point we need to appreciate.

    Between a seasoned game developer that recently learned how to market and a seasoned marketer that recently learned how to game dev… who would win if the contest was “Market my finished game and make a killing in only a month”.

    I think challenges such as succeeding at marketing your game as an indie, are more about practice, patience, persistence and perseverance than anything. Many probably don’t have enough hours in marketing as they probably do in game dev.

    How much effort are you putting into marketing the game today? Is it still with the same enthusiasm, energy or frequency? Anything your last campaign taught you that you should probably try differently? Or are you convinced that you tried every single tactic listed in the marketing101 handbook? Did you try reference another book?

    I challenge this because I have seen games that took off years after they were released. Marketing, as I have come to understand, is about awareness and reach. You never really know just how many people have heard. You never know if you have asked the right questions to spark curiosity within the people you are targeting. There are just so many variables sometimes… Not all the time, but sometimes 🙂

    Again, interesting article. I just thought I would share my views based on my experience

    1. I greatly appreciate your insights. I’d definitely agree that I’m a pretty poor marketer, and also that my marketing efforts have dropped off greatly since release due to my own loss of confidence that the game could be successful.

      Yes, patience, persistence, and perseverance definitely characterize the process, and it’s REALLY hard to persevere when you’re in a market where your chances of success are already so low.

      Your encouragement is, well, encouraging though. The fact that you say you’ve seen games take off years after their initial launch is encouraging. I’ve kind of been feeling like I had a small window and it was now-or-never. So that’s making me think I’ll dedicate a little more time to marketing.

      1. Thanks for the reply Nick.

        All the best in your endeavors. I’m just as much a student in this as you are. As long as we commit to figuring out what-will-work-if-this-doesnt… then I truly believe we will join the folks we consider successful in this amazing industry.

  6. Very insightful post, Fernando! That posts like “check out my alpha release” tend to get a lot of attention, though, almost gives me more faith in the community of gamers, as it suggests there is a fellowship of supporters out there willing to help the little guy realize their dream.

    Also, I think posts about finished indie games get less attention not only because there is no more potential, as you mentioned, but because we have certain expectations of a finished game. Personally, when I see a post that says “check out my new game!” I think to myself, “so this game was made by like one person. It’s probably really buggy because he/she didn’t have time to fully play test, and there’s probably nothing to it because he/she didn’t have time to make many levels. I don’t want to play a game like that no matter who made it; a game worth playing would be more professionally marketed.” That’s why I disregard it, not because I haven’t heard about it.

    1. Ouch! To be fair, while bugginess is certainly something gamedev teams of any size should avoid (and I have played many super-buggy games from larger teams, fwiw), saying a game that has little content is not worth playing kind of hits close to home for me. I’m working on such a game right now – it doesn’t really have levels, and game length depends on skill. I’m trying to add enough content that subsequent playthroughs would still be challenging and fun, but I believe too much content would actually make it unplayable.

      I’m not trying to change your opinion or argue or anything – I know you’re not alone in what you’re saying – but it is troubling for me personally. So instead I ask: what is there that I could do to counter such suspicions about my game’s worthiness?

      1. I think that a small indie dev (one person or a few people) need to play to their strengths. Don’t make a massive open world game; you just don’t have the time or money to do that, probably. But there are a lot of wildly popular mobile games like 2048 and Crossy Roads and have figured out to make a very simple and small game fun and replayable.

        And it’s all about expectation. If I purchase a AAA game for $60 on Steam, then I’m going to expect something that’s going to keep my interest for at least dozens of hours. If I purchase a $15 indie game that is lovingly and artistically well crafted and takes 2 hours to play through, I will appreciate the experience. I think there’s a growing market for these smaller experiences that didn’t really exist 10 years ago.

        They’re not for everyone, but a lot of times, with my busy life and schedule, I’m *MORE* inclined to purchase a game that I know will NOT take up much of my time, but will still give me a memorable experience.

      2. I guess I didn’t mean to hate on indie developers as much as that comment implied. I’m an indie dev myself, so I’m fully aware that making content-full, bug-free games is extremely challenging for a small team, yet I still love playing small, artsy, non-AAA games from time to time. In fact they’re usually all I can afford on Steam 😛 I can respect the hell out of indie efforts on games like these, and I absolutely want to support their efforts, as I would want them to support mine.

        To answer your question Andy, literally the only thing that makes me suspicious of a post like “check out my new game”… is the word “my”. This lowers my expectations from those for a small team, to those of just one person. And I would maintain that, aside from games like Undertale, I don’t expect much at all from just one person. If the screenshots looked interesting, or there was a cool teaser video, then yeah I’d still try the game to offer my support/feedback. But if all I saw were the words “checkout my new game” or similar, then that wouldn’t be enough to make me open the post and view more. Something less click-baity, as simple as “Announcing the Release of [Game Title]” with an image, probably would make me view more though. Hopefully that makes me sound like less of a meanie 😛

        1. I don’t know that I’d call “Check out my game” clickbaity – it seems to be lacking the over-the-top and downright-misleading feel of most clickbait titles – but you still make a good point: Not only does wording matter, but saying “check out my game” is not enough to market your game. There must be some other thing drawing players in – an image or trailer or something. This is all a part of getting attention.

          In any case, I do hope you’ll give *my* game a chance if you ever see it in the wild. 😉

          And no, you’re not a meanie – these are all very important points to discuss. I appreciate the exchange.

