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A small guide to getting your PC game known before launch - for $0
by Marc McCann on 07/02/14 07:26:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 
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 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.

Twitter

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.

YouTube

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.

Review Sites

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.

Facebook

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:-

http://forums.tigsource.com/

http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/forums/forum.php

http://forums.yogscast.com/

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.

 


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Comments


Ian Fisch
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Very helpful article. We're definitely going to use it to further promote our game Road Redemption. Hyphen looks awesome. Any take on Irritating Stick is a game I'm interested in.

Marc McCann
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Thanks Ian,

Glad you found the article useful. Also thank you for saying Hyphen looks awesome. Irritating Stick was one of my favourite games on the PSX

TC Weidner
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Ian, just wanted to jump in and say Im really looking forward to Road Redemption. I backed you guys on Kickstarter and cant wait to play this spiritual successor of Road Rash. I hope you guys much success.

with regard to this article, I also found it very informative, MArc thanks for taking the time to include actual links etc. well done

Alexandre Lautié
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Really great article, but it's funny this need to put the word FREE or for 0$ like every article on marketing and think it's the only way to make people read, even if it's wrong.
"*NEED* someone on full time PR." So who send the email, and twitt ?
How much time did it took you ?
Shouldn't you spending your time working on your game ? How many levels of your game would you be able to make if you didn't have to do this ?
Are your living cost near zero ?

It's like all the indie guys you see at convention saying they spend 0$ in marketing, when a small space cost several thousand dollars.

They have the idea that marketing is advertising ... and what they do is not marketing :)

I think indies need to start saying the truth about this.
We are poor, and we never do this job if it were for money, but we know that we need some money (a least to pay the rent and food) before getting any kind of income.

You need a big chunk of your time to work on marketing. And like Rami Ismail said, money is time.
You can also pay someone to do this for you and free your time to make a better game. But of course this is like building your house yourself or hiring someone else, it cost a way more and this money leave your pocket.

You really don't need to say something false to make people read your article. It's great enough.


E Zachary Knight
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Yes. Time is money. But money is also money too. Paying someone to market your game is a money cost that is greater than zero. Paying for advertisements is a money cost greater than zero.

However, when time is properly budgeted by an indie developer, the marketing cost in time is marginal compared to any perceived loss to development. Believe it or not, but it doesn't take a lot of time to send out emails and tweets. 45 minutes to an hour every day is more than enough time for that.

Joshua Wilson
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I don't think it's false or misleading.

Time has value which can be traded for (or used to create) money but it's not money - I think that saying is a bit overused. You could have all the time in the day and still have no money.

And if you don't have money to pay someone with then you have to find the time to do it yourself. There's no choice there.

Alan Wilson
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Well, we (Tripwire Interactive) spent $0.00 marketing our first title - Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45. We also spent $0.00 marketing Killing Floor when we launched it. Between those two we've sold something like 4 million units.

Now, to be fair, that was cash outlay. Yes, it cost time. But our time was a LOT cheaper than paying someone else to do it. And we didn't lose valuable development time. We lost (more) sleep and traded that for valuable marketing time.

You don't need to spend money on convention space. Guest at other stands, if you feel you need to be there (and can get the attention). Of course hotels, flights all cost cash.

But the key points are made in the article - it can be done for (near) zero outlay of cash. Just takes yet more work!

Christian Oeing
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Hi Marc,

Thanks a lot for listing your methods to promote your game! We are in a very similar situation right now with our game FreudBot (http://www.freudbot.net) which we like to release soon. We are just a 2-man indie startup based in Hamburg, Germany and are both developers by heart :) There are 3 more devs on the project but they also concentrate on art, story, sound,... So nobody with big experience in promoting a game unfortunately.

I am doing some of the points you mentioned already, like posting to some forums, sending out regular updates on the game in the facebook groups, on twitter,... (we started a bit too late in my opinion though) and after the alpha version we tested a few weeks ago, we will release a beta version next week.

But there are still a lot of points on your list that I haven't done yet, e.g. working through the lists of YouTubers and review sites :) So thanks for the tips, seems like I still have a lot to do! ;)

Cheers
Christian

@Alexandre: I agree, promoting the game takes a lot of time. Unfortunately it's impossible in a small sized company to employ a full time PR person, he won't have enough to do in the beginning/middle of the development. So a person from the dev team has to take this role. Hiring a person for the promotion of the game at the end of the development isn't easy, too, as one should really know (and love) the game to do the promotion in a great way. But yeah, time is money, so marketing is never free even if you do it yourself :) The house building analogy is really nice!

Andrej Jagar
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How would this "Make a pre-release demo" translate to Mobile gaming?
We are working on our first game and to be honest - I'm terrified to publish anything that is not mega-polished because the bugs could get us so many bad ratings. We can test it out with our friends and colleagues, but I would want more objective opinions.

Martyn Hughes
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We're the developer of UnitedFootball, a mulitplayer online 5 a side soccer game, and we are actually at the stage now where we are ready to drive players..

This is an excellent article and well timed for us...

Jesse LaVigne
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I'm wondering how you distribute for review with a mobile game? I guess we could publish a web player prerelease version, or do you have another recommendation? Also, you indicate that it is best to begin this process ahead of the full release. How far ahead of the release?

Dann Marais
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It does "boil" down to building relationships and the "cost" associated with building a relationship, is TIME. As Alexandre/Rami Ismail said, time = money (I'll add) = investment. Over the past couple of months, I have been slowly building relationships and the information / contacts you provided will be handy,
thank you Mark!

