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Be Honest, Be Nice: Marketing And PR For Indie Developers
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Be Honest, Be Nice: Marketing And PR For Indie Developers

December 21, 2011 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

In the modern era of games development we're seeing a huge return to the values of old -- the indie uprising, if you will. So many talented and skilled individuals are going it alone, or as part of a small team, to make the games they want to. Never before have so many independent developers been making so many interesting, fun, and commercially viable games.

It's actually the modern distribution platforms -- primarily the digital ones that lower so many barriers to shipping a game to a paying audience -- that have enabled so many people to take advantage of new opportunities.

That said, it's extraordinarily hard to make a living as an indie, and that's traceable to the skills associated with running a business. Marketing, PR, business development, accountancy, being fluent in "legalese" -- these are the sorts of skills many of us don't develop while we work for other companies.

One of the many reasons I left the security of working for a games company behind was because I wanted to stretch myself. Creatively, sure, but also in terms of expanding what I'm able to do.

A year and a half on, and I've learned so much and done so many new things that I find it hard to remember them all -- but with this piece I'm hopeful that I'll be able to give an insight into one of the most interesting, contentious and demanding areas of life as an independent game developer: marketing and PR.

Bear in mind that I'm a one-man studio (with no coding ability). I've launched a couple of successful iPhone titles (Crunch: The Game was my first - working with Rory Kelly on code - a free maths-puzzler for iPhone; and Hard Lines, our critically acclaimed second game for iPhone and iPad, which was co-created & co-developed with the very talented Nicoll Hunt), and plan on expanding my reach on iPhone and mobile, while also tentatively dipping a toe into the world of PC development.

Put what I'm about to write into some context -- I have no marketing budget beyond my time, and my company is currently me. We are inextricably linked at this stage. Think of it like this -- I hopped into Dr. Brundle's teleporter, and my company crept in with me. The result is... unique.

What Are the Aims of PR and Marketing?

Your aim, broadly speaking, should be to create a group of customers who are devoted to you. Your products and brand must appeal to them, and you must make it possible for them to open up a dialogue with you.

You must create the games you believe in, find the customers who also believe in them, and then encourage them to join together in a group that starts to do some of your marketing for you, and supports your endeavours with relevant feedback and opinion.

You essentially want to become a platform holder of your own creation, with its own audience and a market that follows it around, regardless of hardware. The problem with that is all of the other platform holders getting in the way -- but more on that later.


As an indie, one of the major factors you've got going for you -- one that bigger companies struggle to harness effectively -- is that you have a personality. It doesn't have to be yours, although with Spilt Milk I make certain it is mine. What this boils down to is that you must have a very strong, consistent voice with which to communicate your message.

If people know and trust what you say, and if they are familiar with the tone because it is consistent, they will most likely feel some kind of connection with you (and your games) as a result. It's a relationship that you're embarking on, and you have the power to make it so much more personal and affecting (as well as effective) because of how close you are to your audience.

What does this mean? No PR reps leaning over your shoulder tut-ing during your interview (though you need one in your head making sure you don't go too far) and no bosses telling you not to post that stupid video online because it might negatively affect public perception of your company.

I confess that making my company and me essentially the same thing means it is very easy for me to stay true to my message, and to present a consistent face for the public to latch onto. It just works. You can do the same too, but it might not be your style -- you certainly need to be comfortable with the way you present your company.

And by the way, I still cringe when I use phrases like "communicate your message". It's a shame that it is part of the much-maligned business-speak that a lot of indies avoid, dislike or downright refuse to use. If you're one of those, please, for the love of all that is good in this world, change your stance. Message is important. Your message is distinct, unique and interesting. Ignore taking advantage of that at your peril -- it is one thing you've got that differentiates you from everyone else, and it is essentially free.

Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

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Adriana Kei
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Insightful points and well based. This article is very helpful to all indie developers who really want to see results from their efforts. =]

Tim Holt
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"Be Honest, Be Nice" is good advice for anyone, not just indies.

Bradley Johnson
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Good read. All that talk of Twitter and they can't post his twitter handle? Or is it right in front of me and I can't see it?

And yes, it would have taken me less time to search twitter instead of writing this, but then maybe a UBM representative will see this and make it a rule to add the author's twitter handle to future posts. Maybe, just maybe then people will see it as a great way to get followers and they'll strive to write great content for the site.

Christian Nutt
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Ah, you know, silly oversight. It's @SpiltMilkStudio!

Epona Schweer
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There is so much gold in this article it's hard to pick any one concept to compliment you on Andrew - you have such a great wealth of advice here!

I'm going to be sharing this article around for the brilliant advice on page 3 - how to turn your platform holders into fans.

Making the effort to help other people achieve their business goals just makes it easier for them to help you - helping Microsoft promote Kinect by creating a create game that takes advantage of that input takes a little bit of time and playtesting on your part and nets you a whole lot of kudos on theirs.

Why not take advantage of every possible opportunity to promote your game? If more people get to discover how awesome your work is and your platform holder likes working with you because you help them grow their business - everybody wins!

Thanks again Andrew for such a great article 8)

Epona Schweer
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Of course I would comment under the wrong profile 8P

Wojtek Kawczynski
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I totally agree on the reviews not making a significant difference for sales on iOS. We've had two instances where that was the case. Being featured by Apple is definitely more impactful.

Andrew Smith
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Yeah, although I'm going to be keeping an eye on this kind of thing. As the audience gets more 'into' games then perhaps there will be more of a corellation.

Also the positive 'buzz' is something that these reviews no doubt contribute to, and that is very valuable.

Luis Guimaraes
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I came to the same conclusion. Besides many praising and high scoring reviews, sales aren't really impacted in any meaningful way. But I still guess it depends a lot on the kind of audience you target with the game.

Ben Schlessman
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Would you advise creating a personal Twitter account under your own name, or create a Twitter acount under the name of your Indie Studio?

Epona Schweer
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The benefits of using your own name is that people have a real human they can connect with as opposed to a logo and business name.

We feel in love with Minecraft firstly because we loved hearing from Notch about his development. He was someone you could relate to.

There's a lot to be said for giving people someone to relate to.

Andrew Smith
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My twitter profile is under the studio name, but has a picture of me for the profile - I definitely think that adding as much personality and character (not to mention relatability) to all your PR and Marketing is a huge advantage for indies over bigger companies.

Joel Nystrom
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I recently renamed our company twitter account to my own nick, since I was the only one posting, and my posts were fairly personal (or atleast in first person form). Made more sense that way. People aren't very interested to connect with an official account either.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Gregory Booth
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Great Article!

Thank you.


Andrew Smith
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To everyone - thanks for taking the time to read it! :D

Tiago Raposo
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"There is so much gold in this article it's hard to pick any one concept to compliment you on Andrew - you have such a great wealth of advice here!" by Epona Schweer

That's the sum of all the comments that can be made, really. True gold. Thank you Andrew!

(and where's your personal photo on the Gamasutra account? ;)

Andrew Smith
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I'll fix that right now :D

And thanks for the kinds words!

Carlos Monteiro
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Hi Andrew ! Thanks for the great article , awesome !

I´m a game developer and this stuff is incredible motivating !

keep up ! regards