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Opinion: An indie marketing story
Opinion: An indie marketing story
February 1, 2012 | By Kyle Kulyk

February 1, 2012 | By Kyle Kulyk
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    13 comments
More: Smartphone/Tablet, Indie



[In this reprinted #altdevblogaday opinion piece, Itzy Interactive's Kyle Kulyk discusses the difficulties of finding an effective way to promote an indie game, looking at his experience marketing an Android title.]

Last year there was a great disturbance in the indie development community, as if millions of small developer voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced.

In a move that severely hobbled the Android development community, Google had removed the "Just In" category from the Android Marketplace, eliminating the indie developer's best friend, a way to get their apps noticed without spending a bundle.

Currently, I'm working through a marketing campaign for our first title, Itzy3D, which is available on the Android Marketplace and seems to be in some state of limbo awaiting review and approval on the Apple App store.

I thought I'd share some of the marketing I'm currently undertaking in an attempt to get our little game noticed. Later on, I'll follow-up with the results from our marketing endeavours and what we learned, in an effort to help others of the development community who may be struggling through the same thing.


Action: Blogging
Impact: No idea

Everything I've read about marketing your indie title recommends building a following through regular blogging, and so early on in Itzy3D's development, I started to write regular blogs which I posted up on our website.

I'm sure this generated negative hits to the website, as traffic not only refused to increase, but left a hit deficit that future generations may have to contend with. Blogging on our site obviously wasn't the answer. It's like playing hide and seek when no one is looking for you.

So, I began to reach out to the blogging community and post to other blog sites, and it was during this process I found #AltDevBlogADay. So, here I am. I can't see that it's generated any sales for me at this point, but certainly it hasn't hurt our exposure, and the opportunity to converse with other developers from all walks of life has been invaluable to us during the course of creating our first title.


Action: Facebooking
Impact: No idea

I had also read that it was a smart marketing move to establish a Facebook presence. We were able to put up an early, beta demo to gauge feedback and built a company Facebook page.

All the way through our development, I posted quizzes, looked for input, kept the page updated with screenshots and art, and again the result was a like hide and seek without a seeker. We still sit at around 60 "likes" for our page, which consists almost entirely of our own friends and family.

Itzy3D itself incorporates Facebook features as well, offering to share game achievements by posting cute little sayings and original artwork to the users Facebook wall to help raise awareness and bring users to our game site. Hopefully this will prove useful in the long run, but currently the results of our efforts are hard to quantify.


Action: Twitter
Impact: No idea

Over the past eight months of development, I had also been tweeting regularly. I attended a talk at a developer conference last spring that taught how to use Twitter for marketing by establishing a personal presence while finding creative ways to tie in what we were doing to current trending topics.

So far this has proved a great tool for networking within the industry, but not so much generating sales. Still, following the adventures of Drunk Hulk always brings a smile to my face. Oh, Drunk Hulk! What will you say next?

Action: PR Releases
Impact: No idea

So how do you get your game noticed? You have to tell people, and PR releases do exactly that. This is the phase that I'm currently the most focused on. After researching examples of PR releases related to game launches, I wrote our PR release for Itzy's launch and away we go!

I'm currently sending my release to as many gaming sites as I can possibly imagine in the hopes that they'll either review our title or pass along our release to the public. So far I have no idea how effective this has been.


Action: Throw money at it
Impact: Oh hey! There we go!

Bootstrapping a project like this has been stressful, to say the least, but in for a penny, in for a pound. Installs of our free, ad and in-game purchase supported little game were dead on arrival on the Android Marketplace, and how could it be otherwise when there's no way for users to find our content unless they were specifically looking for it.

As an experiment, we've now clicked the "advertise your app" option on the Android Marketplace, and through Ad-Mob, our initial $50 investment magically turned into almost 1000 installs.

The problem is, how much do you need to invest to get noticed on the Android Marketplace and make any money? I'm sure this is exactly the reason why the "Just in" option was removed. So in order to be noticed, developers would have little choice but to spend money to do it.