I'm quite interested to hear (no, read) your and the indie game developer community's opinion about the following; (PS: I'm not trying to hijack your post, but I have thought about this for some time and it now appears to be an opportunity to "put it out there").

I am the creator/designer/developer (jack/chief of all) of an indie game, to be released within the next 6 weeks. I'm also the founder and director of the company "developing" the game, BLOCKish. I cannot CODE one single line...oops, programming/coding is outsourced to a "real developer".

Note - I still do view myself as an Indie Developer. I wanted to sign this reply as follow;

"Dann
Indie Developer
www.iBLOCKish.com"

Does it offend the "Indie Developer Community" that I and others assign the "Indie Developer Title" to ourself's (we can't CODE, but we CAN create, design and manage).

Be kind, :-)

Andy Wallace
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I program, and while it is certainly useful, it's hardly the only discipline that goes into game design. If you make games, call yourself a game designer/developer/whatever you want.

Ian Richard
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I'm with Andy. If you've fully made a game you've earned the title.

I've met more than a few "professionals" who feel otherwise, but most of us welcome new blood.

Trent Dillon
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I'm curious as to how successful your game has been with a $0 marketing budget.

It's all well and good to re-post all the theories and guides that have been covered on Gamasutra before, but where is the proof that it is more successful than a non-$0 marketing budget? I don't need exact numbers, but have your direct sales adequately compensated everyone for their development time?

We're desperately trying to get our game, Lantern Forge, through Steam's Greenlight...
But I notice that Hyphen is not yet through Greenlight either.

Adam Bishop
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This is the key question to me. There are a lot of things that you can do to market your game for free. But how successful have they been?

Marc McCann
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I have not once stated that paying $0 is more successful than a non-$0 marketing budget. That is putting words in my mouth for the sake of a debate. The article is about getting your game name out there and being played (and known about by people) without spending any money - and that is what it talks about. I haven't said it's easy and I have certainly not pitched my article as the holy grail of marketing. Every game and developer is different.

Sales have been pretty good so far, there are 2 of us at FarSpace and yes we feel we're being adequately compensated for our time and effort. We're not in a position to talk about whether or not we've been a success or not as things are only just getting going post launch. We've not had the game out long and direct sales via Our site, Desura, Green Man Gaming and itch.io have been good up to now. The pre-release demo that we released was downloaded (can't vouch for installs) over 30,000 times and we sold (via a pre order on our site) a fair few copies before launch. I'm not here to post about sales figures but let's just say it bought us the required software and hardware for doing an OSX port of the game (in progress btw) with room to spare. This was achieved using the methods I have given above, some of it may be old news and some of it may be common sense but my method is now all in one place for people to take or leave as they please.

As for Greenlight, I don't know what to say on that topic. Greenlight is it's own beast. We've been live since January and had features from Rock Paper Shotgun and various other sites in the interim and they barely made a dent on the Greenlight. That said since launch there has been a steady increase in votes - so hopefully the same will hold true for you. Lantern Forge looks nice by the way, I'll be sure to upvote it.

Lucas Zanenga
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I agree with the "Time is money" thing, and marketing will take either your time or money. However, a nice article like this can save me a lot of time just by having a solid chunk of information all in one place. Great job!

I have a question in regards to this statement:
"Get your game out there and being played ASAP"

I have a new game that I'm working on (currently 6 weeks in development). It's going very well and there is something to play and have fun with. However, I don't have a tutorial yet. My gut tells me that it would be better to make a tutorial first and then put it out there.

Would you say that even without a tutorial it should be visible as soon as it's playable? And I don't mean by playtesters and friends, I have a group for that. I mean in sites like tigsource and indiedb.

Greg Quinn
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What a great article, thanks for the all the resources.
Definately adding this to my list of favourite links.

Do you have anything to say about using Reddit? It seems some people have found success with it.

Dave Toulouse
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You forgot to mention another thing you can do that doesn't cost anything which is to write a blog post about how to promote your game for $0 ... ;)

On a more serious note though anyone working on indie games probably went a thousand times through this list of things to do. While it's always nice to remind newcomers what is of real interest here is "what was the result of doing these things?". What provided the best result in your case?

Just because it can be done it doesn't mean it automatically provides results and is worth the time. I could as well tell people to start their newsletter as well but if I fail to provide any form of measurement of what it did in my case then I'm not helping to judge if it's worth it.

Of course we could also say that "indie should be doing it all as it can't hurt and only help" but then we don't really need such post to remind us.

It's unfortunate that you don't seem willing to show us the link between the things you've done and the results (number of reviews, number of articles, Greenlight votes, units sold, etc.) as that's how we can judge how really effective it was. Just saying "take it or leave" seems to depart from your initial concern to inform people about how they can effectively promote their game for $0.

Again, not to rain on your parade but we've seen this a thousand times. What we see less often is the "after". What did it really do?

As for people complaining this post is misleading because of the whole "time is money" well, when you first start as an indie you have plenty of time and probably not a whole lot of money and it seems obvious that the author of this post was in that situation. So if you're really having a hard time understanding the meaning of the word "free" in that context you you're also having a hard time understanding what it is to be an indie with no previous successful title ...

Joe Chang
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Great Article Marc! ABGamer covered our early concept demo for our horror game Phantasmal - they are definitely great guys to work with!


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