Indie game devs on a budget still need to put their game in front of as many eyeballs as possible. Here are some tips.
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Before we start, let’s get something clear: The best marketing and PR will cost you much more than a dime. Probably more than a quarter! So don’t go into this article thinking you’ll come out with professional-quality marketing for free.
The best marketing is a recipe of years of experience, careful networking and marketing industry knowledge. If you’ve been spending your time creating games like a good little dev, then you haven’t been spending time marketing. That’s why a professional PR group - the kind AAA developers use - will always trump an indie developer’s campaign. If you’ve got the money, that professional PR group will not only spread your game far and wide, their efforts will also help clear up your calendar so you can focus on making an awesome game instead of marketing.
Okay. With that out of the way, we can address the elephant in the room: If you’re reading this, you probably an indie game developer with no marketing budget. Thankfully, with some careful planning and perseverance, you can gain enough of a base to get your game noticed.
The most important thing to market your indie game
The most important part of marketing is to have a decent product. If your game isn’t any good, marketing will be the least of your worries.
Good marketing can help a crappy game to sell, but will leave players feeling cheated and ready to redeem their 2-hour Steam refunds. So pretty please. First and foremost. Make me a good product that people will want to play recommend to their friends!
A Slow Game
Spreading the word about your indie game requires lots of time. A central idea behind good marketing is that, the more your product is seen, the more people will take it seriously. Even if they know nothing about your game, if it pops up in a few different places your audience will assume they are missing out. Finding the same thing in different places gives the illusion of popularity. To accomplish this without being obnoxious, you must navigate carefully.
There’s a fine line between aggressive marketing done correctly, and spamming your friends. Creating a name for yourself should be done gradually by engaging your peers with quality content about your game. I’ll elaborate more on this later. Maybe. But for now, just remember that you want to start your marketing plan at least a few months before your game drops. Probably longer, though. As soon as you have a good pile of stuff to show off, you should start doing just that. You want your indie game to be seen again and again, but in a positive way. Don’t logjam Twitter feeds with the same mindless post.
About 99.9 percent of people that see a post about your game will flip right past it and think nothing of it. That’s normal. But if they keep seeing it - not a thousand times a day, but perhaps once a day or a few times a week - they’ll start wondering what this gentle rhythm of exposure is all about. Gentle-yet-consistent reminders for the consumer to check out your interesting product are what make good marketing work.
Persistence and patience are the key to to this style of marketing. Your consumers will notice after a week or two, Hey, I’ve been seeing this game quite a bit lately. It must be good to generate this kind of buzz. And that’s exactly what you want. Subliminal infiltration. Mind control. Make your consumers feel like they came up with the idea on their own, that your game might actually be worth checking out. I said mind control!
So many prongs, so little time
Today, there are so many ways and so many channels to promote your indie game it can be overwhelming. I have five main prongs - channels - I recommend, but if you’re doing this on your own, it is very likely you only have time for a few. Pick what works best for you - what you’re most familiar with - and it will make your life easier. Remember, marketing wrong might actually harm your sales and awareness.
This is an obvious one, one you’re probably already using, and one that is completely free. But it can be hard to use effectively.
In social media marketing, it’s all about engagement and consistency.
To grow on social, you have to create content that people want to see. If you share GIFs of animation from your game, link to videos of gameplay or show off concept art people will enjoy, then your followers will click, share, retweet or whatever. And you will grow. But you’ve got to post shareable content regularly. In the fast-moving world of social media, people will forget about you very quickly if you stop feeding them good content.
I also include video platforms in this prong. YouTube and Twitch are great places to make friends and cajole them into Let’s Playing or reviewing your game.
Make sure you link your posts back to something useful. Your game’s Steam page is a great place to send them, but you might also refer them to your next prong…
This is important for several reasons.
First of all, it gives interested parties a place to get information on your game as it develops. Consider this site the bookshelf where you display all of your favorite achievements. A website doesn’t have to look professional, as long as it’s easy to navigate and contains pretty pictures, videos and links, links links! Link to your social media, link to your Steam or App store or Google Play page or whatever. And be sure to include a link to your…
3. Press Kit
What is a press kit? A press kit is everything bloggers, journalists or Let’s Players might need to promote your game. Always include things like hi-res images of your game, characters, environments, whatever; your indie game’s logo in light and dark styles; your studio’s contact info and a brief synopsis of the game. Including bullet points is always good in a press kit because reading is hard for busy people.
I plan to devote at least one entire post to the Press Kit. It’s not very hard to make one, but you’ve got to make sure you’re providing the right stuff.
Blogs plural. Your own blog - your dev log - is an important thing to have, too. It lets your audience know what you’re up to. But for maximum coverage, reach out to other bloggers who might be interested in your game. Give them a free copy. Ask them real nice and most of the smaller blogs will either play your indie game - and hopefully post about it - or perhaps let you write your own article on the game. Even larger websites like Rock Paper Shotgun and Kotaku might be interested if there’s not much else going on and your game looks good.
You’re on your own for this one. I’m just a marketing guy. Steam, GooglePlay and the App store are all obvious choices for indie game devs, but don’t overlook outlets like HumbleBundle and Bundlestars - two of my favorite third-party Steam key sites!
You might as well include Kickstarter in this category too. But Kickstarter comes with its own challenges. You’ve got to market your ass off if you want to succeed on this platform. But if you do succeed, I highly recommend you include marketing in your budget to cover the cost of hyping your game’s actual release.
When you’re crowdsourcing, there’s no reason not to include marketing as part of your plan.Your constituents are giving you their money to do what you do. I suggest determining a marketing budget after consulting with an actual marketing group so you know what you’re getting into. A good PR company will pay for itself many times over and is completely worth the cost.
Conclusion - Indie game developers have lots of work to do
This is just a brief outline of what I consider the most important pieces of marketing for indie game developers. I’ll try to devote a post to most of these aspects. Social media in particular deserves many countless articles. For developers on a budget, social media offers the most potentially potent possibilities for marketing. And all without spending a single dime. Of course, if you want to spend a little bit, feel free to pledge on my Patreon page!