Conclusion


The task of getting our product noticed is one I can't see ending anytime soon. Unlike programming, there's really no way of gauging how effective each marketing action is, which is understandable but certainly more than a little frustrating for a programmer accustomed to seeing immediate results from his hard work.

It's certainly discouraging at this stage not being able to measure the impact of your work, but the hope is it'll all be worth it in the end. Or at the very least, we'll know better for next time.

[This piece was reprinted from #AltDevBlogADay, a shared blog initiative started by @mike_acton devoted to giving game developers of all disciplines a place to motivate each other to write regularly about their personal game development passions.]


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Comments


Katheryn Phillips
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I have recently noticed an uptick of indie titles appearing in Kickstarter.com (a site for posting project ideas that seek additional angel funding from small ($5) and large ($$$$$) donors). Not only have I noticed that more indie devs ideas are appearing there, but I've noticed that tons of people are funding the titles being proposed. Recently, a title called Star Command (iOS) made by Warballon gained notoriety in the blogosphere, and attracted $16K more in donations than the $20K they originally sought, while gaining tons of publicity fo the game. Not only might this be a great marketing avenue for indie devs wishing to get noticed, but it can be a fantastic end of dev fundraiser that helps a project cross the finish line...even if you don't need that much more cash to finish the effort.

Kyle Kulyk
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That's something I never considered. I've always been aware of Kickstarter.com, but lack of cash wasn't our primary hurdle at the start as what we needed was time and talent. Now raising awareness of our product seems to be our hurdle, and those are efforts that could certainly benefit by a bit of financing in the right places. I'll look at Kickstarter.com again. I appreciate the suggestion.

Ryan Stemen
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I've been thinking about kickstarter too, Katheryn. I guess there isn't too much of a risk for the developer other than the fact that they'd need to be sure set their financial goal to an amount that will actually let them finish the game in a timely manner. It looks like the majority of the games that get posted on Kickstarter aren't going to get seen by people casually browsing the site, though, since there are so few games actually shown on the root game page.

Matt Udvari
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We just finished a successful kickstarter. One important thing to note is that it doesn't set the world on fire for casual games. If you are doing star command or another "gamer" game, diff story. Check out my post mort on our kickstarter. I wrote it when my thoughts were fresh. http://bit.ly/qHNyyv

Thomas Lund
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PR releases and TouchArcade threads have been our best tools until now. You can send the PR through some of the hubs to get it out faster/easier.



The ads we have tried havent boosted sales - but most likely paid for themselves. They have been very targetted on sites that we knew contained our target audience (turn based / digital board games).



Otherwise - dont know. Throw money at it intelligently, build up your audience and hang in there. I guess thats the only thing I can contribute with.



/Thomas

Shay Pierce
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This was pretty much my experience with developing a small iOS title. I did always feel that if I was more of a forceful promoter-type personality, and had more time and energy for it, I could probably have gotten more traction in the Twitters and the Facebooks. But that was purely theoretical. And our marketing budget (like our development budget) was $0, so I never even had the opportunity to .



I will say that we had decent luck with getting noticed by blogs; 1) the TouchArcade community gave us a spontaneous outpouring of support; 2) TA itself gave us a positive (4.5-star I believe) review on the front page; and 3) we later got a mention on the front page of Joystiq. I should point out that the Joystiq mention was the result of attending one of the "Juegos Rancheros" events which Brandon Boyer and others host monthly here in Austin - being able to meet a Joystiq writer face-to-face, and prove that you're not a crazy person, helps a lot in getting people to pay attention to your game (especially when it's a puzzle game floating in a sea of match-3 clones, as mine was).



But none of this compared to getting featured on the App Store in New & Noteworthy for 2 weeks, which increased our sales about 1000x more than anything else. No surprise. Obviously you have zero control over this since it's Apple-curated, and can only make the highest-quality game you can and hope that someone at Apple notices and appreciates it. (Though I think that even the TA review may have helped us in getting noticed within Apple? That's pure speculation though.)



