The Basic Marketing Plan For Indie Games

By Juuso Hietalahti

Introduction

A marketing plan might sound something awfully hard to do for a game developer, but to briefly put it: the marketing plan is your flightplan on how to get your game to your players. The contents of a marketing plan can be divided into several sections. A strategic plan or the company's business plan will describe the company's strategic objectives. The marketing plan will focus on those major objectives, and how to reach those goals.

You don't have to have tens of pages long marketing plan that you will never use. It's much better to have a short plan that you use. Use your computer's desktop wallpaper or a one page printed plan where you put the marketing plan: goals, actions and notes. Then use and refine the plan.

Contents of a Marketing Plan

These sections of a marketing plan are listed below.

1. Goals – Make Sure You Know Where You Are Heading

Goals define where you are going. In an indie marketing plan, you can start by choosing the goal for the desired income. Then, you continue by adding the goals for sales, downloads, conversion rate, and the price for your product. Let's assume your goal is to make $50.000. The pricing of a game may depend on several variables. You might look at what others are using and settle for $19.95. Or you might try a bargain price and go with $9.95. Some people have used $29.95. Depending on your game, the company's profile, target market, you might price your game differently. It's worth noting that you might want to adjust the price later. Maybe you realize that $9.95 is too low and go with $15.95 and still get the same number of sales. But for starters, let's assume you use $19.95 as the price of your game.

The eCommerce provider gets about 10% of each sale, so the actual profit for you per game would be about $18. To make $50.000 you would need about 2800 sales. If you assume that one out of hundred players purchase your game, then game's conversion rate would be 1.0%. The rule of thumb could be that very targeted games receive higher conversion rates, up to 2%, 3% or even 5% while more generic games, or games with severe competition may receive a .1% - .5% conversion rate. That means about 1-5 sales per 1000 downloads. Let's assume you try to get your game's quality to such a level that you receive a 1.0% conversion rate. Now as you do some math you can see that to reach 2800 sales you would need 280.000 downloads for your game.


Edoiki Concept Art

A goal wouldn't be a goal without an exact date. Have an exact date for the goal. Split the goal in smaller divisions: months, quarters or years – or something that suits you best.


Example marketing plan goals for Edoiki game

The goals for Edoiki are:

  • Direct Sales goal: $50.000 (after eCommerce provider expenses)
  • Other Sales goal: $50.000 (after publisher/distributor expenses)
  • Total Sales: $100.000

Exact direct sales details:

  • Initial price: $19.95
  • Conversion rate goal: 1.0%
  • Downloads goal: 280.000
  • Units goal: 2.800
  • Deadline: By the end of 2007

The quarterly download & sales goals for direct distribution:

  • Q3-Q4/2006 – 600 units, 60.000 downloads
  • Q1-Q2/2007 – 1100 units, 110.000 downloads
  • Q3-Q4/2007 – 1100 units, 110.000 downloads
 

2. Distribution - Select the Right Channels For Your Game

There are several options for distributing your game. Indie and casual games tend to follow these main distribution channels:

Depending on your company's strategy, your marketing plan might use more than one distribution methods. An easy choice for direct selling would be to set up a website and concentrate on optimizing your website.

If you have a casual game, you might consider casual game portals. Different portals have different requirements for games. Here are some of the most common portals: Big Fish Games, EA's Pogo, Gamehouse, GameXtazy, GameZone, Playfirst, Real Arcade, Shockwave, Trygames, Yahoo Games. Include the portals you want to target in your marketing plan and check the top 10 bestsellers from each portal. After you have gone through the list, you have a better understanding on what kind of games portals want and how you can improve your product to meet their guidelines. Indies typically sell through portals or through their own website, but retail stores can be a valuable choice to consider. It is possible to contact retailers directly but in some cases, it can be very difficult or practically impossible. However, you can make it so that it's easy for them to contact you. Set up your company website in such way that distributors can easily get touch with you. Arrange the distribution options by country or by some other region. If you want to contact some publishers, then go on and make a deal. There are publishers that can deal with the retail stores.

