I’ve been looking for ways to promote Captain Kaon's greenlight campaign and get it moving again, places to connect with indie gamers and gain some exposure. It’s been tricky. My latest roll of the dice has been to try paid adverts. I’d tried to get all the free exposure I could first, but I always figured I’d need to scrape some money together sooner or later. If you’re thinking of using ads to promote your own project I hope you’ll find this cautionary tale useful, because, as you’ll see, it didn’t go well.
There are many places you can go to advertise on the internet, but I need a lot of votes so I need to go to heavily trafficked areas. Googles Adwords allows you to tailor your ad to specific searches. This can be quite handy, if someone were to search for ‘indie games’ I could have my website appear in the ad list next to the search. But their system works on bidding; if your keywords are popular it will be expensive to use them. Twitter and Facebook have systems that allow you to promote posts. I’ve already found twitter to be ineffective at gaining votes due to it being a primarily mobile based platform. This left me looking at two options, in the end I chose Reddit because the cost worked out as less than Facebook. This may have been a mistake, with Facebook you have a permanent page that allows you to grow a community. But, as my main goal was to get traffic and votes on my Greenlight page, promoting a link on Reddit seemed like the way to go.
I started with the self-serve ads as they are simple to use and then planned to use a banner ad if it went well. These self-serve ads appear as the promoted post in your chosen sub-reddit, this way you can pick a specific demographic to target with your Ad. They will also stay there for the duration of your campaign, new content can’t get bumped above it. This seemed like a pretty decent amount of exposure for the minimum spend of $20.
I did some rough calculations based on the factors I knew about. The cost is $1.50 per 1000 impressions (cpm). A typical internet Ad gets clicked on about 0.4-0.5% of the time. So I could estimate 4-5 people would go to my greenlight page for every $1.50 spent. My yes vote ratio on Greenlight was at 38%, so I estimated I would gain 2 votes per $1.50 cpm. As I still need at least 500 votes to get through greenlight, the cost estimation worked out to be $375 (or about £262 where I am). That was a small amount of money to pay out in advertising if it got me through greenlight. It would take several ad campaigns, so I would be able to spend a little bit at a time and see how it went.
I’d already tried to use reddit to promote Captain Kaon in a couple of places. It’s a tricky thing to do as they have rules against self-promotion; you’re not allowed more than 10% of your posts to be all about you. Generally, my google analytics indicated that these posts hadn’t generated many page views. I couldn’t read too much into this though as I didn’t know how many people had seen the posts on reddit, so couldn’t calculate the percentage. I hoped that by targeting a more popular sub-reddit and by being a promoted post, there would be more of an effect.
Setting up ads
Setting up a self-serve ad is pretty simple. You start by providing a 70x70 image for the thumbnail. There’s not a lot you can do with this image, it’s just so tiny. A screenshot can’t be scaled down that small without turning into garbage. You can try and isolate a small area of a screen shot that has something interesting; otherwise you have to go with a logo. You then add some text, this is where you try and attract some attention. You need something enticing for people to click on.
Once you’ve got the ad setup you can create the campaign. You put in the amount you want to spend and a time window. You’re then offered a campaign that fits this request. It’s all pretty simple and painless.
My first Ad targeted PC gamers on r/Steam and ran for 2 days, for 30,000 impressions. I made a little thumbnail of the gameplay and wrote some text giving the game name and gameplay. It looked like this and linked directly to my greenlight page.
Whilst I was initially happy with it, by the time the campaign had ended I had realised it had a few problems. You’ll notice the thumbnail isn’t very good, the ships are too small and the background too dark. The text is also bland and uninspiring.
Despite these problems, it had an initial click through of a little over 0.5%. Unfortunately this didn’t last and it dwindled down to just over 0.3%. During a campaign you get hourly stats to look over and a couple of graphs. Here are the final stats for the first ad.
As you can see my $46 spent got me 116 page views, if this converted to the 38% yes ratio I currently had it would have given me 44 votes. Even if it hadn’t done so well and I’d only got 30 votes it would still have been decent. Unfortunately, when I checked my greenlight stats I found I hadn’t gained a single vote during the 2 days the ad was running.