Dunno if any of that helps.

Logan Foster
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Kyle you should be aware that there are a bunch of US only restrictions to using kickstarter.com which will prevent you as a Canadian from using it.



With that said though the service is certainly a good one if you are able to use it and in fact is a great way to actually see if your game idea has any commercial legs to stand on just based on the pitch, some prototype art and a vertical slice just based on how much support that you actually get. Even if you fail to reach your funding goals it can say a lot towards your product or your ability to properly present it to consumers.



Lastly I wanted to point out that one big key to a successful launch that barely anyone wants to actualy talk about is that you need to build up pre-release hype and lots of it. You have unfortunately hit one of the common indie level problems of "build something-release it-then market it" and truth be told you need to figure out a time that you stop promoting the product and just put it to bed, simply because if you are spending your time promoting something that still isn't getting that much of an uptake in actual revenue that it is generating you are burning valuable time that you could be spending on your next project.

Lennard Feddersen
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I think Kickstarter is a brilliant idea. As a Canadian I've partnered with a US based partner for an upcoming project so I can test the waters with that project.



What I love about the concept is that you can take about 10% of the projects spend/time commitment to build enough materials to market the concept. At that point you then ask real people if your next opus is something they have any interest in. And not in a warm fuzzy kind of a way but in an actual hand over the cash kind of way.



This is way more efficient. You may not like the answer that comes back - here's hoping you do - (and if you don't you can still do the other 90%), but you can save a ton of time and money. Here's hoping this is the year that they can support Canadians directly as well.

Scott Kendall
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$50 for 1000 installs: 5 cent CPI? That's incredible. Only a $5K investment would get you 100K installs. Curious to know more about the quality of these installs in terms of engagement/retention compared to other channels.

Lucas Daltro
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The problem of Kickstarter is that people outside U.S. can't use it,but it's a genial idea

Lex Allen
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Blogs CAN be effective!



My blog gets a lot of hits when I do the following:



1) post advice that can't be found elsewhere

2) post a question that you genuinely want to know the answer to, but can't find (people love to share how smart they are)

3) Create reference lists (users will return here frequently)

4) Create an "expert" post and other people will link to your blog article.

5) Also, you should be utilizing twitterfeed if you are using Blogger.



Hope this helps with your blog.



Oh, and all of us have been in your position at one point. Eventually, you'll find something that works for you, but it could take years...

Carlos Monteiro
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Hi Kyle,



thanks very much for the article, it is helping me a lot.

I am an one-man indie studio, finishing my first html5 title, and working hard to convert it to mobiles.

I live at Brazil, and learning all these new marketing strategies.



Regards,



www.gigoiagames.blogspot.com

Maike Coelle
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Our experience is quite a quirky one -- we, an indie developer based in Berlin, Germany, created a really excellent iOS casual game which won prizes and awards for the truly innovative gameplay and the design. We got featured by Apple as "new and noteworty" in 75 countries and also as "game of the week" in some countries. We got fantastic reviews on many rather important review pages. As a result, currently, the game is on position 5 of "Best iPhone games 2011" on metacritic.com.



HOWEVER: the sales are not reflecting these achievements and the quality of the game. Frankly, not at all. And we have not really an idea why our game is truly loved by critics and players, but doesn't really sell well. It sells, but not as much as we expected. It sold much, much better when it was featured "new and noteworthy", of course, but not 1000x better, like I read above in another comment. The mobile market is a secret and the experiences which are true for one game can be totally wrong for another one.



We didn't do advertising, as we had no budget, we "only" wrote press releases/mailings to reviewers and managed to get a direct contact to Apple (which was rather cool - for many games this might be THE key!). AND: we applied for awards, for all we could find. Awards do PR, too. You might know that pricing is an important factor, too -- lower the price for a few days or offer the game for free and this will create quite a lot of attention. And do updates often, if possible.



Hope this helps some of you.

And thanks to all or your advice and experiences!


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