Besides retail stores and portals, there's always the publisher opportunity. There are many indie game publishers that can get a deal for you: some of the popular ones are Garage Games, Indiepath and PopCap. All these companies provide different terms, and your marketing plan can change depending on the deals you make. If you commit yourself to creating an exclusive deal with some of the publishers, then you might not be allowed to sell the game through your website, thus making direct selling options unavailable. Besides pure publishers, there are also content delivery systems available. Valve's Steam is perhaps the biggest example and could be appealing to indies.

Your marketing plan should tell you which channels you are going to use, and which ones you'll ignore.


Edoiki distribution channels

Edoiki will be sold directly through Edoiki website. Besides the direct websites we'll approach Mumbo Jumbo/United Developers and Tri Synergy to discuss retail channels. There are other retail opportunities: Dreamcatcher/The Adventure Company, Cylon Interactive, Merscom, MWR connected– some of them will be considered in the future, while some of them will be ignored.

We will also contact a few publishers for a non-exclusive deals. The first ones to target are Shrapnelgames, JoWood and Matrix Games. Edoiki will omit the casual game portals, as the game is targeting a different audience.

We'll also approach Valve and discuss the distributing opportunity via Steam.



3. Product – Have Something to Sell

Offer a high-quality product that people want to purchase. If the conversion rate is very low, then it might suggest that your product simply doesn't offer enough quality. Ask what players and other developers think about your product and refine the product until you start hearing that the only problem with your game is that “it's too addictive”. Remember: the low conversion rate doesn't necessarily indicate a bad product. Ask people: if you hear comments that say that your product is fine but the website or the demo are poor, then forget polishing the product and move on to the next step in the marketing plan.

Make sure your product offering is in sync with your distribution strategy. If you are aiming for the portals, make sure your game appeals the portals and their players. If you are using retailers to get hardcore gamers to play your game, you need to design your product for the retail store customers.

4. Promotion – Make People Aware of Your Game

The next step in the marketing plan is to choose how to get people information about your product. You need to make people aware of your game and either guide them to your website for more information, or to get them to download the game through various sources. How you make the offer depends on the market segments your company has targeted. There are different types of players, games and needs. “Casual gamers” have different playing habits than “hardcore gamers”. 6-year old kids play differently compared to 15- or 30-year old players. Females and males have different needs and wants for games. In Japan , they favor different kinds of games than in Germany . It's your job to define the market segments, and decide which segment (or segments) you choose to target your marketing.

There are several ways to segment the consumer market. The four common marketing segmentation variable types are: geographic (most likely world region or country, but also cities), demographic (age, gender, education, religion, occupation, income, family size), psychographic (social class, lifestyle, personality) and behavioral (casual to heavy user, attitude towards service, loyalty towards company, awareness stage, attitude towards product, genre, favorite games). Also the technical aspects (speed of Internet connection, age of computer) could be included in the segmentation.

After you have chosen the segments, you position your marketing message. Positioning is arranging your whole market offering in a way that it distinguishes your product. If you position yourself as offering the lowest price for young strategy gamers then the market message is much different than if you try to get offer high-quality, non-violent games for very religious players.

After you have selected your target segments, you need to reach those audiences in different ways. Here's a list of promotion efforts you might want to consider: major download sites, advertising, press releases, PAD services, magazine reviews, website reviews, news sites, other major websites, blogs, contests, nominations, affiliates, articles, forums, conferences, banner ads, text link ads, link exchanges and newsletters. There are also very creative options such as advertising banner in your own car back window or leaving demo CDs in busses - so use your imagination.

Depending on your distribution channel options, the promotion could be totally handled by the parties you are dealing with. If you sign a publishing deal, then you can expect the publisher to take care of the promotion.