This ad had been utterly ineffective. But, why? Although the numbers for the ad were slightly below my estimations it still brought over 100 people to my greenlight page. Even with a lower yes ratio I still should have seen at least a dozen votes. The data matched expectations until the reader arrived at the page itself, for some reason they just weren’t voting. With every promotion link I had previously used this had not been a problem, so why now? One possibility is that the Steam sub-reddit is populated more by main-stream pc gamers than indie gamers. If this were the case I would need to target a sub-reddit dedicated to indies.
There are a handful of sub-reddits dedicated to indie gaming and greenlight. I picked out r/indiegaming for no other reason that it had the most subscribers.
Something I failed to notice when choosing this sub-reddit; the ads appeared under a separate ‘promoted’ tab. Instead of appearing at the top of the main post list, like the first ad, readers would have to deliberately click on the tab to see my ad. As it turned out this was not a problem, I still got the impressions I paid for at the rate I was promised.
For the second ad I created a better icon and gave the text a bit more flavour.
Initially this ad had the same performance of just over 0.5% as the first ad. Then, as with the first, it tailed off to just above 0.3%. In fact its click through rate is slightly less than the first.
I had hoped a better constructed ad with a more tightly focused target would get more clicks, but it doesn’t seem to be the case. I suspect this could have been to do with the longer duration of this ad. It would have been more likely to have been seen by the same readers several times.
This wouldn’t matter if readers who visited the page were more likely to give Captain Kaon an upvote. Unfortunately, once again, there was no effect on the number of votes Captain Kaon had. I targeted people with an interest in indie games and it didn’t work. The best I can say with this ad is that it got me, maybe, one vote.
After the failure of my first two ads I left reddit alone for a while, it just didn’t seem to have anything to offer. Then I had a thought, instead of promoting the game directly I could try promoting something related to the game. Perhaps this would have a knock on effect of giving my game exposure. Figuring I needed something unique and enticing I opted for my recent ‘problems of greenlight’ blog post.
I stuck a simple ad up on reddit that pointed to the blog post and waited to see what would happen.
Initially it didn’t look good; there was only a 0.2% click through. After a little while it crept up to over 0.4% and stayed that way. But how did this translate to people reaching my greenlight page, as it wasn’t a direct link?
This wasn’t so good. There are a couple of bumps before that ad ran, but on the 22nd it goes flat.
Here are the final stats for this ad.
Although the performance of this ad was better than the first two, it’s not been any more effective on the actual votes than the other ads.
For me, Reddit ads have been utterly ineffective in promoting my Greenlight campaign. The question is; did the ads fail because they are ineffective in themselves or because my game doesn’t have enough appeal? I think elements of both are true.
Certainly my lack of experience at promoting games and the lack of a unique and appealing concept mean that my greenlight page generates a low yes vote ratio. But, the game and the page are still good enough that they have been generating votes, so they should have generated something. The vote acquisition for my reddit ads was so far below the performance of all of my other attempts at promoting Captain Kaon that I think that there is something in the ads themselves that is the problem.
I suspect it has to do with how the reader is exposed to the game. If I post on a forum the reader is exposed to the game there, before they then go to the greenlight page. They will have made a decision about the game before they arrive at the page, they have a positive attitude towards it before clicking the link. With the reddit ad it’s a link that takes them directly to the page before they have been exposed to the game. They assess the game after they have clicked the link, so the click through will include people who don’t like the game.
The one problem with this idea is that is doesn’t mesh with my early voting stats. When I first put the game in greenlight it appeared in the newest submissions and received yes votes at around 25%. This was from people who arrived on the page having not been exposed to the game. Although they are people actively looking to vote on greenlight games, which would perhaps skew the votes higher.
Additionally, I have mention in a previous blog post that I don’t think web links work for greenlight as people aren’t logged in to steam in their browser. This could also be a factor in why the voting failed.
Regardless of the ultimate reasons, this attempt to use ads has failed. If successful, I would have looked into Facebook ads and Adwords. As it is, I need to figure out a new way to promote Captain Kaon.
I hope this has been useful information to anyone looking to promote their own games, or otherwise has been an entertaining insight into the struggles of indie development. If you’d like to support my ongoing adventure an upvote on Greenlight would be great.