  7. Yes! But games out of left field can become popular too; when they go viral it’s because of exactly that, and that can be planned. Yours truly has a game in development for 3 years and it needs now a huge audience as it hides on hidden early access. How I will do this I have an idea about, but I hope I am right (60,000+ community I will join).

  8. I thoroughly enjoyed this article, more so of the fact that im not the only one to realize this ‘phenomenon’ so to speak. I don’t really make games for popularity so i don’t tend to market the things i make, i normally make games to impress and let my friends and family experience the final result of the hard work i put in for half a year.

    With this in mind, i NEVER show anyone the games in alphas, if i need some feedback on how to make it better i will find people on forums and (just now recently) discords to give me viable feedback which i can then incorporate. The reason i do this is because i know for a fact if i mention the games alpha, they will suddenly lose interest as soon as i release the final product. They would be more interested in what the game could be more than what its going to be which consequently, they don’t really care about.

    Im glad someone else can pick up on this trend and i applaud you for making such an interesting read 🙂

    1. I am glad you found the article interesting. The artist always has the struggle between the “pure” form of making art without profit, and the need to make a living. I am happy for people who have the means to make a living otherwise, and can find time to work on games. But that is not possible for all of us.

      Best of luck with your games!

  9. Great post, lots of insight, and while I agree wholeheartedly about the whole “interested when it’s in dev, but not when it’s released” phenomenon, I think there’s a another factor you’ve missed: your audience. If your social media connections are mostly other game developers, guess what? You won’t get much in the way of support for a released game, but TONS of support for the effort and struggle you go thru to actually develop it. It makes total sense. Now, if your audience/connections were predominately customer-types, you’d probably see a better return on your social media efforts.

    How do you get potential customers to follow you? That’s the magic question!

  10. Really cool post!
    I made a game the same way as you did, make it “perfect” and then talk about it.
    Didn’t know what to expect though, I just made a game that I was happy with. But now I want more, and what you said here is really interesting because I believe is true as I see it every day, but never had thought about it 🙂

        1. Very nice! It’s simple but fairly well polished! There were a few places where I couldn’t tell if a tile was in the background or foreground (enemy shoot me through a block that I thought was in the foreground). Good job! Good luck!

  11. Great post!

    It’s absolutely imperative to start the marketing very early on. It’s not an on off switch so much as a tree that has its roots deep in the community. You want to plant that tree early and get interest and awareness up long before release.

    I’ll have to check out Social Sessions, curious to see what it is.

    1. Agreed. In my case, I was working on this alone, in between time with my family and work, and my fear was that if I started putting the game out into the community early, then I’d feel obligated to get the game done and make that my priority rather than my own family. Not putting the game into the public eye was my way of allowing myself to procrastinate and not disappoint anyone.

      This continues to be an issue for me, but I’ll be rethinking it in the future. Maybe I’ll even write a post on it!

      1. I have this problem right now as we speak, but it’s also not exactly as easy as promoting your game while it’s being developed. It takes a lot of work to manage multiple threads on online forums, different social accounts and also work on the game itself. I did these things and my game still does not get much love. I’m glad to say my family and friends love it, but outside of that circle, I don’t think it will ever get exposure. Most of us start making a game probably because we are good at it, want to do it for fun, and also want to hit success like flappy bird and/or candy crush. But that success is super rare, and mostly, I’m just glad I have a legit game that I can put on my resume/portfolio when I apply for ‘a real job’.

        Oh and please download and play Stars & Asteroids (iOS now, android soon).

      2. I am fretting about this right now. I am working on a game (in between family and day job) and I started marketing as soon as I had presentable screenshots (with placeholder art), and have been incrementally developing it and posting new screenshots each week, but I only get a few likes and a few retweets, some of which are most likely bots. I’m starting to look more at writing more detailed articles about the game’s development on the blog, but so few are looking at the site anyway, I have to wonder if it’s worth the trouble.

        I’m also hoping to get press coverage eventually, but so far things aren’t going as well as I had hoped, and I’m a little concerned that gaming journalists won’t be any more interested than anyone else.

        Getting attention is hard!

        1. Absolutely. It’s a busy world, and a busy industry. Think about how many games people are working on, and how many of them do you know about? Every one else is just like you. I don’t have a solid answer for you. My advice would be, shoot for and hope for the best, but be ready for the worst. Don’t “bet the farm” on your game’s success, because then you’ll be devastated if your project fails. You really have to love making games, because that might be the only benefit you get from making your game.

          Now, I don’t want to only be negative. Honestly, I’m not an expert. I’ve only made one game, and it’s not getting much attention either. All I can say is, there are a lot of other people in the same boat as you. We’re a community. If you create because you love to create, and pour your passion into your creation, then you’ll probably create something awesome. That doesn’t guarantee success, but it at least guarantees you have something you can be proud of having made. If anything, you can put that in your portfolio for the future, and you’ll have something to be proud of, because a lot of people can say “I’m making a game”, but a much smaller number of people can say “I completed and published a game”.

          Good luck!

  12. Great post Nick! I’ve pondered much about how to market and build audience, but have never had the kind insight you’ve provided regarding why consumers in our biz behave the way they do. I think you’re right about people buying into the potential, but I also think there’s a self-congratulatory element as well.
    “I helped make this game successful!” they think to themselves. Indie development is a communal activity. We all want to feel like we’re helping each other.

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