Edoiki promotion efforts

Edoiki aims to please board gamers and non-casual gamers, players that are addicted to the online multiplayer game experience, and look for games where they can challenge their friends. These gamers don't necessarily have a favorite genre, their main goals is to play with friends – as long as the game is good. They are over 20 and mostly male. Their income level is more than $10,000 yearly and they can spend $20 or $30 easily for entertainment now and then. Our players own a high-speed internet connection (256 KB or better) or at least a fast IDSN connection. Our players have at least basic understanding of the English language, they are interested in Japanese/Chinese mythology and know something about Eastern cultures.

Edoiki will use several promotion methods: Google Adwords targeted directly to board games, banner ads on multiplayer and similar online sites, multiplayer gaming forums, press releases, newsletter announcements, major review sites, article writing, community forums, PromoSoft PAD service, blogs, entering the Independent Games Festival.

 

5. The Website – Get Players to Download Your Game Demo

The indie game marketing plan lists what you will do for your website. Your website's main purpose is to get people to download the demo of your game. That means your plan should include the steps you will take to enhance the website's marketing capabilities. If your site gets visitors that visit only the first page and leave without downloading, then you need to refine your website. The other reason for your website to exist is to get people to purchase your game. Make sure user can access to purchase page within one or two mouse clicks.


Edoiki website

Edoiki website will use a virtual private server to handle traffic and make sure the system is online every hour of day. The website will present screenshots, player forums, contact information, company information and present clear and easily distinguishable download and purchase buttons. The website won't use Javascript or font that would make it hard to use the site. The headline of the site will be tested and the game requirements, features and any other game-related hints & tips will be listed. The site graphics will be polished by the game artist.

The website traffic will be estimated and website specific goals (the rate of downloads) will be refined to meet the download goals after initial number of downloads are received.

 

6. The Demo – Get Players To Purchase Your Game

Your game demo has only one single goal: to close the deal, to get the player to purchase the game. It's very important to have a good demo version of your game that fills its purpose. If the conversion rate – the rate of people who purchase the game after testing it – is low, then you might need to adjust your demo. Concentrate on following issues:

7. Measurement – Be Aware of What's Going On

The only way to make sure you are flying in the right direction is to constantly check where you are heading: be sure to measure impacts of different modifications. If you decide to change the price, promotion or demo, be sure to measure the effects. Conduct an A/B split test for your game price: try both a $20 and a $30 price to see which one works better. Offer a money back guarantee and measure how it impacts sales. Do you get more sales with different demo limitations? Test it. Do the sales increase if you offer a better tutorial in game? Does it help to have nag screens in the beginning and in the end of the demo?

Be aware of where you are flying.

8. Maintenance – Make Sure The Passengers Are Happy

Your marketing plan involves maintenance: how are you going to deal with the customers and build such a relationship with your current customers that they come back and purchase from you again. Customer support could include FAQ lists, support databases, and automated emails. Your marketing plan should describe how you will maintain the relationship with your customers. Will you use support forums or outsource your customer support? Will you use customer relationship management (CRM) tools? Will there be an online chat available for those who purchase? Will you use blogs or newsletters to inform the players about your product updates?

Your marketing plan will tell you how you will deal with the relationship: it will tell you whether you let your publisher or portals handle customer support, or use all or some of the methods discussed earlier.

9. Refinement – Adjust Your Flight Plan

The last step in the marketing plan is to refine the plan. Go to step 1 and adjust your goals. If you think your conversion rate is dropping to .5% feel free to double the goal for download number. As you double your download number goal you know that you need to focus on more promotion rather than optimizing the demo, website or product. On the other hand, if you choose to refine the conversion rate, then you know that you should focus on the quality of your game, demo or website rather than promotion.

Conclusions

The indie game marketing plan describes the goals derived from a company's strategic objectives. The main idea for the marketing plan is to describe the goals, decide the actions necessary to reach those goals, measure and eventually refine the plan as the production progresses.

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