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. 😉