This a subject in indie game PR that I've addressed before, but it bears repeating: You must develop your audience and game concurrently.
The goal should be to have an audience that is excited to buy your game the moment it hits the market. That kind of momentum will carry you through the initial excitement of release.
The fact is, most indie devs don't consider marketing until the game is released and they don't understand why nobody's buying it. Hopefully this will get you thinking profitably, well ahead of launch.
Creating with a mind to sell
For many devs reading this, it will be too late. Sorry.
It is a sad truth that many independent game developers pay no attention to marketing until their project is nearing release or is already out. The first 48 hours of your game going live are the absolute most important. If you receive only a lukewarm welcome, it is unlikely you will generate much more interest once your game is in the market.
In other words, you want your game to make an impact. Bam! I wouldn’t recommend releasing a game at all unless there is a fan base that is already excited to spend money on it. You should spend the duration of game development creating and tending to the audience that will eventually give you their money.
But my game is already released. And nobody’s buying it.
Okay, okay. There are a few solutions.
One way to try to stem the tide of market apathy is to simply launch a new marketing campaign, more fully exploiting the resources you already have and aggressively marketing. But very often that involves spending money. And if your game is not that great, it’s likely it already has negative reviews. And that’s bad. It is usually an unrecoverable problem if your game ever has mostly negative reviews. In these cases, it’s probably time to examine what you’ve learned and get ready for your next project.
Another less dismal proposition may be to re-release your existing game.
You can try this by creating a major overhaul on your game, slightly retitling it (like turning “Lava Quest” into “Lava Quest Heroes”) and re-releasing it once a fan base is established. If your game is pretty good, but just didn’t make the big splash it deserved, this method might work.
Starting from scratch
Ideally, you should begin the marketing process when your game is in very early development. And you should spend roughly equal time developing the game and developing your audience.
That can be a tough pill to swallow for many devs. Dedicated developers all want to believe that their game will be good enough to capture an audience on its own, without making ads or aggressively marketing on social. But where will your audience come from? And how will they connect to your game?
Building a large audience doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, hard work, dedication, and a complete breakfast including StevenLong’s Mini Flakes. Nah, just kidding about the Mini Flakes.
I'm just doing this for fun. I don't care if I make money
Good for you! But if your game is good, I'd like to know about it. And so would a lot of people. And if you make a good game, we gamers would like to give you our money so you can quit your day job, so you can make another great game, so we can give you money. You see? You owe it to the community to do it right. So do it!
Building an audience is a slow game. You have to be vigilant. Social media can bring you a massive audience if you use it right, and we’ll spend plenty of time discussing that later on.
The point I’m trying to make is that marketing is something that needs to be taken seriously and either a great deal of time or money will have to be dedicated. And marketing is more than just ads and commercials. It is anything that creates an audience for your product. Nobody will know about your game unless you tell them!
To create an audience that is excited about your game, you have to make people want it. You have to make them understand why they can’t live without your game. What makes it special? What purpose does it serve? These are basic marketing elements that must be addressed if you hope to connect and maintain a faithful audience. But once you’ve made that connection, an indie audience will be faithful and even evangelical about your product.