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I'd like to start out by saying that this approach has been rather successful for us, your mileage will of course vary. There may be a lot of things in here that you already know and/or are common sense but if you can pick up at least one tip from me, writing this post was worth it! I am not proposing in any way that not paying for PR is any better than paying and am not against paying for promotion, you cut your cloth to fit. In fact since launch we do have a guy helping us with PR, but this article focuses on pre launch marketing, which we did do on our own and quite successfully!
My name is Marc McCann and I'm co-owner and developer at FarSpace Studios. We've just finished and released our first title on the PC - Hyphen. During Hyphen's development (mainly since the release of the pre-release demo) I was very active in approaching websites and YouTube channels to try and get some publicity for Hyphen. In this article I'm going to focus on how to get your game known before launch without spending money on doing so. We're still in the process of marketing Hyphen post launch (and have in fact got someone on board to help to supplement our own marketing efforts as I'm focusing heavily on getting YouTube coverage currently) so I am not really in a position to offer advice on that until I can see the results.
How many times have we all. been told that you *NEED* a marketing budget or that you *NEED* someone on full time PR to make people take notice of your product? I have heard it a lot, and although yes it's beneficial - quite frankly I disagree. Up to the point of release (and the beginning of this week to be precise) - we spent 0 on marketing Hyphen. Here's how we did it:-
Make a pre-release demo
Get your game out there and being played ASAP. This worked absolute wonders for us and websites such as http://www.alphabetagamer.com/ will be your best friend in making people aware of it's existence. Also be sure to get an account at http://www.indiedb.com and upload there too, it's a good place to post news and a good site to link people to for the download as they can also post their views on it.
This will be one of your main resources. Post about your game and link people to the demo download as often as possible. Don't be afraid to tweet directly at YouTube channel owners and gaming personalities - a single retweet/reply from them can make a huge difference to your luck. I wrote an article a while ago on Gamasutra about getting more twitter followers if you need:- Article here. Be sure to use the #gamedev, #gaming, and #indiedev hashtags too, they result in retweets/replies from bots and other developers and can be really useful for propagating news. There's also #IndieDevHour which is a great place to talk about your game and development in general with your peers. The indie dev hour is at 8pm UTC On Wednesdays but the hashtag can be used outside of that too.
When we released the pre-release demo, we got straight in touch with nearly every single one of the YouTubers on this list. Not everyone responded but we have still had a fairly large amount of videos made about the pre-release demo, Just typing 'Hyphen' into YouTube will yield quite a few results (Note: you may mainly find videos of the full version of Hyphen if you look as they will be the most recent but if you look further back you'll see plenty of the demo). YouTube is a seriously underrated and underused marketing resource. I'd say that probably 90% of the marketing for Hyphen has been done through YouTube and this video right here (NSFW at all) made a huge difference to our visibility.
I'd also like to do a shoutout to my friends the AverageGiants. hit those guys up, they love reviewing/talking about indie games and are open to submissions of games to play.
This one should go without saying. Rather than ramble on about the benefits of review sites I'll post this link:- http://www.pixelprospector.com/the-big-list-of-indie-game-sites/. Get your email editor open and get talking about your game! Linking to your demo in your email is a great idea, try and use something like https://goo.gl/ so that you can track when the link has been clicked. After emailing the majority of sites on this list we managed to get features from Indiegames.com and RockPaperShotgun.com as well as a couple of others. These are big sites and make a huge difference to your overall popularity.
Create a page for your game and for your company. You can then keep both pages up to date whenever you have anything to post. Be sure to invite *all* your friends to like your page(s). You'll be surprised who is willing to give you shoutouts etc even if you don't speak to them much! Also be sure to join these groups and give me a shout if you join!:-
Indie Game Developers
Indie Game Promo
PC Game Developers
Indie Game Players & Developers
Make sure to link to your game or company page whenever posting about them in groups, you'll soon be getting more likes on your pages. Also make sure to add your game or company links to any lists that the groups may have.
Finally, some tips
1.) Request read receipts whenever emailing, this gives you some sort of idea of who is acknowledging your emails. There's a good chance you've ended up in the junk folder or gone totally unnoticed if you don't get a read receipt, don't be afraid to nudge the people that you've emailed by forwarding them the original message with a note after some time (a week is good) has passed.
2.) Don't spam facebook groups/twitter. Post when you have something interesting to say, make your link part of that post but don't just post your link or some uninteresting news on a regular basis. When posting on twitter try to include an awesome image of your game in the tweet, it makes it stand out amongst all the other plain black text tweets.
3.) I'm assuming you already have a website for your company/game (If not, WHY?? Get one!) so it would also be wise to link to your Facebook and Twitter accounts from your site.
4.) Forums, plenty of the review sites on the list I posted above have their own forums. Why not post about your game on there? Most forums have a place for announcing new games and/or asking for feedback. A couple of good ones are:-
5.) Finally, be yourself. Don't pretend to be some huge corporation when you're not. If you're a 1 man band then refer to yourself as 'I' not 'we'. Personal emails and interaction goes down a lot better with everyone than cold attempts at acting like a corporate professional. We are game developers, not multi national corporations. A touch of humour or passion in your emails/interactions with others can go a long way!
Anyway, that's about everything I have to say on the matter at the moment. You're master of your own destiny and the key to getting heard is perseverance. Next time someone tells you that you can't get your game known without spending $$$'s - you'll hopefully be in a position to prove them wrong! I hope the tips in this article are of use to some of you.