In the final talk at GDC Austin's Indie Games Summit on Tuesday, Wolfire's John Graham discussed how to get the word out about your independent game, based around successful tactics for upcoming PC action game Overgrowth.
Graham started out by listing a number of apparently legitimate 'PR tips', including 'only show off finished assets' and 'don't generate buzz too early', before exclaiming: "You're in a very noisy, crowded environment and remember how small you are", and essentially crossing out all of these conventional tips.
He pointed out that, with indies, you can practice 'open development' - divided into making noise, making friends, and building a community. Starting with 'making noise', Graham stressed openness at all times. Discussing things such as piracy helped some indies get a lot of extra attention, for example.
Sharing content on your website that isn't just game-related is key, noted Graham. If you add posts on game design or even personal experiences -- or perhaps even April Fool's jokes, such as Small Tank, which was picked up several places on April 1st this year. Wolfire's David Rosen also made video-based 'design tours' for a number of indie games like World Of Goo that got picked up by many outlets.
Cross-promotion is also key. The main rabbit character in Overgrowth now appears, in various styles, in other indie games such as Cletus Clay and Gratuitous Space Battles. And getting the word out to the press, both via email and in person at conferences, is key to your product becoming recognizable and well promoted.
In addition, the Overgrowth creators noticed that only 30% of its traffic was coming from the U.S., and only 50% was from countries where the primary language was English. So they started their 'Overt Ops' program, with translations into 20+ languages and some notable pickup by Russian press.
In the second part of the talk, Graham listed some of the key outlets they use to get the message out. The Wolfire Blog is particularly useful for the Overgrowth team, since it allows threaded comment discussion, and individual posts can be picked up by other sites. Forums are also key for community building, and need to be set up as early as possible in development.
Interestingly, Wolfire also uses a public IRC channel for real-time chat between fans, with a link into a web browser. The Meebo live web chat also helps the Overgrowth team respond to real-time questions about pre-orders, press, and more -- a startlingly robust set of solutions for interacting with the community.
Social media is also important, with Graham singling out ModDB (to reach hardcore gamers and modders) and YouTube (with HD support and a lot of viewers). He showed a YouTube video featuring the tools and technology in process on the game, with a link to the pre-order for Overgrowth. (The game allows users to have access to the in-game tools alpha with the pre-order.)
Both Facebook and Twitter were also specifically recommended, with Twitter being good at meeting peers in the industry, and the Steam Group also mentioned.
In his conclusion, Graham advocated strongly for 'open development' - communicating specifically to the public about what you're working on, allowing pre-orders so people can get in early on the game's initial tools and versions, and advocating for the concept of "time lapse for your game" -- exposing everything to the community to draw them in.