Building Buzz for Indie Games
August 26, 2009 Page 3 of 4
Stage 2a: Maintenance and Momentum
Now you should have created a situation where some people are following your updates -- time to capitalize on this.
Release quality updates about everything you can to do with your game: videos, pictures, audio, text, code, funny development stories, advice, ANYTHING. Keep pumping this out to your community.
Respond to what people say. Talk to them. Ask them to invite new people.
When you have enough new exciting content, you might consider collecting it together and doing another press release, which should lead you on to...
Stage 2b: Videos
It's common practice to release quality video trailers these days. If you have interesting characters, why not copy Valve's brilliant Team Fortress campaign and do a "meet the x"-style video? Do videos showing off interesting graphical effects, cool environments, crazy features: try and get people to share them on YouTube. Put anything that looks good moving in them. Make them funny or quirky. Post videos of your cats. Anything that will appeal.
If any seem particularly popular in your community, push them out with short sharp press releases.
You probably don't have the budget to do exciting rendered (or live action) videos, so most likely your vids will be in-engine. This means that they'll evolve with your game.
I'd suggest waiting until your game looks decent before pushing out the videos to the press (you can still release teaser videos to your community, but only really push the good-looking stuff). We started doing "director's commentary"-style voiceovers on our early teasers -- I'm waiting to find out if people hate this or not....
All this should be building up to the release of your major trailers. Check out this absolutely brilliant Scribblenauts video.
It's fun, it conveys the concept of the game, it looks great and it's punchy. Perfect. This really helped get people talking even more about this forthcoming game well before it hit the full hands-on preview stage.
Once your big trailer is ready, push it out to your PR list again. Really hammer it hard: this is going to make or break you. You should have the means to do this is place now.
Stage 2c: Other Gubbins
Now is a good time to get out there and meet people. Go to games events and meet journalists, other developers, companies from other tech industries... all of that will be helpful and interesting.
Be careful with this, though: it can be expensive and a bit of a time-sink. It's easy to feel like you're doing important business research, when in fact you're just getting drunk and talking complete nonsense about games to people. Do still go, but keep working while you're there and watch the costs. If you want to go to an event, try and speak there. This will raise your profile, you'll get a free pass and it's easier to meet people if you're in a perceived position of authority.
Think of interesting ways to push out news and keep your community going. Wolfire have fun with their chat widget, Cliffski rants about... things... and posts on RPS a lot: do things, be present.
Read this -- are you being a rock star?
Look at Cliffski's brilliant marketing tricks. Can you do anything similar - tackle a big gaming issue head on? Are you aiming for the huge sites like Slashdot and BoingBoing with outrageous content that will shake up the internet?
Are you achieving your PR and marketing goals? Have you got enough people subscribing to your mailing list, enough followers on Twitter and friends on Facebook? What are your estimated Day One sales given this?
Stage 3: Previews and release hype
This is a tough one: you have to get preview code which is hugely impressive, but get it out early enough before launch that a lead time of a month or so won't be a problem.
We found that, if you're pushy enough, magazines and websites will do previews of your game. In the UK, we went to Future Publishing and met the guys at PC Gamer and PC Format, who all very politely played our ridiculous game and made jokes about it. It helped that we brought biscuits. This resulted in a preview in a column and a review in PC Gamer, as well as some extra stuff in Format, some contact which have lasted years and a big load of motivation for us. I wish we'd been able to do more of this.
You don't need to do previews in person, of course, but if you can I'd recommend it. The most important things are, again, that your preview code is impressive and that you push it out to as many places as you can possibly get your hands on. We had some good success (and traffic) from sending out preview code to small blogs -- the bloggers were very excited to get an advance look at our game.
Preview is a massive stage: look at how much other companies invest in it. PopCap recently had a huge event for loads of journalists to come and look at new products. It's difficult but necessary: you'll need to come up with your own comprehensive preview strategy.
Noted hacker-type and social engineer Kevin Mitnick used to get people's passwords and access to high-security installations by asking. He would simply phone up, introduce himself and ask for things. Follow his lead (although obviously without the jail sentence and interminable self-satisfied smugness) and ask.
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