Building Buzz for Indie Games
August 26, 2009 Page 4 of 4
Stage 4: Open beta?
For certain kinds of games, especially real-time multiplayer, an open beta can be a wise strategy. You'll need packed servers to make this kind of game work: it's something which might not be the best approach for an indie (but you should never say never).
This will cause your community to explode and it can be very hard to manage. However, it does seem that people are willing to accept the transition from open beta to paid accounts / full game purchases, so it could well be worth looking into.
When you're ready to open your game up for beta, you're in preview already, so you'll have a huge amount of things to juggle.
Stage 4b: Pre-order
Pre-orders are becoming increasingly common for indie games. They're a great way of capitalizing on initial buzz.
One thing which many indies don't do is advertise heavily pre-release. If you have the budget for this, I'd seriously recommend looking into it, and this could work well when coupled with pre-orders.
Where to advertise? The most popular two systems among indies are Google Ads and Project Wonderful. Both require a lot of investigation and getting used to. The simplest thing I'd recommend is to start by running a small campaign with a low budget to see what works and what doesn't. Remember to use Google Analytics to track the effects of this.
You'll see that CPC (cost-per-click) is one the most important metrics you have: experiment with ways to keep this down as low as possible. Cost is vital, but quality of clicks is also important: with Analytics you can see how visitors from different sources behave, and you can target your advertising more effectively. Again, this is a massive issue for which another article is required. Nick Tipping has a great piece on this.
Stage 5: Reviews
So, PR is at a peak and it's time to hit the big one: reviews. Lead-time is hugely important with this:
"In addition, print magazines need months of lead-time before your review is published. So we were effectively ensuring that the print reviews would all be coming out at least a whole month late after the game launched." - Chris Delay, on one of Introversion's disasters.
Unless you're already well known, there will be a lot of opposition from major mags and websites to reviewing your game. Just another reason to make sure that you build awareness earlier: if your game becomes trendy, like Braid or Fez, you'll stand a much better chance. This is, actually, another reason to get on the conference / festival circuit: people will take you more seriously if you talk at these things.
The best advice would be to start early: talk to anyone who has given you a preview and push hard to get through the door of more obstructive places.
When you actually get to talk to journalists properly, they will always tell you that they wished more indies were doing PR to make it easier for them to find out about interesting projects! The problem is that there is a corporate bullshit filter in front of these people to stop them covering things which don't generate huge amounts of magazine sales / website hits. The corporate bullshit filter is your enemy: become significant and ask.
Stage 6: The Home Straight? WRONG!
Now you have a massive bulging community all eagerly anticipating your release, so it's time to unleash your glutinous masterpiece all over them!
Make a huge fuss on release: do more press releases to your huge list, put out more videos, phone up everyone you know and tell them. You don't need to splash on a massive launch party on the International Space Station complete with astronaut strippers or anything like that, but you could consider offering to take some journalists to the pub. Journalists like pubs.
You'll need to put a post-release marketing campaign into operation, too. For most indies, this revolves around a lot of targeted web advertising, game updates of all sizes (paid or otherwise), interviews (if you're already famous) and a variety of other tools beyond the scope of this article. The most important thing you can do post-release is keep going: I'd say it's where other elements of the marketing mix come to the fore rather than PR, but you must use any PR opportunities you can generate.
Updates are great, sales milestones are great: you can also get more conference talks going and put your game into competitions and festivals once it's done. Various developers have had a lot of publicity through the IGF and other indie competitions.
I hope this rambling introduction was of some use: as we pursue our plan for Frozen Synapse, I'm sure we'll learn a lot more over the next few months. One great way of learning is to talk to other developers -- if you'd like to talk to me then go ahead.
Development forums and communities
Very specialised, quite introverted communities. Lurk first, be nice and polite if you dare to post.
Essential for any indie game - you must have a page on here.
Game Marketing Blogs and Articles
Jeff Tunnell is a highly-experienced game developer and entrepreneur who writes sensitively and intelligently about the business.
A brilliant article by Nick Tipping of Moonpod: I wish I had seen this earlier!
Nice little game marketing "beginner's guide."
Game Tycoon - a blog by David Edery. Edery is a very outspoken industry consultant who worked on XBLA and knows a lot about marketing.
Scott Steinberg's writing on games marketing is slightly sleazy, depressing, ludicrously self-promoting and oddly fascinating.
Brilliant games writer Kieron Gillen gives his take on indie PR. Essential.
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